Sheffield United ignore 'expert' advice about European football

Despite being warned that qualifying for Europe next season could threaten their plans to become an established top-flight club, Chris Wilder has revealed that Sheffield United are desperate to secure a place in either the Champions League or the Europa League when English football returns to action.

Friday, 8th May 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Friday, 8th May 2020, 2:06 pm

Although many commentators believe the extra games would have a debilitating effect upon United’s performances, particularly at this stage of their development, Wilder believes the benefits of facing some of the continent’s greatest names outweigh the potential risks.

Highlighting how Wolverhampton Wanderers have approached the challenge of combining European football with their domestic commitments, Wilder said: “Of course we want it (European football), for the experience and everything else that it would bring. Of course we’d welcome the chance to do it, but there’s a long way to go yet.”

The first hurdle United must overcome in order to achieve that ambition is to ensure ‘Project Restart’ - the Premier League’s plan to lift its fixture suspension next month - is passed at a meeting of the country’s leading 20 clubs next week.

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The second, should that receive enough support, is to replicate the form which had seen them climb to seventh - only five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea having played a game less than Frank Lampard’s side - before sport entered lockdown because of coronavirus in March.

Despite acknowledging the 2020/21 campaign is likely to prove even more testing than this season, Wilder, who led United to promotion from the Championship 13 months ago, added: “We’d give it a go. We might have to do a little bit more rotation, and ask some of the lads who haven’t been involved as much to play some of those games, but we’d see where it takes us.”

Wilder’s comments mark a departure from his previous policy of refusing to contemplate the possibility of qualifying for Europe; preferring to focus on individual contests instead. But his willingness to outline the extent of his ambitions underline the 52-year-old’s faith in both the talent of his squad and the professionalism its members have displayed since being forced to train at home.

Although United have now partially reopened the doors of the Steelphalt Academy, the majority of the players’ fitness and conditioning work is still taking place away from the complex.

The Europa League trophy is put on display before the UEFA Europa League group stage draw at the Grimaldi Forum, in Monaco, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

“We keep a track of them and they’ve been putting it all in,” Wilder said, “As we knew they would.”

United have 10 matches left to play, with a number of those against clubs directly around them in the table. They have also reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, where they are due to face Arsenal at home. However, there is now a consensus among almost everyone within the sport that games will be forced to take place inside neutral empty stadiums until government social distancing guidelines, designed to curb the spread of the respiratory disease, are relaxed.

“There will have to be compromises, but we want to get it done,” Wilder said.

An important message:

Chris Wilder manager of Sheffield Utd during the Premier League match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield. Picture date: 22nd February 2020. Picture credit should read: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

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A man takes a picture of the UEFA Champions League trophy displayed at the UEFA headquarters on February 28, 2020 in Nyon. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP) (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)