Just over Chris Wilder’s shoulder, when he addressed the media before training yesterday, it was possible to catch a glimpse of Alan Knill and Darren Ward going about their business inside Sheffield United’s video analysis suite.
As the manager talked injuries, attitude and tactics on a sun-drenched terrace at the Steelphalt Academy, the two men were scrolling through footage of various attacking manoeuvres ahead of Saturday’s match against Norwich City.
Wilder, despite being portrayed as a footballing traditionalist, is keen to embrace modern technology. But although the information his assistant and goalkeeping coach gleaned will form a key part of United’s preparations, the 49-year-old also wants his players to think for themselves.
“You can’t always be telling people where to be or what to do,” Wilder said. “There comes a point when they’ve got to work it out on their own. Things happen so quickly during matches and it’s not always possible to make the lads aware. So, if you’ve got intelligent players who can see things scenarios unfolding or situations developing, that’s got to be better.”
Having thought and then fought their way through games at Sunderland and Bolton Wanderers, the meeting with City represents a welcome return home for United’s first team squad. Unlike the Stadium of Light, where Wilder’s players used technique to pick apart the opposition, Tuesday’s visit to Greater Manchester was all about character and personality. Debutant Cameron Carter-Vickers scored the only goal of the contest midway through the first-half before, in atrocious conditions, United withstood a late aerial bombardment.
“We talked beforehand about what might happen,” Wilder said. “But, as you saw, the players also made decisions out there. Yes, we place a huge emphasis on what type of person somebody is like when we bring them into the football club. Obviously they’ve got to be good players too. But we also like them if they are intelligent.”
“Mark Duffy is a good example of what I mean by that,” Wilder added. “You can see the way he is aware of what is going on around him, what might happen a few moves ahead and how, if he moves into ‘this’ space, ‘that’ might happen.”
The meeting with City also promises to be a battle of wit as much as will given Daniel Farke’s admission that he encourages players to contribute during tactical-planning sessions. The German, previously reserve team coach at Borussia Dortmund, took charge at Carrow Road during the close season and has won four and drawn two of his nine matches so far.
“Players, the better ones anyway, can stand on their own two feet,” Wilder said. “Even though we give them all the help we possibly can.”