Sheffield United: People might call them old school, but they’re old school for a reason

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder

Chris Wilder isn't old school, no matter what opposition fans, the media or even Dave Bassett, his friend and mentor, might like to say.

But the Sheffield United manager is firmly of the belief that some ideas, despite not being favoured by footballing technocrats, have stood the test of time for a reason. Because, unlike some of the game's nonsensical fads, they actually work.

Sheffield United's Regan Slater

Sheffield United's Regan Slater

It was during a conversation about player development, specifically how clubs can help youngsters make the jump from academy to first team, that Wilder raised the notion of reprising reserve leagues. The present system, which requires them to compete at under-23 level, has been criticised for failing to replicate the demands of the senior game; a theory to which Wilder, despite admitting he does not have all the answers, clearly subscribes.

"It's difficult because there are so many ways of looking at it," he said. "Do you make it a reserve league, so you are playing against the best players who aren't getting in the team? 

"If we play Nottingham Forest's reserves, say, they are going to be facing players who are experienced and good players. Probably some internationals. 

"It's difficult for our senior players to play in the under-23's, not least because you can only have three in there at any given time."

Sheffield United's Sam Graham

Sheffield United's Sam Graham

Although Wilder has gone on record to praise the work of Travis Binnion and his staff at the Steelphalt Academy, the 51-year-old's decision to send United's best young players out on loan betrays his frustrations with the current structure. Regan Slater, Sam Graham and Rhys Norrington-Davies, of Wales under-21's, have all been placed with lower or non-league clubs in recent months rather than continue to work at Professional Development League level.

Recognising how United accelerate academy members through the age groups, something Binnion believes exposes them to stress, Wilder insisted the number of top-flight clubs now using the loan system confirms others share his concerns. It is a situation United, after recruiting Liverpool's Ben Woodburn during the close season, are expected to exploit again when the transfer window reopens in January.

"Teams have recognised players need to play football," Wilder said. "You can only play so many under-23 games. 

"Managers will have their view on what under-23's football is like for lads in that age group. It's great here, that our under-18's play in the under-23's because it's a big step up and they learn. But our under-23's are all out playing league football."