Sheffield United’s Chris Wilder on lockdown, player fitness, John Fleck, Dean Henderson and more
Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder joined The Football Show for a wide-ranging chat, including lockdown life, management style, Dean Henderson and much more.
Wilder, who has masterminded the Blades’ stunning rise from League One to European football hopefuls in the Premier League, spoke to David Jones, Jamie Carragher and Graeme Souness about a range of topics.
- Who is Sheff Utd’s MVP?
- Five top 2019/20 Sheff Utd stats
- Sheff Utd’s season so far – match highlights
Read on to see what Wilder had to say about his side’s stellar season so far, his approach to recruitment and stats and his hopes for the future – including the answer to a question about whether he would one day fancy himself in the England hotseat…
Lockdown life and player fitness
It’s strange times not being involved in football – I’ve not had it since I was 16, going in from when I was an apprentice at Southampton, but at the moments our thoughts are with others.
Some players have been on to me asking if they can go home and see their families – that’s been a bit difficult. Over the last few years we’ve largely had a squad that’s been British-based so this season – this season has been a bit different in terms of our recruitment taking us into the foreign market – but they’ve been good as gold, working away. I’m diving into the coaches, the coaches are diving into groups of players and they’ve been fabulous. I think they understand the situation but are ready to go when asked and told to.
Will it feel like a new season when football finally returns? We just have to deal with it, whether it’s behind closed doors or hopefully in the near future with crowds, we just have to deal with it. It’s an unprecedented scenario and we’ll deal with whatever’s in front of us.
‘Not just making the numbers up’ in the Premier League
We’ve been playing three at the back from League One – we didn’t want to take a wrecking ball to it. We got told it would be a big, scary division going up to the Championship. We respected that and being in it for two years, it’s an incredible division with some big, historic teams. We’ve kept tweaking and tried to improve as we go along.
That’s the challenge; we can’t bridge the gap financially so we have to do it from a physical point of view, attitude, technical and tactical. The players have been brilliant in terms of improving their game and attacking the next division but we have to look for small wins. We wanted to put an extra man in midfield because counter-attack in the Premier League is huge. That’s helped us get a bit of stability and get some really positive results but our philosophy is that we’re going to take the game to you, try to push you back and be competitive; we’re not just here to make the numbers up. You’re trying to find those weaknesses in teams but the majority of our week is based on us.
We just try to be effective. When we played Liverpool at their place they were an unbelievably effective team. Go long, go round, go though… there are different ways to win a game of football. We’ve tried to win games and even though our goals for column is not brilliant, defensively we’ve got a structure and are hard to beat.
We’d like to have a bit more possession in games, which gives you more of an opportunity to dictate the game but the biggest thing is that we’re effective or try to be as much as we can against the quality of the opposition.
Team ethic – and learning from Liverpool and Wolves
I’ve still got the same pillars that I fall back on – honesty in performances, when they come into the training ground, their ability to work within a group. Of course you have some individuals you’re looking to shine but it’s a group effort.
Talent, organisation and togetherness gets you a long way… from my point of view those things have stayed with me throughout the journey.
I look at Liverpool – the relationship that Jurgen Klopp has with his players and the supporters; that togetherness makes them hugely successful and has done in the past.
I’m a big admirer of Wolves and Nuno too. They’ve adjusted from a physical point of view in terms of recovery, they usually play the same team and you’ve seen how well they’ve done, whatever the competition. They’re ahead in terms of how much they have invested but they’re a brilliant example and their second season back in the Premier League has been just as good if not better than their first.
‘Feel’ as well as stats
Stats show and cements certain things that you’re looking for. I’m not fazed by possession for example – look at Leicester winning the title. We’re always trying to hit physical targets and in terms of key stats, where we’re trying to get the ball to, the quality of crosses and the positions we get into are key but it’s always a balance between that and your eye, the eyes of your coaches and the general feel of what you like to see.
John Fleck’s ‘outstanding season’
Our recruitment has always had to be different, even in the Championship. We weren’t a big hitter financially so we’ve had to be smart.
Fleck was playing at Coventry but we’d seen enough about him to know there was talent there and we tried to resurrect his career but it’s the player who has to want to do it. He’s someone who’s really raised his game through the divisions. He’s having an outstanding season. His position’s changed a bit – he played in a (midfield) two last year and now it’s a three so he’s got license to get forward a bit more and arrive late in the box. He started his career as a centre-forward so that’s a natural talent he’s got.
Player criticism? That’s the way it is!
They know it’s black and white from my point of view. They know where they stand and I don’t hear many complaints. If there are, they know which door to knock on.
Dean Henderson wants to be an international goalkeeper, win 50-odd caps, play for Manchester United. He’s going to have to put up with disappointment. That’s how it is. But I talked to Dean afterwards. The players know I’m their biggest supporter and backer.
…but Henderson will be England’s No 1
Yes, 100 per cent. He’s pushing now and he’s a young boy. He’s a charismatic young guy but the biggest thing is that he’s got the mental strength and a brilliant attitude and ability. I’m sure he’ll gain that shirt he’s desperate to get.
Sensible investment vital
I’m a huge believer in the financial aspect of the football club – it’s really important to keep your finger on the pulse. We’ve come from the Championship – and I think I’ve got enough knowledge to talk about it – which is a place that is quite a mess in terms of overspend and teams chasing glory, coming up short and paying for that. We’re all custodians of the football club.
We’re in a completely different league to established Premier League clubs and this being my football club I have a huge responsibility to make sure we do it in the right way. We invested in the summer and at Christmas through money that we’ve earned with our Premier League status but it’s important we look closely at investing at a sensible level that doesn’t affect the long-term future of this football club.
England boss? It’s all about establishing Sheffield United
I’ve got it all on with keeping Sheffield United in the Premier League. I know what the game’s about. It’s our first season, it’s been brilliant and I’m enormously proud but the hardest part is staying there. We’d love to finish the season on the front foot.
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