Managing a club like Sheffield Wednesday is always a walk on a tightrope. Fair to say Carlos Carvalhal is treading a fine line between expectation and reality in his first season. But his popularity is refreshing proof that the league table, healthy enough, isn’t the only measure by which supporters judge.
What exactly is acceptable this season? Owner Dejphon Chansiri has said nothing beyond his two-season promotion pledge, but he’d certainly take it in one and signing bids on several fronts suggest he’s going for it, alongside a head coach who now has a major say on transfers.
So is the current seventh place under-achievement or over? At face value, I’d say Carvalhal sits almost exactly between the two – par for the course while he’s in touch with the play-offs and shots to spare if/when Wednesday break into the top six. Anything below those two and there will be questions from some quarters. These are tight margins. But points and places aren’t the only yardstick. The players are of a higher calibre, the football is bright and inventive, the thrill factor factor is high.
If all of this, and the considerable cost involved, hasn’t equated to a big positional advance on what was achieved last season under Stuart Gray, who returns with Fulham in the FA Cup this weekend, I think comparisons between Carvalhal and his predecessor are unfair. Not least because the Championship is a much stronger league this season.
Gray had to do it a different way and he did it brilliantly, if unspectacularly. His was a story of over-achievement on a scale matched only by the harshness of his sacking.
But new owners traditionally bring new managers and all of that is history.
It also strikes me that, in the main, Owls supporters are judging Carlos far less critically than media pundits. You see smiles on faces at Hillsborough these days, a gleam of gratitude for being entertained.
Yes, they’d like promotion, of course, but you detect it is not the only gauge of a charismatic coach whose effervescent, engaging manner has established the kind of rapport with fans that would have been unimaginable when he arrived as a virtual unknown.
It’s why for all the reservations some people have with squad rotation – which I share on the odd occasion – and with sometimes transmitting the wrong signals (as with his ill-judged complaints over the timing of the holiday trip to Middlesbrough), there is no build up of pressure on Carlos and nor should there be. Don’t forget, it’s usually fans who lead the way in that regard.
Although you can’t describe Carvalhal as an unqualified success with the resources at his disposal, it is no easy matter to instil a collective spirit into a squad of relative strangers - however talented the group. I’d imagine it’s actually harder the greater the talent. So this column judges Carlos to be nicely in credit for now.