James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Long-term thinking but no Latin proverbs

Sheffield United's Ben Whiteman
Sheffield United's Ben Whiteman

Chris Wilder doesn’t do Latin proverbs or ‘projects’.

I suspect he spends his spare time studying players, tactics and targets rather than the humanities.

Which, fortunately, means the word ‘philosophy’ rarely gets uttered during press conferences at Bramall Lane. And, if it does, cue a conversation about Nietzsche, Descartes and Kant.

Wilder is about as far removed from Brendan Rodgers, football’s very own king of the buzzword, as you can get. Appearances, though, can be deceptive. Beneath his unvarnished exterior, no-nonsense methods and not-so-sly digs at the oscillating performance levels of teams fighting relegation when they visit Bramall Lane, a razor-sharp mind lurks. Wilder might be a man of the people. But, as Samir Carruthers’ arrival at the League One leaders earlier this week proves, he is a man of strategy too.

The midfielder, who signed a long-term agreement with United on Monday, has proved himself to be an accomplished performer at this level during three-and-a-half seasons with MK Dons. Thirty-nine of his 138 appearances for the Buckinghamshire club, though, also came in the Championship and, although Wilder will not say so publicly, he is clearly combining the business of trying to win promotion with planning for when United are once again competing in the second tier. Both in terms of personnel and, crucially, contracts and financial obligations too.

United’s engine room is a pretty slick operation at present. Paul Coutts, now being utilised correctly and with a proper summer’s worth of training under his belt, is arguably the division’s most accomplished passer of the football. John Fleck brings a bit of everything to the table, Chris Basham is imposing physically while, at the apex of the triangle, Mark Duffy can prise apart even the most well-marshalled defence. All of them boast experience of playing at a higher level but, with the exception of Fleck, are aged 28 or older. Carruthers is 23.

With the prodigiously talented Ben Whiteman now learning his trade at Mansfield Town and Louis Reed, his fellow Steelphalt Academy graduate, likely to be sent out on loan too, it is already possible to see the basis of United’s midfield in, say 2019 or 2020, beginning to emerge.

Wilder is not the most fashionable of managers. Nor is he infallible. But managers who prioritise substance over style are the ones who tend to last. And, only eight months into his reign, he is already looking like one of those.