Chris Wilder says he is ready to “climb the next mountain” in football after revealing he has tried to pick the brains of some of the Premier League’s top managers.
Wilder propelled Sheffield United from League One to a top-half finish in the Premier League within four seasons but left “the club he loves” in March amid a turbulent campaign that ended in relegation.
The 53-year-old, who earned further promotions with Oxford United and Northampton before joining the Blades, is experiencing his longest spell out of the dugout but admits that after a period of reflection he is ready for his next challenge.
“It’s the first time in a long time, over 20 years [being out of management], so I miss it, but I think the word is reflection,” Wilder said, speaking to Sky Sports News’ Tim Thornton.
“Reflecting on achievements – because it’s been a great period at a club that I love, supporters that I adored working for, players that I really enjoyed working with, staff that were all together.
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“Reflection of the stuff that we did well and the stuff we didn’t do so well; I think it’s important for any manager or coach to do that. It was important I did that over the period of time I was working, maybe not just at Sheffield United.
“It did go well for so long but unfortunately there was a period of time where it didn’t go as well as we would have liked for various reasons – some that we can control, that I’ll look back on in that reflection and try not to make those mistakes that we made in that period in an incredibly unforgiving, brutal division – and some stuff we couldn’t control.
Chris Wilder and John Egan celebrate promotion to the Premier League at Stoke City on the final day of the 2018/19 Championship season
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“Big injuries, Sheffield United supporters not being in Bramall Lane – I know a lot of clubs will say it but them not being there to push that team on was really difficult to take and I believe affected us more than any other club in that division.
“They gave us the energy, the drive, the belief that turned defeats into draws and draws into wins and I think if you ask any player in the Premier League who’s played there in front of 30,000 Sheffield United fans pushing their team on for a result, making it as noisy and hostile as possible, that was a real disappointment. But for the club moving forward, they’ll have them back and I’m sure it will lift the players.”
Wilder was in the frame to replace Sam Allardyce at West Brom before the Baggies eventually turned to Valerien Ismael, and has also previously been linked with Celtic, Fulham and Newcastle.
He has “missed dearly” the game that has consumed his life since a teenager and as he reveals he has sought valuable advice from some of the game’s top operators, he knows he will need to choose his next task carefully.
“I’ve worked all my life apart from a little period on a building site that didn’t last too long!
“I’ve worked at every level and I want to get back, of course I do. I’ve missed it. When you’ve been in the game as long as I’ve been, you miss it dearly. I’ve enjoyed the break, it’s been great to recharge the batteries and spend time with the family but now I’m ready to rock and roll and get back onto the next challenge.
Chris Wilder says he has 'tapped into' top minds like Pep Guardiola
“The fantastic opportunity of being in the Premier League has allowed me to build relationships with some great operators from Brendan Rodgers to Pep Guardiola to Jose Mourinho to Sean Dyche.
“I’ve got a huge amount of respect for any manager that manages in the Premier League for a number of years like these guys have done. I’ve had the ability to tap into them, I’ve got a couple of invites to watch training and pick people’s brains so I’ll definitely be taking those up.
“There have been a couple of opportunities. It has to be right for me. The next job is a really important one because I’m getting judged off the back of a relegation and I’ve not enjoyed that.
“I didn’t like it, I’ve owed it but I want to move on and be part of a club that’s inclusive, that’s going in the right direction, that’s together and that wants to go and achieve.”
Wilder and owner Sheffield United owner Prince Abdullah became increasingly divided over long-term plans for the club as results intensified the pressure and while the boyhood Blade admits to some “sadness” at his Bramall Lane exit, he is determined to look forward.
“There’s always two sides to a story but I know what went off, in my mind I’m comfortable and when my head goes on that pillow at night, I’m comfortable in the decision I made for the right reasons.
“Everything that I did at that football club was for the best of Sheffield United. That’s always how I’ve worked at other football clubs and I was always going to work in that manner at the Lane. It’s a club that I love, everyone understands that. There was never going to be a scarf [of another club] above my head after one or two weeks. That was never going to be the situation.
“I’m disappointed, there’s a little bit of sadness about it as well because it was a journey that ended abruptly and possibly, in a lot of people’s opinions, ended too soon but that’s the way football is, that’s life, and I’ll move onto the next challenge and try to climb that next mountain.”
Chris Wilder and Prince Abdullah at Sheffield United before relationships broke down
Wilder, who beat Guardiola to the LMA Manager of the Year award in 2019, believes his success at Sheffield United was at times too easily dismissed as down to grit and graft.
“There are still core principles I’ll work from but you have to move forward in this game. The best in this game have had to. Sir Alex Ferguson has had to go again and reinvent himself at times. Players are changing, players’ attitudes are changing, the game’s changing – recruitment, sports science, technology, analysis.
“I don’t think sometimes we got the credit we deserved. We were perceived as hard-working, working-class, getting our hands dirty. I’m proud to have that but I think the way we played, the way we treated the players, the sports science, we did that.”
He rejects the idea of his innovative 3-5-2 system going stale – “I’ve coached all different shapes and systems. I think it’s quite lazy that you get talked about in terms of the system getting sussed,” – and while scrutiny last term came over money spent on Aaron Ramsdale and Sander Berge, as well as young forward Rhian Brewster, the former Blades boss points to a body of shrewd work in the transfer market.
Sander Berge was the club's record signing for £22m last January, with Aaron Ramsdale joining for £18.5m last summer
“We were in a situation there where we were in a market that was our market – everyone has their own pond to fish in. They [Ramsdale and Berge] were big fees from a Sheffield United point of view but I think if you look at it from a Premier League point of view, fees and wages added, it puts it into perspective about where we were at.
“These were decisions made by a lot of people and the good ones we made – Enda Stevens, John Fleck, David McGoldrick; boys that have done fantastically well and came from the middle of League One into the Premier League.
“You always get judged on your recruitment but I think the situation and the coverage the Premier League gets, there’s always a lot of talk, a lot of opinion, a lot of noise and nonsense and you have to take that on the chin, but we signed an England U21 goalkeeper who’s gone on to be involved with a nation that got to the final of the Euros, and Sander, who was a highly coveted international.
“I think if you look at the overall picture of where we came from and the signings that we made, I’m not sure that gets done again in the manner that we did it from the position that we were into the Premier League.”
Chris Wilder with the League One trophy during an open top bus parade in 2017
Having tasted the top flight, he is desperate to get back there one day.
“Whether it’s facilities, players, the intensity, the opinion; it’s what makes the Premier League the best in the world, the most-watched, the most loved and talked about.
“Even in the second year when we took the hits – it’s brutal, there’s no respite – but when the door opened, we stepped through it and we deserved our place.
“It’s a special division. Every game is an incredible event and it’s somewhere I’d love to get back involved with but I’ve got to work very hard to do that.”
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