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Sheff Utd flying high, Wilder's stock continues to rise - Interview
Monday, 30th Oct 2017 23:55 by Clive Whittingham

No surprise given their upward trajectory that plenty of Sheff Utd fans took us up on the chance to wax lyrical about Chris Wilder’s side – here’s Johnny from the Shoreham View site, Joe Siddons and Reece Ashmore.

Having tried so hard for so long to get out of League One, regularly starting the season as the promotion favourites, why did it finally click last season?

JS: Transfers played a massive part in this. Previously we have gone for ‘names’ and it hasn’t worked. We’ve signed the likes of Dean Hammond, Michael Higdon etc. and it just didn’t click. Last year, under Wilder we went for players who could have been a risk, but were hungry and wanted to be at United. We have done the same this year, signing players such as Enda Stevens from Portsmouth, Cameron Carter Vickers, and Jamal Blackman. These are all players that our neighbours laughed at when we signed them as they were signing £10m Jordan Rhodes. But their laughing didn’t last long. The squad togetherness is also something to be reckoned with, team spirit takes you a long way and I’m sure all the team nights out in Sheffield and Leeds have helped them bond. They are all good mates and this is evident when they are on the pitch.

SV: We lost 2-1 at Millwall in August, it made it five without a win at the start of the season. The gaffer had seen certain players for what they were, and moved things around as appropriate: the goalkeeper was changed, the tactics were altered and the infamous Wilder sending captain Billy Sharp to "get the beers in" on the way home from Millwall after a loss was the spiritual turning point after six years of misery.

RA: Chris Wilder.

What has Chris Wilder got that other managers haven’t? It’s not just the Sheff Utd supporting thing is it, because he’s won promotions everywhere he’s been…

JS: I think the Sheffield United thing does help, it has got the whole club back together. We now have fans, chairman, directors, manager, and captain who are all Sheffield United supporters. But as per the question, he has done well everywhere. From having a close friend in the under 23’s down at United, I know that Wilder leaves nothing behind, if something is to be said, he says it. Last year when we lost away at Millwall after a dreadful start to the season, he stopped the team coach at an off licence on the way out of London and sent Billy Sharp in with £100 to get a load of beer. The players then took turns on the coach being openly honest about what they believe was going wrong, whether this be tactics, training, or even team mates. Once they got everything off their chest, they all had a good drink on the way back to Sheffield. We have never looked back since.

SV: Old school man management and modern day tactical ideas, couple that with a quality assistant manager and an attitude that despises not being a winner and you have a man who strives for the very best week in week out, and men like that often do very well in football.

RA: He's got everything you'd want in a manager to be honest. He's clearly got an immense understanding of the game and what makes players and teams tick, but he's also utterly fearless, very attack minded and always goes for three points. He believes in the total football side of the game in that all outfield players should take responsibility on the ball, he gets defenders driving out of defence but doesn't have them boring the crowd shitless with that stupid possession football on the edge of the box with their own keeper for half the game. Exciting style of play, brilliant motivator and has a formidable vision for both the team and football club he wants to build. Crucially, unlike a lot of managers he doesn't let his ego get in the way of what he's trying to achieve.

Have you been surprised by how well this season has started, and can it continue? How have your expectations changed from the opening day to now?

JS: I have been surprised, however before the season we really got written off by most clubs – including Bolton! We knew that this would work in our favour, we’ve had six years of being the ‘top dog’ and its now nice to be underdog and written off at every turn. We knew we would do better than people expected – but no, we didn’t expect to be where we are. Start of the season a realistic aim was staying up, I think now we have got to be looking at top ten at the very least. I don’t think the play offs are a total unrealistic aim, but we know it’s a long season and we aren’t getting ahead of ourselves, and we all know what our record is like in the play offs.

SV: Surprised, no, honestly, I swear. Ok my nose is growing, no one expected us to do this well. But as I have said from game day one, anything above fourteenth place this season is a bonus, will the bubble burst, who knows, who cares were all just enjoying the ride.

RA: Very surprised. I was looking forward to the season because the team is so entertaining to watch. I would've been happy to see us mid table but no way did I think we'd challenge for the top two. However, Blades fans (myself included), are now starting to realise there's nothing to be scared of in this league. The standard throughout the 24 teams is very good but no team is utterly unstoppable, even at the top. At this point I'll be disappointed if Utd don't get automatic promotion to be honest. Contrary to what people might expect, they haven't overachieved and have missed plenty of chances in pretty much every game so far.

Former Man City junior David Brooks looked like a world beater when I watched you at Sheff Wed recently, is that a one off or are we in trouble with him on Tuesday?

JS: ‘Brooksy’ is a great player with massive potential and a real down to earth lad as well. With recent interest from Newcastle & Liverpool we were absolutely stunned to see he had signed a new four-year deal with us this week, however that shows the current feeling down at Bramall Lane. He’s a very quick and dangerous player, it’s just unfortunate for him he is battling with Mark Duffy for a starting place, and Duffy hasn’t put a foot wrong all year. He is definitely one to watch, even on a cold Tuesday night in London…

SV: I don't like overhyping young players, let's just say it was not a one off, and the lad can go as far as his attitude allows him, if he stays level headed the worlds at his feet.

RA: Our academy has recently been ranked as the eighth best in the country based on the number of Premier League players produced (Kyle Walker, Jagielka, Naughton, Harry Maguire, Lowton, Calvert Lewin etc). David Brooks is the most gifted player the academy has produced, he's an immense attacking talent and utterly fearless. He's a talented dribbler but also has fantastic vision for a pass, reminds me a little of Adam Lallana in that way although perhaps with a bit of Neymar as well with that loose dribbling technique he's got. Very exciting player with the potential to play for the likes of Spurs, Liverpool.

Even Leon Clarke is doing a passable impression of a Championship striker – how dat?

JS: How dat? How is dat? You tell me! Who knows? He’s one of those players who has always scored against us though so it was a relief to see him in red and white. If I’m totally honest, he’s surprised me as much as anyone – I rated him last year but didn’t think for one minute he would make the transition to the Championship as he has.

SV: Hard work, commitment, determination and craftiness.

RA: Mind blowing, regardless of the fact he's lost weight and looks fitter and quicker than ever, I can't believe it's the same player. Again it's down to the manager. Wilder was quoted as saying that he signed Leon as a player for both League One and the level above. I and the rest of the fans assumed this was an obvious tactic just to motivate Leon for last season. Didn't realise he actually meant it. Takes immense knowledge and balls to have that kind of belief in a player who's never really done it in the Championship before.

Stand out players and weak links in the side?

JS: The team play together and for each other and therefore any weak link is hard to pick out. We noticed that teams adapt to who they are playing against but United don’t, we play the same way against whoever we are playing. Its harsh as he tries, but our weakest player currently is probably John Lundstram. He’s fairly solid, and is a good player – just seems to need a little too long on the ball. Our midfield is one to watch, Duffy, Coutts and Fleck (Brooks off the bench), these all cost us the grand sum of £0 too. In defence one to watch would be Jack O’Connell who takes the ball out of the back at every opportunity and gets forward as much as possible. The wing backs Baldock and Stevens are also keen on getting forward. Upfront of course Billy Sharp, we all know he isn’t the quickest but he’s strong and if the ball is put across into the box he will be there.

SV: Weak link Samir Caruthers. Stand out players… close your eyes and randomly stop your finger anywhere on the team photo. We're top of the league, how's that happened?

RA: They're strong all over the park to be honest. The wingbacks (Stevens and Baldock) are fantastic. O'Connell and Basham are on either side of the back three and play a big part in the teams attacking play, driving out of defence and often overlapping around the wing backs. Lot of teams can't handle this. Fleck, Coutts and Duffy in the middle get nicknamed the Holy Trinity by the fans for a reason. When it comes to technique and ability to control the game, all three of them are in the same ballpark as the likes of Barry Bannan at Wednesday or Kevin McDonald at Fulham. Up front we've got Billy Sharp.

Weak links… Cameron Carter Vickers is a beefy centre half in the middle of the back three. He's done well so far but he's only 19 and there's a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. Chris Basham can be a bit lightweight and got bullied against Gestede at Boro, but we've got around that since then (e.g. by bringing in Carter Vickers who's built like a quarter back)

Short, medium and long term aims for the club…

JS: As per above at the start of the year I would have said staying up is the priority. Now, I see short term goal as achieving minimum top ten this season. I’d say medium term of getting promotion to the Premier League (three to five years) and long term cementing our place as a Premier League Club (eight to ten years??). I’m probably in dream land there, and I’m sure this would be the aims of pretty much all Championship clubs.

SV: Short term- keep playing well in the next game
Medium term- keep playing well in the next game
Long Term- keep playing well in the next game
Save Carlos

RA: Short term: Let Wilder keep building, hopefully get in the Prem within the next two or three years. Medium: Get established in the Prem. Long Term: All the other clubs that generally get similar crowds to us have all either had an extended stay in the top flight in the last 20-30 years, won a trophy or played in Europe. We've had none of that. If Southampton, West Brom, Wednesday, Middlesbrough or even Swansea can do it then so can Sheffield Utd.

The Twitter @Loftforwords, @TheShorehamView, @ReeceAshmore

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TacticalR added 15:27 - Oct 31
Thanks to Johnny, Joe and Reece.

It's pretty clear that Sheffield United aren't at the top of the Championship by accident - it sounds like Wilder has done a great job of choosing the right players for this league.

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