From “nowhere man” to Sheffield Wednesday’s version of Arsene Wenger? Time will tell but the early promise of Carlos Carvalhal’s Hillsborough tenure has provoked an interesting comparison.
It’s a very flattering one, too, considering that, for all the critics who churlishly overlook his record for consistently producing scintillating football, Wenger is currently by some distance the longest-serving manager at an English club having joined Arsenal almost 20 years ago.
Yet the Frenchman was barely known in this country when the Gunners unveiled him. Ditto Carvalhal, of course, whose appointment by Wednesday must have accounted for a fair percentage of Google’s income in 2015!
Carlos came a little older than the then 46-year-old Arsene, but only by three years or so, and their philosophies, with a total belief in entertainment, are similar. What’s changed, of course, is the whole environment of football outside of an oasis of stability in North London where Wenger continues to defy the national turnover.
So for Carvalhal, or anyone else, to get anywhere close to replicating Wenger’s reign at a major club would be even more extraordinary in the future. Nevertheless the similarity remains about the way Wednesday, under a new owner in Dejphon Chansiri, went about choosing a head coach.
I was reminded of this by no less an authority than Danny Wilson, the only man ever to have bossed both Sheffield clubs and still in management (1,025 games and counting) at Chesterfield. “A lot of homework had been done on Carlos, a bit like Arsene Wenger at Arsenal at the time,” pointed out Danny.
“Carlos has done a terrific job – somebody who’s not really well known coming out of nowhere, and all of a sudden he’s transformed the team. I’d heard of him before but I didn’t know his history.”
Where club history is concerned, Carvalhal works in a minefield of a city. Wilson, sacked by both clubs but still “immensely proud” of his unique achievement, reflects: “You have to be careful what you wish for, as the saying goes.
“If you give a manager time you’ve got a better chance.”
Being denied it by the Blades, while leading a second successive promotion bid, was a career low, “the biggest one I’ve had,” for a manager who still “finds the decision very hard to understand to this day.”
Owner Kevin McCabe recently confessed his regret in an interview for this column, to which Wilson reacts: “It’s not something I expected quite honestly but fair dos to him. He’s admitted that he got it wrong and he did get it wrong in my opinion.”
Danny, unfailingly honest, makes the same admission over his time in charge of the Owls, especially over his baptism of fire, as a a young manager, in handling Italian mavericks Paolo Di Canio and Benito Carbone. “I made mistakes,” he says. “You can be strong and think everything you do is right but you get it wrong at times and I certainly did in my period at Wednesday. That said, it was very difficult with things going on in the background.”
Now Wilson hopes, with genuine feeling, that it’s not just Hillsborough that will see an upturn in fortunes: “You hope the cycle will come round again. It has for Wednesday and hopefully it will do for United as well.”