The supposed issue has gone away but I’m no longer sure it was ever really there. And here I believe this column got it wrong. Along with anyone else who suspected Carlos Carvalhal’s future could rest on Sheffield Wednesday making it to the play-offs and even, possibly, successfully negotiating a path through them.
Easy to say perhaps after the timely upturn of four successive wins. But that reckons without the obvious strength of the bond between the head coach and owner Dejphon Chansiri.
It’s not only healthy to discount the “manager under pressure” cliche, keeping the focus on the team and players. It’s also highly unusual. Indeed, if there is blame to be apportioned at the end of a second assault on the Premier League prize then I suggest the chairman will be looking on the field rather than at an individual who, aside from the odd touchline flick, has never kicked a ball for the club.
But then Chansiri is a very unusual chairman. In my experience, a one-off. Proud and principled, spending lavish amounts of loan-free money unconditionally, and insisting above all on keeping Wednesday securely within Financial Fair Play limits. For what? A sort of hobby in a sport he doesn’t much enjoy and which consumes months of his time away from his family in Thailand.
I suspect he’d struggle for an answer as to why he does it, except that he’s genuinely excited, if not by football then by one team within the sport and what his involvement means to its supporters.
He’s increasingly in tune with them, but will be puzzled by the media coverage that encircles the game as a whole, in particular the sacking culture that commands so much attention, particularly in a division where Carvalhal’s 101 games as boss are surpassed by only three of his current fellow Championship managers.
Journalists, you see, are conditioned by the way clubs behave. If chairmen didn’t fire managers so regularly then reporters wouldn’t keep asking THAT question. Which is why I speculated on these pages recently that Carvalhal might not survive a second successive near miss. Now I’m pretty sure he would. And rightly so.
But it’s as rare as it is refreshing to be writing these words. It’s not just in his defiant and unyielding stand on Fernando Forestieri early this season that Chansiri is bucking long-established football trends.
I’ll never forget the late England World Cup winner Alan Ball, then in his first spell managing Portsmouth, sitting in the Hillsborough press room in the late 1980s asking reporters why they no longer took players to task. “Why is it always about managers?” he asked. “It was different when I was a player. You were singled out for having a bad game.”
Well, he’d have liked the current chairman of Sheffield Wednesday. Some of those close to the club will tell you Chansiri has made no secret of his frustration about the team’s erratic spells during a season he expected to produce a top two challenge. Normally, the manager would feel most of the heat from that. Not so in this case.
Carvalhal has done, is doing, a very sound job. At a time when so much in the final weeks of the season depends on togetherness, it’s reassuring that that the key relationship is strong enough to remove the distraction that can surround teams in such a position. And it’s making a nonsense of the social media outcry against Carvalhal of early this month which I’m sure Chansiri was cute enough to know did not represent the majority view.