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Wilder to bring the rock ‘n’ roll back to Blades

Former manager set for return as patience with Heckingbottom runs out


CHRIS WIldeR left Sheffield United bottom of the Premier league in 2021, and that is where he will find his hometown club when he returns this week.

If both parties thought they could go on to better things, the intervening years have told a different story. They are, you suspect, better off together.

That is not to disrespect Paul Heckingbottom, who is set to be sacked after two years in charge, the first top-flight casualty of the season. He won promotion in May and, as he said himself, can leave with his head held high. He will be among the favourites for the next decent Championship post.

The immediate challenge for Wilder is to keep United out of that division. A big ask? Yes. But for a man with a big personality and even bigger popularity, it is not mission impossible.

Not with Bramall lane set to rock, rattle and roll when the ‘aggressive northerner in a tracksuit’ — his words — most likely returns to the touchline against liverpool tomorrow night, and then again at home to Brentford on Saturday. The Greasy Chip Butty song — United’s pre-match anthem — will have an extra helping of sauce this week.

Wilder always said that his team lost more to behind-closed-doors football than any of their rivals. He was right. They were seventh in the Premier league and five points off fourth when Covid-19 hit. When summer football returned, it was like the separation of conductor and orchestra. It fell flat very quickly and the team came ninth.

long Covid was all too real in South Yorkshire and Wilder and his side never recovered from the manner in which their season had faded, picking up two points from 17 matches at the start of the following campaign.

To that backdrop, there were strained relations between manager and board. Fundamentally, it centred on recruitment. Come March 2021, the club were recruiting a new boss. Heckingbottom, in a caretaker capacity, could not save them from relegation.

Wilder’s stock remained high but unsuccessful spells at Middlesbrough and Watford lowered his worth, at least beyond Sheffield.

This is the only Premier league job he was likely to get, but that is not to say he won’t make a fine job of it. There is history, as first a player, and later the manager who took them from the purgatory of league One to dreaming of the Champions league.

Wilder, at his best, was a motivator and innovator. His overlapping centre backs put the Blades in the fast lane, even among the supercars of the Premier league. He is one of only two englishmen to win lMA Manager of the Year in the past decade. The other is eddie Howe, and Wilder points to his success at Newcastle on the back of relegation at Bournemouth as reason why managers can improve for what others perceive as failure. The 56-year-old, then, will tell you his best years are ahead of him.

One or two at Middlesbrough may disagree — it just didn’t work for him — but Wilder is a good bloke, too, a players’ manager who likes a pint and a laugh. The sobering reality of the situation he inherits, however, is no joke.

Beaten 5- 0 at Burnley on Saturday — the biggest margin of victory for a team starting bottom of the Premier league — it was the final straw for a hierarchy who had kept faith in Heckingbottom, while using Wilder as an occasional sounding board from afar. Their differences had been mended.

So, it will not be the greatest surprise when he is confirmed as manager for the second time.

And nor will it be a surprise if he suddenly gets a tune from a team who have won once all season. Those greasy chip butties could taste better than ever this week. lSWANSeA

last night sacked manager Mike duff after a run of one win in eight matches.





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