Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder on pub bores, Leicester City's Jamie Vardy and his own squad's fighting spirit

Every pub has one - the guy sat at the bar, watching football on television, who lets everyone within earshot know that only an unfortunate injury sustained as a youngster prevented him from being up there on the screen.

Wednesday, 15th July 2020, 6:01 am

Some, Chris Wilder concedes, might be telling the truth. But the overwhelming majority, some of his own mates included, are talking complete and utter nonsense.

“I’ll go out for a drink and you hear people saying ‘I could have made it if this or that hadn’t happened.’ They’ll be telling everyone they could have been out there doing what Jamie Vardy does,” he smiles. “And I think ‘Well, it wasn’t you was it? You didn’t go out there and prove it like Jamie did. So that’s why you’re in here, having a drink, and Jamie has got the career that he’s got.’ So really, you’re probably best just shutting up.’ Don’t get me wrong, I’ve even got a few pals who I have to put back in their basket at times.”

Some people might be surprised to hear Wilder talking-up Vardy ahead of Sheffield United’s visit to the King Power Stadium. Tomorrow’s fixture, which pits fourth against seventh in the Premier League table, is absolutely pivotal in the race for Europe. And Vardy, the City centre-forward and lifelong Sheffield Wednesday fan, scored when the two clubs met at Bramall Lane earlier this season.

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But others, particularly those familiar with his own journey through the game, will understand why Wilder has the utmost respect for Vardy’s achievements since being told he was not good enough for Hillsborough.

“To be released by the team you love is a hammer blow,” Wilder, the former Alfreton, Halifax and Oxford manager says, tracing Vardy’s rise from grassroots football to the very pinnacle of the game. “He got off the canvas and proved people wrong by getting his hands dirty at Stocksbridge Park Steels, then going to ‘fax and Fleetwood, which is where they (Leicester) paid a million quid for him. That was a big punt by Nigel Pearson, who was in charge there at the time, but it’s one that has been shown to have been absolutely justified.

“The drive and determination that Jamie has got, he’s an incredible example for any footballer. So he deserves everything that comes his way and that’s from me - a Blade - to an Owl.”

Vardy’s achievements since being plucked from obscurity eight years ago could have been torn straight from the pages of a Roy of the Rovers annual. Earning £30 a week at Bracken Moor, he has now been capped 26 times by England and helped City lift the title in 2016 under Brendan Rodgers’ predecessor Claudio Ranieri.

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder likes fighters: RUI VIEIRA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

But Wilder, who had left The Shay before the striker’s arrival, has a team full of Vardy’s himself. Five members of the squad he selected ahead of Saturday’s 3-0 win over Chelsea represented United in League One. It would have been six had John Fleck, who could make the trip to the East Midlands, not have been injured.

“Not many people have a stellar career,” Wilder acknowledges, “Everyone, myself included, has to deal with disappointment and it’s how you handle that. Be it injuries, a manager that doesn’t fancy you or whatever. How do you recover?

“Our boys have had plenty of experiences and will do going forward, either during games or seasons or parts of their careers. It’s a measure of you as a player, and as a person, how you deal with that.”

“A lot of people have had to fight for what they achieved, even the top boys have had to fight along the way,” Wilder continues. “Take Steven Gerrard at Liverpool for example - a local lad, who breaks into their team and has had an unbelievable career. But he’ll have fought for everything.

Wilfred Ndidi of Leicester City and Jamie Vardy (R) of Leicester City: Michael Steele/Getty Images

“So whether it’s me, him or David McGoldrick and Phil Jagielka here - who didn’t get a contract as a youngster and then had to rebuild himself here in the youth system at Sheffield United - there are examples right the way through. You have to be mentally tough to take those knocks and come fighting back.”

Wilder, who coached through financial crises at both Halifax and Northampton before taking charge of United, has surrounded himself with players who have overcome adversity since being appointed. The personality of the group he has spent four years assembling has been evident in recent weeks with United, after making a disappointing return following th Covid-19 pandemic, travelling to City unbeaten in their last four outings - a run which includes wins over Tottenham Hotspur, Wolverhampton Wanderers and of course Frank Lampard’s men. Adding City to their collection of scalps could move United, who were only promoted from the Championship last term, to within two points of the Champions League places with two matches remaining.

“I still think we’d have appreciated it, even if we’d all had different journeys and paths,” Wilder concedes. “I wouldn’t have wanted some of the bad experiences I’ve had in the game, they sometimes keep me awake at night and I’m not glad I had to go through them. But I had to and I’m sure they’ll be further disappointments to come because I want to stay in the game for at least another 15 years or so.

“There was a low not so long back and then you put things into perspective and keep on fighting like I said.”

Sheffield United's manager Chris Wilder (C) speaks with his players during a drinks break in the English Premier League football match between Sheffield United and Chelsea at Bramall Lane: SHAUN BOTTERILL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

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