Couple of opening points to make about Sheffield Wednesday’s prospects this season.
First, I think it has to be regarded as even more taxing than the last two.
Second, it has to be targeted at top two, not top six. Which only serves to underline point one.
A third factor here, but only applicable to me, is that the timing of this column’s summer break is causing it some difficulty as well. The season will be just underway when it returns, leaving this as the one opportunity to assess how things might go in the next nine months and without some vital pieces of evidence, like subsequent transfer business.
But I reckon it’s fair to see this as a pivotal season for the club, its manager and, to some extent, the plans of its chairman. Not that Dejphon Chansiri won’t remain passionately committed whatever the outcome. It’s just that 2017-18 could test the commendable and refreshing continuity he has brought to the task of putting the Owls back in the Premier League.
Given another competitive campaign, there is no logical reason why any of the above should change and I sincerely hope it doesn’t. But since when did logic have much to do with a sport ruled largely by emotion?
Even two years is an exceptionally long tenure for a manager in the Championship. Make it three – without promotion – and that is an age by modern standards. Also, by any standards,
Carlos Carvalhal has done an excellent and, I feel, underrated job. But you’d think he will know better than anyone that a third attempt could be make or break in terms of his longevity.
That was the risk he took in committing again to the Owls following last season’s second successive play-off disappointment.
The head coach will also have realised that finishing top six, but not top two, might be seen initially as some sort of failure by a much larger section of support than last time when the dissident voices were clearly in a minority.
And for a man who insists that what he calls a “triangle” of togetherness (fans, chairman, himself) has to be intact in order for him to continue, the personal importance of the coming campaign is obvious. Not that he will worry about that, simply enjoy the job as much as he can for as long as he can, having established a measure of financial independence from it.
So here’s the crunch. Top two? For me, once again a very tall order. That’s not so much an assessment of the Owls squad (incomplete at this stage) as being realistic about the competition around them.
In the first promotion odds I saw after the fixtures were released, Aston Villa, Fulham, Middlesbrough, Norwich and Derby were all rated better bets. With some justification. Then what of Hull, Reading, Wolves,
Harry Redknapp’s Birmingham or maybe Neil Warnock’s Cardiff?
There is some comfort and realism in the knowledge of Wednesday escaping a favourites’ tag from the bookies. But expectation around Hillsborough is huge regardless and I hope there are no hasty or premature judgments on what remains a work in progress.
Yes, aim for top two and don’t lower sights from that – but being in amongst it for a third successive year would still rank as some achievement in itself.