Alan Biggs: I see no winners - Chris Wilder's Sheffield United exit has shredded of the entire fabric of the club
It’s football, it happens, we shouldn’t be shocked by anything and certainly not after all the signposting in this case.
But that doesn’t stop the pain. Relegations have hurt, play-off final defeats have been torture. But I fear nothing stands to cause Sheffield United longer-lasting anguish and regret than losing Chris Wilder.
With this caveat: I hope I am proved to be as wrong as I believe the club’s rulers to be at this moment.
I see no winners, only losers - including those at the top of the club.
But with good wishes to the soundest of blokes in Paul Heckingbottom, assisted by Jason Tindall and the staying (for now) Alan Knill. None of whom can be blamed for these seismic events and deserve a fair chance, however unlikely in this climate.
Unfortunately, what they are trying to repair is worse than any run of defeats. It feels more the like the shredding of the entire fabric of a football club; causing far more damage than merely dropping a division, as the reaction to Wilder’s departure bears out.
Luminaries from Pep Guardiola to Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker, to Henry Winter and virtually every prominent football figure lined up in condemnation of Wilder’s departure by “mutual consent”.
Manchester City boss Guardiola summed it up best, suggesting he would be bottom and Wilder top if their clubs, and budgets, were reversed. Spot on.
Can they all be wrong? “Mutual” has many shades of meaning. Sources close to Wilder tell me he would “go back tomorrow if he felt able to manage in his way.” United’s CEO Steve Bettis appeared to own it for the club when he referred to a “decision not taken lightly.”
How unavoidable and unnecessarily destructive it all seems.
We can’t move on without paying tribute to an extraordinary manager, one of the top two or three among 50 I have known.
Most Blades fans, in their wisdom, were prepared to accept relegation but not the inspiration behind two promotions, a ninth place in the Premier League and a highly credible plan to bring the Blades back from a predictable relegation.
One failed season in five is what it amounts to. One failed window. A couple of the most expensive signings not paying off (yet). Countless others spectacularly did. The squad was in place to bring United back.
But nothing is forever. And in today’s game, where owners, especially those from abroad, want to be increasingly hands on, “forever” is not long.
Maybe my fears - about a break-out from the most together of dressing rooms with players loyal to Wilder being tempted elsewhere whether the club is open to offers or not - are unfounded. Other “crazy” decisions have panned out well in the long run, for instance Leicester sacking their title-winning manager Claudio Ranieri.
And, of course, internal relationships are key. Wilder and Prince Abdullah had been at odds for a very long time for reasons outlined in many past columns.
But, as per the last-ditch peace proposal presented here last week, it shouldn’t have been about personalities and egos. Just about the club winning - or losing.
Instead of parking the differences for a year, it’s Sheffield United that may suffer the huge loss.