Chris Wilder has paid tribute to Nigel Clough ahead of tonight’s visit to Burton Albion, claiming his opposite number should have named Championship manager of the year after steering the Staffordshire club to safety last term.
Clough spent 19 months in charge of Sheffield United, reaching the League One play-offs and two major cup semi-finals, before embarking upon his second spell at the Pirelli Stadium 11 months ago.
Wilder, revealing the former England international acted as a mentor at the beginning of his managerial career, Wilder said: Sometimes, when awards get chucked-out, it’s easy for people to give them to the teams with the biggest resources and most money. Sometimes, it would be nice if people looked below that, at things like facilities, budgets and working with players. Nigel’s achievement last year was absolutely outstanding.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they stay up again and that’s not being disrespectful. Their aim is to stay in and improve on last year’s league position. We won’t underestimate it.”
Wilder, who has steered United to second in the table after winning promotion last season, started his coaching career with Alfreton before arriving at Bramall Lane via Halifax Town, Oxford and Northampton.
“When I was first cutting my teeth at Alfreton, I used to ring Nigel,” Wilder added. “He’s always picked up the phone when I’ve rung him and not everybody has done that.
“For the likes of him to do that and speak to me, to help me out with certain things, I remember stuff like that. He went to Derby and then came here. Nobody can take away that he was a success. To take the club from where it was to two semi-finals, you can’t call it anything but.”
United were spiralling towards relegation when Clough was appointed in October 2013. After being sacked following an ill-fated play-off semi-final against Swindon Town, the 51-year-old returned to Albion and led them into the Championship before securing a 20th place finish last term.
“They are good guys, Andy Garner, Gaz Crosby and Nigel,” Wilder said. “If you ask anybody in and around the football club, he talks to people and treats people on a level. He did that with me and it sticks with you. He did that with me. “Things happen at clubs that mean sometimes people part company. I wasn’t part of that but the relationship I’ve had with Nigel, going back to the Conference and below, has always been really good. Look at what he’s done at his clubs.”
Wilder, a lifelong United supporter, watched many of their matches under Clough, including the semi-finals against Hull City and Tottenham Hotspur, from the stands.
“To beat the teams Nigel did along the way, and to get the nights here he did, was fantastic,” he added. “Even before the semi-finals, which all the spotlight goes on, there was beating West Ham on penalties and Southampton too.
“They were in the tie against Spurs and also against Hull City. Taking them from the position they were, when the pressure was on, to the brink of the play-offs and then into the play-offs, he did ever so well.
“It was a big process turning round things in terms of players and everything else. He did it in an honest and enthusiastic way. I’ve still got staff who worked for Nigel and they’ve got a lot of respect for the guy.”
United travel to Burton without Kieron Freeman (knee), Ched Evans (ankle) and doubts surrounding the availability of George Baldock (hamstring/calf).
With Clough’s side in 21st, Wilder said: “Friday is a game where people can easily get carried away, looking at the league positions and thinking it will be an easy night. It won’t.
“There’s plenty of sub-plots. I’ve got to say, I think the manager there was Championship manager of the year for keeping them in the division. In my opinion at least. It will be a tough night and we have to approach it in the right way to stand a chance of achieving the result we want.”