Why Sheffield United new boy won't be intimidated by all the talk about Leeds United

For much of the past 48 hours, ever since Leeds were crowned champions of the Championship, the conversation in English football has revolved around just how big and just how powerful Sheffield United’s neighbours will become.

Sunday, 19th July 2020, 5:30 pm
Updated Sunday, 19th July 2020, 6:45 pm

As protocol dictates, Chris Wilder congratulated Marcelo Bielsa and his team on their achievement ahead of tomorrow’s Premier League fixture with Everton. But given the rivalry which developed between the two clubs last season, when United pipped the Argentine’s squad to promotion, do not expect to hear him talking about Leeds again until they meet in top-flight competition.

As members of Yorkshire’s sporting, cultural and political communities whip themselves into a frenzy over events at Elland Road, the fact United enter the penultimate fixture of their season chasing a place in Europe seems to have been lost among the noise. Watching the drama unfold from the stands, will be the first new player to arrive at Bramall Lane since matches resumed following the Covid-19 pandemic. And one who, after spending the past five years of his career north of the border in Scotland, has represented a club of significantly greater stature than the one where Bielsa is currently employed.

“In all respect, I’m not so sure people really understand just how big Rangers are,” Wilder said, outlining the reasons behind his decision to sign their former goalkeeper Wes Foderingham on a free transfer. “The same goes for Celtic too. Seriously, there’s unbelievable pressure associated with representing either of them and it takes a strong person to do that.”

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Wilder experienced the demands associated with being an Old Firm player first hand 12 years ago, when he travelled with an acquaintance to watch the 2008 UEFA Cup final between Rangers and Zenit St Petersburg at the Etihad Stadium.

“I didn’t have a ticket but a pal of mine, who is a massive Rangers fan, said we were going anyway.” Wilder remembered. “People who know us will understand it was an early start and, when we got off the train at Manchester Piccadilly at about 10 in the morning there must already have been 10,000 Rangers fans there. I think there was 120,000 in the city that day. Rangers and Celtic, they’ve got fans all over the world and that means there’s an enormous amount of pressure on you and focus. You need to be tough to handle that and Wes has handled it.”

Foderingham, aged 29, agreed a three year contract with United before being unveiled on Friday after leaving Ibrox in May. Previously of Fulham, Crystal Palace and Swindon Town - where United first began tracking his progress - he joins a department Wilder concedes will experience a great deal of change later this summer, even though the manager still hopes to renew Dean Henderson’s loan from Manchester United.

“He’s a talented ‘keeper and we’re not bringing in someone to make us weaker,” Wilder, confirming Darren Ward had pushed Foderingham’s credentials before the deal was processed. “Wardy is the best goalkeeping coach I’ve worked with and his attention to detail and viewpoint is brilliant.”

Ibrox Stadium where Wes Foderingham used to play: Craig Foy / SNS Group

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Ryan Jack, James Tavernier and Wes Foderingham (R), now of Sheffield United, take a look around the pitch prior to the UEFA Europa League Group G match between Rangers and Villarreal CF at Ibrox Stadium: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images