CHRIS Wilder says he will always be indebted to Jim Smith for helping him take his first big steps on the management ladder.

The death of the Oxford United legend has hit people hard, not least Wilder, who was appointed U's boss when Smith was a director of the club.

It was he and chairman Kelvin Thomas who chose Wilder as manager in December 2008, a decision that reaped rewards for all parties.

"I will always be grateful for Jim's input in getting the job at Oxford," Wilder said.

"To be given the opportunity I was as a young manager by him and Kelvin – I will always be indebted to be given that chance.

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"The connection between the three of us was huge and obviously we enjoyed success together."

Wilder, who guided United back into the Football League with victory at Wembley in 2010, went on to win promotion with Northampton Town before repeating Smith's feat at Oxford in the 1980's by taking Sheffield United from the third tier to the top flight.

"Jim was just a great man," Wilder said.

"I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with him and learnt some valuable lessons in both football management and man management.

"It frustrates me when people say he was an old school manager – he wasn't at all. He was just a top manager.

"He knew the game inside out, was tactically so astute and knew how to deal with players."

He added: "He was blunt and to the point, but people respected him for that.

"When I went to some LMA (League Managers Association) dinners with him, it was a real eye-opener as to the regard he was held within the game.

"He, (wife) Yvonne and their family were so good to me when I came to Oxford, I will always be grateful for everything he did for me."

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Former U's chief Thomas echoed the thoughts of Wilder with the impact Smith had on the club.

"Jim taught me a tremendous amount when I was just starting out as chairman of Oxford United and he was sitting right next to me when the both of us picked Chris Wilder as manager," he said.

"It was a decision that I think helped get the club back out of the conference.

"You could never go wrong when spending time with Jim as he always had a great story to share and he was a wonderful football man that touched many lives including mine."

"It is a very sad day and my thoughts go to Yvonne and the family.

"He will be sorely missed by many."