Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder reveals the new admirers his players have gathered without even kicking a ball
Points will ultimately decide if Sheffield United qualify for Europe next season.
Popularity and respect are not the most valuable currencies in professional football.
It reflects, he believes, their commitment and dedication. Which, as the Premier League prepares for its long-awaited return to action, bodes well for their prospects over the next 10 or so games.
“One of the things that really pleases me,” Wilder insisted. “Is hearing how our lads are viewed by people elsewhere in the sport. The perception of them, not only as footballers but also as people, is excellent.
“That’s something, and I’ll always maintain this, they should be really proud of.”
Only five points outside the Champions League places with a game in hand on Chelsea in fourth, United’s squad were not short of incentives to keep fit and observe government guidelines regarding hygiene and social distancing when they were forced to isolate at home. The same, however, can be said for other clubs chasing honours, silverware or safety who saw members of their squads court controversy for breaching these rules.
Aston Villa, where United are scheduled to return to competition on June 17, were forced to release a statement when it emerged midfielder Jack Grealish had visited a friend less than 24 hours after publishing a video on his social media platforms urging the public to remain indoors. Despite atoning for his actions by donating £150,000 to charity, the 24-year-old recently admitted he is still “deeply embarrassed” by his actions.
United’s coaching staff reminded their players of both their professional and personal responsibilities before closing the doors of the Steelphalt Academy in March. When they reopened towards the end of last month, Wilder was delighted to confirm they had been followed to the letter.
“To be honest, I’m not surprised because I know what the attitude of the group is like,” he acknowledged. “They’ve all looked after themselves and come back in the shape we wanted. All of them. No exceptions. I think that tells you something.”
“Usually, you get one or two who might not hit the targets,” Wilder continued. “That’s not happened here. They realise what is at stake and they want to do everything they can to try and take the opportunity they have given themselves.”
Even if United fail to secure a place in either the CL or the Europa League, they will still be able to derive enormous satisfaction from their achievements in this season’s competition. Twelve months ago, having just been promoted from the Championship, Wilder’s side were being tipped for relegation by many pundits and commentators alike. Now they find themselves potentially 10 matches away from rubbing shoulders with clubs such as Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid. United are also still in the FA Cup, where they are scheduled to face Arsenal at the quarter-final stage.
"I know these lads are ready to do whatever they can," Wilder said.