Sheffield United's Chris Wilder on the emotional price paid by Premier League managers ahead of his reunion with Jurgen Klopp

Chris Wilder always suspected it would be testing.

Thursday, 25th February 2021, 5:15 pm

Just not quite as testing as it has turned out. Sheffield United, the team he has supported since childhood, once played for and now manages, enter Sunday’s game against Liverpool 14 points adrift of safety. Barring a miraculous sequence of results, relegation beckons.

Sixty miles across the Pennines, Jurgen Klopp is also going through a pretty tough time of it. Both personally and professionally, with the reigning Premier League champions falling 19 points behind Manchester City after losing all of their last four matches in the competition.

Despite their recent difference of opinion, over plans to increase its rules on substitutes, Wilder will sympathise with the predicament his opposite number finds himself in ahead of this weekend’s game at Bramall Lane. Like Klopp, Wilder doesn’t just work for a football club. He lives and breathes it.

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Chris Wilder admits being a Premier League manager can be an emotionally draining experience: David Klein/Sportimage

Well, I think you could answer that pretty easily, knowing what I’m about and what my personality is about,” he admitted earlier this month, in response to a question about whether this is his most difficult period in management. “It’s been very painful personally, seeing the results and the position we are in. Everybody is feeling it. Nobody is jumping through hoops. It’s a caring club and a caring staff. I care about the football club and everyone at it.”

Despite taking on some hugely difficult challenges, Wilder had experienced almost continuous success in the technical area until September’s return to action. After delivering four trophies to Alfreton, he steered Halifax Town into the Conference play-off final despite a crippling financial crisis. Politics were a problem at Oxford, but Wilder guided them back into the Football League. Then, having grown tired of events in the boardroom, he took charge of Northampton - overcoming the threat of liquidation and securing another promotion. Two more quickly followed at United, coupled with a ninth placed finish last term.

Although Wilder warned that would prove difficult to replicate, reminding that survival was still United’s aim, the 53-year-old could not have envisaged it would take them until January to win a top-flight game. They have claimed two more since, over Manchester United and fellow strugglers West Bromwich Albion. But after being beaten by Fulham six days ago, any realistic hope of survival vanished.

Liverpool have been hamstrung by many of the same issues which have strangled United’s campaign, including injuries. Klopp’s relationship with his squad is one of the tightest in the division, with only the one Wilder has built behind the scenes at Bramall Lane coming close. The visitors' struggles are bound to have taken a huge emotional toll on the German; particularly at the time when he is also grieving the loss of his mother Elisabeth. That is a private matter. But the rest of his troubles, those relating to the football pitch, are being played out in public.

Like Chris Wilder, Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp has a close bond with his squad: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

“When you’ve been on the type of journey we have,” Wilder said, “You know that takes a special kind of bond to complete. So, yes, you do feel it intensely when things don’t go well. It’s more than just a job, because you put so much into it.”

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