I can’t get into an extended discussion as to whether Wilder should go or not. The statistics and facts can be manipulated either way to support your predisposition; the long term development of the club during his tenure and the mitigating factors of injuries against the cold hard facts of five league games without a point following a poor finish to last season.
After Saturday’s soul destroying defeat to Bradford, I was tempted to avoid the Radio Oxford phone-in. I did listen, however, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought. There was a surprising balance of opinion and Jerome Sale was prepared to challenge back on some of the more ridiculous suggestions (such as, it is time Ian Lenegan released some of his hidden gazillions to get us promoted).
However, there was an unpleasant passive aggressive tone to some of the Wilder-out brigade; “I’m sorry, I have nothing against the bloke, but he’s got to go.” That was the main thrust from people who have clearly never been in the position of having to fire decent people.
Whatever Wilder’s future is, Oxford fans owe him a debt of gratitude. He fought against a deep complacency that had existed in the club for more than a decade. He deconstructed the club’s over-inflated ego and put in place a work ethic and level of professionalism that levered us out of the mess we were in.
He brought in a squad of players that has taken us to a comfortable position in League 2, has given us three legendary derby wins and plenty more moments of breathtaking excitement. More than that, he has recreated a football club out of a wandering zombie. Don’t pretend that the fans did that, the growing crowds are testament to the fact that fan loyalty is locked to positive results. To treat him as though he is a piece of meat is to act in the way ‘plastic’ fans of the nouveau-Premier League treat their teams. As a distant product to be bought and played with, not a club run by real hard working people.
Chris Wilder deserves respect. His achievements should not be simply dismissed on the basis of a poor run of form, even if that does cost him his job ultimately.
He believes he can turn it round, and he’s every right to hold that belief. He is under no obligation to resign just to satisfy our frustration. If he were such a quitter he would have given up on the Oxford job a long time ago and we would probably have been dwelling in the Conference today because people forget just how stuck we were. His track record affords him the right to try and get it right, and above all as a person, the guy has the right to try and earn a living.
As he himself says, he understands the game and the frustrations of the fans. He doesn’t need reminding that defeats are unacceptable, or that our current position is poor. However, why should we simply follow fans of other teams and dismiss his previous successes, labelling him some kind of failure? Chris Wilder has proved that he is one of the finest managers the club has seen. Perhaps he is even the best considering the circumstances in which he is working and where he picked us up from. Whether it is his time to stand down or not he deserves some respect.