Sheffield United manger Chris Wilder has a trick up his sleeve in the scramble for European football
It is one of the basic tenets of Chris Wilder’s managerial methodology - players outside of the starting eleven require more care, attention and consideration than those actually in it.
Given the demands of the Premier League fixture schedule - as top-flight clubs attempt to squeeze 92 games into a 46 day window - the 52-year-old’s belief in ensuring everyone at his disposal feels emotionally invested in what he likes to describe as “the group” could give Sheffield United a vital edge in the race for European football.
While some of his counterparts prefer to focus solely on those in their first choice elevens - Tottenham Hotspur’s Jose Mourinho once famously told journalists he wasn’t interested in footballers if they were injured or unfit - Wilder has spent hours counselling and advising those on the periphery of his team since taking charge of United in 2016.
It is a policy which, he explained earlier this term, has helped deliver two promotions in the space of only three seasons and, when selection issues inevitably arise, has enabled them to achieve consistency in terms of both performances and results.
“I’ve always thought, if you’re starting most weeks, then you shouldn’t need much looking after,” Wilder told The Star just after Christmas, as United prepared for an FA Cup tie against AFC Fylde. “If you are in that position, then everything takes care of itself.
“But if you’re not, and I’ve been in that position myself as a player, then you want to know what you can do to try and get in and you want to feel a part of things. Because, and I really mean this, it’s not ‘elevens’ that achieve things. It’s every single player, whether they play one game or 50, who do that.”
United were seventh in the table when the campaign was suspended because of the Covid-19 pandemic in March, and will return to action at Aston Villa next week only five points outside the Champions League places. Still in the FA Cup, where they are scheduled to meet Arsenal at the quarter-final stage, United could be forced to play 13 times between now and the first weekend in August - which, Wilder has acknowledged, will demand much of his players.
“Everyone has got to be ready,” he continued. “And if you’re ready, then you give yourselves a chance to perform and that means you stay in or get another opportunity pretty soon.”
Jack Robinson, Luke Freeman and Ben Osborn are among those set to enjoy greater exposure between now and the end of the season as Wilder, who usually prefers not to rotate his options, prepares to try and prevent fatigue derailing United’s push for either the Champions or the Europa leagues.
“We’re all about the group here,” he said. “That’s the way it has always been and the way it always will be. One of the reasons why some lads haven’t got in much so far, is because of the form of the lads starting. But they’re only showing that form because they’re being pushed.”