top of page

Chris Wilder's rise from Sunday league to Premier League

What makes Chris Wilder special? Adam Bate speaks to players who have worked with the Sheffield United boss at each of his previous clubs to chart his journey from Sunday league to Premier League

If anyone was labouring under the misapprehension that Chris Wilder and his Sheffield United team are just happy to be in the Premier League, the manager has done plenty to dispel that notion in the opening months of the campaign. It is not just the victories over Crystal Palace and Everton that have done that but the reaction to the defeats too.

It was reported that during half-time of the home loss against Leicester in August, Sheffield United's first of the season, Wilder tore into his team in the dressing room. What did not make the newspapers is that he also tore off his own top in the process. It is a tale that hints at the old-school motivational techniques of a man who has had to fight his way to the top..

"When he goes he goes," his old pal John Beresford tells Sky Sports. "He just does not stand for any nonsense. I was chuckling when I heard that rant of his when he was asked about his players working hard. I have heard that one before. That's your remit. It's non-negotiable. He expects you to give everything. He is looking for the quality that goes with it."

Beresford, the former Newcastle United left-back in Kevin Keegan's famous team of entertainers, knows Wilder's managerial methods better than most. He was there at the very start of the journey. A fellow Sheffield lad, their paths diverged as youngsters before becoming drinking buddies again in their retirement. Not that Beresford's lasted very long.

Wilder was making his first forays into coaching at the time with Bradway, a Sunday league team in the Steel City. He has since confessed to picking the team in the nightclub on the Saturday night before the game and in Beresford's case that was where he did his recruitment too. Wilder was soon attempting to coax his old friend into making a return.

But what was the reply?

"I thought he was joking but he told me I would love it," says Beresford.

"I turned up the following week and it was fantastic. He got a decent team together. There were a couple of weeks where I was a bit of a diva. I would turn up for these away games and say: 'I can't play on that, my knees won't take it'. But our pitches were really good, to be fair. Most of the lads were Blades fans and we even played in the Sheffield United kit."

Beresford went on to follow Wilder to Alfreton and then Halifax Town as his coaching career really began to progress. Even back then, there were signs of the success that was to come.

"From the very start, you could see that Chris was destined to become a top manager," he adds. "He had no money so he kept things quite simple but he always knew how to deal with players. The man-management side of it was second to none with him. He knew when players needed a cuddle and he knew when they needed a rollicking.

"The big thing about him is that camaraderie between the players. I was lucky enough to play under Kevin Keegan and he was a brilliant man-manager. I think Chris is similar. If there is a difference between the two it's the experience that Chris has now got to fall back on. Kevin didn't have that when it started to go wrong for him and he could not adapt.

"I think that's what has made Chris. The experience of doing it down there has helped him. He has learned from that. It doesn't matter what level it is, it's about learning how to make a difference from the touchline - isolating the weakest player, getting your best player on the ball in space. He has done it at every level and he just adapts no matter what."


The need to adapt became more pressing at Oxford United in 2010 when Wilder won promotion to the Football League for the first time. It was here that he demonstrated the nuance that accompanies his no-nonsense approach. He surrounded himself with quality coaches and was not afraid to take a more collegiate approach, seeking the advice of others.

Michael Duberry was at the tail end of his career when he signed for Oxford the following summer. The former Chelsea and Leeds centre-back, a man with more than a decade of Premier League experience working under coaches such as Glenn Hoddle, Ruud Gullit, Gianluca Vialli and Terry Venables, was nevertheless impressed by Wilder's approach.

There were no attempts to convert him into an overlapping centre-back - "if he had got hold of me 15 years earlier he might have tried it!" - but there was an openness to his style.

"He knew the old school in terms of the hairdryer and the discipline side of it but he was entering the new school as well because he knew what modern players are like and how you can lose them if you are just one way all the time," Duberry tells Sky Sports.

1 view0 comments


bottom of page