Sheffield United owner Prince Abdullah has admitted that Chris Wilder tried to resign twice from the club before actually being allowed to leave – and asked the Blades for £4million compensation.
Wilder eventually departed on March 13 following two days of strong speculation. He leaves the South Yorkshire side bottom of the Premier League and as certainties to be relegated. However, Wilder’s efforts in taking United from the doldrums of League One to the Premier League will never be forgotten. For that, he will remain a Bramall Lane legend.
However, speaking to Sky Sports News, Abdullah has revealed all was not as it seemed behind the scenes. He has now revealed the discussions held over Wilder’s exit – and has revealed why he was unhappy with his recruitment.
“In December, Stephen [Bettis, Sheffield United CEO] told me that Chris had talked about resigning. I was really worried and I knew that a phone call or a Zoom call would not do the trick. I had to sit with him,” the Prince said.
“The problem was, because of Covid, all Saudis were banned from leaving the country. I spent two weeks trying to get permission to leave. As soon as I got that, I flew to London and drove to Sheffield and met Chris before the Southampton game [a 3-0 defeat].
“I told Chris, if we lose every game until the end of the season, we are not going to fire you. We need you to be our coach. I am not talking about emotion, I just believe you are the best manager to bring us back to the Premier League.
“I told him recruitment could be better and that we could sit down after the season and talk about how we could make it better.
“I told him that I am not happy that sometimes after defeats when you talk to the media [and say], ‘I can’t make cake out of sand’ and when he says, ‘all I have is Championship players’.
“It does not reflect well on the club image. Those players finished ninth in the table last season, it hurts the club financially.
“I am OK with Chris taking all the credit when we win but at least take some responsibility when we lose. Don’t, under the pressure of some losses, say ‘everything around me is rubbish’.”
Prince Abdullah added: “Chris explained in a one-hour call why he wanted to resign. He said that he felt the team needed a change, a new voice.
“We were very clear and said we don’t want to fire you but if you want to resign, you can. But we will not pay you the same money as if we were firing you.
“The emails started between his representatives and our financial guy. We were astonished to find he had asked for £4m to resign.
“We said, ‘no way are we going to pay you £4m, you are resigning. We are not firing you. Why would we have to pay almost one year’s salary?’”
Concerns over Wilder spending
Prince Abdullah also revealed his concerns over the recruitment policy at the club. Wilder had a key say in who the club bought, with the £23.5m paid for Rhian Brewster cited. The former Liverpool striker is yet to score a goal in 23 appearances for the club.
“We also talked about the January transfer window just before the Southampton game. I felt good after the meeting and I gave him assurances. I went back to Saudi, I felt good,” added Prince Abdullah.
“Then after we lost to [Crystal] Palace at the beginning of January, Stephen called me and told me Chris wanted to resign. I felt it was my mistake because we recruited how Chris wanted, we spent over £120m.
“Liverpool and Tottenham have two forwards, we have six. The new coach may not want six forwards and we spent around £60m on them.”
Paul Heckingbottom, who had been working with their U23, was named as Wilder’s replacement on an interim basis.
Prince Abdullah, however, insisted they are working to find a long-term manager.
“Our first priority is to get back to the Premier League. All options are open,” he said.
“We will make a decision soon but we want to see how the team performs for the last eight or nine games of the season.
“We want a coach who will be involved in recruitment but we have to learn from the mistakes we made before.”