Chris Wilder is sitting on a bench by the practice putting green at Sheffield’s Hallamshire Golf Club. The 53-year-old has the sun on his face and home turf beneath his feet. But what he does not have is a job and that is already making him restless.
‘I wanted to be back in work by now and I am not and that’s frustrating,’ the former Sheffield United manager told Sportsmail.
‘Right now I would normally be worrying about something — training or players or opposition. I am not and it feels wrong. I have done this job for 20 years and am full on in love with it.’
Chris Wilder is itching to get back into management after his Sheffield United heartache
Some managers leave a football club and look as though they need to lie down in a dark room. Others tend to bounce straight back up again.
‘No, I certainly don’t feel like a lie down,’ laughed Wilder. ‘My mind is busy. I enjoyed watching the football at the Euros and picking stuff up from that.
‘And through working in the Premier League for two years I established good relationships with some top operators. They have all been in touch.
‘I think they appreciated the job we did at Sheffield United so I appreciate those friendships and contact I have had from people like Jose Mourinho, Brendan Rodgers, Gareth Southgate, Pep Guardiola or Sean Dyche. It’s helpful and lovely.
The 53-year-old was dismissed from his boyhood club, with the Blades bottom of the league
Wilder (left) says the likes of Pep Guardiola (right) have offered their support, with the Man City boss believed to have backed Wilder for a managerial vacancy this summer
‘I have invites waiting to go and watch teams like Manchester City train and will do that. Ultimately, though, I just want to get back to work.’
Wilder held conversations with Fulham and West Brom over the summer and there was also a sniff from Crystal Palace. Guardiola spoke to at least one of those clubs, championing Wilder’s merit as a manager.
Those positions were eventually filled by Marco Silva (once of Hull, Watford and Everton), Valerien Ismael (taken from Barnsley) and Patrick Vieira (previously sacked by Nice). It is hard not to wonder how such decisions are made.
‘I think my CV stacks up OK, even though it has taken a bit of a hit this last year,’ Wilder shrugged. ‘Should applications for jobs be judged on what people have achieved? Yes, probably. If so, then I think I have a decent chance of getting a good job.
‘But life isn’t like that all the time, is it? So you have to get on with it and move on.’
Wilder is self-assured enough to be confident of his worth but sometimes it helps to hear it from someone else too.
Wilder held conversations with Fulham, West Brom and Crystal Palace over their vacancies
One of the first people in touch when he left Bramall Lane was Sir Alex Ferguson. The text the former Manchester United manager sent was long and has been shared only with Wilder’s wife Francesca. But the gist was clear: be yourself and don’t change. Guardiola has said the same to him in person.
Wilder will not shift from his core values but is keen to address suggestions he is stubborn and, in particular, that he would never work with a director of football.
‘I don’t survive for 20 years by putting guns to people’s heads and demanding stuff,’ he said, bluntly.
‘I like to think I have had the finger on the pulse of my football clubs. That’s a good thing, isn’t it? I care. But it’s never been my way or the highway.
‘I am vociferous. I am full on and all in. But I work within a group and a structure. Ultimately, I have to be comfortable with players I am working with. Every manager will say that.
‘But I am flexible, too. As long as we have a shared plan and strategy I am totally fine with it.’
The 53-year-old refuses to believe that United’s unique playing system had been ‘sussed’
Wilder also denies claims he is ‘stubborn’, but will not shift from his core values as a coach
Sheffield United will always be Wilder’s club. He supported them, played for them and then took them on a remarkable journey from League One to the top flight in 2018.
In Premier League season one, he almost took the club in to Europe and even introduced a hitherto unseen tactical innovation to the top flight. Never before had we seen overlapping central defenders. All of which meant the decline of 2020-21 was as surprising as it was painful.
When he left — officially by mutual consent — in March, the Blades were bottom of the table. This is the first time he has spoken about it.
‘There is a ridiculous amount of fight in me and what happened last season really hurt,’ he said. ‘I was never intending to leave, regardless of what division the club was in.
‘There was stuff I could control that I will do better on next time and then stuff I could not control. Injuries, big moments we didn’t take, Sheffield United supporters not being in Bramall Lane.
The Englishman says he will always fight his corner and certain matters, like recruitment
‘I will always fight my corner on some things that happened, such as recruitment.
‘Last season, some people said our playing system had been sussed. But then it was amazing how many teams played that three at the back system in the Euros, wasn’t it?’
What, then, has he learned from the one big season of failure of his managerial career? ‘In the latter parts of my time at the club, there was maybe a lack of communication between me and the owner,’ he said. ‘Maybe I needed to deal with that better.’
Wilder’s management career started at Alfreton two decades ago. Since then he has worked steadily upwards through the divisions with Halifax, Oxford, Northampton and Sheffield United. He has always been a hands-on type. ‘I have changed but there is still stuff going back to my early days that I rely on,’ he stressed.
‘You have to get close to your players and understand what makes them tick.
Wilder has taken time to reflect that better communication could have improved matters
‘Team, together, work ethic, competitive, want to win, do your best every day, no day off if you want to achieve. Every one can say the words but it’s the core that you rely on to win.
‘It’s important to learn and watch but it’s important to have a gut feeling and go your own way too.
‘I want to be hands on and improve players — physically, tactically, mentally. If I am learning from the top guys then that’s what they are doing.
‘Do you think at Manchester City’s training ground they are just playing eight v eight and going home? Course they aren’t. They are working bloody hard.’
Wherever he goes, Wilder will always take a bit of Sheffield United with him. Having left the club on a Saturday morning five months ago, he sat down and watched the team on TV with Francesca the very next night. One day — when his career is done — he intends to buy a ticket and sit behind the goal.
Wilder hopes to one day go back to Bramall Lane as a supporter cheering on his local club
‘That bloke in the bobble hat,’ he laughed. ‘That will be me.’
But for now it’s all about the next step. He has enjoyed his golf this summer and had a quiet week’s holiday in the Balearics. Now he just wants to work.
‘The hunger is still there,’ he stressed. ‘I would love to work in the Premier League again, whether it’s starting there or taking a club there. I am not automatically expecting to walk in to a Premier League job as they attract world-class operators.
‘The big-name guys I have mentioned have all had downsides in their careers and I think they all wanted me to know that.
‘This is a period they have told me to try and enjoy but also use to get the most out of and make sure I come roaring back. I intend to do that.’