English football has often seen managers who – despite being relatively less famous in European circles – have worked wonders in the country’s domestic leagues. Be it Tony Pulis, who saved Stoke from sinking into Championship or Neil Warnock, who dared to drag Notts County from the third division to the first, or Sam Allardyce, the butch Brit who – more often than not – found a way to save a sinking ship.
Chris Wilder is another such wizard.
The 55-year-old has helped multiple sides rise from the lower rungs of English football. Sheffield United, the most important example, was promoted from the third division to the Premier League. He has also been a bellwether for redefining overlapping center-backs in British football.
In a managerial career over two decades, Wilder has not only managed great squads but also created future managers.
In March 2023, Wilder and his former protege – thousands of miles apart – stand at similar junctures of restarts – one for a Championship club (Watford) and the other, Des Buckingham, for a fresh go, after a narrow loss in the Indian Super League semifinal first leg.
Buckingham, having started his coaching career at Oxford United, won the Indian Super League Winners Shield with his side, Mumbai City FC, steering the side to its first silverware in three years.
“I spent four wonderful years under Chris Wilder, and I think most people, sort of, know the latter stage of his journey, but in the earlier stage, I was fortunate to share parts of that with him,” he told Sportstar.
“His relationship with his players and his staff, of being able to have such strong relationships with the people in his group allowed him to be very clear and honest with them all the way through. Regardless of whether things were going right or not, certainly, his man management was something I took with me and was very fortunate to see first-hand,” he added.
Wilder took charge of League One (English third-division) side Sheffield United in 2016 and managed to get just one point in his first four games.
However, the Blades ended the season with a record 100 points, and in three years, had secured a spot in the Premier League, the country’s top division.
That is where Buckingham finds his answers after the demoralising loss in the semifinal.
“He’s one of the only English managers that has taken teams from the conference (league) right up to the Premier League – through that football pyramid to the top end, which not many people can boast about,” he tells Sportstar.
“And the reason I mentioned that is that was the time I saw him work, and it’s something I’ve taken with me, and it complements some of the stuff that we do here – having very consistent ways of working.
That drives the behaviours as to what you do within your everyday working lives, and regardless of whether you win or lose, you must remain consistent with the process,” he adds.
Mumbai City conceded the only goal in the semifinal when it failed to mark Bengaluru FC’s veteran Sunil Chhetri. Buckingham insisted the team needed to be more cautious in set pieces when it travels to Sree Kanteerava Stadium for the return leg on Sunday.
However, the Englishman’s job – irrespective of the result – looks secure after winning the shield, and he himself has signed a contract extension until 2025.
For Wilder, though, the battle will be different and – in some aspects – more difficult.
In the last three years, Vicarage Road has seen six managers, each in charge of an average of 21 games, roughly half-a-season.
The Hornets – with two wins in their last 10 games – sit 10th in the EFL Championship table.
With 11 games remaining, Wilder will expect a miracle to catch up with his former side Sheffield United (which sits second with 16 points more than Watford) for a place in the Premier League.
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