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Middlesbrough fans are going wild for manager Chris Wilder after he turned their fortunes round since taking over in November.

“Just imagine there’s a bear on me and I can’t get it off.”

That’s how Ian Holloway described Chris Wilder’s tactics after Middlesbrough beat Reading 2-1 in the Championship in January.

“He’s done it everywhere he’s gone. And he’s a genius. What he does, he gets his team to attack you and he defends from there. You know, and he does it differently to Guardiola, he does it differently to everyone else…”


It’s no surprise that Middlesbrough fans are going crazy for Chris Wilder’s unique approach to the game, that’s become known as “Wilderball”.

Because when he took over from Neil Warnock in early November, Middlesbrough had lost more matches than they’d won. They were 14th in the Championship. 


Now, they’re up to sixth. Under Chris Wilder, they’ve taken 30 points from a possible 45. 

And of course, there was this…
“Elanga for Manchester United. Over the bar and out! Manchester United are eliminated from the FA Cup by Middlesbrough. For the second season running, Chris Wilder has rocked up to Old Trafford and won.”

ITV Sport

Chris Wilder has enjoyed success almost everywhere he’s worked. 

He won four trophies in seven months at his first club, Alfreton. He took Oxford United back to the Football League. 

He won the League Two title with Northampton Town. They were bottom of the league when he took over. 

And he took his boyhood club – Sheffield United – from League One to the Premier League.

“I know all the songs so nobody needs to teach me any of the songs cos I’ve sung them all. Cheers, OK. Another drink? Yeah cos I’ve just not had enough! [laughter] I just need another one!”

Sheff United Way

What’s so special about the way Chris Wilder approaches the game?

For a start, there’s overlapping centre-backs. 

The outside two centre-backs in his base 3-5-2 formation push up to support the wing-backs when his side are attacking, with one of the central midfielders dropping slightly deeper to provide cover. 

Whether they are attacking or defending, Chris Wilder’s team’s play aggressively and hunt the ball in packs, which calls for a high level of fitness and team spirit too.

That kind of play is similar to how Jurgen Klopp sets up his teams. 

Here’s what Chris Wilder said about Jurgen Klopp after his Sheffield United lost to Liverpool.

“They won every first ball, every second ball, dropped on every second ball, ran forward and ran back. And they did that miles better than us. So when academy coaches and all this nonsense that comes out about coaching…have a little peek at Liverpool tonight…” 

BT Sport

And Chris Wilder has admirers of his own. Here’s Frank Lampard.

“Certainly we have to give credit where it’s due, like I spoke there about Chris and say that it’s something we haven’t seen before and there’s always something nice about being a leader rather than a follower.”

Coaches Voice

Frank Lampard said that it’s not just Chris Wilder’s unique tactical approach that you have to watch out for. It’s the spirit and physicality of the team.

Traits like those can only be cultivated through hard work and solidarity. Every member of the team has to be on board.

And that’s what Chris Wilder seems to have achieved with his Middlesbrough side in just a few months since taking over in November.

A recent Middlesbrough tweet showed a video example of his distinctive style of play, a passage of 66 touches and 26 passes that ended in a goal. 

They simply can’t get enough of Chris Wilder.


Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Hannah Varrall.