Sheffield United: How Southampton helped shape the Chris Wilder we see today - Alan Biggs' Column
Too much can be made of players or managers facing their former teams. In Chris Wilder’s case, it is 33 years since he left his first club - and without making a senior appearance.
However, Southampton’s visit to Bramall Lane this weekend revives memories of a formative experience for the Sheffield United manager.
In short, he was booted out. The driven and successful guy you see today was partly forged from his response to that.
It’s not often you quote from interviews you did three decades and more ago but this column is indebted to some of the good guys of social media for a highly relevant reminder in this case.
Your correspondent interviewed a then 19-year-old right back for the Blades programme following his release, after four years, by Southampton in 1986.
Wilder’s words then strike a chord even today. In particular, his response to being jettisoned by Saints.
“Maybe I was too casual and needed a kick up the backside,” he told me. “I decided I wouldn’t just lie down and take it.”
Wow - casual! Imagine the Blades boss tolerating that from any of his players, young or old, today. It’s the way he recognised and reacted to that life lesson which shaped the rest of his playing career, rising to the top flight with United, and which underpins his approach to management.
As does this comment, from a subsequent programme article with him during his first full season as a Blades first-teamer: “I haven’t been playing as well as I can. I’ve been very inconsistent and have suffered a bit from a lack of confidence.”
Two things here. Honest and candid self-appraisal, plus an expectation of the same in those he went on to manage.
Wilder is not sparing of players if they under-perform, for whatever reason, just as he is not of himself. Players tend to recognise and accept those two things.
You could conclude that what Wilder said all those years ago has little or no bearing on what happens when Southampton visit on Saturday, but it is an indication of the sort of challenge facing Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side.
United certainly won’t fail for lack of honesty or resolve.