Sheffield United star reveals the most poignant thing Chris Wilder has ever told his players
John Fleck can still remember the speech Chris Wilder gave to his squad when, after taking charge of Sheffield United in the summer of 2016, he began laying the foundations for what would prove the first of two promotions in only three seasons.
“One of the things he told us,” the midfielder said, “Was that if we went on to win things we’d all become friends for life. That we’d be bonded together for the rest of our careers, No matter where we went or whatever happened,we’d always be part of one big group.”
Fleck had cause to reflect upon the manager’s promise earlier this week when Richard Stearman, a member of the squad which reached the Premier League last term, departed for Huddersfield Town.
The centre-half, signed following United’s climb out of their third tier, had struggled for opportunities since the start of the campaign. But in recognition of his service, both on the pitch and behind the scenes, Wilder released Stearman from his contract to accelerate his move to The John Smith’s Stadium.
Two more long-serving players, Leon Clarke and Kieron Freeman, also appear destined to leave following tomorrow’s match at Arsenal as United pave the way for new arrivals ahead of this month’s transfer deadline.
“It’s always difficult to see boys leave,” Fleck, one of Wilder’s first signings, said. “Especially those who have been here since he first took over.
“Ultimately, they’ve come to the club and given it their all. No matter how long they’ve been here. So they’re all part of the story and they’ll always stay mates.
“Even with lads who have left before, we’ve all stayed in touch and we all still talk.”
Although some of his colleagues have inevitably fallen by the wayside, such has been the speed of United’s progression, Fleck is a member of a select band of players who have grown with the club.
Chris Basham and Jack O’Connell, who are also expected to feature at the Emirates Stadium, were in United’s first starting eleven following Wilder’s appointment. So was Billy Sharp, who the 52-year-old insists remains an important part of his plans despite spending long periods on the bench in recent months.
Speaking ahead of a match which could see United consolidate their grip on a top six place, Fleck admitted: “Those League One days seem such a long time ago now, only because so much has happened since then.
“We’ve come a long way in a short period of time and we’ve got to keep trying to do that.”