Former Sheffield United manager Neil Warnock has dubbed current boss Chris Wilder a “tactical genius”.
Wilder is the first person to get the Blades promoted to the Premier League since Warnock achieved the feat in 2006.
Yet unlike that season – when United were relegated on the final day – it has been a huge success this time around. Before the 2019/20 campaign was indefinitely suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, Wilder’s side sat seventh with 43 points from 28 games.
If the season does resume, as planned, then there is a realistic possibility they could push for European qualification.
Wilder has achieved this largely with players who have risen through the divisions with him. Chris Basham, Jack O’Connell, John Fleck and Billy Sharp have all been regulars this term. Yet all four were playing for the club in League One just over three years ago.
And Warnock is rightfully impressed.
“I just think he’s an amazing, amazing tactical genius,” the 71-year-old told the Eamonn and the Gaffers podcast. “He’s played this way all the way and even now when I watch the way his team plays, I don’t know how to to combat it.
“Because Chris is the way he is, he’s not everybody’s cup of tea. He’s not Mr Smoothie or anything like that. He says it how it is. But his tactics are amazing.”
Why Warnock is wrong about Wilder
Warnock goes on in the podcast to liken himself to Wilder, with both men having grown up in Sheffield as Blades fans before going on to manage them.
They have both enjoyed great success at Bramall Lane as well. Yet while there are similarities, they are also some very stark differences.
Warnock struggled to adapt to top flight football throughout his managerial career. He has twice been relegated from the division and also struggled with Crystal Palace and QPR.
Meanwhile, Wilder has adapted superbly and has won many admirers along the way. Warnock is right to call the 52-year-old a “tactical genius”. Wilder’s well documented use of overlapping centre-backs alone makes him an innovator.
But this is also where Warnock gets it wrong. He tries to portray Wilder as someone similar to himself – a spiky character who rubs people up the wrong way.
Yet this is far from the truth. Arguably the two most influential bosses on English football in recent times – Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola – have both spoken of their admiration for Wilder.
Klopp said he had done “an incredible job” earlier this year and admitted he regularly watches United. Guardiola went even further, not only saying he was impressed with Wilder’s men but that he was also learning from them.
Warnock is unlikely to ever be offered the same praise.