When new owner Dejphon Chansiri bought Sheffield Wednesday in January 2015, he had one overriding objective – for The Owls to return to the Premier League in 2017 to coincide with the club’s 150th anniversary.
Carlos Carvalhal almost achieved this a year early, after guiding the team to the Championship promotion play-off final at Wembley in May, and although a 1-0 defeat to Hull City left the club’s fans disappointed, hopes are high of an even better season this time round.
Making a good impression
Under the Portuguese head coach, Wednesday arguably overachieved last season, and Carvalhal himself won admirers across the English footballing fraternity not just for the style of football and tactical nous that he instilled in the Owls but also for his sportsmanship and affable demeanour. Despite a number of controversial refereeing decisions going against Wednesday during the season, he managed to retain the composure missing in so many coaches and managers.
Admittedly the ex-Sporting coach has benefited from funds not available to his predecessors but he still had to mould a coherent team from a much-changed squad in what is without doubt the most competitive second-tier division in the world. The signing of Fernando Forestieri was an example of a player who Wednesday are unlikely to have signed without Chansiri’s resources, as is the recent recruitment of fellow forward Steven Fletcher and acquisitions such as these have underlined Wednesday’s status as one of the Championship’s best-resourced clubs.
However, football is littered with well-funded teams that have underachieved and so far Carvalhal has not shown any signs of squandering the opportunity presented to him. Furthermore, he seems to have gained Chansiri’s trust and has outlasted a footballing ‘committee’ that was formed on his arrival at the club but subsequently disbanded.
As well as a significant change in personnel, the increased resources and better players have enabled a swift transition to a purer passing game and Carvalhal’s Wednesday have remained true to this principle, remaining brave when passing the ball in tight areas. In fact it was noticeable that in the one game when they did not pass the ball out from the back, in the first-leg of their play-off semi-final at Brighton & Hove Albion, they produced by far their worse spell of football in the season. Admittedly, Brighton were outstanding, particularly in the first-half of that game, but there is still much scope for improvement from Wednesday.
Fans backing for Carvalhal
In the final at Wembley, several neutrals remarked on how their periods of possession did not threaten the opposition and undoubtedly the key players did not influence the game. However, it is telling that despite a poor performance in such a huge game, there was little criticism of Carvalhal amongst the supporters who completely outshone their Hull counterparts in terms of both numbers and noise.
Continued success will undoubtedly lead to interest in the ex-Braga central defender from English Premier League clubs but after a nomadic coaching career, he will probably be keen to achieve a long tenure at Hillsborough to bolster his reputation in the game. An impressive feature of his reign has been the clear tactical strategy for each of Wednesday’s opponents and fans are secure in the knowledge that this keen student of the game has the players meticulously prepared before taking the field.
Carvalhal has also shown his willingness to rotate his squad to keep key players fresh, seemingly without upsetting those that are not in favour or a first-choice – usually a key quality of a successful manager or head coach. Indeed, popular midfield enforcer José Semedo has signed a contract extension despite being used only sparingly last season.
Mixed fortunes for the Portuguese contingent
Among Wednesday’s other Portuguese players, Filipe Melo – whose entire 2014-15 season was wrecked by injury – is back in contention and looking to build on a promising start to his Wednesday career under ex-head coach Stuart Gray. Lucas João produced a positive first season in England: despite being used only sporadically by Carvalhal to ease his introduction to the English game, he still managed to produce some highly effective spells of football and if he can build on this next season, it is likely that he too will become a target for Premier League clubs.
Marco Matias was another player who suffered through injury last season but despite winning the Football League’s goal of the season award for his sublime strike at Leeds United, Matias has not yet produced the form expected of him when he signed for the club a year ago. Wednesday are crying out for a penetrative winger but Matias is the member of the Portuguese contingent at Hillsborough who has looked least likely to adapt to the demands of the English game.
In a further connection with Portugal, French defender Vincent Sasso was on loan at Wednesday last season and despite not being a first-choice selection, produced some very impressive performances but has now returned to Braga.
It will still be a tough ask for Carvalhal to provide the continuity that has eluded Wednesday since their relegation from the Premier League in 2000 – Chansiri is likely to be ruthless if The Owls do not appear to be on course to match their league position last season. However, in a country where there are still 92 professional clubs, if he does not manage to complete Chansiri’s Wednesday dream, it's probable that he would find another job in England.
by Daniel Burkinshaw