Dejphon Chansiri completed the takeover of Sheffield Wednesday in January 2015, successfully acquiring a 100% stake from Milan Mandaric. His goal was to gain promotion to the Premier League by 2017. He appointed Carlos Carvalhal as manager and together they invested heavily in the squad. There was a good feeling around Hillsborough and Carvalhal’s possession based tactics started earning Wednesday some impressive victories. The atmosphere at Hillsborough was optimistic and ‘Carlos had a dream’ was the chant on the lips of Wednesdayites. The Owls immediately began to challenge for promotion and found themselves in the playoffs for two consecutive seasons, only to fall at the final hurdle.
Going into the current season, the expectations were to challenge for promotion again. Chansiri decided to keep the faith in Carvalhal. Everything seemed in place for another challenge but Wednesday have found themselves in the wrong half of the table. On Christmas Eve, Carlos Carvalhal left the club by mutual consent, with that the end of the first chapter of the Chansiri era was written. Four days later Premier League Swansea took advantage of their long term interest in Carlos and appointed him as manager. The Owls moved on, after three games with Lee Bullen as caretaker manager Chansiri began writing chapter two and appointed Jos Lahukay to steer the ship away from the bottom end of the table. The Dutchman has a reputation in Germany for being a promotion specialist, achieving promotion to the Bundesliga with three clubs.
If you are reading this wondering, Where did it all go wrong? Well, that’s a good question and as an Owls fan, I have been thinking this over a lot myself. There was murmurs that Carvalhal was unwilling to experiment with his tactics, that we had been figured out and to use an old football cliché, there was no plan B. This seems like a slightly harsh assessment due to our previous success. I think the decline in form comes down to more than that.
Firstly, not making excuses, but injuries haven’t been kind to Wednesday this season. In fact, you could make a case that on Friday’s derby against Sheffield United, Wednesday were missing nine of their first choice eleven. If you look at the side who got us to the playoffs for the previous two seasons, the very backbone of out team has been missing for a large part of this season. Our chief creators Fernando Forestieri and Barry Bannan have missed the majority of the campaign and the impact has been clear to see. Pair that with our captain and central defender Tom Lees, first choice goalkeeper and organiser of the defence Kieren Westwood and midfield enforcer Sam Hutchinson facing spells on the sidelines, there is no wonder form has taken a dip. Did I get round to mentioning our top scorer, his strike partner, central midfield ace and right back are also all injured? It has been mentioned that there may be an issue with training methods causing injuries and new man Lahukay has said to have made changes already.
We have also made some very expensive signings with varied amount of success. The one that stands out at the moment is Jordan Rhodes. He was a long term target before we shelled out the big money (10 million) on deadline day, early 2017. This was a very exciting proposition for us, a proven track record in this league of 20+ goals a season. I was sure he was the missing piece. Unfortunately for one reason or another it has quite panned out the way we hoped, of course there is still time yet. He has fallen behind Gary Hooper and Steven Fletcher in first team plans. When the tide is against us we have needed our strikers to drop in a little deeper and to hold up the ball, this doesn’t play to Rhode’s strengths. I’m hoping the run of games he is getting through our injury crisis will kickstart some good form for him.
It is also worth noting that the standard of the division has improved drastically, meaning we can’t just expect to steam roll our way in to the playoffs every year. We are no longer the big spenders of the division there are plenty of teams on a par or spending more now. Take league leaders Wolves for example, they invested massively. They made a real coup by signing Ruben Neves from Porto last summer with a fee in the region of 16 million. A few years a go a football league team taking a player of that calibre from such a high reputation team would be unthinkable. That’s what we are up against.
I personally don’t know what to expect from Jos Lahukay, time will tell. He got an absolute baptism of fire on Friday night, his first game in charge being Sheffield United away, but due to our rivals having such a promising first half of the season, sharing the points seemed like a good result. Especially given our injury crisis. We weren’t rattled and that is positive first sign. It will be really interesting to see how it plays out.