Chris Wilder reappointed as Sheffield United manager to replace Paul Heckingbottom; Blades sit bottom of the Premier League; Wilder guided Blades to a ninth-place Premier League finish in 2019/20 after winning promotion from League One and Championship
Wednesday 6 December 2023 06:29, UK
Sheffield United have reappointed former manager Chris Wilder to succeed Paul Heckingbottom on an 18-month contract.
Alan Knill, Matt Prestridge and former Republic of Ireland international Keith Andrews will assist Wilder and all will be in the technical area for Wednesday's home fixture against Liverpool.
The 56-year-old enjoyed five years in charge of the Blades between 2016 and 2021, guiding the club from League One to the Premier League and registering a ninth-placed finish in the top flight in 2019/20 before leaving by mutual consent the following season.
Wilder returns to his boyhood club with the Blades sat bottom of the table with five points from 14 games.
Heckingbottom was relieved of his duties in the wake of Saturday's 5-0 thrashing at Burnley, with the Blades winning only one game, drawing two and losing 11 this term - while scoring a league-low 11 goals and shipping a league-high 39.
Wilder told sufc.co.uk: "It was an opportunity I just couldn't turn down. Just like in 2016, when this club comes calling, it is not something you pass up.
"This is Sheffield United, it is my team and I am thrilled to be back. We find ourselves in a difficult position, I understand that, but I think I can make a difference.
"When I received the call from Stephen (Bettis) asking if I would consider coming back to try and help, I didn't have to think about it. People know what this club means to me, and the task now is to try and provide a boost to improve our current situation.
"My relationship with Prince Abdullah and the board was repaired a long time ago. After some time passed following my initial departure, we spoke, met in person and there was an amicable ending. Now, coming back as manager, to know there is a united front again is crucial as we look to work together to improve the club's position in the Premier League."
United's chief executive officer, Stephen Bettis, added: "Following discussions, the board feel that Chris Wilder is the best possible option to give the Blades a change in fortune at this time and everyone at the club is delighted to welcome him back.
"His love for United and desire to improve the current situation is undeniable, added to the fact that he knows the majority of the squad and the club's DNA, which will help him hit the ground running."
In a statement to the League Managers Association, the departing Heckingbottom said: "I leave Sheffield United after three and a half years with many great memories created by many great people.
"I begin by thanking Prince Abdullah and the board for entrusting me with managing such a special club. The challenges and successes have made for such a special couple of years, and it has been an honour to lead the team during this period.
"To the players, those who have left, those who I have known a long time and those who I wish to have known longer, thank you. Working with you all is the best part of the job. The focus and spirit that you demonstrated allowed us to achieve special things.
"Our history-making season in the face of adversity, born out of a heart-breaking and emotional loss in the play-offs the season before, will forever be my highlight. A record 91 Championship points and an FA Cup semi-final does not begin to tell the story. Well done and I hope to catch up with you all soon.
"Finally, a message to the fans. Thank you for your support. You are what made the journey so special and many of my fondest memories are of the players and fans celebrating our victories together. Bramall Lane on a match day will always hold a special place in my heart. I loved it!
"When the dust settles, that is what will bring me back. I hope to catch up with many of you then. In the meantime, keep supporting your team."
Sky Sports scoured the archives to document every instance when teams have attempted exactly that, according to positions listed on Transfermarkt, and the eventual outcome to find out...
In total, only 33 of 77 clubs survived after axing their manager in the drop zone - which equates to 43 per cent. That means clubs still have a 57-per-cent chance of relegation after axing a manager midseason.
All figures only include the first managerial change while in the relegation zone during respective seasons.
Of course, there are several other factors to consider, such as the position of the club within the relegation zone and what period of the season the managerial change occurred.
Starting with position, unsurprisingly, clubs are far better off axing managers before they hit rock bottom. Since 1995/96, when the league was trimmed to 20 clubs, teams changing manager when sat in 18th have a survival rate of 54 per cent, while teams in 19th have a 57 per cent chance.
However, that ratio plummets to just 15 per cent for teams axing their manager when sat bottom of the table.
What about time period? Well, the same mantra appears here too: strike early. The table below highlights how survival rates remain largely positive until the turn of the calendar year.
After this point, only three out of 24 clubs since 1992/93 have avoided the drop: Southampton (Ian Branfoot) in 1993/94, Aston Villa (Paul Lambert) in 2014/15 and Everton last season.
Clubs appear to know this, with the majority of changes occurring between October and December.
The chart below clearly visualises how the survival rate dips over the course of a season - with no club ever surviving after axing a manager while in the bottom three beyond the month of February.
The table below merges both position and time into one table since 1995/96 and emphasises the clear correlation between survival and axing a manager early while in 18th or 19th place. No club has retained top-flight status after sacking a manager while rock-bottom after the month of October.
Sky Sports News senior reporter Tim Thornton:
"We've had the news that Heckingbottom is the first manager [in the Premier League] to be sacked this season. We understand that Chris Wilder will take over, around 1,000 days after he left the club.
"Wilder is a legend at Bramall Lane having led Sheffield United to promotion from League One and the Championship. He also led them to a ninth-placed finish in the Premier League and they were competing for a Champions League spot at one stage during that season before Covid and the break.
"It's hugely disappointing for Heckingbottom as he has had to deal with a transfer embargo and took over the side when it was struggling. He's conducted himself really well in very difficult circumstances and he leaves the club with his head held high."
Sue Smith on Sky Sports News:
"After the result at the weekend, there was a feeling this could potentially happen. You also think of the Bournemouth result at home before that.
"When you're playing against two teams around you, I don't think it was necessarily the results, but also the performances.
"There was a lack of fight and it was something that really struck home watching the games.
"They beat Wolves and drew with Brighton so you wondered if they were picking up, but I do feel for Paul Heckingbottom.
"He came into the season having lost two of his best players in Sander Berge and Iliman Ndiaye, so I do have sympathy."
Speaking after Saturday's 5-0 defeat, Heckingbottom said Sheffield United are paying the price for their summer transfer window.
Burnley, promoted as Championship winners last season, invested more than £90m in the summer, but it was very different at Bramall Lane where key players Iliman Ndiaye and Sander Berge were sold - the latter to Burnley - with Heckingbottom only able to invest limited funds to replace them.
"I wanted to keep the group together but we couldn't," Heckingbottom said. "We couldn't because of the last few years and the financial implications. If we'd tied them down [on longer contracts] then we probably wouldn't have sold those players.
"There wasn't a desire from the ownership to sell but a necessity from a business point of view. We've been making financial decisions rather than football decisions. Of course that affects me. I didn't want it to happen."
It has left United hamstrung when trying to compete in a Premier League where clubs from top to bottom have spent significantly in recent windows, as shown by last weekend's 3-1 home defeat against struggling Bournemouth.
"In terms of other clubs, good luck to them," Heckingbottom said. "Bournemouth last week: you go through the last four windows and we've been cutting the wage bill, transfer embargoes, selling the best assets and they've spent £200m.
"We're going to face this every week but so what? We have to embrace the challenge of this league. The players have worked hard to be here. It's not going to change. It's just an excuse, a reason to fail."