Wilder Sacking Makes No Sense


"Everybody knows Chris has done a fabulous job, but managers have to get on with owners." - Neil Warnock.

Last week Sheffield United, bottom of the Premier League, fired their manager Chris Wilder to universal dismay. Yesterday without Wilder the team was hammered 5-0 by Leicester City.

There was no bounce back as often happens when a losing manager leaves. The Blades were blunted. Their players looked utterly shipwrecked without their leader, half-heartedly playing as if relegation could not come soon enough for them.

Seen from beyond Bramall Lane Wilder's sacking makes no sense. A personality clash or fundamental disagreement with the Saudi owner Prince Abdullah must have led to the separation but there only ten games to go, the club is still in the F.A. Cup. and relegation seems certain anyway.

The club needs to start planning for next season and unusually for a relegation-bound manager, Wilder had the blessing of his owner for the following campaign.

He had refreshingly admitted they were heading for Championship football and Abdullah had jetted into Yorkshire only last month to reassure the press his manager's job was safe and that he was the right man to lead them back to the Premier League.

But a month later they had fallen out for good, ostensibly because Wilder had attached conditions to his continued employment - an improved training ground, guaranteed signings and the lack of a technical director, requests which the owner did not agree to.

Wilder in happier days
Wilder in happier days

Abdullah was wrong - the club clearly needed additional investment in order to get back into the top flight and Wilder was worth trusting.

The status quo was not worth it - there is little point in being the top flight only to get thrashed every match. The club needed more money to advance.

So if Wilder left on a point of principle then he can hold his head high but that does not help the players or fans.

Abdullah on the other hand just seems another arriviste owner who does not understand the game deep down, a classic example of new money clashing with old knowledge in football.

Wilder was as old school as they come, emblematic of an almost lost world of English football. Born in Sheffield, he began at Bramall Lane as a ballboy before graduating to fan, player and finally manager, so his devotion to the club was utterly unquestionable.

As manager he had brought the Blades up from the third tier to the Premier League and won the 2019 LMA Manager of the Year award, voted for by the coaches of the 92 professional clubs.

He was popular in the game at large, with the Bramall Lane fans and as yesterday's collective breakdown against Leicester proved, crucially with the players too.

If keeping the owner on board is a key part of the job as well, then in that sense Wilder failed as a football manager. But if the ultimate aim of a football team is to win games, then is hard to see how firing the Blades' best coach in 30 years will help them.

His impromptu departure is a textbook example of a seemingly permanent fault line in football: An owner and a manager who are just not on the same wavelength.

Sheffield United will go down this season in more ways than one.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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