Whether or not you agree with Jos Luhukay on the Keiren Westwood affair – and plenty don’t – you can’t deny it’s been a tough call. Or that Sheffield Wednesday’s head coach has shown courage in his handling of it.
Personally, I’m tipping towards agreement with Luhukay on this one. But the main reason concerns names that might appear completely unrelated – George Hirst and Sean Clare. I’ll explain. First, let’s consider the options and why there are sound arguments in both directions.
To say Luhukay has applied logic might seem strange. Is Westwood still the best goalkeeper at Hillsborough? It would be hard to contend otherwise. Until he was disrupted by injury, the Republic of Ireland international could lay claim to being Wednesday’s top performer; arguably the finest keeper in the Championship. He’s now 33 but so what? As with many in his position, Westwood’s best could still be ahead.
Generally, a manager picks his best players. So there’s a mighty hard case to argue here - barring anything below the surface because (as a wider point only and non-specific) we are never privy to all that happens at a club, personal relationships etc.
Luhukay’s deliberations show a fully fit Westwood to be more a victim of circumstance. It’s not only about the emergence of two excellent young keepers in Cameron Dawson and Joe Wildsmith. Not entirely about the club’s financial predicament, either. You have to factor in the recent sad loss of two other great prospects in Hirst and Clare, perhaps the best of the recent batch. The Owls can’t afford a repeat of that scenario at a time when they are increasingly reliant on youth.
Option One: Pick your most proven, experienced keeper and go with Westwood. Outcome: a more popular call with many, possibly to the betterment of the team short term, while, for the longer term, one of your two top prospects doesn’t even get on the bench (although he could go on loan.)
Option Two: Pick Dawson or Wildsmith, put Westwood on the bench. It’s actually hard to see the senior man being much happier with this. Added to which, it again leaves one of the young keepers out in the cold.
Option Three: Pick one of the prospects (Dawson, as it’s turned out), to compete with the other and make Westwood – incredible as that might seem – number three.
Luhukay worked his way through to three, the hardest call. All the more so in that his personal standing is in the balance in what I maintain will be a defining season for him as manager, albeit his first full one.
Harsh as this certainly is on Westwood, Luhukay could be said to have acted entirely without self interest.
Wednesday still have more cost-cutting ahead and Westwood is among the higher earners.
A move in the loan window now appears the only answer for all parties, although Wednesday could still have to subsidise some of the wages. It is arguably preferable, in all the circumstances, to disillusioning and possibly losing either Dawson or Wildsmith.
Many will disagree and fair enough. If avoiding major problems in the future depends on the seemingly unlikely pursuit of promotion this season – as suggested from above – then you play your best players.
But if it came down to losing a top keeper or a top striker (Forestieri) to help square the books who would you pick?
Westwood has perhaps become less marketable via this process, but was that avoidable? He has my sympathy, as does the head coach.
All arguments on this are valid. Luhukay has shown he’s prepared to make a strong stand and I think he should be applauded for that at least. It’s a quality you want in a manager.