When Chris Wilder was appointed during the close season, he promised no bull or bluster.
This Sheffield United manager, he insisted, would tell it exactly like it is.
Ten months on, and the 49-year-old’s willingness to make good on that commitment has led to some interesting showdowns with his rivals in recent weeks. But, while it might not sit comfortably with United’s PR chiefs, Wilder last night vowed to keep confronting their critics.
“When I came here, I told everybody I wouldn’t dress anything up,” he said. “That I’d speak my mind and call it how it is. If we’ve played well, then I’ll say so. If we haven’t, I’ll make that clear too. It’s always nice to win and, when you do, you’ve got to stay respectful. But sometimes, and this is the bit a few people seem to have difficulty with, you’ve got to accept you’ll get beat.”
Wilder’s plain-speaking means United’s pre-match press conferences are now box office rather than, as has sometimes been the case, utterly banal. Although he refused to name names during another eventful media briefing, it is clear that Bolton Wanderers’, beaten 2-0 at Bramall Lane last weekend, are now in his crosshairs after Phil Parkinson’s “open chequebook” claims.
But Keith Hill, whose Rochdale team host United at Spotland this afternoon, boasts Wilder’s “utmost respect.”
“Rochdale do it the proper way,” Wilder said. “They run themselves properly, when they sell players they put that money back into the club and take care of business.”
“The way he has revitalised a club which had gone flat for a while deserves nothing but admiration. We know this is going to be a really difficult test.”
United travel to Greater Manchester seven points clear at the top of the table while Rochdale, whose midweek game against Port Vale was postponed, are 10th. Earlier this week, Hill (pictured) discussed playing “the kids” as he looks to secure top six qualification and end a run of eight games without a win.
“I don’t take that lightly,” Wilder said. “Keith is brave enough to make decisions like that if he thinks it’s the right thing to do. We always have respect for the opposition and they’re a good side. They will probably count themselves unfortunate not to have got more than a point against us earlier this season. I don’t mind saying that. But things are a lot different now, that was a long time ago and I think we’ve improved.”
“Rochdale will fancy their chances of going on a run and they’re perfectly capable of doing that,” Wilder added. “So we’ve got to make sure we are right at it, the same as we always have been in recent weeks.
“Rochdale have a way that works for them, you see it in Keith’s win ratio there, in the transfer market, and his success in turning an unfashionable, tired football club into a respectable one that plays good football, produces good players and sells them. Then invests that money back into the club, rather than gambling and putting the club at risk. Keith manages, and we like to think we manage things here. You stick to a plan, they have, and we think we have in our own way.”