Looking for lift-off

WEST Ham's propellor plane was preparing to take off for a game at Everton when Paolo Di Canio grew anxious and wanted to get off.

Paul Aldridge disembarked with him and drove the former Owls star from Stansted airport to Liverpool.

It was one of the more unusual tasks carried out by Wednesday's new vice-chairman and chief executive in a 15-year-career that has seen him work for the Hammers, Leicester and, until very recently, Manchester City, and buy, sell or rub shoulders with some of the biggest names in football.

He did the financial negotiations that took Rio Ferdinand from Upton Park to Leeds for 18m, which was then a British transfer record.

At West Ham, he oversaw the sales of Joe Cole to Chelsea and Jermain Defoe and Michael Carrick to Spurs.

He was involved in Carlos Tevez's signing for West Ham and Manchester City, and City's signing of Wayne Bridge from Chelsea, Nigel Dejong from Ajax, Vincent Kompany from Hamburg and Shay Given from Newcastle.

Those are just a few of hundreds of deals that he he has done. Blackpool are the only club in the top two divisions with whom he has not completed a transaction.

Aldridge may now be operating at a more modest level, in League One, but he hopes that during his time with the Owls he will see them back in the top flight.

"The ambition is initially for us to get promoted; the chairman has set his stall out; we have to become a Championship club very quickly," said the 49-year-old.

"Clearly, a club of this size can sustain Premier League football. I'm not saying it's going to be next year or the year after that or the year after that, but if you were to pick the top 20 clubs who are capable of sustaining Premier League football, Sheffield Wednesday would be up there. That's where they should be.

"If I had my way, this season we'd get to the Championship and the next to the Premier League. I spent many years in the Premier League; that's where I want to be. That's what everybody here wants."

Aldridge played a key role in preventing the Owls from falling even further down the league ladder; he helped Milan Mandaric with his takeover, no stranger to discussions of this type: he sold West Ham to Icelandic owners on behalf of their board.

He spent 10 years at Upton Park (seven as managing director), six months at Leicester under Mandaric and then around a year at Manchester City, but was re-employed by City as a consultant during the transfer windows, right up to last August 31, and hooked up with Mandaric on the Owls project on September 1.

West Ham were Aldridge's first club. After a childhood in Bethnal Green, London, he was a sales executive with motor company Ford and then joined leisure firm Mecca. So he got to know Terry Brown, who owned big leisure properties on the South Coast and in Skegness and was on his way to becoming Hammers chairman.

Aldridge's link with Mandaric arose via a mutual friendship; Peter Storrie, who was managing director at the time he joined West Ham, went on to work with Mandaric at Portsmouth.

"Milan asked me if I'd act for him (on the Owls takeover], and I'd helped him a bit when he was buying Leicester," explained Aldridge. "I had meetings with him, the bank, the club.

"It was never going to be easy; there were issues with the bank, the loan-note holders, and Milan had to be happy with everything. It was complicated. I was always confident we could do it.

"The better deal I could do for Milan, the easier it would be to get the club back up to where the fans want it to be."

Mandaric is on record as saying the takeover cost him less than 10m - generally regarded as a bargain price. Money saved could well aid the job of rebuilding the Owls.

The board - Mandaric, Aldridge and Howard Wilkinson - and manager Alan Irvine have made start, bringing in Michael Morrison, Reda Johnson, Gary Madine and Mark Reynolds - all in their early 20s and potential stars of the future.

One from the past brings a smile to Aldridge's face: "Paolo Di Canio was the most fantastic footballer.

"I've had some really great players. Di Canio was special.

"He was high maintenance but for what he could do with a football, some of the goals he scored, the character, the whole package, he sticks in the mind."

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