Why Chris Wilder will leave such a huge void at Sheffield United
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But his most important achievement during the four-and-a-half years he spent in charge of the club came off the pitch, restoring the relationship between the team and its supporters which appeared fractured beyond repair when Wilder replaced Nigel Adkins at the helm in May 2016.
It explains why, despite losing 22 and drawing two of their 28 games since September, huge swathes of United’s fan base were aghast at the news he was departing ahead of Sunday’s visit to Leicester City.
And, as United get ready to embark upon the search for his successor, means the greatest challenge whoever gets the job will face is not reminding the squad how to win football matches but winning the hearts and minds of those who, until Covid-19 forced the English game behind closed doors, paid their hard earned money to file through the turnstiles.
Wilder didn’t ease himself into the hot seat at Bramall Lane. He dived in, smashing through the entrance doors of the manager’s office and changing United’s culture through sheer force of personality. Wilder, who had previously served them as a player and was a lifelong follower himself, already had an insight into the treatment United required to rouse them from the coma they had slipped into before his predecessor’s sacking.
A regular visitor to the stadium during his spells with Halifax, Oxford and Northampton Town, Wilder arrived forearmed with a plan and began actioning it within an hour of signing his first contract - ripping down the motivational posters Adkins had pinned to the walls of the corridor which leads to the home dressing room with his bare hands. The squad was torn-up, with transfer negotiators being chastised whenever negotiations with targets began to drag, and, after a slow start, promotion was delivered with four matches to spare. Another, this time from the Championship, followed 24 months later. United then finished ninth in the top-flight, despite seeing the first national lockdown rob them of momentum.
Unable to regain it following September’s return to action, Wilder is now expected to be stepping away from the job he had coveted ever since becoming a coach at the end of his playing career. Despite frequently insisting otherwise, those closest to him know he had always wanted to lead United since entering the technical area.
Although he is set to leave, Wilder’s presence will still be felt at United for a long time to come. By his own admission, his “fingerprints were all over” nearly every aspect of their footballing operations - with numerous key figures behind the scenes owing their positions to Wilder’s patronage and even the matchday walk-on music being changed at his request following consultations with assistant Alan Knill a regular concert-goer.
Wilder’s departure has not only seen United lose a superb manager. It has also created a huge void behind the scenes.