From non-league to Premier League – Looking at Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder’s meteoric rise up English football

They don’t make many like Chris Wilder these days.

The Sheffield lad has worked wonders at his hometown club Sheffield United – earning them promotion to the Premier League less than three years after taking charge when they were drifting in League One.

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It’s been some journey for Sheffield United and particularly Wilder
Getty Images – Getty

Saying that, United weren’t just drifting. They were in dire straights just before he arrived.

They finished 11th at the end of the 2015/16 season – arguably the club’s darkest days since they were relegated to the old Fourth Division in 1981.

Their final match of the campaign saw them lose 2-0 at home to Scunthorpe and the players took part in a ‘lap of shame’ after the dismal defeat. Big changes were needed.

And big changes came. Out went Nigel Adkins and in came Stocksbridge-born Wilder who was tasked with getting United back on track.

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Wilder with assistant manager Alan Knill during their first season at Bramall Lane

It seemed an almost impossible task but Wilder has brought his club back into the big time and they’ve made a decent start to the 2019/20 season – drawing 1-1 at Bournemouth before beating Crystal Palace at Bramall Lane last weekend.

In fact, this win over Palace saw Wilder and Sheffield United achieve 77 league wins since the start of the 2016/17 campaign.

This stat is made all the more impressive when you realise Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola is the only manager in England’s top four divisions to win more league matches in that time frame with 88, according to Opta.

Next, the Blades play Leicester City at home on Saturday at 3pm – a match you can listen to LIVE on talkSPORT 2 – the second of our three live commentaries on GameDay.

LIVE on talkSPORT

Check out all the live commentaries coming up across the talkSPORT network this week

  • Norwich vs Chelsea (Saturday, 12:30pm) – talkSPORT
  • Derby vs West Brom (Saturday, 12:30pm) – talkSPORT 2
  • Sheffield United vs Leicester (Saturday, 3pm) – talkSPORT 2
  • Liverpool vs Arsenal (Saturday, 5:30pm) – talkSPORT
  • Swansea vs Birmingham (Sunday, 12pm) – talkSPORT 2

Win that and United will have seven points from their opening three Premier League matches of the season – a fabulous return for a club tipped to head straight back down to the Championship by the bookies.

Promotion and thriving into the top flight continues an excellent personal journey for Wilder that has seen him go from non-league to thriving in the Premier League with Oxford United and Northampton Town being the other main beneficiaries of Wilder’s work.

He arrived at the Kassam Stadium in December 2008 with Oxford stuck in the rut of the Conference following their relegation out of the Football League in 2006.

The Yellows almost reached the play-offs that season but missed out on the final day.

In fact, they would have snuck in had they not received a five-point deduction for fielding an unregistered player in November 2008 – something that happened before Wilder was manager.

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Wilder got Oxford out of the footballing wilderness in under 18 months

But Oxford meant business the season after and made a fast start.

They had to settle for a play-off spot though – finishing third in the league.

But Wilder took them back to the Football League with a 3-1 win over York City in the final at Wembley.

Wilder’s slide down the touchline of the Wembley turf when Alfie Potter slammed home the goal which sealed the victory is still talked about by the Oxford faithful now.

He stabilised Oxford in League Two although a disappointing end to the 2011/12 season saw them slip out of the play-off spots at the end of the season.

Chris Wilder's winning habit

Below are the top five managers from England's top four divisions to have won the most league matches since the beginning of the 2016/17 season

1) Pep Guardiola (Manchester City) – 88

2) Chris Wilder (Sheffield United) – 77

3) Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool) – 75

4) Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham) – 73

5) Paul Tisdale (Exeter City and MK Dons) – 70

But by this stage, his work wasn’t going unnoticed and Wilder was later snapped up by Northampton Town in January 2014.

He was joining a club fighting relegation in League Two so it was seen as a strange move.

But after keeping the Cobblers in the division, Wilder began to get a tune out of the players.

Northampton finished in a stable twelfth the following year – finishing just above former club Oxford on goal difference.

And then Wilder was faced with a new kind of test early in the 2015/16 campaign.

In October 2015, HM Revenue and Customs came knocking at Sixfields Stadium with a winding up petition over unpaid taxes.

With so much uncertainty around the club and the huge debts it had managed to rack up for the construction of their stadium, it would have been no surprise to see the Wilder wheels come off.

That’s not what happened.

Northampton went on to win the league with 99 points and they were in League One – Oxford claiming the other automatic promotion spot incidentally.

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Wilder with Marc Richards and David Buchanan AND the League Two trophy!

But the joy at Northampton soon turned to disappointment as Wilder’s boyhood club came calling.

There was an almighty task awaiting the man who took the job but this was an offer Wilder simply couldn’t refuse.

In the beginning, it looked like Wilder had made a mistake as he failed to win in his first five matches in charge.

Wilder finally broke his duck in August 2016 with a 2-1 win at home to Oxford United. You couldn’t write it!

Now things were starting to fall into place and the Blades ended up winning League One with a brilliant haul of 100 points.

Speaking about their promotion to the second tier, Wilder told talkSPORT: “We had to reconnect with the supporters and find a style that was suited to the division.”

“We wanted to carry that into the Championship. We never changed our approach.

“We gave ourselves an opportunity to win every game of football by the character and the attitude of the players.

“The journey started with the likes of [Chris] Basham, [John] Fleck, Enda Stevens, Jacko [Jack O’Connell], and Billy Sharp.”

So can Wilder keep Sheffield United up this season?

Ryan Clarke, who Wilder managed at Oxford and Northampton thinks they can and the best of the boss will come out when things aren’t going so well.

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Wilder has got his players well drilled for the Premier League
Getty Images – Getty

Speaking to talkSPORT.com, Clarke said: “One of his favourite sayings was ‘if you lose one or two, you certainly don’t lose three’.

“It’ll be a tough ask but yeah I think he can. If there’s one thing he can do it’s when things aren’t going well it’s getting his team back on track.

“That’s another thing he’s very good at. That might be crucial because it’s going to be a hell of a tough season for them.

“I’ve not been in and around the changing rooms [at Sheffield United] but you can imagine the sorts of things that are going on and I’m sure he’s gone about his business in a similar way to what he’s done in the past because it’s worked well.”

Saturday is GameDay on talkSPORT and talkSPORT 2 as we become your go to destination for all the Premier League action.

We’ll bring you LIVE commentary of Premier League games across all three time slots on Saturday – 12.30pm, 3pm and 5.30pm – delivering award-winning coverage to more GameDay listeners than ever.

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