“He’s one of our own”: The unlikely success story of the boyhood Blade

Sheffield United had spent five seasons in League One when Chris Wilder was appointed manager in May 2016.

His hometown club had been relegated in 2011 and four managers had tried and failed to take the Blades back to the Championship.

Wilder came into the job on the back of managerial success with Oxford United and Northampton Town, winning promotion to League Two and then League One.

Between 1986 and 1992 Wilder made 93 appearances as a player for the Blades and a further 12 between 1998 and 1999.

But taking a club who had for so long battled to get back to the second-tier of English football would be Wilder’s biggest challenge yet.

With a limited budget, many of Wilder’s first signings were free transfers. Striker Billy Sharp had been brought back to the club by previous manager Nigel Adkins and Wilder made him captain.

Like Wilder, Sharp is a Sheffield United fan and had notched up over career 100 goals before re-joining his boyhood club.

However, Wilder’s start to managerial life at the Blades could not have got off to a worse start. After four games, his side had gained just one point and were rooted near the bottom of the table.

It seemed like Sheffield United were destined for another season of disappointment.

But while many may have doubted his credentials, Wilder began to build a side around his talisman Sharp.

The forward soon found the goalscoring form he had so often produced at other clubs. Sharp went on to score 30 league goals that season and the Blades accumulated over 100 points on their road to becoming League One champions.

Wilder’s first campaign as a Championship manager was a season of two halves. After a 4-2 victory against rivals Sheffield Wednesday, where the Blades broke a record for the amount of goals a United side has scored at Hillsborough, and a 2-1 win against Leeds at Elland Road, Wilder’s side were top of the table at the end of October.

However, injuries to key players hampered the team’s second half of the season and the club dropped out of the play-off places, finishing 10th at the end of the campaign.

While Wilder may have been aiming to battle for the play-off places this season, few pundits predicted the Blades to finish in the top six this season.

With clubs like Aston Villa, Leeds United, West Brom, Derby County and Stoke City all looking to have strong and more expensive squads at the start of the season, Sheffield United’s foundations were built on experience and hard-work.

The Blades spent just over £6 million in the transfer window with much of that sum going on defender John Egan, a £4 million purchase from Brentford.

Experienced striker David McGoldrick was brought in on a free transfer from Ipswich and midfielder Oliver Norwood, who had achieved successive promotions to the Premier League with Brighton and Fulham, signed for £1 million from Reading.

From the start of the season the Blades looked a capable side but by December they were mounting a serious promotion charge. Wilder’s side went unbeaten in February and it became clear there were three teams who could realistically take on of the two automatic places.

Norwich City emerged as the front runners at the top of the table with Leeds United the Blades’ rivals for second. A victory at Elland Road in March looked to have swung the balance in Wilder’s team’s favour.

Many twists and turns were to come as both sides switched places several times but the Blades found form when it mattered with victories against Nottingham Forest on Good Friday and Hull City on Easter Monday, while Leeds suffered defeats to Wigan and Brentford.

A 2-0 victory against Ipswich on Saturday all but confirmed promotion before Leeds’ draw with Aston Villa yesterday officially sealed the Blades’ place in the Premier League for the first time since 2007.

Few managers have the privilege of managing the club they love but Wilder has achieved the ultimate dream. It might take the summer months for the magnitude of his success to sink in.

As the Sheffield United fans belted out “he’s one of our own” on Saturday night, Chris Wilder’s name will live long in the Blades’ history books.