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Blades' Wilder has shown he's a cut above most promoted managers, so why the patronising tone?

Jamie Carragher


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Chris Wilder. Photo: Getty Images

Chris Wilder. Photo: Getty Images

AFP via Getty Images

Chris Wilder. Photo: Getty Images

Of all the managers recently promoted to the Premier League, none have impressed me more than Sheffield United's Chris Wilder.

There have been many coaches excelling directly from the Championship, all worthy of special praise. For example Sean Dyche, Eddie Howe and Nuno Espirito Santo have shown it is possible to establish yourself as a Premier League regular, with Wolves going further than most in competing at the top of table rather than flirting with relegation, albeit with the considerable influence of super-agent Jorge Mendes.

But when you look at the whole package - the transfer resources available, the progressive style of football and the nature of results and performances - Wilder (above) has achieved something few newly-promoted coaches have managed.

He has brought genuine tactical innovation to the Premier League and demonstrated it is possible to thrive by playing a front-footed rather than negative, dour game.

After my first visit to Bramall Lane this season, observing Wilder's three-at-the-back system, I was certain they would stay up. More than that, it was obvious they would cause huge problems for any side they faced trying to figure them out. I have to be honest, this shocked me in an exciting way. Managers tend to be conservative, especially those who come up with a primary target to avoid relegation.

How many think the best way to thrive and survive is to take the game to the opposition? Most of them will justifiably point out they must work with what they have, which tends to mean building defensive blocks.

An early stand-out performance came in August when the Blades came from two down at Chelsea. Wilder spoke about 'getting into his players at half-time'. Other managers would have taken the 2-0 defeat and been thankful to leave with dignity. He demanded more.

Of course, at the elite level, coaches like Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp can put their vision into operation with the most technically-gifted players - and those trying to get to the top will study and imitate what they are doing. That has undoubtedly filtered down through the divisions in a positive way. Norwich and Aston Villa have been similarly proactive in their tactical approach this season and struggled, which serves only to underline the excellence of Wilder.

Playing three centre-backs is not new - a lot of promoted clubs have done it and Liverpool played that way when I made my debut in 1997 - but the way Sheffield United go about it is unique. You do not see other teams encouraging the wide centre-backs to overlap like Sheffield United, or telling their centre midfielders and strikers to overload wide areas.

He did not play 3-5-2 at his former clubs. In fact, he only changed tack after losing three and drawing one of his first four League One games in charge at the start of the 2016/17 season. His side was booed off after a 3-0 home loss to Southend. They lost their next game, too, but went on to win 100 points to gain promotion. It needed courage and vision to lead that kind of transformation.

I am looking forward to seeing how Wilder's coaching career develops, and what kinds of opportunities present themselves or attract him in the future. We all know how difficult it is for English managers to get the biggest Premier League jobs. It is easier to get the England job than one at a top-six club. The last thing I want to do is go down the tired route of complaining English managers are misjudged on stereotypes and false perceptions. I think the way certain coaches are typecast is more complex than that.

We attach labels based on more than nationality. Since they are facing each other next Saturday it is worth comparing the broad view of Wilder to Bournemouth's Howe.

On the surface, they have followed a similar career trajectory. The difference is Howe is seen as more sophisticated, possessing purer footballing beliefs, a manager-in-waiting for a club such as Spurs, or even England.

That opportunity has not yet come - and to be fair to Howe he regularly plays the hype down - but there are plenty who believe it unjust that he has been overlooked for so long.

Do we feel the same way about Wilder? There is a patronising tone about the praise heaped upon him.

Does he have too much of a plain-speaking northern accent? Is it because he is not deemed 'fashionable?' I keep hearing how his side has qualities such as togetherness, spirit and organisation - attributes which ought to be compulsory but tend to be emphasised more when judging sides of limited ability. You never hear Bournemouth described as such, the implication being there is more finesse to their game. It is not true.

Sheffield United did not have the same wealthy backing as Bournemouth when moving up the divisions. They did play a cultured game, however, and there is nothing 'old school' about Wilder's approach. He has achieved amazing results through far more than hard work.

There is another cause to celebrate Wilder's success. The Premier League is healthier with a geographical mix and for a while there was an imbalance between clubs from the north and south.

Since the Premier League was formed there has been a worrying decline at northern clubs and it is sad to see the state of the likes of Blackburn, Bolton and Sunderland when you consider where they were not so long ago - and where they should be now. This trend concerns me.

Overseas players may be more attracted to living near cities such as Brighton and Bournemouth, but if some of the great institutions of the north west and Yorkshire revive themselves, that can change.

Leeds might add to the Yorkshire contingent by securing promotion. That will add more colour, emotion and - dare one say - interesting fixtures to the calendar.

Bramall Lane is one of the most thrilling venues to watch Premier League football this season. And Wilder must take the credit for this.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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