Chris Wilder has paid tribute to Jim Smith after his death at the age of 79.

Smith is a legend at Oxford United after taking the club from the third tier of English football to the top flight in the 1980s.

He would later end his managerial career at Oxford in 2008 as caretaker boss. Shortly after that Wilder took charge and Smith played a key role in him filling the position.

“I will always be grateful for Jim’s input in getting the job at Oxford,” the 52-year-old told the Oxford Mail.

“To be given the opportunity I was as a young manager by him and Kelvin (Thomas, chairman) – I will always be indebted to be given that chance.

“Jim was just a great man. I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with him and learnt some valuable lessons in both football management and man management.”

How Jim Smith helped Wilder on his path

(Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)

Wilder guided Oxford back to the Football League in 2010 after a playoff victory at Wembley. After establishing the U’s in League Two, he left for Northampton Town and lead them to the title.

Both Smith and Wilder were born in Sheffield and the latter returned to his beloved Sheffield United in 2016. Two promotions in three years saw him emulate the feat of his mentor.

Just as Smith had done with Oxford, Wilder had now taken the Blades from League One into the Premier League. They are currently ninth in the table after 16 matches with 22 points. They are unbeaten in all eight of their away games so far – something no newly promoted team has ever achieved in the Premier League era.

Wilder is now being recognised as one of the best English coaches in the country. Yet back when he was making his name in non-league, it was Smith who believed in him.

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