Thursday, 24 October 2013

Problems at Wednesday

Sheffield Wednesday are a club with potential. They have a great history, a nice old-fashioned stadium that can hold a fair few, and a very loyal band of supporters. Without a win this season though, these are troubled times for the Owls, who currently sit inside the relegation zone. An aging team, a questionable manager, uncertainty at the top – or simply bad luck? This is where the problem lies at Hillsborough.

In December 2010, Milan Mandaric brought Sheffield Wednesday FC. He decided to leave Leicester, a club performing well in the Championship, whilst Wednesday were struggling to adapt to life back down in the third tier. One can only presume that financial prosperity had much to do with his decision, because he received a £40 million bid for Leicester City FC from Thai businessman Vichai Raksriaksorn. Mandaric could now buy Wednesday, a club dealing with a series of winding up orders for unpaid tax and VAT bills, for a negligible fee, although he spent £7 million clearing club debt.

It might not seem it, but in terms of his own agenda this was a very clever move. If there are approximately 20,000 consistent season ticket holders at Sheffield Wednesday, and Mandaric charges £500 for a season ticket - which he could get away with given such a reliable fan base - that’s £10 million per year gained on season tickets alone. Take off perhaps £4 million per year on the wage bill, plus a net transfer spend averaging less than £300K per year in transfer fees, and Mr Mandaric is making a rather tidy profit.

Looking to sell - Mandaric
But Sheffield Wednesday are once again in debt, and surprise surprise, Mandaric is looking to sell the club. Talks with former Birmingham City board member, Sammy Yu have broken down this summer, but two interested parties are now believed to be ready to meet Mandaric’s £25 million valuation.

So with Mandaric looking to sell and negotiations dragging on, this uncertainty at the top has clearly affected the Wednesday players. The Owls haven’t exactly been incompetent this season; no team outside the top seven have lost less games than Dave Jones’ side. The flip side is though, that they are the only Championship team without a win so far this season, which will be a massive cause for concern for the Wednesday faithful.

Strangely, the team had taken the lead in five of their opening six games. Given this, and the fact that their defence holds an average age of twenty-nine, the common interpretation would be that they concede too many late goals. This is not the case. Eleven of the seventeen goals they’ve conceded have come in the first half, only two have come in the final fifteen minutes. Eight of their goals conceded have come in the fifteen minute periods before and after half time, which suggests that concentration is a problem.

Indeed, with so much experience in the team, it is surprising that Wednesday haven’t been able to grind out a win. There is a problem with the side’s mental strength, and this must come down to Dave Jones. Of course the uncertainty regarding a potential takeover unsettles the team and puts pressure on the manager; Jones doesn’t know whether his job is safe if and when the new owners come in.

Jones - lacking charisma?
Yet on the whole, he hasn’t helped his cause. In interviews, not only does he consistently talk about the individual incidents, he presents himself as a man downbeat, overweight, and almost apathetic. It is one thing taking a more reserved approach, yet Jones never looks like he wants to be there in the first place; his body language wouldn’t look out of place at his nan’s funeral. This may seem harsh, but he lacks the energy needed to motivate and galvanise a team struggling in the bottom three. For example, when David Flitcroft took over as manager at Barnsley last season, he had the passion which transferred into the players and he instantly got the respect of the team. Sheffield Wednesday could do with that type of impact at the moment.

Whilst it would be inaccurate to say their matches have been a complete disaster, the fact remains that Wednesday are second bottom in the league, and there needs to be a change of mentality at Hillsborough for results to improve. There are a fair few available managers at the moment, and when a new board come in, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to sack Dave Jones unless results improved dramatically.

In the temporary period, assistant manager Paul Wilkinson might well do a good job, as caretaker managers often do given an opportunity to prove themselves. Wilkinson’s experience is mainly managing youth and reserve teams, he was initially appointed head of recruitment at Wednesday. His tendency to work with younger players though, may mean he has more enthusiasm on the touchline than Jones, which the players may respond to.

Even if ultimately, a more proven manager is preferred to Wilkinson, the likes of Ian Holloway, Alex McLeish, Tony Pulis and Tony Mowbray are available at the moment. Neither of the latter three are renowned for passion, but bringing in a new manager might just give the players the sense of a fresh start, and inject much-needed vigour into the team.

The main factor keeping Dave Jones in a job, is Milan Mandaric. Jones was appointed in March 2012 on a three and a half year contract, which has two years left to run. If Mandaric’s involvement in football is predominantly, if not entirely for financial reasons (the manner in which he left Portsmouth and Leicester suggests it is) then why would he want to hand Jones a massive compensation fee to leave, when about to relinquish control of the club?

Wednesday can only move forward when they’ve got some new owners in. The fact is that The Owls are stuck in a downward spiral under Dave Jones, but it seems he won’t leave until Mandaric leaves. Even if there is a change at the top, there is no guarantee of things changing, because one must be sceptical about the intentions of any foreign investor. But Mandaric has made clear that he wants to sell, and until then, Sheffield Wednesday are going downhill.

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