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Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Welcome to the Championship (2/6): Sheffield Wednesday

The second in a series of six posts to be released over the next couple of weeks, introducing you to the Championship’s newest members, reflects on Sheffield Wednesday's return to the (relative) big time.

Find other posts in the series here:
Welcome to the Championship (1/6): Blackburn Rovers

About……Sheffield Wednesday

Nickname: ‘The Owls’    Manager: Dave Jones

Play at: Hillsborough, 186 miles from Ashton Gate

Capacity: 39,732; Last Season Avg Attendance: 21,336

Interesting Facts:  Former Goalkeeper Kevin Pressman holds the record for the fastest ever British league sending-off, just 13 seconds into a match with Wolves in 2000 >>> Future City boss Danny Wilson’s tenure as manager caused four MP’s, including future Home Secretary David Blunkett, to publicly call for his sacking >>> Wednesday finished third in the last season before the creation of the Premier League >>> They reached both FA Cup and League Cup finals in 1993, coincidentally losing 2-1 to Arsenal on each occasion

Notable match vs City: City 0 Sheffield Wednesday 3, FA Cup 3rd Round 2011-12

2012-13 Fixtures: 8th Dec (A), 1st Apr (Easter Monday) (H)

Many thanks to Wednesday fan Chris Ledger (@christophledger) for his detailed and informative responses to my questions.  With the colourful and enigmatic Milan Mandaric owning his latest toy…sorry, club, and ex-Cardiff boss Dave Jones thrust into the hot-seat midway through last season – quite incredibly he is still to lose a match as manager! – Wednesday are sure to be one to keep an eye on this season

How are you feeling about playing in the Championship, a few weeks following your promotion?
Getting automatic promotion was fantastic and this definitely adds excitement to the pre-season preparations. But, unlike the last time they got promoted to this division, the Owls are not there to make up the numbers.

The squad already has solid foundations and, even for a club that has struggled in this division since their relegation from the Premier League, there is genuine cause for optimism.

What does your club bring to a tight, competitive and entertaining division?
I am not going to lie: this is not a team with many obvious stars. What it does have, though, is a strong team spirit, as the squad works hard for each other and the fans. Gary Megson influenced the bulk of this mentality and Dave Jones has since developed it further.

Sheffield Wednesday won’t be the most fashionable side in the Championship, but they will be hard to beat. One thing is for certain: the players will never give up.

What style of football/formation do you play?
Under Jones, opposing Championship sides should expect a rigid 4-4-2 formation. The players have been more relaxed and played with greater freedom, since Jones’ arrival, but there has not been a significant departure from Megson’s tactics.

Some of the players’ attributes – particularly the movement of central midfielder Chris Lines – are very subtle, and readers should expect the mixture of direct and counter-attacking football to continue.

But this does not mean that the style of play is poor. Last season, the Owls played some of their best football in years and, at long last, their tactics had a purpose and end product.

Unlike Megson, though, Jones does not like fitting square pegs in round holes, so the Owls’ usual starting eleven should not raise too many eyebrows.

Who are the star players we should all look out for?
Considering the Owls’ tactics, no one should be surprised to learn that their best player is a defensive midfielder: José Semedo. He won many plaudits for last season’s performances and every single one was merited.

His disciplinary record improved and, while he is an excellent tackler and marker, his range of passing ensures that he is the engine room of Sheffield Wednesday’s midfield and more than just a water carrier. He rarely put a foot wrong last season and, as the chant goes, “you’ll never get past Semedo”.

He does not score many goals, but Semedo is likely to become one of the Championship’s most consistent midfielders.

And is there an up-and-coming future star in your midst?
Alongside the right players, and with a bit of luck, 21-year-old striker Gary Madine could become one of the Championship’s hottest prospects.

His strengths include excellent movement, vision and link-up play; as well as having an admirable work-rate and being a strong header of the ball. And, most importantly, he scores plenty of goals. When you take these factors into account, Sheffield Wednesday currently possess their most complete striker in years.

However, if the Owls want to get the most out of this talented forward, the team needs to be built around him. He needs proper service to score goals, as he rarely creates chances out of nothing, and Madine also needs to be partnered with a powerful target man, as he tends to track back deep a little too easily.

Madine has the potential to play in the Premier League one day, but Jones needs to get the formula right.

What are your views of your manager and, although it ultimately bore fruit, were you surprised by the mid-season departure of Gary Megson?
Although there were rumours that Megson was going to leave the club, his abrupt dismissal surprised many supporters. The Owls were third in the table and had just won the Steel City derby, but you would also struggle to find a manager who was more passionate about the club.

As a life-long fan, Megson was able to sell the club’s vision to prospective players and he also had Sheffield Wednesday’s best interests at heart; everyone knows that it is rare to find a manager like this.

He brought a lot of positives to the club, but Jones has since improved the performances and results. A lot of fans were underwhelmed when Jones was appointed, but he has won them over and he is the right manager to take this club forward.

You get the feeling that, with his “[it is impossible to win] a Formula 1 race with a Skoda” analogy, Megson could have only taken them so far. Jones, however, has a more positive vibe about him and his managerial pedigree will be crucial. Milan Mandarić’s decision to replace Megson with Jones was a brave and inspired decision.

It is also important to mention Terry Burton, Sheffield Wednesday’s assistant manager, who is indispensable to the club. Not only is he heavily involved in coaching sessions, but he also has an excellent track record of developing youngsters.

The Owls have a young and enthusiastic squad that is of an unknown quality in the Championship, so Burton’s experience will be invaluable.

….and of your owner/Chairman?
As for Mandarić, everyone at the club respects him; they are grateful for everything that he has done for Sheffield Wednesday.

Although Sheffield Wednesday never went into administration, the club could have been liquidated if it was not for Mandarić’s intervention. After all, the club didn’t even have a scouting system in place when he became their chairman.

Since then, the club’s progress has been remarkable; the commercial department, in particular, has become more forward thinking.

Mandarić’s most impressive attribute, though, is his vision of sustainability. It is refreshing to see an owner who wants a football club to become successful via prudent spending and intelligent coaching.

The supporters realise that Mandarić will probably sell the club within the next few years and make a decent profit. Hopefully, he won’t sell Sheffield Wednesday to an Alexandre Gaydamak-esque figure because, after the past 15 years, it is the last thing that this club needs.

What are your expectations for the upcoming season?
This season will probably depend on Sheffield Wednesday’s summer recruitment policy. Two wingers and one or two extra players are needed if the Owls are to have any chance of avoiding a relegation scrap and, subsequently, being able to compete in this division.

But the early signs are promising. Jones has bought an interesting blend of players in the form of bargain bucket starlets (Kieran Lee and the potential signing of Diogo Amado), declining ex-internationals (Chris Kirkland) and those who have underachieved for various reasons (Joe Mattock and Jones’ continued pursuit of Chris Maguire).

This is not a surprise, as Jones has been noted for purchasing these kinds of players in the past, especially at Cardiff City, and it is no secret that Mandarić likes to oversee transfers on a modest budget.

The Owls are a club on the up but, despite some bold predictions from some journalists and pundits, it is unlikely that they will make a push for the play-offs. It will take time, patience and a bit more money before that happens.

If everything goes according to plan, though, there will be few pre-season relegation worries and the Jones-stroke-Burton partnership should be too strong for those fears to be realised.

A lower mid-table finish, via a season of consolidation, is a realistic target.

Who will be your big rivals in this division?
For geographical and historical reasons, Sheffield Wednesday’s main rivals in this division are Barnsley and Leeds United.

But I suspect that the Owls’ recently-found rivalry with Huddersfield Town will continue, particularly as both clubs could end up having similar seasons, and some fans may also see Crystal Palace as rivals.

It would be very disappointing if there was to be a rivalry with the Eagles, though, as the Owls got relegated in 2010 due to their incompetent and gutless performances. No one else was to blame.

Some fans on certain message boards also gained few admirers from Charlton Athletic and Blackpool fans last season, due to the “MASSIVE” nickname that has been bandied around, so it will be interesting to see whether or not a small-scale rivalry develops.

And finally, do you have any specific favourite memory of playing against Bristol City?
There have not been too many encounters between the two clubs, while I have been supporting Sheffield Wednesday, but the 3-0 victory in the FA Cup will stay long in the memory.

An away win against a team in a higher division was great, but the feeling of reaching the fourth round for the first time in a decade was even sweeter.

Many thanks again to Chris for these answers, you can follow him on Twitter here:

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