Chris Wilder As I type this he is still in charge but rumours continue to swirl sadly. It would be desperately disappointing if our alliance lasts only 2 seasons. I think if the status quo continues then I would have no issues Wilder walking away next summer but I feel the bond and the work he has done would be thrown away for him and the club if he walked away now. We still have a good side and even if we do not get the investment we need to push on; there is nothing to stop us being an established Champ club for a good few years. Do we and him want more? Of course, but I think we are all a bit naive if we think that we were going to go from League One to the Premier League in 2-3 years. The start this season has accelerated our ambitions. Now we could be the victim of our own success in many ways.
Last season I wrote this: What a job he has done. I could write so much about the turnaround in attitude, work ethic, organisation, team spirit, level of football, discipline and the positivity he has brought in. However, in simple terms he has changed the side and club around from losers to winners. In 12 months’ time everything I said remains. We had a good season that could have been great. Sure, even he made some mistakes with team selections, odd signing or two and subs etc but overall, he has continued to do an incredible job. His man management is superb, he says it how it is and even some of his controversial post match comments (Hull) have worked to motivate the team. He is our leader and he has completely galvanised the fans. We dropped off around December time and the dream of a back to back promotion fell short but not sure how much you could pin on him. The loss of Coutts, the loss of form of a few and simply the energy levels dropping off were not really Wilder’s fault. He did his best with the signings he made but the ones in the summer worked whilst the ones in January generally did not. He got the best out of some real journeyman strikers that according to some had no chance of excelling at this level. He picked up some more gems in the transfer market (Blackman, Stevens, Baldock etc) and had faith in some of the young players (Brooks, Slater). He signed his own players but was not afraid not to play them if they did not make an impact. The likes of Holmes and Wilson for instance were only bit part players. It is odd that he chased players like Leonard and Holmes for so long but they were not really factors. They were both big disappointments.
Love his honesty and his after-match interviews are really refreshing in honest but also some eye-opening comments that sometimes surprise mixed in with this. He generally sees it the same as the average fan though and does not sugar coat things good or bad. Called the team out after Hull but then saw much better performance and rightly praised them in turn.
He still had us playing adventurous football with the wing backs and overlapping centre backs. At our best we pressed, passed and moved and attacked. At times we had spells becoming a bit predictable but for the most part we kept doing the same attacking bang at it type performance and it was only that extra bit of quality at either end of the pitch that stopped us winning several more games of football. There were only a handful of really bad performances (Hull, Preston and Millwall away off the top of my head and a few flat but not bad ones at home, Wednesday, Forest, Bolton) and only maybe three games did we get a pasting and even those we had moments (Cardiff, Fulham and Wolves). The attitude he had was we belonged and the no fear ethos spread through the team. I feared we may struggle to avoid a relegation scrap but we were in a promotion scrap and only just missed out really at the end. Tactically he probably learnt some lessons as he was up against coaches/managers he has never been before at a higher level and a few times he was outcoached but more often than not managers had to change their set up against us. He kept to his principles of attacking and playing football. Indeed, if we had took our chances and not let in some daft goals (all easily avoidable) then despite the concerns over the lack of proper investment we still could have made the playoffs.
Love the man for what he has done. We just have to somehow hold onto him. I have every confidence with the right backing, he will get this club back in the top flight. He has done an incredible job at the Lane. We win a lot more than we lose, we play good energetic football and it is mostly great to be at the matches again. Just needs that extra bit of quality and we will be there. We are oh so close. His frustrations with the board seems clear and he has alluded to making comments after the season or as he said when the time is right. He seems more pro McCabe from the bits we have seen but surely whoever is in charge he wants two things – no one to interfere in the first team stuff but to give him proper funds to allow us to complete.
His comments after the game against Preston really ramped up how he felt as he talked of walking if things did not get sorted. You sense he knows this is his window of opportunity. United start badly next season and no one will be interested at him at lower Prem/top end Champ. Now he could maybe get a WBA / Southampton or someone similar. Sure, some of the jobs may be Championship like United but these clubs would back him financially and he would have a better chance of promotion. The Sunderland link does not go away and it seems he knows that if he got them going then he may get some proper investment from them. Sadly, they have more potential than us. It was interesting his criticism as he does shoot from the hip a bit like Warnock used to. It cannot have impressed either of his bosses. No matter what he had done before and how true his comments are – the people that run the club that do not have to spend money – will surely not be happy. If me or you called out our bosses at work regardless if all our fellow employees agreed – we would probably face disciplinary action. It was a ballsy move but one that I am not sure will have desired affect in terms of it being sorted out. Hope I am wrong.
He knows if he stays and we do not do as well (maybe as he is not backed) and his success would be forgotten. People compare him to Howe, Wagner, Dyche but these all took their teams up. Wilder would not get a Premier League job I do not think unless he took us up or close. Teams will go for the recycled managers or foreign angle. That is proven. He knows this is a big summer for him and the club. If he stays in 12 months he may not have the options he has now. My gut feeling is his love for the club will see him stick it out but I would not be shocked if he is not here either.
Grade B+ (Last season A+)
Alan Knill continues to quietly go about his work behind the scenes. Appreciated by the fans and he continue to ensure the preparation for opponents and our organisation is good. He is a big part of what we do. Wilder clearly sees him as essential to what he does and has put him in front of the press a bit more this season He will have been a bit disappointed with set plays/corners this season and something to work on next season as he has hung his hat on this in previous years. A huge influence on Wilder and the players and really popular figure.
Luke Prestridge is still here as head of Sports Science. The injuries we have seemed to have been bad ones (Freeman, Coutts) and nothing to do with general fitness. We have had a few more injuries this year, pulls to likes of Stearman, Duffy, Clarke etc but overall since he came we have had less injuries, seem fitter, finish games stronger, start games better and just look much sharper. For the first time in a while we are actually outworking teams by running (skill of course big factor!) Wilder might be a touch disappointed with number of late goals we have conceded compared to scoring them but not sure this was down to fitness as much as concentration and in some instances the ball just dropping badly for us.
Darren Ward is the keeping coach and has been here since Clough and Adkins. He has been involved in Blackman and Moore’s work of course but worked with Ramsdale and Long before this and now has a few other good young keepers coming through also.
Academy / Development side
The season has not been as successful as in years past in terms of results and the u18’s have struggled a bit playing a younger group of lads whilst many that are eligible are now playing regularly for the u23’s. The u18’s finished nearer the bottom of the league but often it is cyclical and the past has proven there is always another good group coming through soon at Shirecliffe. The u23’s have some players who are still young in the likes of Graham, Semple, Slater, Gimour, Smith, Halllam, Norrington Davies and have been regulars at this level. We have been around the middle of the league at this level of football but considering how young the side is; that is quite an achievement. We have brought through the likes of Walker, Maguire, Calvert Lewin and now Brooks. We await the next talent but history has shown we can and will continue to produce very good players. Something is working. The next job is to get in the top flight and have them playing for us.
It seems Travis Binnion now runs most things down at the Academy in terms of heading up the coaching side since Nick Cox moved onto Manchester United a few years ago. Derek Geary runs the u18’s in terms of match to match.
With the u23/u18’s; we had Binnion and the more experienced John Dungworth who was here under Bassett 25 years ago; seemingly the main coaches for the u23 sides. Mick Wadsworth is also involved in the coaching for various age groups.
Paul Mitchell has continued as the chief scout brought in by Wilder. He has been able to help us identify some good lower league players and most of our signings are not ones we would automatically pick out (Baldock and Lee Evans for instance) but he clearly does his homework. He is also involved in the scouting of opposition. Now we are setting our sights higher hopefully the sort of players we may go for will hopefully be more established proven and known and we may also have to explore the foreign market more but there will always be a place in getting that lower league gem also. Many of the current England squad started quite a lot lower down the leagues (Ali, Vardy, Maguire etc).
Keeping our manager and management team together is crucial if we are to carry on the success and momentum. We have given them longer contracts but it is crucial we maintain them in charge. You worry when Wilder has made little digs about investment (nothing that pointed or barbed but enough- eg when asked about why we cannot finish teams off and he says ‘ there is one way’ and clearly pointing to investment and spoke about the budget that he has to just get on with it) and you fear if a club came calling from the Premier League he may go but his ties with United are strong and I feel he still feels he can do it here with the bit of help. Not sure going to a Palace, West Brom or Stoke type team would be that attractive really but those type of clubs or others all could give him much more spending power. He will stay for now but worry if we are in the same place in say a season or so; he would go if given the chance and we do not back him properly. Still the thing that helps us is that we have not gone up and thus he is not quite an Eddie Howe, Sean Dyche type pedigree. Yet. Many of the Premier League clubs still go for the same recycled manager or for foreign managers. That will help us retain him. He has to keep developing also and learn from some of his few mistakes this year also. I have complete confidence we will keep developing and improving with him at the helm. Just hope he is here for a long time yet. He will want to get the 4 or 5 top quality players we need this summer to have another really good go. If he does not, I still expect is to be mid table but be hard for us to maintain any higher as I feel as we clearly need better quality up the top of the field and that costs money.
that costs money.
DB's closing words in part 2 report.
So our co- chairmen are looking to mediation to solve the first part of the problem. McCabe does not have the riches to invest to lead us to a top premiership club. The Prince, too, appears not to have the finance but may be able to attract investment.
All the major investment to our top clubs in the premiership has come from overseas: USA, Middle East, Russia.Also, our top clubs have top players from Europe, Africa, Brazil, etc. We are still a down town club with UK talent ( and they have done well).
So how big a change do you want?