Former Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder has broken his silence on his exit from Bramall Lane after a five-year reign following a series of disagreements about key issues including recruitment strategy contributed to the deterioration of his relationship with the board of directors.
Wilder, who left the Premier League club last month, has released a statement via the League Managers Association thanking fans, staff and players – in particular captian Billy Sharp.
His time at Bramall Lane saw the Blades secure two promotions as they climbed from the third to the first tier of English football in only three seasons before finishing ninth in the Premier League last term.
Wilder said he will now take some time to mull over his next move. He is 2/1 with bookies to be the next Newcastle United manager, while he has also been lined with the Celtic job.
Wilder said: “When I walked back into Bramall Lane, in May 2016, having been given the chance to manage the club I’d supported all my life, who could have predicted the next four-and-a-half years? It has been some journey and one I’m immensely proud of.
"It was an opportunity I couldn’t resist and one that I couldn’t wait to get started. My story with Sheffield United was well-documented, as a fan, ballboy and player in two spells, but my managerial record to then was recognised and I was appointed on merit.
"I spoke to a lot of people, canvassed plenty of opinion and set about reconnecting the club and supporters at the same time as attempting to build a squad that could climb out of the doldrums of League One. Both of those goals were achieved.”
United had just finished mid-table in League One when Wilder was appointed in the summer of 2016. Despite making a slow start to life under the former Northampton Town, Oxford and Halifax chief, they finished the campaign as runaway title winners before reaching the top-flight 24 months later.
Describing rebuilding the relationship between the team and its fans as the greatest achievement of his time at the helm, Wilder continued: "Admittedly, it wasn’t the start that everyone wanted but with Billy Sharp as captain and with the backing of the punters on the terraces, slowly but surely we went about our business, taking the rough with the smooth and staying humble as we began to build momentum that would take us to the heights of the Premier League and a highest ever finish in the modern era.
"Along the way there were so many achievements and moments to be remembered. In no particular order, important victories at Hillsborough, Elland Road and Old Trafford, collecting a record 100 points, open top bus parades, town hall receptions, thousands of fans welcoming us back to the Lane after fixtures at Northampton and Stoke and, of course, making sure we celebrated the successes because, as Blades fans well know, it’s either feast or famine.
“We were in good form when Covid hit last year and who knows how far we could have gone, you could not avoid the talk of possible European football – hopefully that kept a few Unitedites going in a tough period.”
Despite challenging for a top six finish last season, United have found results harder to come by since September’s return to action with injuries and poor form contributing to a situation which leaves them preparing for Saturday’s match at Wolves 18 points adrift of safety with only seven games remaining.
"Throughout the journey, it has been a team effort and I must point out that the commitment, hard work and talent of a number of people have been major contributory factors to the success of Sheffield United in recent years – there’s too many to mention but Billy and the players, Alan Knill and the staff, and my wife, Francesca, and all the family, have been heavily influential,” Wilder said.
"I have to mention the supporters at this point, too, because they have also been a driving force of the whole operation, many of whom I’ve stood side by side with on the terraces, home and away.
"As proved this season, football is just not the same without fans and I stand by the comment that I’ve made on numerous occasions, the club have missed out more than most, Unitedites have the ability to turn losses into draws and draws into wins.
“I cannot stress enough how important the fans are and I’ve been humbled by the unequivocal support, even this season when things haven’t gone so well.
"Additionally, since leaving Sheffield United I’ve received numerous messages of support from within the game and I’m appreciative of that. Now, before deciding what’s next, I’m enjoying a period of reflection at home in a city that I love and that I’m incredibly proud to live in, Sheffield is the home of football, it is dominated by the sport and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
"I’ll miss the feeling of a packed Bramall Lane, to me it was one of the greatest atmospheres in football but I would say that.
“I lived the dream of every Blades fan and I hope every one of them understands that I tried to represent them correctly in ‘giving them their club back’, a phrase that has been said to me quite a few times. And one I verbally believe we did!
"I would like to wish everyone associated with the football club and the owners the very best in the future. This Football Club will always hold a special place in my heart, it has from an early age and that will never change. Thanks again for everything.”