It takes all sorts to manage a football team. Jos Luhukay is clearly determined to ensure it’s not all about him.
Yet when it comes to whether Sheffield Wednesday succeed or fail, it surely will be. And columns like this give him no escape. If he reads it – and you suspect he stays healthily detached from a lot that’s said and written – he won’t be happy about that in his own quiet, undemonstrative way.
It’s the way of the world that we focus on managers. Too much so in the view of someone here who’s doing exactly that! They are over-praised and over-criticised. With players it’s far more the first than the second.
But Luhukay, albeit still early in his reign, has avoided all of that. So far. Reaction has been as undefined as his low-key personality. Criticism restrained, praise lukewarm. It’s been a mixed start anyway. From the new season, it will go one way or the other.
Except that, if Wednesday challenge towards the top as I believe they can, Luhukay will want the team to step forward, content to remain something of an enigma – a reputed disciplinarian of contrastingly mild manner – and stay in the background.
He’s likeable, yet hard to fathom. Towards the end of last season, when doubts persisted over whether he’d survive to the next one, I pressed him as to whether a good run had made him more secure. He deflected three questions in other directions before finally agreeing that he now had a platform on which to build. But there was no elaboration, only a “yes” before moving on.
Plenty are waiting in judgment. By far the most positive public reaction I’ve had on Luhukay has been from a former Sheffield United player – ex skipper David Holdsworth, who hailed him on my Sheffield Live show, heavily implying he’d sorted out the dressing room. Holdsworth had heard that the attitude of some senior players had been poor. He credited the Dutchman with demanding a greater work ethic.
Thing is, whether true or not, the man himself doesn’t shout about any of it. Nor will he be jumping up and down on the touchline, a subject already addressed here, as was the view of one-time Owls star Brian Joicey that a manager of a club the size of Wednesday preferably had to be a big personality. I took his point as a matter of debate without being conclusive.
As I say, it takes all sorts. The great Brian Clough, whether deliberately or not, did make it all about him and succeeded spectacularly. Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish, among so many revered Liverpool managers, made it all about the team. Sir Alex Ferguson, arguably the greatest of all time, managed through sheer force of personality. As, in a different way, did the likes of Jack Charlton and Ron Atkinson at Hillsborough. Trevor Francis was more studious and, while outwardly relaxed, intense. Arsene Wenger is a better generic example of that.
In that sense, Owls fans are adjusting to polar opposites in quick succession. From the charismatic showmanship of Carlos Carvalhal, who believed in creating an enjoyable environment for his players, to Luhukay, who primarily insists that they come to work. The improvement on his watch of dedicated pros like Adam Reach and Atdhe Nuhiu is testimony to those who will thrive under this manager.
So much of football now is the drip, drip of what occurs and is said through the week when what matters most is what happens on the pitch. Luhukay starts the season with a pretty clean canvas. What’s painted on it will be about his players, not him. And that’s no bad thing at all.
n Hopefully Wednesday’s reported £3m loan fee demand to Norwich for Jordan Rhodes is just an opening gambit if they are to have a real prospect of offloading the striker and parking some of the high wages that will already weigh heavily on interested clubs.