Amid the hullabaloo of a transfer window, Matt Prestridge’s appointment got lost among the noise.
But, as Sheffield United’s new head of sports science, the Loughborough University graduate has a crucial role to play at Bramall Lane next term - pivotal, in fact, given Chris Wilder’s notoriously combative approach.
“Chris is a very demanding manager and rightfully so,” Prestridge said. “A Chris Wilder team will always work hard. He’ll demand of himself, his staff and his players. My job, together with his assistant, Alan Knill, is to make sure the team can go out there and do what he wants them to do for 90 minutes without getting injured.”
Prestridge worked alongside Wilder and Knill at Northampton Town last season when, despite a series of well-documented distractions behind the scenes, they delivered the League Two title to Sixfields.
Wilder’s decision to bring him on board again after taking charge of United earlier this summer is testament to the quality of Prestridge’s work.
Wilder, who was forced to work with a skeleton squad after Northampton were placed into administration, cited Prestridge’s ability to curb injury levels as a driving force behind what, given the circumstances, was the most improbable of promotion winning campaigns.
“It’s vitally important that you keep people on the football pitch and on the training pitch,” Prestridge said. “But, having said that, you can’t take a cotton-wool approach. If you do, then, in the games themselves, players aren’t going to be able to do what we want them to.
Football is demanding. Football with a purpose, which is what Chris likes, is tough. It’s very difficult physically. If footballers aren’t fit, then they can’t give you much, if anything, at all.”
Prestridge began translating Wilder’s wishes into reality when he started work in South Yorkshire last month. United, who returned from warm-weather training in La Manga over the weekend, continue their preparations for the forthcoming season at Halifax Town tomorrow, having earlier been put through their paces at the English Institute of Sport.
“Everyone has shown a great appretite to work,” Prestridge said. “But we’re all conscious this is only the beginning. Plenty of bullets are going to fly during the course of the season.
“We want the lads out there, every single game, looking like a Chris Wilder team, a Sheffield United team, should.”
“I know what Chris wants from his team. And the players need to be able to do that every Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday all the way through. It’s relentless. It’s important we mirror what the manager wants because, at the top, it’s Chris who sets the direction and drives everyone forward.”
Prestridge worked at Watford, Derby County and Tottenham Hotspur before arring at Northampton when Wilder, a United supporter and former player, grew increasingly concerned by occupancy rates in Sixfields’ treatment room.
“It’s good to have the team back together,” Prestridge, reflecting on his move north, said. “We’ve come off a great season at Northampton, with a great group of players, and left a lot behind that Chris and Alan can be proud of.
“But that’s all gone now, it’s in the past, and too much talk about that from us would be remiss. We’re at Sheffield United now. It’s a different situation and a different club.”
“There are things that we have access to here which are great. There are other things we need to instil in the players. You have to look at every challenge, every club and every game on its own merits.”
Wilder was handed the task of leading United back to the Championship on merit. But the manager’s relationship with Bramall Lane means this is perhaps his most emotionally-charged challenge yet.
“I’m very grateful to Chris for bringing me here,” he said. “Not least because I know how much he loves the football club. He’s delighted to have the job and he’ll give it everything he’s got. He’ll throw everything at it.
“I’ll support him as much as he needs it and give him as much as I can.”