Friday, 27 May 2011

Is Dan the Man or are the Blades Desperate?

Today, at 12pm, Sheffield United announced the appointment of their 4th manager in less than twelve months. An appointment that, when it hit the media, the internet forums and social media sites yesterday afternoon, generated a level of anger and vitriol I have never seen towards a Sheffield United manager and the club as a whole. Not even the appointment of Bryan Robson generated this much bile, events surrounding his eventual departure came close.

So what is it about Wilson that is a problem?

To some he is a let down, particularly after chairman Kevin McCabe dropped Roberto Di Matteo's name into the mix in a radio interview following Micky Adams' departure. From there on an expectation level had been set. The perception of fans now being that there are better candidates out there, or more attractive names. Having said that Di Matteo was unlikely to be happy working under the financial constraints likely to be imposed and Chris Hughton publicly stated that he was waiting for a Premiership opportunity.

To others, the fact he played for and managed the other lot across the City is an issue. I prefer to see the problem for United fans highlighted in his failings whilst in S6, although they brought me much enjoyment at the time. He oversaw Wednesday's heaviest defeat in recent times, 8-0 at Newcastle. He failed to man-manage the big named players and his reign saw the departure of Paolo Di Canio, Benito Carbone and Emerson Thome amongst others. His signings failed to impress; Phil O'Donnell and Simon Donnelly taking home between £800,000 and £1m a year in wages, on 4 year contracts, whilst making a combined total of 73 appearances over that period. His reign at Wednesday culminating in an eventual relegation from the Premier League.

His role at Barnsley is also mentioned as a problem, despite his success there. Although this is often combined with his Wednesday connections. Barnsley alone is not enough to rule him out. Many of those same people would accept Mark Robins, so the argument makes little sense. It is also possible that the acceptance of Robins might be more down to the fact that, in an apparent two horse race of unpopular candidates, Robins is the lesser of two evils. 

A lot of fans point to his lack of achievements in his managerial career. The facts suggest they are right to be concerned:

1996-97 Barnsley - Promoted to Premier League
1999-00 Sheffield Wed - Relegated from Premier League
2005-06 MK Dons - Relegated to League Two
2006-07 Hartlepool - Promoted to League One
2010-11 Swindon - resigned prior to their eventual relegation to League Two

So what hope, if any, can Blades' fans find in his appointment? I asked supporters/bloggers of two of his previous clubs for their views on his reign; Ron editor of the Swindon blog The Washbag and Paul Binning editor of Bristol City blog The Exiled Robin.

Firstly Paul told me of events following Wilson's departure from Hillsborough;
"Danny Wilson arrived at Bristol City in 2000 having recently been singled out by four Sheffield-based MP’s, who called for his head in the House of Commons after he led Wednesday towards the lower reaches of the Premier League.  Easy to forget he had in fact led Barnsley – yes, Barnsley, to the top table just a few years earlier."

"Wilson inherited a Tony Pulis inspired, Wimbledon-esque, mainly talentless bunch of players – one of the worst Bristol City sides in 20 years.  Wilson set about the task immediately, ridding the club of many of the abrasive, unpopular journeymen and bringing through a number of locally-born youngsters from the club’s youth system (a good sign for the Blades perhaps?)"

Perhaps indeed, our squad contains many talentless players. Thankfully some have already returned to their clubs after loan spells, but his ability to weed out the rest may prove difficult as it's increasingly likely that our more talented players will leave to bring in funds and free up wages. With Jamie Ward already sold to Derby before the new manager was appointed, it will be interesting to see how he copes with players such as Mark Yeates, another player Micky Adams seemingly had difficulty handling.

The point about the youth team is a good one, but as you may have read here and here, there are few players immediately ready to take that step up. Those that are ready, are just as likely to be cashed in on, as one of the few valuable playing assets left at the club. Where Wilson may have problems is in trying to re-shape his squad and standing up to the board room purse holders. The last thing United need is another yes man, but as Ron explains that is how things turned at Swindon.

"Wilson was able to work with a high calibre of quality players, such as Cox, Paynter, Greer, Ward and Austin, who when sold, just couldn't be replaced. In the case of Greer, Wilson completely underestimated his massive importance to the team and shot himself in the foot by not being strong enough to stamp his authority with the board to ensure he got a new deal. Of course every team would struggle after losing these figureheads, however the efforts Wilson made to replace them were hasty and ill-advised."

This makes me question whether, with a wage bill that still needs to be halved, we have the right man at Bramall Lane to rebuild the squad. Unless McCabe is willing to further fund the restructuring from his own pocket.

So what about matters on the pitch. With the Blades Academy playing attractive passing football and much clamour from fans for similar provision from the first team, chairman  McCabe has suggested that any incoming manager must add verve and style alongside success. Both Ron and Paul's comments hint at a manager trying to play attractive football, brimming with ideas when things are going relatively well, yet too stubborn or blind to the change required when things turn for the worse.

"At City he was always popular with the fans and Wilson proved himself tactically astute.  Not a prisoner of a 4-4-2 game, he made the critical decision to switch Brian Tinnion from the left wing where he’d played his entire career into the left-hand side of a three man midfield.  With pacy, energetic wing-backs bombing outside, Tinnion controlled matches in a way he never had previously."

"A couple of years moulding his team resulted in a couple of play-off near misses, followed by two consecutive third-place finishes, although each time promotion proved beyond reach.  Any article on Wilson’s time at Ashton Gate would be incomplete without mention of his dumbfounding decision to leave Leroy Lita on the bench for the 2003 play-off final loss against Brighton.  Lita had made a stunning impact in his debut season and would go on to score more than 30 goals during the following campaign.  This decision, along with rows over funding of back-room staff, saw a perhaps rather harsh dismissal and the end of Wilson’s reign."

"At Swindon, his 120 games over 26 months lacked any consistency throughout. A fluid and attacking team performed miracles a year ago with double 3-0 victories over Leeds United (one for the Blades fans!) and a 3 month unbeaten run culminating in a shot at promotion. This was followed by a Jekyll and Hyde campaign beset by an unsettled team, disjointed with no direction, players out of position, making numerous mistakes and culminating with the inevitable defeats."
"His Swindon sides always seemed to lack the fight. An example being that we were able to come from behind to secure a victory away from home just 3 times under his tenure. Mentally, Wilson seemed unable to motivate his players when they're down, highlighting that he's got plenty of ideas when it's all going well, however when it's not, there's only one way and that's down."

Picking up a squad at a very low ebb and with a fan base directly at odds with his appointment, these comments don't fill me with immediate hope. The reference to a lack of fight, something that none of the Blades' managers over the last couple of years has seemed capable of instilling, is a worry. Good football alone rarely gets teams out of League One and to do so we are going to have to show some guts as well as guile.

So what of the mental state of the manager we are inheriting? Bramall Lane at its most caustic is no place for the mentally weak. Ron's answer suggests one who ended his time at Swindon displaying characteristics last seen at Bramall Lane in Blackwell and Robson, with a failure to acknowledge his own failings.

"In early March Danny Wilson was a broken man. After coming so near to promotion less than a season ago, his Swindon side were staring relegation in the face and Wilson decided to resign, helped by the fact that it was made clear he no longer could count upon the support of then Chairman Andrew Fitton."

"Despite the many problems we've had this season many fans still trusted him, myself included, blinkered, like Wilson, to our declining fortunes. What really did it for me with Wilson was his persistence in late January (with Town  just above the relegation zone) that we still had a shot at the Play-Offs. He still  believed in his own hype and that rubbed off on the players. This certainly didn't go down to well with the supporters, who in the end, could see past this. We just wanted realism."

"It’s sad to say that it ended this way, but if Wilson stayed around any longer he’d further tarnish his achievements, would further damage his reputation and leave even more bitter memories with Town fans, which he just doesn't deserve."

Paul put it another way; " have the Blades got a perennial Devon Loch or contender-building entertainer?  Possibly a bit of both."

"He has master-minded Barnsley’s first and only promotion to the top flight, had two play-off campaigns with City including 106 goals in one season, gained promotion with Hartlepool which included a 23-match unbeaten run and eight wins on the spin without conceding.  He took Swindon from the bottom of League One to the play-off final, unearthing a gem in Charlie Austin along the way."

"It is worth giving him a chance, but he may need a couple of seasons to mould a side in his style.  If this is granted I have little doubt that he’ll get the Blades back into the Championship, playing a style of football that will be worth the price of a season-ticket."

The question is, will he get that time?  Former Blades striker Keith Edwards said on local radio this morning that both Wilson and McCabe are either brave, or stupid? Opinion on this would differ from fan to fan, but at a time when McCabe has talked of unifying the club and the "Blades family", his decision to appoint Wilson is a divisive move further alienating the club from a large proportion of the Blades fan base. The fact that over 400 fans protested in the car park this lunchtime, drowning out parts of the press conference, says a lot.

My view, for what it's worth, is that he isn't the right man. I partially agree with McCabe in that Wilson has worked well with young players before and played the football fans want to see (the comments from Paul and Ron support that view). But for McCabe to describe him as the one man for the job in those respects and the one man for the job in respect of getting teams out of League One, does take some stomaching.

What we must do now is accept his appointment, get behind the team and manager. Another sudden change of manager early in the season is only going to be detrimental to the team's prospects of staying in the division, never mind challenging for a return to the Championship.

Everything changes with results and whatever happens we have to support the team, back the players; a poisonous atmosphere at Bramall Lane will do nothing for performances or results. Whatever Wilson achieves, he is stymied by the fact he will always have to achieve more than others would have done to get any sort of credit. At the opposite end of the spectrum, if results don't come quickly he will no doubt feel the heat much quicker. Christ, he is feeling it now before a ball is kicked.

The apple in McCabe's eye was a Championship return. He seemed determined to be more hands on in the running of the club, making brusque, sweeping changes and taking tough decisions. Yet a simple, back to basics approach  with a promising young manager may have been so much better.

"If you want the fruit to fall,
You have to give the tree a shake,
But if you shake the tree too hard,
the bough is going to break"

McCabe might be left with a broken branch and no apple. I hope not. What gives me a bit of hope, amidst all the frustration today, are the positive factors brought to light on two of Wilson's more recent appointments. 

MANY THANKS TO RON AND PAUL FOR THEIR HELP WITH THIS ARTICLE, YOU CAN VISIT THEIR SITES THROUGH THE LINKS BELOW:





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