Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder reveals another string to his managerial bow ahead of clash with Liverpool
Chris Wilder admits there have been times this season when he has felt more like a counselor than a football manager, as Sheffield United slip deeper into trouble at the bottom of the Premier League table.
Fourteen points adrift of safety with only 13 games remaining ahead of Sunday’s match against Liverpool, United’s last lingering hopes of survival appeared to disappear last weekend when they were beaten 1-0 by fellow strugglers Fulham.
Watching the club he has supported since childhood and represented more than 100 times as a player has been excruciating for Wilder; particularly given the emotional attachment he enjoys with a squad which still contains a number of veterans of its 2017 and 2019 promotion winning campaigns.
But results this term have also taken a significant toll on those under Wilder’s command, hence his decision to focus on psychology rather than systems for much of the past few months.
“Am I being a counselor as much as a manager? Yes, it seems that way, because we are trying to keep spirits high and positive,” he said. “It’s one of the hardest periods I’ve been through in my managerial career, because of my connection to this club. We just want to get through it. These players have swum the channel to get in the position they are. I’m not going to smash them over the head. I support them. Sometimes, what they have done in such a short period of time, is overlooked a bit. We want more.”
United were languishing in League One when Wilder replaced Nigel Adkins at the helm five years ago, climbing out of the third tier at the first time of asking before finishing second in the Championship only 24 months later. Despite challenging for a place in Europe last term, before the Covid-19 pandemic robbed them of momentum, United’s hopes of building upon that success have been crushed by a series of blows with injuries chief among them. They are set to face Jurgen Klopp’s side without four of their most influential performers, after Chris Basham joined Jack O’Connell, Sander Berge and John Egan on the treatment table during the defeat at Craven Cottage.
With United’s refusal to bolster the options at his disposal during the recent transfer window limiting his room for manoeuvre, Wilder concedes United have little option but to continue persevering with the system and strategy which proved so effective during the previous campaign but have delivered precious little since September’s return to action.
Phil Jagielka, now aged 38, former Bolton Wanderers loanee Kean Bryan and fellow youngster Ethan Ampadu look set to anchor United’s rearguard for the meeting with Klopp’s men.
“We have got to cajole and squeeze the pips out, get everything from these lads we possibly can.” Wilder said. “Sometimes there’s no other choice, you just have to go through these periods. That’s part of the gig, even though you’re doing it against some of the best (players) in the world, because that’s what we all signed up for.”