Chris Wilder returns as Sheffield United manager after Heckingbottom sacked

Saudi owner Prince Abdullah wields axe after Blades' heavy defeat at Burnley

Chris Wilder is returning for his second spell as manager of Sheffield United following the sacking of Paul Heckingbottom. PA
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Chris Wilder will return for his second spell as manager of Sheffield United after the club sacked Paul Heckingbottom, it was announced on Tuesday.

The Blades are bottom of the Premier League with just five points after losing 11 of their opening 14 games.

The club's Saudi Arabian owner Prince Abdullah decided to call time on Heckingbottom's spell in the wake of their 5-0 defeat to fellow strugglers Burnley at Turf Moor on Saturday.

The Blades were Sheffield-born Wilder's boyhood club and he went on to play for them in two spells and then manage them between 2016 and 2021.

He said on Tuesday after being handed an 18-month contract: "Quite simply, it was an opportunity which 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, the club's chief executive] asking if I would consider coming back to try to help, I didn't have to think about it. People know what this club means to me, and the task now is to try to provide a boost to improve our current situation.

"My relationship with [club owner] 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."

He will be assisted by Alan Knill, Matt Prestridge and former Republic of Ireland international Keith Andrews, with all set to be in the dugout for Wednesday's game against Liverpool.

Speaking on the UK's TalkSPORT Radio, Prince Abdullah on Tuesday explained his decision to bring Wilder back in.

"At the end of the day, we're all passionate about what we do and we believe Chris is the right man for the job. Chris is very optimistic he can save the season. He doesn't think it's easy, but he thinks it's still possible," he said.

"Chris is part of Sheffield United history. Chris has done great things for the club and, in my opinion, he's the best guy on the planet to take over the club right now in these circumstances."

On the decision to remove Heckingbottom, the Prince said: "I have mixed emotions about letting Paul go. I have a lot of respect for Paul and everything he did for the club, he's a very classy guy.

"But I felt like after the last few games it was a necessary decision and the replacement has done great things for the club and knows the club."

Heckingbottom, who initially replaced Wilder as interim manager in March 2021 before being handed the role on a permanent basis that November, guided the club back to the top flight after they finished second in the Championship last season.

Blades chief executive Bettis said of the decision to let Heckingbottom go: "Firstly, on behalf of the board of directors, I'd like to thank Paul for all of his efforts at Sheffield United, firstly as Under-23s manager before stepping up to take control of first-team duties.

"His professionalism and dedication have been a credit to the club and I'm sure all Unitedites enjoyed the promotion-winning campaign. However, after slipping to the bottom of the table and a number of disappointing results and performances, it is felt that a change is needed to give the club a boost and every possible chance of remaining in the Premier League."

Blades owner Prince Abdullah came in for criticism over the summer sales of two of the stars of their promotion campaign, Sander Berge and Iliman Ndiaye.

On Tuesday, he said: "If I was an owner looking only at my interests, I would not have sold the two players.

"We were negotiating with more than one party to sell the club. The club is worth much more in the Premier League than relegated.

"We all knew that if we kept Iliman and Berge, we would have a better chance of staying in the Premier League and getting a better price, but I looked at the long-term interests of the club.

"We came to the decision that with one year left on their contracts, we couldn't keep those players and lose the club a lot of money. Everything we do is for the benefit of the club. We have not taken money out of the club."

On bringing in players in the January transfer window, the Prince said: "We will look at where we are in the table and what we can do. It's very early to talk about that but I can assure you of one thing: me and Chris are on the same page when it comes to January and after January."

Wilder first took over at Bramall Lane in 2016 with the club wallowing in the third tier. He won promotion back to the Championship that season and then took them up again as they reached the Premier League in 2019. The following season the club finished ninth in the top flight, their highest finish since 1992.

He left after a difficult 2020/21 campaign and has been out of work following short stints at Watford and Middlesbrough.

Updated: December 05, 2023, 3:21 PM