Neil Warnock has lauded the “amazing” tenure of Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder and backed his former club to achieve European qualification in their first season back in the Premier League.
Wilder’s team, in League One three seasons ago, were seventh in the Premier League with a game in hand on their nearest rivals when the coronavirus pandemic forced the competition to be suspended on March 13.
Fourth-placed Chelsea are five points ahead as the Blades, who ended a 12-year absence from the English top flight last season, dream of qualifying for a major European competition for the first time in the club’s 131-year history.
The Premier League are planning towards a targeted return to competitive action in mid-June, after players returned to non-contact training in small groups earlier this week, and ex-Sheffield United boss Warnock holds Wilder’s achievements in high esteem.
“Normally when you leave a club you don’t want them to do well!” Warnock, who led Sheffield United to the Premier League in 2006 during a seven-and-a-half year managerial tenure at Bramall Lane, told Sky Sports News.
“From my point of view I think Chris has done an amazing job. He’s a Yorkshire lad like myself, born and bred Sheffield United.
“But because of that he is not really given enough credit.”
Warnock was confident Wilder was forging something special when he came up against his his former club when he led Cardiff to Premier League promotion and the Blades narrowly missed out in the 2017-18 season.
“I looked at the way they played and I have done since and I couldn’t fathom it out!
“You can have a period against them where you can do this and do that and you might have a 15/20 minute spell like Manchester United did when they played them and scored three goals in 20 minutes [earlier this season].
“But generally it is very very difficult.
“He has come up with a system and with what I call average PL players. He will not mind me saying they are all punching above their weight but they are good players.
“And the fans… it is a special place Bramall Lane. I said back in October that I felt they could get into Europe this year because teams don’t know how to play against them.
“They play without fear, they all want to get the ball and play, make runs and somebody fills in. It’s really good.
“Sometimes he’s a bit harsh but Chris cares and we are very fortunate to have him in charge. Prince Abdullah has been very supportive to Chris, I can only see a good future for the next few years.”
‘No player should be punished for opting against return to training’
Warnock described the prospect of completing the season as “difficult” but is adamant clubs across the various divisions should be rewarded for their achievements during the campaign.
“The Championship is so competitive and I hope they can get the opportunity to finish it off. I mean how many years, even when I was at Leeds the fans were amazing – they do deserve to be back up there.
“But other clubs, they know Leeds have blown up in the past, you wouldn’t write your Fulhams and Brentfords off.
“I do hope they finish the nine games, even if it’s behind closed doors. I’m not too bothered how long it takes, I think they should get it done it it is safe to do so, worry about next season after that.”
Several players have voiced concerns over a return to competitive action and opted against training, including Troy Deeney and N’Golo Kante, due to fears over health implications personally, their family and those with BAME backgrounds.
Asked about his reaction to players opting against a return to training, Warnock replied: “If I was in charge, like Nigel [Pearson], in a situation where it is life or death, I would have a chat with my squad and say ‘I will not hold it against you if you don’t want to train, don’t want to play, if you don’t feel right’.
“I just think that at this moment in time if you’re not happy then you should give it a miss if you are a player and not be punished for it when the situation is as dire as this.”
Managerial milestone in sight
Warnock has been out of management since he left Cardiff in November and described last season – when the Bluebirds were relegated from the Premier League – as the most “traumatic” of his career.
Emiliano Sala, 28, died when the private aircraft carrying him from Nantes to Cardiff crash-landed into the English Channel following his signing from the Ligue 1 club last January.
Warnock, who is 12 games short of reaching a milestone 1500 competitive games in charge, admitted he is not actively pursuing a return to management.
“It would be nice to have had 12 more and I did think there would be time to accumulate those games but when this virus started it was obvious to me that football was never going to be the same really and that safety and health of you and your family is more important really,” he said. “The lockdown came and it’s never really entered my head now.”
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