Sheffield Derby: The message Sheffield Wednesday manager Steve Bruce delivered to Sheffield United’s Chris Wilder
It towards the end of last year, during the closing stages of Steve Bruce's tenure at Aston Villa, when Chris Wilder last received a message from his Sheffield Wednesday counterpart.
"My wife saw him away in Portugal and although she didn't know him, he came over had a word," the Sheffield United manager revealed today. "He told her 'Your husband nearly got me the sack.' He was joking and it was funny, which shows he's down the earth. I've got respect for him and we'll definitely have a drink afterwards."
For those living in a hermetically sealed bubble, Wilder was referring to after the latest Steel City derby which takes place at Hillsborough on Monday night. The match, Bruce's seventh in charge of the hosts since replacing Jos Luhukay, comes almost exactly six months after his then employers Villa were dismantled 4-1 by United.
Despite later being held accountable by the former European champions' owners for their club's failings, the 58-year-old's results at Wednesday have demonstrated they were wrong to lay the blame solely at his feet. Like United, who are second in the table, they enter next week's fixture on the back of a win and unbeaten in six.
Bruce's presence in the dug-out promises to change not only the dynamic of the contest but also relations in the dug-out. Wilder, a lifelong United supporter and former player, suspects his opposite number will adopt a markedly different strategy to the one employed by Luhukay during November's meeting at Bramall Lane, which finished goalless after the Dutchman ordered his players to park the proverbial bus. It was a tactic, combined with Luhukay's insistence that he had taken part in bigger games, which frustrated Wilder so much he could not bring himself to mention Bruce's predecessor by name during his pre-match media briefing.
"I know there has been a couple of different opinions from opposition managers over the last couple of years," he said. "I think Carlos (Carvalhal) said 'it’s just a game' which I didn’t get and the other guy said he’s played in bigger which I didn’t get even more."
"But Steve has hit the nail on the head, being the man that he is," Wilder added. "Brought up in the north-east, having been involved in Manchester derbies and so-called derbies between Liverpool and Manchester United. He gets it, I get it, our supporters get it, their supporters get it, and the players get it. It’s great to be involved in."
A lifelong United supporter and former player, Wilder worked briefly under Bruce during the latter's spell as United manager.
"Steve was here as a player-manager, then a short period as manager.," he said. "That was the first time I got to know him.
"I wasn’t really playing regular, so it wasn’t a big relationship. But, as he has said, he has taken note of my career, and I don’t think you cannot take note of Steve’s career as a manager and what he has done.
"He is a proper football man and a proper guy. He is a man who I have an enormous amount of respect for. He says it as it is, and he has certainly galvanised a really good group of players, at a powerful football club."
Having prepared for the game second in the table, United are attempting to gain promotion from the Championship; a feat Bruce has achieved four times since hanging-up his boots following what Wilder described as a "stellar career" with Manchester United..
"When big name players come out and into management, there's a big spotlight on them," Wilder continued. "He won titles and FA Cups. Everyone talks about how hard this division is to get out of. To get out of it once is hard enough. To do it four times is excellent. Who is to say he won't galvanise.them?"
Still, in keeping with the occasion, Wilder could not resist firing a shot across Wednesday's bow.
"We don't want them to do well and they feel they same way about us," he said. "That's just how it is. I wasn't sat there cheering them on when they were in the play-off final a while back and they won't be cheering us on hoping we'll go up. That's just the way it is in the city."