Sheff Wed left to count cost of difficult third album - Interview
Monday, 9th Apr 2018 23:16 by Clive Whittingham
Three years of big spending trying to reach the Premier League leaves Sheffield Wednesday nursing a midtable team of ageing high earners - our resident Wednesdayite Lovely Jon Hore tells us where they go next.
Why has a promotion push not materialised this season?
JH: Before Christmas it was Carvalhal’s negative tactics and refusal to playing anything but a deep, tight, narrow 4-4-2 home and away when even David Blunkett could see we were desperate for a change. We cobbled together a few mostly unconvincing wins but never looked like a top six side, and it started to go downhill from October onwards. Since he was sacked we’ve been crippled by a ridiculous injury situation. Westwood, Lees, Van Aken, Hutchinson, Bannan, Lee, Forestieri, Hooper and Fletcher were all out from the middle of December until March. That’s 8/9 of our best XI all out at the same time and I’m not even sure Barca could cope with that. It’s not a coincidence that now three or four of them are back results have started to improve. The injury crisis has highlighted other issues like the lack of quality outside the first XI and how poor the recruitment has been over the last couple of seasons (more below). We’ve also been utterly gash against all the other utterly gash sides - so bad that the win at Sunderland last week was our first in 12 games against the bottom seven, and that included a couple of proper bummings from Burton and Birmingham at home.
Carvalhal has done well at Swansea but seemed to be losing the plot by the end with you, why did that turn sour and should have gone last summer?
JH: It’s very easy to say in hindsight given the state he left in December, but he should definitely have gone last summer. I’ve already mentioned his overtly cautious tactics and stubbornness but also our recruitment over the last two seasons has been pretty shit, and while I certainly don’t think that’s entirely his fault he needs to take some of the blame. After the 2016 playoff final we probably just needed two full backs, a midfield enforcer and some pace out wide to take the next step. Two years, countless new signings and £20m+ later and none of those issues have been addressed. Ultimately that group of players were not quite good enough and it’s not really been improved since. Pre-season was a holiday camp by the sounds of it with little to no fitness work, and this coupled with the poor management of rehab has definitely been a factor in the injury crisis. Players were playing 90 minutes after a month out with only one training session under their belt. Kieron Lee has been rushed back a few times from a chronic hip problem and now he might never play again.
JH: It was another left field appointment by Chansiri. He arrived with a reputation as being a bit of a disciplinarian which was exactly what we needed following Carvalhal’s circus, and in his first week had them doing double sessions to basically get them fit - another sign that Carvalhal’s pre-season probably wasn’t fit for purpose. He also changed the formation to a 3-5-2 which suits our squad, and initially the signs were promising. We tightened up at the back and although we didn’t win any of his first three league games we got decent points against United, Cardiff and Boro and a couple of wins in the FA cup. After that little bit of new manager bounce though the lack of quality of the second string players started to show again and we got dragged into another horrible run of form.
JH: Given that he’s adapting to a new country and a new league, the apathy around the club when he took over, and the injury list he’s had to deal, I think he’s done a good job to steady the ship and make sure we are all but safe with six games left. Yes the losing run wasn’t great, and he certainly made one of two weird tactical decisions (playing 5-5-0 at Millwall didn’t go down well), but there was just a real lack of quality available to him and he found out quickly that the relentlessness of the Championship takes its toll. Because we won a couple of cup games we played Saturday Tuesday for about four weeks on the bounce by the end of which the players were shagged and we looked like a team who’d never win a game ever again. And because of the pattern of match-recovery-match Luhukay didn’t have a chance to spend any time working with the players on the training ground.
JH: The international break came at an ideal time. We were knackered and it gave us time to get a few of the injured lads fit and for Luhukay to put in some quality work on the training ground. Getting Tom Lees and Barry Bannan back has been a big factor as we’re looking a lot stronger through the spine. We even managed to get a game and a half out of Sam Hutchinson before he got injured again. Luhukay has shown belief in Nuhiu and Lucas Joao, given them a run of games and that confidence from the manager has taken them to another level on the pitch. When Nuhiu scored his wonder goal against Preston it was one of those ‘what the fuck have I just witnessed’ moments. They look like a proper partnership at the moment. Add to that Forestieri who is now back after seven months out and we’ve now got a genuine goal threat which we haven’t had all season.
JH: He’s still got a lot of credit in the bank with the fans because of the amount of money he’s put in and the massive improvements on the pitch since he took over. I do genuinely think he loves the club and is in it for the long haul, I’m just not sure he has much of an idea about how to run a football club and has very probably been badly advised in some areas. There’s definitely more questions being asked though and a lot more dissenting voices, partly because we’ve been crap and people look for scapegoats, but mainly because off the pitch our 150th anniversary year has been a bit of a shambles from start to finish. There was talk of a celebratory ‘marquee’ friendly against a European giant. Real? Barca? We ended up losing to Rangers (the Glasgow version). The delay in production of the new kit was so farcical they didn’t go on sale until the end of October. There was a celebratory dinner that no one could afford, the injuries, sacking the entire medical team and it having no affect whatsoever, arguments about ticket prices, signing Jacob Butterfield etc etc. It’s been one big mess. And we appointed Katrien Meire as CEO, the actual devil if you listen to Charlton fans because of what happened to them while she was there. So far there’s been no drama and she seems to be doing a decent job. Early days though.
JH: We really need to shift as many of the ageing/injury prone/second stringers as we can off the wage bill and start to rebuild the squad. That’s a bit of a Football Manager style dream though. Realistically who is going to want to take the likes of Abdi, Jones, Fletcher & Matias off us? They’re all injury prone and past their best. They all have at least 12 months left on their contracts and are on big wages. It’s probably going to take another year and three transfer windows before we can really rebuild effectively. We’ve still got those problem areas in the squad that we’ve had for three seasons. Luhukay will still be here but I can’t imagine he’ll have much available to strengthen so he’s going to have to be savvy in the loan market unless he can use his knowledge of Holland and Germany to unearth a couple of bargain. He really could do with following David Wagner’s model and signing a few randoms no one over here has heard of on the cheap and supplementing them with young loan talent from the Prem.
Pictures – Action Images
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