Alan Biggs: Is Jos Luhukay simply not the right 'type' of manager for Sheffield Wednesday?

It is suggested to this column that the tide of history is running against the already embattled Jos Luhukay.

Thursday, 15th March 2018, 3:20 pm
Updated Thursday, 15th March 2018, 3:25 pm
Jos Luhukay

A well qualified observer makes a general point across many years – that Sheffield Wednesday, as a big club, only truly thrives in tandem with big personality managers. Not true in every case and Luhukay can’t be properly judged as yet. There are exceptions to every rule. But it’s got me thinking.

Brian Joicey was a popular Owls striker back in the 1970s, much bleaker days than these it has to be said. And he has lived locally ever since, maintaining his support for the club where he was a traditional battling centre forward across five years and 55 goals.

Rounding up a 47-year association with Wednesday, Joicey has come to a thought-provoking theory. To paraphrase his comments on my Sheffield Live show last Thursday, Hillsborough has an aura that can overwhelm managers unless they are large in character or stature, or both.

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Brian backed this up with the names of the most successful Wednesday bosses of the modern era – Jack Charlton, Howard Wilkinson, Ron Atkinson, Trevor Francis. Hold on here, I can read your thoughts. Wilkinson did not arrive as a big name, nor could you describe Francis as a “big personality” in terms of demeanour.

But Wilkinson compensated with an abrasive streak and a highly combative nature. Francis carried the status of being an England international, a European Cup winner and, of course, Britain’s first £1m player.

The point is they all succeeded where many others of less repute, either side of them, failed. Stretching the argument, I’d throw in three more who were relatively successful - Paul Sturrock (promotion winner), Brian Laws (whose three year reign remains the longest post-Francis) and Gary Megson. Sturrock was big, bluff and mildly eccentric; Laws bold in approach and brightly articulate; Megson fiercely passionate in turning HIS club around through experience and sheer power of personality.

And much more recently, for all his critics, Carlos Carvalhal carried the burden well as a charismatic and colourful character.

Is there a limited manager match for Sheffield Wednesday? Does a club occasionally accused of thinking itself bigger than it is but which has a certain grandeur about it, based on the achievements of the past and the stunning stadium developments of the 1960s, require a certain type?

It’s why Joicey felt the Owls should have gone for Sam Allardyce on the various occasions he has been touted. Big Sam would have been like Big Jack and Big Ron in wanting to call the shots.

That’s the weight of history that Luhukay, for no fault of his own, has against him. Which would be the same for any left-field choice from abroad – or this country.

But, having supported the Dutchman as a reasonably sound choice for the situation, I hope his much less demonstrative and unobtrusively disciplinarian style can succeed.

It’s nothing to do with strength of character, which is a different thing entirely, and some of the criticism against him has been an unfair. Yes, one league win in 11 is not good enough. Equally, his selection and tactics have been questionable. However, he inherited a hugely problematic scenario and, above all, he is what he is.

Suppose he had been unnaturally animated on the touchline. Would that in itself have improved results? He’s managing in a way that brought some success, with big clubs too, in Germany; you can’t blame him for that or the club’s difficulties in a transitional phase.

But Luhukay does face a huge challenge at Hillsborough, not least for the reasons outlined above.