Not even Sheffield United’s fans would have thought in their wildest dreams that they would be in seventh place in the Premier League, having played 14 matches and above the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United.
Such has been Chris Wilder and the Blades’ rise, it has been a whirlwind few months for the club from Sheffield. After gaining automatic promotion, not many would have believed they would even remain in the division, let alone chasing for a top-seven finish and European football.
The 52-year-old has been tagged with the colloquiums that many English managers do; that they are ‘out of touch’ and ‘route one football’. But Wilder has dispelled all of those myths with his energetic, robust and even free-flowing attacking game plans he devises – especially against the top six.
Only last week, Sheffield United entertained Manchester United at Bramhall Lane with the score ending three-a-piece. There was drama, intensity and vigour in the Blades’ game, whereas the same could not be said about Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side.
⚔ @SheffieldUnited are unbeaten in their first 7⃣ away matches
They're the first newly-promoted side to do so since 1992/93 pic.twitter.com/cvd3VPeNca
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 2, 2019
When looking through one to 11 in Wilder’s team, it would be overly generous to suggest these are players that can cut their weight at a ‘bigger’ club in the Premier League. And yet, through their manager and his vision, they are outplaying most teams on a weekly basis.
Wilder has stuck to his guns by deploying a back-three in England’s top division, with the wing-backs work-minded and constantly up and down the pitch. It is clear that every single player buys into Wilder’s ambition and philosophy just by seeing how hard they are trying for one another.
The Englishman relies on the work ethic of the players in his side and will not settle for less. In fact, in an interview earlier in the season, Wilder said it was absolutely mandatory that his men work themselves to the bone for the 90 minutes, and is not something that should be applauded.
Perhaps Wilder has not received the total admiration that others would get due to where he is from, but his performances on the pitch and the way he has so far navigated this season in the Premier League should speak volumes.
In the current climate, with managers being hired and fired in quick succession, it will be no surprise to see Wilder’s name talked about at some juggernaut clubs – just like it has been at Arsenal.
The Gunners sacked Unai Emery last week and have placed ex-player Freddie Ljungberg in charge on an interim basis. While Wilder might not be the unanimous ‘popular’ decision, he would be a coach that comes in and restores parity to a currently disillusioned dressing room.
There might be a long way to go until the end of the season, and things can change with a flip of a coin in the Premier League, but what Wilder has achieved to present with his hometown club has been nothing short of spectacular.
His devotion, energy and pure resilience – as well as getting the very best oozing out of his players – is something to behold, and should be respected and admired. Wilder is an example for other British coaches to look to and can go from strength to strength with a squad that enjoys playing for him.