Alan Biggs: Sheffield United’s Paul Coutts and Kieron Freeman show the merits of getting the chance to prove the boss wrong

Chris Wilder
Chris Wilder

There’s a key difference between being a “cast-off” and an “outcast.” Paul Coutts and Kieron Freeman could probably tell you what it is following a big statement from their manager at Sheffield United.

In broaching the subject of new deals for two players he had transfer-listed, Chris Wilder made an even more fundamental point than the effective admission that they had proved him wrong.

Kieron Freeman

Kieron Freeman

It’s about how they were given the opportunity to do so.

Frankly, I’ve never understood why some managers isolate and ostracise players who don’t figure in their plans.

Okay, it’s acceptable and understandable with the odd troublemaker here and there. Historically, this has sometimes been a star player being made an outcast to stop polluting the dressing room or undermine the boss’s authority.

But being “made to train with the kids” is all too commonplace in the game where senior players are concerned. If the player has any pride and professionalism about him, as you’d hope, it’s insulting and unnecessary.

Paul Coutts

Paul Coutts

Certainly, that’s been my reading of Jose Mourinho’s stand-off with Bastian Schweinsteiger at Manchester United.

It’s sad if such tactics are deemed necessary to shift players from clubs. You also wonder if it’s counter-productive to generating interest because other clubs might suspect a disruptive influence.

Wilder made clear it “wasn’t personal” with any of the ten players he released and seven he listed in making a brutal early judgment of the bloated squad he inherited last summer.

Midfielder Coutts and right back Freeman have demonstrated the truth of that by knuckling down and winning back first-team places on merit. They’ll be hard to shift after an unbeaten run of seven league matches.

I think it stems from a managerial lesson Wilder learned during his own career. As he’s said on these pages, Dave Bassett didn’t particularly rate a certain young right back after taking charge at Bramall Lane in 1988.

Yet Wilder survived to play for the Blades in the Premier League. Bassett duly admired his resilience and now we are seeing the same in Wilder’s appreciation of Coutts and Freeman.

It’s fair to assume there would have been a different outcome if they had been packed off to “train with the kids.”

And talking of kids, none is shining brighter than attacking midfielder David Brooks, a redeeming feature of a dismal, but merciful, exit from the woefully restructured Football League (Checkatrade) Trophy.

“We think a lot of him,” says Wilder. “He’s going to be a good player.”