If you asked Stefan Scougall to name his favourite managers, Nigel Adkins would probably not come top of the list.
After all, one of the former Scunthorpe and Southampton chief’s last acts at Sheffield United was to tell the midfielder his services were no longer required at Bramall Lane.
Fortunately for Scougall and, given last season’s results perhaps the club as a whole too, Chris Wilder’s arrival during the close season brought a change of direction which has breathed new life into his career.
“The gaffer knows I have energy,” Scougall said. “And that’s the way he likes to play, with high intensity, good pressing and direct football where you have a real go at teams. For me personally, that’s my game and it’s probably a better fit. Now it’s up to me to prove what I can do and that I’m worthy of a place in his team.”
Scougall could make his 15th outing of the season at Shrewsbury Town tonight where Wilder’s side, who beat Port Vale three days ago, attempt the close the gap on League One’s automatic promotion places. The 23-year-old made an immediate impact after joining United from Livingston in 2014. But the departure of Nigel Clough, who was responsible for luring him away from Almondvale, appeared to signal the end of his time in South Yorkshire.
“If you are playing for a club of this size and stature then, yes, of course you always want to stay,” Scougall continued. “But Nigel Adkins, who came in when Nigel Clough went, told me to get another team. If you’re not wanted then there’s no point in staying because everybody wants to play. Or at least feel as if you’ve got a chance of playing. But, I’m not going to deny, remaining at Sheffield United was always my aim.”
Although Scougall bears no animosity towards Adkins - “Different people have different ideas. That’s football. It’s nothing personal.” - Wilder and the Edinburgh-born midfielder are clearly a much better fit. On and, as Scougall explained, off the pitch.
“The team spirit has helped the gaffer be successful over the years,” he continued. “He has forged a togetherness in the team.
“We have brought a lot of new players in, and it’s hard to do that quickly. We have had a few nights out, I think that’s helped with team bonding, and that’s due to the manager. Getting the boys out, a few drinks, people might say that’s not the right way, but it’s a way to get the boys together and it’s worked.
“You are here with each other for nine or ten months of the year, you talk every day, so you need to get to know each other and bond. You can see on the pitch at the moment there is a great team spirit.”
At first glance, Scougall’s experiences under Wilder and his predecessor go against the grain. Adkins, an advocate of possession based football and patient build-ups, appeared a more natural exponent of Scougall’s talents given that he stands less than five feet seven inches tall. But Wilder, who unashamedly prefers a more combative approach, recognises it is not the size of the dog in the fight that counts. It is the size of the fight in the dog. Which explains Scougall’s renaissance.
“The gaffer saw how I played when I first came down here to England with Nigel Clough,” he said. “It was all about a high intensity back then too and so he (Wilder) sat me down at the start of the season and told me that’s what he wanted again. The gaffer is really open, he’s honest and you can speak to him about training and the games.”
United are fourth in the table following their 4-0 win over Bruno Ribeiro’s side. Shrewsbury, in 23rd, are without a manager following Micky Mellon’s decision to join Tranmere Rovers earlier this month. Like Ribeiro, a former United player, his replacement Danny Coyne also boasts an insider knowledge of United having spent eight months there before being released in 2013.
Scougall wants to avoid the same fate when his contract expires at the end of the campaign.
“That’s definitely the aim,” he said. “I don’t want to leave, I want to help this club get back to where it belongs. So what I’ve got to do is repay the gaffer’s faith by putting in performances and proving to him that I’m worth a place in his team. I love it here and I don’t want to let anybody down.”