Sheffield United find success with British and Irish-born stars - Wilder
SHEFFIELD, England -- Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder has told ESPN FC that his club is striking a blow against football "snobbery" by mounting a Premier League promotion challenge with a squad made up solely of British and Irish-born players.
United, founder members of the Premier League in 1992, are aiming to seal a surprise return to the top flight this season for the first time since relegation in 2007 after ending a six-year spell in League One earlier this year.
The South Yorkshire outfit will leapfrog Championship leaders Wolves and claim top spot if they win at Burton Albion on Friday night -- a prospect which highlights the progress made by United since lifelong-supporter Wilder took charge in May 2016.
Currently, the Blades are the only club in the top two divisions of English football not to have an overseas player in their senior squad.
While Tottenham defender Cameron Carter-Vickers, on a season-long loan with the Blades, and forward Clayton Donaldson represent the Unites States and Jamaica respectively at international level, both were born in England (Carter-Vickers in Southend; Donaldson in Bradford) and Wilder admits that the make-up of his squad is rooted in his knowledge of the domestic market.
"There is a lot of snobbery in football that comes with big price tags and big wages and names on the back of shirts," Wilder told ESPN FC. "I think that is lazy recruitment. People just look at it and say, 'yeah, he's played there and at that level,' but there are still a lot of players who can play.
"Look at Bournemouth's team. You have Harry Arter, who played in non-league, Charlie Daniels, Marc Pugh, Simon Francis all played in League One.
"Hunger and desire can often be overlooked. That -- the character of a player -- is one of the biggest drivers of this squad, and what they want to do, going forward.
"Nobody is coming here to see their career out. That has maybe been an issue here in the past, but the lads come in now and get on with it with a desire and drive to do well. As for the make-up of my squad, that's the recruitment area I know best and the one which I felt was the best to get us out of the division last season.
"Look, there are a lot of German players at Huddersfield because their manager is German [David Wagner]. There are a lot of Portuguese players at Sheffield Wednesday because the manager is Portuguese [Carlos Carvalhal]. The same applies to Wolves, because their manager is Portuguese [Nuno Espirito Santo]."
With United pushing Wolves at the top of the Championship, Wilder admits he is open-minded to recruiting from a wider pool in the coming transfer windows if required. But with the likes of Jamie Vardy being handed a chance by Leicester City after his goal scoring feats in non-league football, Wilder insists he will not overlook the market that he knows best.
"The market I know best is the British market, but we will expand, most certainly," he said. "First and foremost, though, the idea was to get out of League One as soon as we could and what I needed in terms of characteristics was best sourced from people that I knew.
"I believed that British players were the best-suited to get us out of that division, knowing what the division was about. But there was never any thought of, 'He's foreign, so we won't take him.' "As we develop as a football club, we will move forward and we are beginning to explore availability of players on the foreign market as we look ahead to the January window and then the summer one.
"Do I think we are going to bring, seven, eight or nine in? No, but if there is value for money and players who I think will move us forward, I have no issue with purchasing players from that market. But I will look in the lower leagues and non-leagues without hesitation. We are not scared of that, not at all. We look in all sorts of different areas.
"I am not signing anybody from a DVD. I want to see him, I want the people that I trust to see them, I want to know what their personality is like, what are they like in crisis, what are they like when things are going well?
"We do extensive digging into all of our players and the character of the player is first and foremost. He has to be a good player, obviously, but the character has to be key to fit in with the group."
With the season approaching its halfway stage next month, the club are well-placed for a top six finish and Wilder admits there may come a time when he and the players have to accept that an opportunity is in front of them.
"There will be times when you have to change expectations," he said. "We are in the division for the first time in six years, so primarily, we had to get a foothold and we have that now.
"We are loving life in the Championship. When you are at the top, expectations will come, but we have to handle that. And if the door opens for us in March and April, we have to take the chance and go through it. But there is still a long way to go and a lot of games to be played.
"You always have to be careful. You can't get carried away with things. There is a fine line between being confident and arrogant. We are a confident group, but we are not an arrogant group. But there is enough in the group to know that we just have to keep going, looking to the next game and then see where it takes us."
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_