Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder reveals his masterplan for English football post coronavirus

When the country finally emerges from the shadow of coronavirus, and footballing competition resumes, Chris Wilder believes there will be an opportunity to reshape the game’s finances and ensure they are shared on a more equitable basis.

Friday, 24th April 2020, 5:00 pm

It is one, despite expressing fears the camaraderie between clubs across all levels of the pyramid will quickly disappear when things return to normal, the Sheffield United manager thinks England’s governing bodies and influencers would be foolish not the grasp. Indeed, with even the finances of those at Premier League level being stretched by the pandemic, Wilder suspects the future of the game could depend upon it. Certainly if the sporting landscape, post lockdown, is going to resemble the one we had grown accustomed to before the disease reached this nation’s shores.

“People have a huge pride for their football clubs,” Wilder said, expressing his desire to see the funding framework remodelled. “Here in Sheffield and across our region you see it, at Donny (Doncaster Rovers), Barnsley, Rotherham and Chesterfield.

“Unprecedented as it is, I do fear clubs eventually will go selfish again and go insular again. But that’s going to impact upon the smaller clubs. Whether that changes, I’m not sure it will.

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Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder has revealed his blueprint for English football: Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

“People want to see their teams doing well and usually, at the top, going well means chucking loads of money at it. But, as we’ve seen before, sometimes that’s not the right thing to do.

“I think - and I fear - there might be a few clubs that don’t come through this and don’t manage to survive.”

Although reaching the highest level opened up all sorts of previously unobtainable income streams for United, Wilder knows what life is like for the ‘have nots’; experiencing first hand the damage financial problems can cause with former clubs Halifax and Northampton Town before taking charge of United, who were then languishing in League One, four years ago. Their rapid progress since, culminating in their climb to seventh in the top-flight before the fixture schedule was suspended last month, has been a reminder that good coaching and intelligent recruitment strategies can prove just as effective as deep pockets when it comes to delivering success. But in order for that message to resonate properly, Wilder suspects there must be a change in attitude as well as approach.

“I look at Bury, who disappeared recently, and I know for a fact the money they had been spending recently to get out of League Two,” he said. “Chezzy (Chesterfield) did it a few years ago and then what comes after, because it doesn’t always work, is a period of real pressure for the next people in.

First team squad photo: Back row from left; John Egan, Oli McBurnie, Chris Basham, Simon Moore, Dean Henderson, Michael Verrips, Richard Stearman, David McGoldrick, Jack O'Connell. Middle row from left; Alan Knill, Paul Watson, Callum Robinson, John Lundstram, Enda Stevens, Phil Jagielka, Kean Bryan, Kieron Freeman, Lys Mousset, Matt Prestridge, Darren Ward. Front row from left; Ben Osborn, Luke Freeman, John Fleck, Oliver Norwood, Chris Wilder, Billy Sharp, George Baldock, Ravel Morrison, Muhamed Besic: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

“Look at the Championship, and I think that’s a ridiculous division with the money that gets spent. I know there’s an argument that if an owner has actually got the money, they should be able to spend it as they wish. But surely there’s also for to be a process and and a structure that doesn’t put big clubs at risk of going to the wall.”

Despite stopping short of calling for the tightening of FFP regulations or the introduction of a salary cap, Wilder, who together with his squad and senior coaching staff has agreed a wage deferral scheme with United’s board, is clearly an advocate of imposing some restrictions upon expenditure.

But he continued: “I always look back at Portsmouth too, where I honestly believe the supporters have got to take some responsibility as well. Fans often shout we need to spend this and that or that this particular players has got to come in. Pompey was a great example.

“They got to Wembley two or three times when they were in the top-flight but everyone in football knew it wasn’t built on stone and that they couldn’t keep spending what they were spending. Then, in a heartbeat, they found themselves in League Two.

"I think most people knew that it wasn't sustainable but nobody asked any real questions at the time. They just went along with it. So evferyone has got to take responsibility for what happened."

Aware that his success and status as a lifelong United supporter means he can do no wrong in the eyes of those who follow the club now, Wilder has exploited the trust and respect he has earned to position himself at the heart of negotiations about how much money Bramall Lane’s board should make available moving forward.

Speaking earlier this week, Wilder accepted his recruitment plans will almost certainly be revised as United confront the challenges created by Covid-19.

But he said: “I want to make sure that the club is here for a long time when I’m gone, the players here now have gone and the owners have gone. Because that’s what is most important; the club. That is bigger than all of us, bigger than any individual, everyone accepts that.

“There’s got to be a short and medium and a long term view of how to run a football club. I’m involved in everything that goes off and I take a responsible role. That's the way I think it should be. I want the best for Sheffield United and we'll always try and progress, but only in a sensible way that suits us. We know what that is and what we can and can't do going forward."

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