If Chris Wilder reaches the point where he feels enough is enough and, in his words, walks out of the front door because things don’t get quickly sorted out above his head, it won’t be the first time boardroom impediments have forced a United manager to resign.
In 1995 Dave Bassett might not have become so worn down that he and his team could not perform had Reg Brealey not been so intransigent over his sale of the club to Mike McDonald. In the end the parting was reported as ‘mutual’; Bassett was probably relieved to go. Shortly before his departure he said: “There has been no leadership from the top and the club must now make decisions. The club must decide if it is to go forward or if it is to settle for second best. I’m expected to do everything without money.” Sound familiar?
Just over two years later Nigel Spackman resigned, citing decisions taken without his knowledge around the sale of players (notably Brian Dean and Jan Åge Fjørtoft). Some time earlier he had said: “I made my point [to McDonald] that although we are in a good position in the league our performances lately have reached a plateau and that, in my opinion, we needed freshening.” Those words ring true 20 years on.
Next to voluntarily leave was Steve Bruce, who went off in a huff at the end of the 1998/99 season. This time it was over promises of funds to buy new players that were never forthcoming, despite the big money sales (without his consent) of Graham Stuart and David Holdsworth. This fateful period also witnessed the last time United were run on a supposed equal basis by two individuals. The ‘co-chairmen’ regime of McDonald and Carlo Colombotti was always going to end in tears and legal action, and so it did.
Just before he left Bruce said: “I have got fed up of being told one thing and then being told another,” adding that there were “too many interferences, too many fights, too many battles which stem from the top.” His resignation statement included the words: “I hope that my leaving will persuade the warring factions to sort themselves out. Unless you have one person in charge there will always be a problem.”
Will the current incumbents in control of the club learn the lessons of history? It’s doubtful. Wilder would never leave United simply to earn more money elsewhere, but like Bassett, Spackman and Bruce before him he is a man of principle and honesty who will walk if he is not happy with the way the club is being run. Only two men can ensure this doesn’t happen.