It’s taken me a few days to get around to writing this blog because I have been so angry about the state of our club. I wanted to make sure anything I wrote was considered, and not just a knee-jerk reaction to a bad run of results. The fact is, our club is in a mess. The only positive about the club in recent weeks has been the introduction of several youth players to the starting eleven, but even that is now becoming a cause for concern. Young professionals need a supportive environment to grow as footballers, and they need strong leadership both on and off the field. In many ways, our club is the exact opposite. Take Cameron Dawson as an example. He is a very talented young goalkeeper who could have a solid career ahead of him. He has been thrown in as our “first choice” ‘keeper, apparently based on ability and for football reasons. I can see the logic in this under certain circumstances; say if you were blooding just a young ‘keeper but had an experienced defence ahead of him. The fact is we have no leadership on the pitch; no strong character who can stand tall and drag the team with him. When you ship four goals in the second half of a match, at home, to opposition that are roughly on your level then it is a sign that there is little to no discipline, organisation, leadership, commitment and morale within the squad. It is a capitulation. The knee-jerk reaction to the Norwich defeat was that Jos should immediately leave, but the more I think about it the less convinced I am that this will solve our problems. I’ll explain why.
When Carlos Carvalhal was in charge at Wednesday, one of the points I repeatedly made was that we should only judge him on what he was responsible for. We made some truly bizarre signings during his time at the club, and I often made that point that if Carlos was responsible for recruitment then he had failed massively. If, however, recruitment was out of his hands, then I had much more sympathy for him and his position, and his performance would be judged very differently. It’s a similar situation with Jos Luhukay and squad selection. We know that George Hirst was effectively frozen out of the club, but we don’t know for certain if Westwood (or any of the other absent players) is also unavailable for Jos to select. If Jos truly has dropped Westwood for footballing reasons, then it will cost him his job – it’s that simple. I get the need to prepare for the future but it cannot be at the expense of the here and now. We are on track to concede 86 goals by the end of the league season; we’ve conceded the joint most goals in the Championship and we’ve won just 13 of our last 46 Championship fixtures. If we are preparing for the future, then that future is looking like being in League One.
I’m not of the opinion that recalling Westwood will solve our problems overnight. It’s nearly a year since he last played for us and I suspect the horse has already bolted as far as Westwood is concerned. It’s not just the damage to this season that concerns me, but the damage to our image amongst potential signings. Let’s say you were a goalkeeper looking for a new club and you were choosing between Sheffield Wednesday and a few other Championship clubs. Assuming similar contracts were on offer and the clubs were of similar stature, would you sign for the Owls in light of how Westwood has been treated?
I wonder how our young players feel being thrown in at the deep end. I would imagine that the adrenaline and excitement of playing for the first team has long since vanished and is now replaced by doubt and anxiety. Dawson is enduring chants for Westwood at games, and although it is thought this is more a protest against management, it will have an impact on the confidence of any player.
So how does all of this factor in to whether Jos should keep his job? Well it largely depends under what restrictions he is working under and on what criteria he himself is being judged by the owners. For all we know, Jos was tasked with avoiding relegation and developing our younger players. At present, we are midtable and giving regular game time to several younger players. Under this remit, so long as we are treading water above the relegation zone then Jos would be completing his job. If Jos is tasked with promotion this season, then I’m sorry to say that H.M.S. Piss The League has sailed, hit an iceberg and sunk. If you can find more than one or two examples of a side winning promotion from the Championship after winning just 19 points from their first 16 games I will be very surprised.
I don’t think any manager will be fully successful until we get a change of owner. I believe Mr Chansiri wants to make this club successful and I believe he has the best intentions. I have just not seen anything that instils me with confidence that he is the leader the club needs. Since Mr Chansiri took over the club we had two excellent seasons. The first of which we came within a whisker of promotion. I remember coming out of Wembley that day thinking we just needed a top central defender and a midfield beast and we would be a top-two contender next season. We did not get those players. We largely continued as we were but signed Jordan Rhodes, who we didn’t need, instead of addressing the midfield and defence. We also signed numerous wingers who barely featured.
Moving on we then managed to completely mess up our 150th anniversary and for two seasons running messed up our kit launch. We apparently looked at a couple of hundred defenders and ended up with JVA, who has hardly featured. Nothing against the lad, but one of his first games was the humiliation at home against the Blades. That would knock anyone’s confidence. This leads on to the next major decision that Mr Chansiri, in my opinion, got completely wrong. Carlos should have gone immediately after that match. Had we changed manager at that point, Carlos would still likely have been fondly remembered and we would have had enough time to rescue the season. Instead we limped on for three more months.
Following on from the failure to part company with Carlos we then appointed a manager, I’m assuming, almost no Owls fan would have heard of. We dragged the image of the club into the gutter with the BBC Radio saga, fell under a transfer embargo and continued to charge eye watering prices whilst not playing some of our better players. Jos Luhukay may be part of the problem, but it’s a small part in my opinion. We can’t solve the manager problem until we solve the problem of who finds the replacement. I honestly fear what will happen if we stick with Jos until the new year. I’m not sure this club could bounce back from a third stint in the third tier in less than twenty years.
It’s tragic when you look back at the “big clubs” that have dropped into the third tier in the last thirty years.
Manchester City: relegated to third tier in 1998. Now the best team in the UK.
Leicester City: 2008 in League One. 2016 Premier League Champions.
Southampton: 2009 League One. 2012 Premier League.
Wolves: 2013 League One. 2018 Premier League.
There are other examples of clubs being relegated to League One and bouncing back into the Championship. Looking at clubs roughly our equals, why is it that Sheffield Wednesday are back treading water in the Championship almost twenty years since we were relegated from the Premier League? Until we get the right leadership, we will not move forward. Good intentions and money is not enough. We need experienced “football people” to help wield that money, enthusiasm and good intentions.
Some people have argued that we would not be so angry had Sheffield United not done so well last season and this season. There is some truth to that, but it does not make our concerns any less valid. In fact, it only strengthens many of the points made by Luhukay/Chansiri critics. It is possible to be competitive in this division without breaking the bank. It’s not about the quantity of money spent, but the quality of money spent. It also supports the argument that the right manager can forge a team that is greater than the sum of its parts. There is no quick fix here even if we replace Jos Luhukay and that is what frustrates me.
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Critic. Writer. Thinker. Observer. Creator of nowwelive.com.