Sheffield United's Chris Wilder: 'We won't take a wrecking ball to how we play'

Chris Wilder (right) celebrates promotion to the Premier League with defender John Egan
Chris Wilder (right) celebrates promotion to the Premier League with defender John Egan

The beers are flowing, and Chris Wilder has a bottle in hand.

It is late April, and the Sheffield United manager and his players are gathered at Bramall Lane to celebrate their promotion to the Premier League. The festivities started during the day as Leeds drew with Aston Villa and now it is night, as Irish defender John Egan steps on to the stage, shirt untucked.

"If you go to the pub in Ireland, you have to have a song," he says.

"In January I said to my better half, when we get to the Premier League, I'm going to sing this song."

Egan goes on to deliver his version of 'Allez, Allez, Allez', which quickly went viral and has since become part of United fans' folklore.

It perfectly captured the emotion of the day; how a team of 'journeymen' made it to the 'Prem'; and how they were led by a hometown manager, who had overturned a club cut adrift in League One to somehow reach the Premier League in three short years.

For a team that had spent 12 seasons outside the top flight, and six in the third tier, it was a moment many fans thought might never happen.

Now Wilder, his team and fans will get to enjoy all the riches and prestige associated with that return and bring Premier League football back to England's fourth largest city for only the second time this century.

But as the former Blades right-back Wilder says: "We don't want to be a one-season wonder."

Sheffield United are back in the Premier League for the first time in 12 years
Sheffield United are back in the Premier League for the first time in 12 years

"Chris Wilder is our gaffer, he leads us all the way, playing proper football, the Sheff United way, ALLEZ, ALLEZ, ALLEZ…"

The last time Sheffield United were in the Premier League, in 2006-07, social media was barely in its infancy and manager Neil Warnock was a divisive figure among many opposition team fans.

The current Cardiff boss is remembered positively at Bramall Lane, but Wilder, with his man-of-the-people charm and a brand of "attacking, aggressive" football has made the Blades a more appealing club to outsiders.

The 51-year-old, who has a Blades tattoo, has told stories of how he takes the bus to join his pals for a drink in Sheffield. He says part of his success is staying in his bubble and not looking too far ahead.

Despite being a Sheffield United fan, he hadn't even thought about becoming the manager, such was his dedication to previous clubs Northampton Town and Oxford United.

"It's not always been sunshine - there have been a lot of experiences I've had to overcome, and a lot of them have been non-footballing ones," he says.

"The speed of our path has been remarkable, but when you are working in a bubble, the majority of the time you don't take yourself out of it. You just keep working and looking for the next challenge, and the next one is going to be huge.

"I'm proud of the fact I've not changed, proud of the people I still knock about with. They will certainly let me know if I get too big for my boots."

Behind the exterior is a man driven by ambition. He cites Bournemouth as a team he wants to replicate after they also achieved promotion from League One to the Premier League in three seasons - and have been in the top flight for the past four.

It is also telling that when asked about the big-name managers he will face this season, he makes a special mention of Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino, who he has an "enormous respect for since he came to England".

Wilder, who achieved promotion with four of the five teams he has managed, adds: "That year-on-year improvement, the stadium, the team, his playing staff, and the way they play - I like the way Spurs go about their work."

The question now is whether Wilder and his team can step up to one of the biggest leagues in the world.

Billy Sharp
Billy Sharp was Sheffield United's top scorer last season with 24 goals in his third spell with the clubs but has only made two Premier League appearances with former team Southampton

"...he stuck the paper on the wall, they called us journeymen, now we're going on a journey, to the [expletive deleted] Prem, ALLEZ, ALLEZ, ALLEZ…"

Wilder's success at Bramall Lane has come from blending a team of relatively cheap British and Irish players, who Egan says are "driven every day in training by a born winner".

"We don't have any real stars," says chief executive officer Stephen Bettis.

Yet Wilder acknowledges that reaching the Premier League could upset the club's equilibrium.

"Players used to winning are going to have to deal with losing two, three or four games on the spin," he says. "That's a big challenge."

He has already recognised that goals are often the most precious commodity for promoted teams. While last season's top scorer Billy Sharp will be aiming for his first start in the top flight, Wilder has wasted no time in boosting his options.

The manager broke the club's transfer record for a fourth time when striker Oli McBurnie joined from Swansea for a fee rising to £20m, having already signed Bournemouth striker Lys Mousset for £10m alongside Preston forward Callum Robinson.

Former Manchester United and West Ham forward Ravel Morrison has also joined the Blades - although some fans may see that as a risk after his previous struggles with off-field problems.

The Blades have made additions in defence too. Jagielka will bring a "calming influence", says Wilder, and they have secured the services of Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson on loan for another season.

"It's about getting the right people in, and talented footballers as well," Wilder says. "We are teachers, we look to sign and improve players and make sure the structure of the recruitment is right."

For the current crop it has worked, and not just on the pitch. Defender Chris Basham says Wilder has made the players feel "free and loose" and describes him as a "father figure".

"In his first year as boss, we lost four or five games in a row and on the way back from a match, he stopped the bus and let us get some beers," the former Bolton and Blackpool player says. "We went on a 17-game unbeaten run. It all happened after that match at Millwall."

Wilder adds: "We aren't going to take a wrecking ball to how we've played and I don't want to take away the belief from those players after what we've done over the last three seasons.

"There is no reason why the boys cannot do a Bournemouth. Five years ago they were in League One and there are some boys there who started their journey and we have players in the same position.

"There will be some dark days this season, but hopefully some life-changing ones as well."

Interviews by Seth Bennett.