Bill Shankly famously claimed “football is a simple game, complicated by idiots.”
Asked what has transformed Sheffield United’s fortunes this season, one member of Chris Wilder’s squad cited the manager’s unashamedly straightforward approach.
“He’s just made sure everybody works hard and wins the ball back if we lose it,” Chris Basham said. “Then, we can show our quality. The gaffer has brought a winning mentality, we’re scoring goals and creating chances. It all sounds very simple. But it is.”
Of course, it is ridiculous to mention Wilder in the same breath as Shankly. A twelve match unbeaten run, which sees United enter today’s League One fixture against Shrewsbury third in the table, pales into insignificance compared to three championship titles and two FA Cups. But, after taking charge of his boyhood club during the close season, Wilder is building the same type of bond with United’s players as the late, great Scot did with Liverpool’s.
“I have worked with some great managers in my time,” Basham, the United midfielder, said. “I still think the last two here were good managers, but this guy is outstanding for me personally. The fans have all jumped on the gaffer being a Blade, like his family, he loves the club from the bottom of his heart. Everyone wants to work for him.
“He’s very aggressive in training, the intensity in a head tennis game to a five-a-side match is massive, you don’t want to lose.”
Basham, who progressed through the ranks at Bolton Wanderers before joining Blackpool six years ago, was signed by Wilder’s predecessor Nigel Clough. A member of the squads which reached the semi-finals of both the FA and Capital One cups, he made 49 appearances as United meandered to an 11th placed finish under Nigel Adkins last term.
Explaining the difference in the two manager’s approaches, Basham said: “I think it’s down to the aggression the gaffer brings on the training pitches. If things aren’t going right, he will stop training and pull us in saying ‘this is not us’. He knows the lads have got talent and quality, but we have the hard work now.”
United became the highest scoring team away from home in English football when they beat Chesterfield 4-1 six days ago. Billy Sharp and Leon Clarke, now fully recovered from the ankle problem which has hampered his progress in South Yorkshire, were on target as Wilder’s side came from behind to heap further pressure on Danny Wilson.
Shrewsbury, who appointed Paul Hurst as their new manager after losing to United at Greenhous Meadow last month, travel north searching for their fourth straight win in all competitions. But they remain 23rd in the table, one place and two points, above Chesterfield.
“We’ve got lots of confidence and belief in ourselves,” Basham said. “But we can’t afford to relax.”