Chris Wilder: How Sheffield United boss worked his way up to the Premier League

By Ian WoodcockBBC Sport
Sheffield United
Chris Wilder (left) celebrates Sheffield United's promotion to the Premier League after their final day 2-2 draw at Stoke City

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder will manage the team he supported as a boy in the Premier League next season.

The former Alfreton and Halifax manager has worked his way up through the leagues, winning promotion from the Conference, League Two, League One and now the Championship.

Three of the players who have been integral to those successes gave BBC Sport insight into how Wilder has progressed to the top of the game.

'He gave players the freedom to go out and do what they loved'

Chris Wilder
Wilder guided Oxford back to the Football League with a 3-1 win in the play-off final against York City

Wilder took over at Oxford United in December 2008 and led the U's to promotion from the Conference via the play-offs in his first full season in charge in 2009-10.

Striker James Constable played under Wilder from his arrival at the club until the manager left for Northampton in January 2014.

As a group we didn't know that much about him when he first came in.

We were on a bit of a bad run as a team and were half looking over our shoulders at dropping out of the league and he totally changed things around really quickly.

He came in and just said 'look, what's gone is gone' and he gave everyone a clean slate. He lifted the weight off everyone's shoulders and you could go out and enjoy training.

We'd been under a lot of pressure and it had been tough for the players to express themselves. He gave players the freedom to go out and do what they loved doing.

He was very thorough with everything. We had a fitness coach in and we'd watch DVDs of opposition teams. He just had an eye for the fine details of things.

We'd get a pack before each game on the opposition and it would be five or six pages of A4 and, as time went on, they got more in-depth. I think those added extras got us over the line in close games because they just gave you more confidence.

It was things that some of the lads had done at clubs further up the leagues but not at that level, and I think that gave us an edge over other teams who didn't have that set-up.

He had great man-management skills. Alfie Potter came off the bench to score the third goal in the play-off final and he'd been a massive player for us that season but been left out of the team that day. Chris just had a way of keeping players happy.

You could see that he was really in demand and his name would always be linked with other jobs. We knew it would just be a matter of time before he moved on.

'He's the best manager the club has ever had'

Chris Wilder and Billy Sharp
Billy Sharp has captained Sheffield United to two promotions in three seasons

After leading Northampton to the League Two title in 2015-16, Wilder left to take over at the team he supported and played for, Sheffield United.

With fellow Blades supporter Billy Sharp as captain, he took the Bramall Lane side up to the Championship with 100 points.

Sharp, who scored 30 league goals that season, netted a further 23 to help secure promotion to the Premier League this season.

If you'd told me when I signed for the club back in League One that we'd get promoted to the Premier League, I wouldn't have believed you.

My first season didn't go well but since the gaffer came in he's been phenomenal - by far the best manager this club has ever had. I don't think any fan will disagree with me.

I look at Dave Bassett and Neil Warnock as great managers of this club but he tops the lot for me.

Every single one of the lads that the gaffer has brought in has bought in to what he wants to do and this season it clicked.

After we drew with Millwall before Easter, a lot of people would have thought we were dead and buried, but not with the management team and this group of players.

The club historian told me that he thinks I'm the second captain to get two promotions with the club. To get one is amazing but to get two, and to go up to the Premier League, it's unbelievable.

We were written off a few times but we kept playing our football. All of these players will go down in history.

'At times he has done well to contain himself and not get over-excited'

Oliver Norwood
Oliver Norwood joined Sheffield United on loan last August before signing permanently in January

Midfielder Oliver Norwood joined the Blades in August and made 42 league appearances this season.

This is his third successive promotion to the top-flight after helping Brighton and Fulham win promotion to the Premier League in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

Everybody saw the celebrations and what it means to the group of players, the manager and the captain. It is a Sheffield United fan who has taken his boyhood club into the Premier League.

He makes sure you know what it is about. We have a sign up saying we won't be out-run, out-worked, out-fought or out-played. We have stuck to that all season and that has been our motto.

For me, it would be like managing Burnley. I'd let everyone know how much it means to play for my club. It is just special. The owner is a Sheffield lad, the manager is a Sheffield lad and the captain is a Sheffield lad. It is quite unique but they set the standards and tell you what is required to play for the club.

He does struggle with controlling his emotions sometimes. He does go off on a few rants but that is all part and parcel of football.

There have been times this season when he has probably wanted to rip our heads off. Fortunately there have not been that many but there have been a few. We have had a few good talks and he reminded us what it is about. At times he has done well to contain himself and not get over-excited.

'We'll bring a freshness to the Premier League'

Under Wilder, Sheffield United have become renowned for a bold style of play, with their central defenders frequently going forward to support the side's attacks in open play.

Norwood does not expect the Blades to change their approach in the Premier League.

When he took over in League One, it (the style of play) is something he started then. I am not going to say we are going to go into the Premier League and start smashing every team - we're not stupid to think that - but he has stuck to his principles.

The first few games he was manager they got beat a couple of times and Alan Knill (assistant manager) was saying 'maybe we need to rethink this - I don't think it is working' but he stuck to it and it came through in the end.

I only signed last summer but the first game I played I was holding midfield and I was stood on the halfway line and looking around and (centre-back) Jack O'Connell set off and he overlapped the wing-back, who was the highest player on the pitch and I was thinking 'wow, this is interesting'.

I don't think we've conceded a goal on the counter-attack this season, which is quite interesting as we have that many bodies up the pitch and at times we only have me and John Egan at the back, but it is something different and it works.

I think teams struggle to work it out in the Championship. Obviously we'll have to work harder in the Premier League and we understand that but I think we will bring a freshness to the league.

We will attack it with no fear. For the majority of lads, we probably thought this opportunity to play in the Premier League might never come, and it is one we are all looking forward to and desperate for.

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