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Dublin: 8°C Saturday 17 April 2021

David Meyler: From ballboy to manager, Wilder's time at Sheffield United was the stuff of fairytales

In this week’s column, the former Ireland midfielder talks about the Blades’ managerial departure before giving his predictions on two FA Cup and Premier League matches.

Chris Wilder lifting the League One trophy with Billy Sharp in 2017.
Chris Wilder lifting the League One trophy with Billy Sharp in 2017.
Image: PA

EX-IRELAND INTERNATIONAL David Meyler is The42′s football columnist for this season.

Every Friday, the former Hull City and Sunderland midfielder will give expert insight and his predictions ahead of the weekend’s Premier League action, alongside the latest William Hill prices.

In his latest column, Meyler takes a look at Chris Wilder’s tenure with Sheffield United now it has come to an end, before giving his predictions on a relegation six-pointer between Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United. 

Meyler WH banner

 Chelsea v Sheffield United, 1.30pm Sunday 

Sheffield United parted company with Chris Wilder over the past week, but the magnificent work he did at that club can not be understated. 

A local lad, he was a ballboy for the Blades before beginning his professional career as a player at Bramall Lane.

Then, having saved Northampton Town from relegation to lead them to the League Two title, Wilder was offered the chance to return to Sheffield United as manager after Nigel Adkins’ departure in 2016. 

Up until this season — when it turned into a bit of a nightmare — his reign was the stuff of fairytales. 

Bottom of English football’s third tier after the start of the 2016/17 campaign, he quickly moulded an exciting team together on limited resources to lift the League One title with a club-record 100 points. 

That success was followed up with a second promotion in three years as they finished runners-up to Leeds United in the Championship. 

Many clubs were unable to handle their style, in which the three centre-halves and two attacking wing-backs are key, on their first campaign back in the Premier League. The Blades claimed ninth place in the top flight. 

The fact that they did so with three Irish players — John Egan, Enda Stevens and David McGoldrick — playing regularly made it even more enjoyable to watch. 

However, all fairytales must come to an end at some stage. Things haven’t gone well this term for the side sitting bottom of the table with just 14 points from 29 matches and the 53-year-old’s departure was announced a week ago. 

I haven’t spoken to anyone at the club, but it appears from reports that they wanted to go in a certain direction by bringing in a director of football and Wilder didn’t approve of that.

He is a strong-minded person and then you’ve got the Saudi owner, Prince Abdullah, who took over from the man who brought Wilder in, Kevin McCabe, after a high court battle in 2019. 

If you look at the reaction of the players on social media when Wilder left, it just shows you what they thought of him as a manager.

Obviously people will ask how come they didn’t perform for him this season and their league position doesn’t lie, but I think they have been very unlucky with injuries to key players.

Last season, they had Dean Henderson in goal but he is back at Manchester United and his replacement, Aaron Ramsdale, has been nowhere as solid. 

Jack O’Connell has been a big loss at the back, and there has to be questions asked of their recruitment too. 

Significant sums of money were spent on forwards Oliver McBurnie, Rhian Brewster and Lys Mousset but they simply do not score enough goals as a team. 

I can’t help but feel a little gutted for Sheffield United because I love everything about them. I’ve spoken in the past about what Wilder has done with that group of players, and mentioned that it’s one of those changing rooms you would want to be in.

I really thought they would have enough to turn things around this season but they just kept getting knocked back at each hurdle.

Now I know they had a heavy loss against Leicester last weekend, but many of their results they have only been by the odd goal.

They will be relegated this season barring a miracle but I definitely felt it would have worked had they been patient with him.

If you look at a club like Norwich City, Daniel Farke brought them up to the Premier League, they went back down but stuck with him. Now they’re on course to be promoted again.

I would have backed Sheffield United to come straight back up under Wilder. At the same time, football is a business and it’s a ruthless industry at that.

But Wilder’s six years at the helm will be remembered as one of the most successful periods in the club’s history and there have been calls for a statue of him to be built outside Bramall Lane, which would be fully deserved.

To achieve what he achieved with the lowest wage bill in the league is truly remarkable, but now they need to focus on getting the right successor in. 

I’d be of the opinion that they should take their time and let caretaker manager Paul Heckingbottom stay in charge for the remainder of the season, which would allow the new manager to start fresh in pre-season. 

5-contenders-to-replace-garry-monk-as-sheffield-wednesday-manager Eddie Howe could be the perfect fit for Sheffield United. Source: PA

Eddie Howe has been linked with the job, as well as the vacant position at Celtic. Who knows what Eddie is going to do, but look at what he achieved at Bournemouth. It was something similar to Wilder.

He could be the the perfect fit. All the Bournemouth players that I have talked to in the past spoke really highly of him and the way he went about his business.

It will be interesting to see where Wilder ends up too, and you’d imagine he will be top of a number of clubs’ wish lists. 

Sheffield United turn their attention to the FA Cup quarter-final this weekend, where they are away to Chelsea on Sunday. 

I was speaking to Edouard Mendy and Ben Chilwell the other day and they were saying the lift that Thomas Tuchel has given the whole place has been fantastic. The impact the German coach has had already appears to be huge, especially in terms of their defence and keeping clean sheets. 

I fully expect them to carry that on in this cup tie. Chelsea have always been a big club in the competition, and are behind only Arsenal and Manchester United in relation to the number of times they have won it (8). 

So I wouldn’t be surprised if went all the way. I still expect Sheffield United to have some sort of reaction to the Leicester defeat. I think it will be close enough, I’m looking at 2-0 Chelsea.

Brighton v Newcastle, 8pm Saturday

newcastle-united-v-brighton-and-hove-albion-premier-league-st-james-park Newcastle's Callum Wilson and Tariq Lamptey of Brighton. Source: PA

The games between the bottom clubs have been very cagey of late, with neither team wanting to lose, and I see that being the case when Brighton host Newcastle in the Premier League on Saturday. 

The Seagulls had a massive win and over Southampton and that will build their confidence. Steve Bruce’s side, meanwhile, performed reasonably well in a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa last Friday.

Brighton are the better football team but their biggest downfall is the lack of an out-and-out goalscorer.

Newcastle have picked up some injuries to key players and the loss of Allan Saint-Maximin is a blow.

I feel like they will both be relatively happy with a point each, so I’ll go for a 1-1 draw.

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