Why Chris Wilder empathises with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer over Dean Henderson
More often than not, it is what managers don’t say during their press conferences, rather than what they do, which actually reveals their innermost thoughts.
The verbal gymnastics, the attempts to side-step questions they’d prefer not to answer without actually lying to a journalist’s face, can make for fascinating theatre. Or absolutely excruciating, depending upon which side of the desk you are sitting on.
Chis Wilder, however, is a pretty straight-up kinda guy. Sheffield United’s media briefings, even at the height of transfer season, are usually short, sharp and forthright with precious little obfuscation.
But when he confirmed earlier this month there would be no more detailed updates on the progress of their negotiations to renew Dean Henderson’s loan it was because, as was stated at the time, the goalkeeper had “some really important games to focus on.” Even before coronavirus forced the suspension of the entire football calendar.
Instead, Wilder’s reluctance to continue discussing the goalkeeper’s future stems from a desire not to frustrate his parent club Manchester United. Staff at Bramall Lane, particularly those operating inside the boot room, are known to enjoy an excellent working relationship with their counterparts across the Pennines. So it is out of respect, after telling The Star in January that talks are taking place, that Wilder has now chosen to limit his comments on Henderson to performances and, if United are unable to keep Covid-19 at arm’s length, the 23-year-old’s health and well-being.
“I’m not going to keep going on about it,” Wilder replied, when asked for the umpteenth time about the odds of the former England under-21 international returning next term. “He’s not our player and it’s not our decision to make. I’ve already spoken about what we’d like to happen but that decision will be taken by other people, which is only right.”
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Wilder’s counterpart at Old Trafford, will appreciate that stance. Not least because, given David de Gea’s chequered displays in the Premier League of late, every time Henderson excels himself, there is a chain reaction inside Manchester United’s own media suite.
Having signed an improved and extended contract with the 20-time English champions before returning to South Yorkshire at the beginning of the campaign, Henderson, who helped United win promotion from the second-tier last season, is viewed by many in the North-West as a the Spaniard’s successor-in-waiting. So what they want to know, and what they keep asking Solskjaer, is when he will flick the switch? With de Gea thought to be earning around £350,000 a week - and also tied down to a long-term deal - Manchester United are in a delicate situation. Solskjaer, quite understandably, would prefer to consider his options in private rather than being bombarded with queries and, given how every word he utters is scrutinised to the nth degree, potentially tripping himself up.
Wilder can sympathise with his opposite number’s situation. Indeed, he went through something similar only two months ago when, despite insisting Billy Sharp still had an important role to play with United, he spent nearly four weeks repeating himself over and over again every time some obscure sports website linked the centre-forward with a move away.
It was a lesson in the pressures that top-flight status brings. And a reminder that, given the spotlight those operating at the highest level are under, folk will try and pick holes in even unequivocal statements.