Several years ago, when the internal politics at a former club were causing Chris Wilder some strife, he received a surprise telephone call from a managerial great.
Sir Alex Ferguson, acting in his unofficial role as mentor to Britain’s brightest young coaches, offered both moral support and professional advice which, given the Scot’s standing in the game, was duly followed to the letter and helped produce the desired result.
Although he has never spoken publicly about the incident, for fear of being seen as a name-dropper or someone who breaks a confidence, it confirmed the Manchester United legend regarded Wilder as someone worthy of his time and attention. James Wilson, who moved to Sheffield United from Old Trafford earlier this month, believes he understands why.
“The way the manager is here, there’s a definite similarity,” he says. “There’s a lot of likeness between them. I wasn’t on the end of anything from Sir Alex myself but I’ve heard all the stories about what he was like - hard but fair - and the manager here is a nice bloke as well.”
Ferguson was already enjoying retirement when Wilson made his senior debut for the reigning Europa League champions. But the 22-year-old, signed on loan until the end of the season, was aware of his presence, methods and demands having spent over a decade in their youth system. Team mates such as Nemanja Vidic and Ryan Giggs, the man responsible for Wilson’s promotion, were a mine of information too.
“Some players like an arm around the shoulder,” he admits. “But I don’t think being shouted at from time to time does you any harm either because it can kick-start your game. Good managers, like them, can do both. They’re off-the-cuff if you like and that’s good.”
Despite the fact Ferguson’s achievements are unparalleled, it is fascinating to hear Wilson draw comparisons between Wilder’s methods and those employed by the 76-year-old. After investing a significant portion of United’s recruitment budget in acquiring his services, the respect is clearly mutual.
“When I first broke in at Manchester United, (Wayne) Rooney was there, Giggs was the coach, Michael Carrick played and Vidic also,” Wilson continues. “That was a massive help for me and the experience here is massive too. That’s going to be a big help for me going forward in this loan period. The lads have been brilliant with me. When I came in, we all sat down and had a chat.”
“I’m quite shy as a person but, if I get comfortable, I start coming out of my shell,” he adds. “As a player, I’m much more confident. I can play off the shoulder and I think I’m a good finisher.”
Wilson, who has also completed loan spells with Brighton and Hove Albion and Derby County, could make his first start for sixth-placed United against Norwich City tomorrow.
“I definitely wanted a club that inspired me,” he says. “There’s loads of different factors that decide where you go on loan but, for me, it was the chance to get some game time and the competition for places here. Every loan spell I’ve had, it’s been at a club that’s expected to do something. So I can draw on that. I feel like, in the Championship, I’m pretty experienced about what to expect.
“I think with the squad we’ve got, we’ve got a great opportunity. We all bring different things and that’s something good for the manager to have. Hopefully I can play my part.”