DANNY Wilson faces one of the the biggest tests of his managerial career to ensure Ched Evans’ rape conviction does not derail Sheffield United’s promotion campaign.
That’s the view of Ian Maynard, a Professor of Sports Psychology at Sheffield Hallam University, who believes Wilson’s man management skills could decide whether they are playing Championship or League One football next term.
If they are to be promoted, they must now do so without the services of their 29-goal top scorer Evans. The Welsh international was sentenced to five years in prison last week after being convicted of rape at Caernarfon Crown Court.
“It’s certainly an interesting dilemma,” said Maynard, who is also a director of Hallam’s acclaimed Centre for Sport and Exercise Science.
“It would be interesting to know how the players were prepared throughout the trial, but I would expect the manager prepared them for the worst case scenario. The effects can now be two-fold. Either the manager can use the situation as a mechanism to improve cohesion - to ‘do it for Ched’ - or he could treat his absence almost like an injury or a long-term suspension, in that there’s nothing that can be done to prevent it.”
With a possible appeal still pending, Wilson has understandably refused to discuss Evans’ conviction. But the route the United manager will decide to take depends largely on the morale of his players. Maynard, who has over 20 years experience working with elite sportsmen and women, said. “It will be a big test of the squad’s mental toughness, but they’ll have to refocus and get on with things. It’ll be difficult for the players, of course, who have played and trained with Ched all year round, and see him as a friend.
“But Danny has to refocus them and remind them why they are where they are in the league, and that it’s not all down to one player.
“It will test Danny’s leadership - he must make sure they remain focused on their football, and nothing else.”
Evans was convicted on the eve of Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at MK Dons, which cut United’s lead over rivals Wednesday to just one point. By the time United kick off against Stevenage on Saturday they could have been leapfrogged by The Owls, who face Brentford at 3pm.
Some players could benefit from casting the odd glance towards Hillsborough. Maynard added “If your players bite on the fact that you’re up against your bitter rivals for promotion, then I would certainly push it.”