Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder says he is relishing a reunion with “magical, box office” Jose Mourinho when Tottenham visit Bramall Lane on Sunday, live on Sky Sports.
Wilder got the better of Mourinho last season as the Blades beat Tottenham 3-1 in July but was struck by a moment after the match when the man who has won 23 major honours in four countries interrupted an interview to offer his congratulations.
Spurs head to South Yorkshire after a 1-1 draw with Fulham that drew fresh questions about their manager’s seemingly defensive mindset but Wilder’s admiration remains as strong as ever.
“There are some outstanding managers in the division but he’s my favourite out there currently and he has been for quite a long time,” the Blades boss told Sky Sports ahead of Sunday’s clash.
“He’s a serial winner, he’s charismatic, he says it as it is, he’s passionate about everything.
“Of course there’s Sir Alex [Ferguson], with what he achieved over a period of time, but what Jose does and how he goes about it, I think he’s magical. He’s box office.
“I love watching his interviews – you never know what he’s going to say – but his record stands up with everybody. People talk about style but the biggest identity is winning; he has done for a long period, with different clubs and challenges.”
Jose: Blades far better than table shows
Mourinho has given his own backing to Wilder and his team ahead of the match, declaring the Blades far better than their rock-bottom position suggests.
“Of course I look at the table but I go deeper than that,” Mourinho said at his own press conference.
“They are not the worst team in the Premier League – at all. They are a much better team than what the table suggests. Many times the opponent was not better than them; many times a ‘small’ big detail decided the score.
“They are a very good team and I’m totally convinced we have to play well against them to get a result.”
Wilder boosted by Newcastle win: ‘Don’t waste it’
The Blades finally ended their 20-game wait for a Premier League win on Tuesday as Billy Sharp’s penalty saw off Newcastle and while Wilder knows the task for his side – seven points behind third-bottom Fulham – remains of real magnitude, he has urged his players not to “waste” the opportunity.
“It might not look a spectacular result at Bristol but it helped the players and they used that and now the key is to take it forward,” said Wilder of the 3-2 FA Cup win against Bristol Rovers that preceded three points in midweek.
“We can’t waste it. We have been after one of these results for a long, long time. We’ve lost so many games by a single goal but we have remained competitive.
“I think a lot of the teams we have played will vouch for that. We have done OK this season and teams may be scratching their heads as to why we were only on two points, but that’s the cold facts of it.
“We have added a vital three to that now and it is important we move on from here.”
‘Tough circumstances but young players will come good’
Wilder believes external factors such as injury to key defender Jack O’Connell and the effects of playing without a Bramall Lane crowd have been most damaging to his side this term.
But he is adamant he can draw on the challenging experience as a manager and is confident that his young summer signings like goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale and forward Rhian Brewster will also prove their worth in the long run.
He told Sky Sports: “You’re always assessing things, you’re always looking to improve as a manager. There will be times when I look back at this period and wonder whether I could have affected it any more. Every experience is something to take from and certainly I’ll try to use it to make me a better manager going forward.
“There have been issues that we can’t control – huge injuries to big players, not being able to be consistent in team selection, Bramall Lane being empty and, taking a simplistic look at it, some players not hitting the heights. I’ve said all along it’s not been the system that’s been the major issue. I’m flexible, we’re flexible.
“But from our point of view, what we can control is the big moments. A lot of our results last year hinged on big moments – I still feel the same about this season, even with what’s gone against us.
“The young players we’ve brought through are going to be good players.
“If they’d come into a team that was in form, if that back five had been a bit more consistent in selection, if the goalkeeper had not come under as much pressure, then maybe there would not be as much debate.
“Rhian’s a finisher – he had a great second part of the season at Swansea. It’s been difficult for him; if the team’s got 15 points, which it possibly should have given the manner of the performances, he’s coming into a side playing with a bit more confidence. But there are good people around him – Billy [Sharp], David McGoldrick, the staff.
“It’s been a huge struggle for all of us but we’ve worked hard for that first win and thankfully, finally, we’ve got it. Now we’ve got to try and get the next one as quickly as possible.”