Confirmed exit draws line under expensive saga Sheffield Wednesday must learn from this summer
It could have all been so different.
A Dutch youth international, just 23 years old, six-foot-three and confident in the ball. And early indications were that Joost van Aken was going to be a savvy signing for Sheffield Wednesday.
The defender announced his departure from the club over the weekend after four injury-punctured years at Hillsborough during which he made only 33 appearances and was loaned out to German second tier outfit Osnabrück for the 2019/20 campaign.
The chosen one from a long-list of potential centre-halves drawn up as Glenn Loovens’ career began to wind down, the Dutchman excited supporters with his early days displays.
But his career in South Yorkshire nosedived when he was turned inside-out by Mark Duffy with a performance to forget in a 4-2 Steel City derby defeat in September 2017, his fourth in Owls colours. From then on in, he never seemed to regain confidence.
“We don’t want to make mistakes,” Carvalhal explained shortly before van Aken’s signing for an eye-watering £3m.
“We have had chances to bring in centre-halves but we have not found the correct ones. My staff and I have seen more than 200 centre-backs but for various reasons we have not brought.”
Unfortunately, the signing did prove to be a mistake.
Lurching from injury to injury, the defender played only 13 times in that first season and only once the season after, in a horror display in an opening day defeat to Wigan Athletic.
Via his mixed-bag German sojourn, his next opportunity came under Garry Monk at the start of last season, when a classy display in a 2-0 win at Cardiff City conjured a spirit of second chance. Indeed, prior to an ugly red card and subsequent suspension against Luton Town, his form was good and continued on his return.
His 17 appearances under Monk and latterly under Tony Pulis, who used him as a makeshift left-back, made him a near ever-present in the first half of Wednesday’s wretched 20/21 season.
But injuries reared their head once more and though he made the bench for the Bristol City in April, van Aken made his final Sheffield Wednesday appearance on Boxing Day 2020.
Quotes suggesting he was to look elsewhere beyond the end of his contract emerged from the Dutch media early this year and came as no real surprise to anyone. He confirmed his move to Belgian side Zulte Waragem on social media.
So what of the van Aken transfer and what Wednesday can learn from what many recognise as the turning point of the club’s transfer record?
With such a long-list provided by Carvalhal and his staff, how could it be that they settled on an expensive flop?
It’s roundly understood that van Aken was situated some way down the Portuguese’s list of preferences, with Aden Flint somewhere towards the top. With Darren Moore known to be hands-on when it comes to his transfer dealings, it is perhaps his voice that should shout loudest in recruitment conversations.
And if at all possible, they need to get the bulk of their business done early so as not to be run into a corner on a deal such as the one for the Dutchman.
A line has been drawn on one of the most disappointing transfers in the club’s modern history.