Why even manager Chris Wilder was surprised by what Sheffield United's players did during two months in lockdown
On the cusp of qualifying for Europe only a season after being promoted and one game away from the semi-finals of the FA Cup, Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder always suspected his players would follow their fitness programmes to the latter during English football’s two month lockdown.
But even he admits to being surprised by the discipline every member of Bramall Lane’s first team squad has shown since being forced to train at home following the suspension of Premier League competition in March.
Wilder and his coaching staff discovered the lengths those under their command have gone to in order to stay in shape when United received permission to begin small-sided sessions at the Steelphalt Academy on Tuesday - nearly 10 weeks after the season was mothballed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Although the players were required to log daily fitness records into a club app, it was only when he met them in the flesh that Wilder realised just how hard they had been working on the treadmills and watt bikes United issued when it became clear the sport was heading for an extended break.
“They’ve kept themselves in brilliant nick,” Wilder said. “They’ve not had their heads stuck in a fridge.
“Every single one of them has done everything we’ve asked of them. I trust them because I know them.
“Very often you get one (that doesn’t do everything right). But that’s not been the case.”
United were seventh in the table when the PL announced it was placing the campaign on hold. Five points outside the Champions League positions - and with a game in hand on fourth-placed Chelsea - Wilder’s men had also reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, where they are scheduled to meet Arsenal at Bramall Lane.
With the Government encouraging a return to action next month - June 12 and June 19 have been mooted as possible restart dates - Wilder added: “These lads haven’t just been sat at home doing nothing. They realise the position they’ve put themselves in, they realise what’s up for grabs, and they want to really go for it."