Mandaric's Challenge - The 20 Year Decline At Wednesday

posted 15 May 2012, 15:36 by Richard Brook   [ updated 15 May 2012, 15:54 ]
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Barely a year has passed since Milan Mandaric rescued Sheffield Wednesday Football Club from the edge of the financial abyss, that threatens to consume English football as we know it, and already the weight of expectation is upon him. It does not seem to be common knowledge amongst the fans of other clubs quite how close the Owls came to administration and possibly worse, but Mandaric’s last minute intervention is something the club’s fans should be eternally grateful for.

Wednesday have struggled, on and off the pitch, since their relegation from the Premier League in 2000. Around two decades of questionable financial decisions saw the club with debts of reportedly £20-30 million. The extent of the financial situation really hit home at the start of the 2010/11 season when unpaid tax bills and high court appearances turned unwanted attention on to the once proud club, endangering the continuation of a history that spans close to a century and a half.

Wednesdayites everywhere breathed a collective sigh of relief when Mandaric was able to reach an agreement with all the major shareholders to obtain sole ownership of the club, to allay such fears. Just yesterday Mandaric estimated that he had put £20 million into Sheffield Wednesday so far. This figure will be gathered from paying off loan note holders and other creditors during the takeover and improvements to facilities and infrastructure, as well as the obvious transfer and loan fees, and other associated costs.

This expensive first year and borne fruit. As I write Wednesday sit third in the League 1 table, level on points with second placed Huddersfield Town. This represents a vast improvement on last season’s finish which saw Wednesday scrabbling for points to avoid relegation to the fourth tier of English football for the first time in their history, yet some amongst the Owls massive fan base are concerned about a perceived lack of support for manager, Gary Megson, in the transfer market.

Such criticism is harsh on the Wednesday chairman who has facilitated four signings in the January transfer window. The new arrivals being goalkeeper Stephen Bywater, defender Miguel Llera, winger Mike Jones and midfielder John Bostock. All told looking down Wedneday’s squad list, there are 12 players brought in by Megson, who himself has not yet been Wednesday manager for a year. It is true that Megson has had to deal in free transfers and the loan market, or with relatively small transfer fees but nonetheless the freedom he has had to shape his squad both in terms of ridding the squad of unwanted players and bringing in his own men is indicative of his chariman’s faith in him. Whether Wednesday would have had more financial clout this year had Mandaric not had to pay so much on by way of expenses not directly related to football at the point of the takeover we can only speculate.

The criticism is undoubtedly partly created by the fact that two of the players signed in the last window, Bywater and Llera, had been on loan at the club for sometime before leading to some quarters of the fan base feeling under-whelmed. Wednesday are also yet to see the form from Jones, on which his reputation at his previous club, Bury, was built. Bostock arrives on the back of mixed review from supporters of clubs he has been loaned to previously. It is safe to say that if the latter two players perform to their potential the whole picture may appear significantly rosier to the doubters. Supporters with fading memories of Chris Waddle and David Hirst hear quotes from Mandaric such as “It is my responsibility, as the man at the top, to inject the resource and energy to ensure we are in the best possible position to compete for promotion to the Championship”, and expect something different to what is meant.

The biggest disappointment for Wednesday supporters in the recent transfer window was the failure to secure the services of Ben Marshall, at least until the end of the season. The skilful winger had played a big part in the Owl’s early season success. His 22 appearance resulted in 5 goals, numerous assists, not to mention the space created for other by opponents doubling up when marking him. Marshall was signed on a half season loan, owing to his contractual situation at Stoke City. Had Stoke been able to extend his contract it seems clear he would have returned to Wednesday on loan for the second half of the season. As it was, no agreement was reached and the player eventually signed for Leicester City for a reported £750,000, potentially rising to £1 million. According to reports Wednesday did match the offer for Marshall, further discrediting the accusations of lack of support in the transfer market, but the player seems to have opted for guaranteed Championship football, to the detriment of Wednesday ambitions of achieving that same level in a few months time.

Failure to win promotion to the Championship in 2011 drew the following comment from Mandaric; “Going into next season and still being in League One will probably cost me £6m or £7m. I have to pick up and clear the cost of this season”. Wednesday fans generally, sympathised with Mandaric that season. The fans and chairman were let down by an under performing squad assembled by an under performing manager. The section of Wednesday fans who feel let down by Mandaric this season would do well to remember the things he has done for the club in the past year. Most of all Wednesday fans should remember that it took 20 years to break their club, and in the face of such adversity the progress Mandaric has made in a year has been swift. Under Mandaric Sheffield Wednesday are moving in the right direction at long last.