The furrowed brow had gone. His demeanour upbeat rather than funereal.
But nearly a week after wondering aloud if he can continue at Bramall Lane, the issue which caused Chris Wilder so much distress was still troubling Sheffield United’s manager.
“It’s not a war against one or the other,” he replied in a response to a question about the club’s ownership dispute. “Just my view speaking as the figurehead from the players, staff and supporters’ point of view.
“It’s quite a unique situation I find myself in because of my history and connections here. I just want us to go forward.”
By rights, Wilder should have spent his final pre-match media conference of the Championship season discussing football, future plans and Sunday’s opponents Bristol City. Instead, with Kevin McCabe and HRH Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud seemingly no closer to resolving their differences, the talk focused almost exclusively on politics. Wilder made little attempt to disguise his frustration despite admitting the inquisition was inevitable. Less than six months ago, he was dreaming of replicating Shaun Dyche’s achievements at Burnley. Now, although United have exceeded expectations since winning promotion last term, the 50-year-old is wondering if the two men’s fight for sole-control will render any sort of progress impossible. Or, worse case scenario, make his position untenable.
“There’s so much good being going on,” Wilder continued. “Thirty per cent of our games have been on SKY, we’ve finished above some really powerful teams whose seasons were over by Christmas. We’re in touching distance of some really power clubs. League attendances are up and the players have gone about it in a way that has made me proud. Even when they’ve not been at their best, they’ve never gone out through the back door.
When Wilder referenced all the good things happening at United, it only made the predicament they now find themselves in even more absurd. Gary Rowett was handed a new contract by Derby County when reports surfaced linking him with Stoke City. Wilder, whose deal is set to run for another two seasons, has arguably out-performed his counterpart at Pride Park but, thanks to the impasse behind the scenes, is instead facing an uncertain future.
“I have obviously had calls from family, concerned, about what’s happening, but they know through experience with me what football is all about,” Wilder, speaking at the Steelphalt Academy yesterday, said. “I don’t think anybody thought we would have this season, and be in this situation at the end, where a year on, we have an issue at boardroom level.”
United travel to Ashton Gate 11th in the table; one point behind Lee Johnson’s side and a further five behind sixth-placed County. The fact they retained a mathematical chance of reaching the play-offs until the penultimate match of the campaign speaks volumes about both the application of Wilder’s squad and his ability to maximise a budget among the lowest in the division. Billy Sharp and Leon Clarke, who started last weekend’s defeat by Preston North End, are expected to feature again against a City side which could contain a sprinkling of youngsters.
“What I have tried to do all season is get a team with a bottom-six budget into the top six,” Wilder said. “For 45 games, we have been in and around it, which is an outstanding achievement from the lads and staff.”