What does Chris Wilder's life after Sheffield United look like amid talk of Celtic move
So what next for Chris Wilder? Or should that be ‘where next?’ as he prepares to say au revoir rather than goodbye to Sheffield United, the team he has supported since childhood and will continue to follow despite seeing his reign at Bramall Lane draw to a close.
Celtic has been mooted as a possible destination. Although, in the frenzied and unpredictable world of Old Firm football, things can change pretty quickly.
But if Parkhead doesn’t beckon, then there will be no shortage of clubs interested in acquiring his services - either right now or, when the managerial merry-go-round cranks back into action, they also find themselves with vacancies to fill later this summer.
There will be people around Wilder, including members of his own family, who would probably rather see him take some time away from the game. The 53-year-old has enjoyed 58 brilliant months in charge of United, twice leading them to promotion and then last season’s ninth placed finish. But it has been a bruising experience too. Particularly this term, as the results which had papered over some major political differences behind the scenes began to go south, exposing some of the more dysfunctional aspects of United’s operation.
Despite leaving behind a squad sitting at the bottom of the Premier League and destined for relegation, Wilder’s stock within the game remains high. And rightly so, given his proven track record of delivering success on modest budgets. Before returning to South Yorkshire in May 2016, he had also won honours with both Northampton Town and Oxford, following successful stints in non-league with Alfreton and Halifax.
But Wilder is also aware that reputations can be quickly forgotten. Unless, like Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti or Jurgen Klopp, your body of work is so utterly impressive it would survive a 12 month or two year sabbatical. For all his remarkable achievements in South Yorkshire, he does not enjoy that luxury. So rather than spending time relaxing and recuperating following four-and-a-half seasons in what he recently acknowledged is a “24/7 job”, Wilder will attempt to jump back in the saddle as quickly as possible. And few in British football should be viewed as more prestigious or coveted than the one Neil Lennon has just vacated in the east end of Glasgow.
Despite the snobbery which exists south of the border, not to mention misguided belief that money is the best gauge of a club’s stature, Celtic and Rangers are among a small handful of genuinely gigantic names in British football. They are superb sporting institutions with passionate followings. Derbies between the two are among the biggest in the world.
Actually, make that the biggest according to former Celtic and Barcelona marksman Henrik Larsson.
“Nothing compares to Celtic playing Rangers - absolutely nothing.” he once said. “You can talk about Barca playing their old rivals from Madrid but, believe me, it’s not even close.
“I’ve played in those two matches so I know what I’m talking about. There is nothing bigger than the Glasgow derby.”
“It isn’t just another game.” agreed Graeme Souness, previously of Liverpool, Rangers and also Galatasaray. “It’s the biggest derby I’ve ever been involved in. Everton versus Liverpool, the one in Istanbul. They were big games, yes. But they still don’t come near to this. Nothing comes close to this in fact.”
"In my managerial career, from my point of view, there was simply nothing quite like it,” Walter Smith, another legendary figure at Ibrox, acknowledged. “It doesn’t matter what anyone says, you are lucky if you’re a part of them.”
For Wilder, the attractions of joining the 51 time Scottish champions and former European Cup holders are obvious. Although Steven Gerrard has reinvigorated their arch-rivals, taking charge of Celtic would allow him to compete for major honours and also expand his horizons on the continent. Even finishing second this season will see them enter the Champions League qualifying rounds.
Supremely talented and full of conviction, Wilder would fancy his chances of turning Celtic around following a campaign every bit as chaotic as the one he has experienced in South Yorkshire.
But in order to continue operating at the very highest level, he must agree to change certain aspects of his own character and job description too. At United, Wilder was proud of the fact his “fingerprints” were over “every single aspect” of their sporting operations.
Such influence will not be on offer or even countenanced by the suits inside Celtic’s boardroom. Or, for that matter, those anywhere else in the English Premier League. Probably even the Championship.
Entering the Glasgow goldfish bowl would also be the ultimate test of Wilder’s character. The scrutiny he would be under excruciatingly intense, meaning diplomacy and tact are required.
But if Celtic doesn’t beckon, and the flirtatious glances members of his inner circle have reportedly been casting in their direction are ignored, Wilder will not be short of offers from sides closer to home. Particularly in two months time, when many of his counterparts across England’s leading two divisions are likely to face the axe.
Although Neil Warnock, his predecessor at United, now has the Middlesbrough job nailed down, officials there are known to have previously considered Wilder. West Bromwich Albion, where he enjoys a number of admirers behind the scenes, could also be tempted if they are relegated and Sam Allardyce decides to step down. Stoke City, if Michael O’Neill grows tired of life in Staffordshire, might be another option. The same goes for Crystal Palace, if Roy Hodgson decides to go.