Once they shared digs and a dream of becoming professional footballers.
But tomorrow, over thirty-years after working together at Southampton, the only thing Chris Wilder and Phil Parkinson will have in common is a ravenous desire to beat an old mate.
“I know Phil going back to when I was 14 and on schoolboy terms down there,” Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, said. “We were in the same accommodation and played in the same youth team. He ended-up going his way and I ended-up going mine. Now our path’s are going to cross again.”
If Wilder’s comments ahead of United’s visit to Bolton Wanderers sound threatening, nothing could be further from the truth. Parkinson, who is also preparing for his first competitive fixture in charge of a new club after moving to Lancashire during the close season, is on good terms with the 48-year-old. His assistant Steve Parkin and goalkeeping coach Lee Butler too. But, as Wilder explained last night, sentimental trips down memory lane can wait.
“Steve, being a Blade, I’ve bumped into him quite a few times and spoken to him on numerous occasions. He’s a great guy. Then there’s my old mate Lee Butler of course. We got back a long way and worked together in the past. We all get on but, come three o’clock, business is business. They’re three great guys and we’ll have a beer afterwards but, first things first, we all want to win.”
Like Parkinson, Wilder is still remodelling the squad he inherited earlier this summer. Having finished 11th in the League One table under his predecessor Nigel Adkins, the former Halifax, Oxford and Northampton Town chief released 10 and transfer listed seven players during a ruthless close season cull. Despite the gloom which surrounded United’s performances last term, Parkinson accepted an even more ominous mission when he chose to leave Bradford City in June. Wanderers, after all, had just been relegated from the Championship following months of financial disarray.
“Phil will be saying the same as us; that they’re probably not the finished article yet,” Wilder said. “But he’ll still be looking for a good season. On day one, lots of strange things can happen but we’ve got a positive mind-set. We’re not going there to defend, we’re going there to be positive. But there will be periods of the game when we have to dig-in and we’ll be ready to do that.”
Wilder, who could potentially include seven debutants in his team at the Macron Stadium, revealed a recruitment drive designed to make United more streetwise has already had the desired effect.
“I think the players understand what we’ve brought,” he said. “They get our core philosophy. They know we are here to compete, to win tackles, to win races and play positive football. There have been times this week when we’ve had to slow them down because they’re raring to go.”
“It’s easy playing Championship Manager, picking players and signing players,” Wilder added. “We have to do it the tough way and in budget. All different types of qualities are needed to pull a team together. We’re happy with the recruitment we’ve done and there’s still a bit of work to do. But the players have taken on board what we’re trying to do and they’re looking forward to it.”