The bitter end: Chris Wilder’s exit at Sheffield United had been in the pipeline after fall-outs with Saudi owner over transfers, a director of football and a shoddy training ground came to a head
- Chris Wilder is set to be axed as Sheffield United boss after rows with the owner
- There have been clashes with ownership over their plan for a director of football
- Owners feel Wilder’s recruitment record at Bramall Lane has been below par
- He will leave Sheffield United bottom of the Premier League with 10 games left
- Sportsmail can reveal that Wilder came close to leaving the club at Christmas
Chris Wilder was on Friday night in severance talks with Sheffield United after long-running tensions with the Bramall Lane board finally exploded.
Wilder — already on the shortlist for possible vacancies at Crystal Palace and West Brom — spent Friday in discussion with the club after working relationships at the Premier League’s bottom side finally reached breaking point.
Sportsmail revealed this month Wilder’s departure in the summer was inevitable after rows over recruitment and the state of the training ground.
Sheffield United are bottom of the Premier League and changes appear to be on the horizon
Discussions have been held over Chris Wilder’s future after fall-outs with the club’s owners
HOW SPORTSMAIL LED THE WAY ON WILDER
On March 4, Sportsmail exclusively revealed that Chris Wilder’s future was in real jeopardy.
IAN LADYMAN: Chris Wilder’s future at Sheffield United is being threatened by disagreements with the club’s owners over key issues such as recruitment and the state of the training ground.
Blades manager Wilder – responsible for taking the club back in to the Premier League from the wilderness of League One – revealed this week that he doesn’t know if he will be at Bramall Lane beyond the summer.
We can now also disclose that only last week Wilder delivered four conditions to the board that he said must be satisfied for him to continue next season.
But instead of paving a way forward, relations worsened and on Friday night Wilder’s representatives were in talks with the club over how the departure of the boyhood fan and player who brought the Blades from League One to the Premier League and almost into Europe would be framed.
Club sources claimed Wilder was not being sacked and it’s possible a ‘mutual consent’ announcement will be made.
Wilder did not take training on Friday ahead of Sunday’s game at Leicester and his scheduled Friday press conference was cancelled.
Sportsmail can reveal that Wilder came close to leaving at Christmas.
Aware that there would be no money for January signings and with the team adrift at the foot of the table, Wilder and the club had at least one conversation about parting company.
At that stage the League Managers Association became aware of the situation and have been involved ever since. Wilder is understood to have taken counsel from Sir Alex Ferguson in the past.
In December, Wilder and the club stepped back from the brink but it was clear there was unlikely to be any way back in the long term.
Around this time it is understood Wilder was told by the club that they were not impressed by some of his comments in the media. They said he was in danger of ‘demotivating’ his players.
Wilder wants the public backing of Prince Abdullah, but the pair disagree on recruitment
Wilder kicks a water bottle in frustration as defeats pile up, pushing them closer to relegation
Despite all this, as recently as 10 days ago Wilder was harbouring faint hopes of staying on. Contractually due to take a significant pay cut on the club’s relegation from the Premier League, he nevertheless believed he could still bring them back up if the circumstances were right.
With that in mind he presented the Bramall Lane board with a four-point plan for the summer. Wilder stressed that key players must not be sold, that four loans must come in, that the club’s outdated training ground must be improved and that the existing structure for buying and selling players must not change.
That final point was key. Wilder feared the club were looking to take recruitment out of his hands and pass control to a director of football. Sources close to the club’s owner Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud denied to Sportsmail last weekend that this was the intention. Nevertheless, the buying and selling of players is key to the split between Wilder and those above him.
Despite his success at Bramall Lane and his popularity with fans, Wilder’s purchase of forwards Rhian Brewster and Oliver Burke last summer led to the club questioning his judgment. The Brewster deal — £20million paid in £5m instalments over four years — was a sticking point in conversations. The former Liverpool player is yet to score a league goal.
Each signing was only approved after presentations were made to the board, while Wilder believes the club was handicapped by the lowest wage bill in the league.
The highest earner is on around £50,000 a week while some players in the first-team pool earn as little as a basic £10,000 — low by modern standards.
Wilder (left) said in December he would walk away from the club if he felt it was the right call
This was always likely to be a problem when Wilder identified targets last summer that all went to higher-paying top-flight clubs. Matty Cash and Ollie Watkins were on Wilder’s list before they chose Aston Villa while Jesse Lingard was a loan target who went to West Ham. Interest was also shown in Jeff Hendrick, who left Burnley for Newcastle, and in the Preston defender Ben Davies, who eventually switched to Liverpool.
The condition of the club’s Shirecliffe training ground has been a bone of contention. Despite the club committing to an upgrade on the facility last July, no work has yet commenced. Wilder felt the facility needed about £1.5m spent on it to bring it up to scratch but his levels of exasperation reached peak levels recently when part of the roof fell into disrepair.
Club sources insist that the work will still take place.
Whoever replaces Wilder will face a challenge to try to bring the club back up to the Premier League. It is feared now that some of the club’s best players will indeed be sold. Wilder is understood to have told the board that if they follow that path they will be in League One within two years.
Wilder has coached almost non-stop for 20 years but will look for a quick route back into the game. Palace are interested as they mull the future of Roy Hodgson while West Brom also rate him. Sam Allardyce is on an 18-month deal at the Hawthorns but may not stay if West Brom go down.