“I’ve always liked coming up here,” he told journalists, during a socially distanced pre-match chat towards the back of Dundee United’s main stand. “Whenever we go away, I always think ‘Why don’t we just go up the road?’ It’s a good place to visit and when the lads have some time off, they can easily get some golf in. I often wonder why we don’t come up here more often?’
Around an hour or so later, when referee Steven McLean was forced to abandon Tuesday’s friendly at half-time, Wilder probably got his answer. A pre-season trip to Scotland can guarantee many things. Unfortunately, as the waterlogged pitch reminded, good weather isn’t one of them.
Still, although losing the opportunity to get some valuable minutes into his squad’s legs was a disappointment, Wilder insisted United’s fleeting appearance against their namesakes from north of the border had still been a worthwhile exercise. Described as “One City, many discoveries’ by its marketing and PR team, this week’s trip to Dundee taught the 52-year-old a lot about those at his disposal ahead of the new Premier League campaign. Maybe not in technical terms, given the obvious gulf in experience between the starting eleven Wilder selected and those thrust into action by Micky Mellon, who had decided to use the fixture as an opportunity to showcase some of the young talent at his club’s disposal. But Wilder was pleased with the focus United had shown as they battled the elements.
“You always learn something from every situation,” he said. “What I saw was that the attitude of our boys is spot on again. And during the build up, at our training base, it was the same. They did ever so well last season and then had a little disappointment towards the end. So we wanted to see if that had affected the lads. If they’d come back, because we’ve only had a short break, with the attitude and desire we’re going to need. I’m pleased to say they have.”
To begin with, the small band of reporters who had made the journey up from England to cover United’s training camp in its entirety rather than simply attend tomorrow morning’s media session, suspected Wilder was guilty of simply trying to make the best of a bad job. After all, with the Covid-19 pandemic ensuring it was July before last season’s top-flight programme was completed, United have been forced to condense their usual two month schedule into a four week window. Every second of the three games they had arranged to play before leaving Bramall Lane on Sunday lunchtime were hugely significant as a result. But, as the conversation flowed, it became apparent Wilder was not putting on a brave face.
United, who had been set to base themselves in Evian, France, before a change in government travel guidelines put paid to those plans, are exploring the possibility of squeezing in another friendly before returning to England ahead of next week’s visits to Derby County and Preston North End.
With the measures introduced to fight the spread of the coronavirus making drawing up concrete plans impossible, Wilder and his coaching staff are being forced to think on their feet. So too are those under their command which, the manager also pointed out, is probably no bad thing given the psychological demands of competing at the highest level.
“We had our pre-season all mapped out but we had to change everything and come up the road,” Wilder said. “These are different times and you’ve got to get used to adapting and adjusting. We’ve shown ourselves to be pretty good at that I think.”
“Okay, what happened (at Dundee) might have left the lads a little bit undercooked in terms of where we hoped they’d be afterwards, because obviously we’d organised every game for a reason. But we’ll top them up in a different way. They’ve had to change their routines too, but that’s something you have to get used to. You have to be able to show the capacity to solve problems for yourself.
“All of us, every single one of us, needs to be able to do that. So again, you take the positives out of a situation.”
After finishing ninth in the table, pushing for a place in Europe before some chequered results during ‘Project Restart’ ended that challenge, United are combining their work at a state-of-the-art complex on Edinburgh’s outskirts with manoeuvres in the transfer market designed to bring more new faces to Bramall Lane ahead of September 14th’s curtain-raiser against Wolverhampton Wanderers. With the deadline for signings extended until October, United hope to unveil players including John Swift, Matty Cash and Oli Burke before Nuno Espirito Santo’s men arrive in South Yorkshire. Goalkeepers Aaron Ramsdale and Wes Foderingham have arrived from AFC Bournemouth and Rangers respectively, but even though he could be forced to sell before making any more major purchases - Ramsdale cost an initial £10m - Wilder said: “We have to adapt and react when it comes to all of that too, which again is something I believe we’ve done successfully. We’re looking to get the majority done before then (Wolves) but if we don’t, then we’ll just get on with it as we always do.”