Patronised as too basic for the Premier League , and a manager with a so-called ‘dinosaur’ approach who allegedly preaches direct football, let’s hear it for Sheffield United .
Sixth in the table, with the joint best defensive record in the country, the Blades’ fine start is no fluke.
Damned with faint praise by too many pundits – some of whom probably haven’t seen them play that much – Chris Wilder’s team deserve proper analysis.
Wilder was accused of ‘dinosaur’ man-management after goalkeeper Dean Henderson’s howler against Liverpool, but his tough love has been totally vindicated.
Compared with the three keepers named in England’s latest squad, Henderson has kept five clean sheets, conceded the fewest goals (eight), and has the highest save percentage (78%).
If Wilder’s a dinosaur, I would argue the T-Rex is doing a great job at getting the best out of his players.
I have nothing but admiration for the way the Sheffield United boss has stuck to his principles and hasn’t compromised on his overlapping centre-backs.
This season, Blades defender Chris Basham ranks eighth among Premier League centre-backs for most dribbles attempted, while Jack O’Connell is fifth for the most crosses completed.
If you look at Wilder’s team, in terms of flair and individual star quality, they haven’t really got any.
But what he has fostered is a unique style underpinned by a top-class work ethic.
The way he dealt with Henderson’s blooper was a manager at the top of his game, knowing when to put an arm round his players or when to give them a kick up the backside.
He has brought them up from League One and their conviction has earned them a win and a clean sheet against Arsenal, a point from 2-0 down at Chelsea and a win at Everton.
These Blades are a cut above. They have been a breath of fresh air, and no wonder Bramall Lane is rocking every game.
In terms of fighting spirit, desire and no real superstars but a sense of togetherness, Wilder’s team reminds me of the Leicester side Martin O’Neill built in the late 1990s. We finished seventh in the Premier League and won the League Cup.
Don’t forget, Wilder beat Pep Guardiola to the LMA manager of the year gong last season – when Manchester City completed a domestic treble.
And if Sheffield United stay up, playing the same brand of football, he will be a contender for the same award again.
I am in no hurry to tout Wilder for other people’s posts, but given the Blades’ flying start back in the top flight, I have to ask the question.
How long is it before Chris Wilder gets a crack at one of the top jobs?
If he was in charge of a side playing with such style and a mean defensive record in Europe, clubs over here would be falling over themselves to land him.