Sheffield United started preparing for life outside the Premier League by announcing the departure of manager Chris Wilder with the team in last place and headed for relegation.
Wilder had been manager of his boyhood club for nearly five years, leading the Blades from the third division to the Premier League. They had been challenging for European spots last season, but they've won just four games in the current campaign.
The decision for Wilder to leave was made “following discussions” and agreed to by mutual consent, the club said.
“We are confident that all Blades fans around the world will join us in thanking Chris for his hard work, commitment and expertise in driving the club,” the team said in a statement.
"Now the club will turn its attention to completing the season as strongly as possible and if we are relegated, to preparing for the Championship.
“We confirm our intention to keep the core of the player group together and will continue to invest further in the academy and the first team, to place us in the best possible position for the future.” United started the season with a 17-game winless streak but at that time the club's Saudi owner, Prince Abdullah Bin Mosaad Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, said the club was sticking with Wilder.
With 10 games remaining, the Blades are 12 points from safety ahead of a Sunday match at Leicester.
Wilder could practically do no wrong in 2019-20 — when he was runner-up to Liverpool's Juergen Klopp for Manager of the Year award — but it's been a slog this time around.
United finished ninth last season but didn't notch its first win of the current campaign until Jan. 13 in a 1-0 victory over Newcastle.
“Being manager of Sheffield United has been a special journey and one I'll never forget," Wilder said.
"I was delighted to be given the opportunity back in 2016 and have been delighted with the success which we have achieved, including two promotions and a highest-ever Premier League finish.
"I'd like to thank everyone who has contributed to the club's accomplishments along the way, including the players, staff and, in particular, the supporters.” The 53-year-old Englishman said last week he hoped to remain at Bramall Lane next season but urged the front office to “stick to the plan.” He said players “looked sorry for themselves" toward the end of a 2-0 loss to Southampton last Saturday.
“There's been too many up-and-down performances this season from game to game and in games, as well, and that obviously results in where we are,” Wilder said in post game comments.
United has a league-low 16 goals and none from youngster Rhian Brewster, who was signed from Liverpool for around $30 million.
Under Wilder, United returned to the Premier League in 2019-20 after a 12-year absence, getting there from League One in the span of three years.
Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson, who spent two seasons on loan at Bramall Lane, thanked Wilder in a Twitter post on Friday as media reports signaled Wilder's departure.
“Don't ever underestimate what you did for Sheffield United! Can't wait the see the statue at the lane! Not only a great manager but a great person,” Henderson said.