How much does a team reflect its manager’s personality? Mourinho’s mix of cynicism and panache? Ferguson’s belligerent myopia? Guadiola’s effortless chic? Wenger’s cerebral aesthetic?
What might Chris Wilder’s team say about the man, and, indeed, vice versa?
One part of Wilder’s personality is cold, focussed and analytical. That was so evident in Tuesday’s win over Shrewsbury. The team was poised and patient, particularly with Paul McClaren in midfield and James Constable providing the pivot around which good things happened up front. We didn’t chase the win, it just happened. This is calm, grown-up, adult Wilder and that was his team.
When he’s in this mode, his interviews are based on glib clichés; ‘being bang at it and professional sending the fans home happy’. This is necessary. It keeps him out of trouble, allows him to stay focussed.
However, under pressure, he can say silly things; for example, during last year’s bad run he pre-empted the first question of an interview by asking whether people wanted him to resign. And then there was the famous outburst about fans living in the past. The inner child gets the better of him and he loses his cool.
This is the other side to him; a nervous tick, a desire for release from the shackles of adulthood. Channelled right, it’s can be a positive thing. It manifests itself in his fondness for sprites like Deering, Potter and Guy. In his team selection, like in interviews, sometimes the inner-child gets the better of him and he’ll impatiently chase his win by playing them from the start, when, perhaps, they’re better coming out to play later, when its safer to do so.
Playing them from the start works sometimes, when the goals come early, before the opponents have settled and before Potter et al have tired. If the goals don’t come or the margin isn’t big enough, the game isn’t under enough control and we can struggle.
These are the two sides of Wilder and his teams, they fight each other constantly. You sense that he can never quite settle, he wants to be a successful manager, which means detached professionalism. He also wants to be a child playing wreckless, freeflowing, attacking football.
Onto Sunday and That Game. There’s a frenzy building creating an environment in which it could be easy to lose your head and try too hard for the win. You see this happen in other managers, big games come along and they make inexplicable team choices; leaving star players on the bench or giving debuts to juniors. Let’s not throw all our tricks at them in the first five minutes. There is quality from front to back in this Oxford side. Controlled aggression is where its at. Do the job right, and it might just happen. Hold firm everyone.