Sheffield Wednesday: When Trevor Francis converted Paul Warhurst from defender to striker – and tried to turn him back again
Paul Warhurst earned cult status during his time at Sheffield Wednesday for switching positions from centre half to striker.
With a striker crisis at the club during the 1992/93 season, then-Owls boss Trevor Francis converted the defender into a forward – one whose goals would help Wednesday reach both cup finals and earn himself an England call-up.
Twelve goals in as many games caught the imagination of football supporters beyond S6 but Warhurst himself believed it had done enough to convert him to a striker full time.
So when the injury crisis shifted from attack to defence, it caused a significant issue for Francis when he wanted Warhurst to drop back into his original position.
In his new autobiography ‘One In A Million’ Francis details the Warhurst saga.
He wrote: “It was 1993 when we got to the two cup finals and it coincided with a period when we had as many as five strikers injured at the same time.
“I was aware at the start of the week that none of these players would be available for the Saturday.
“I looked at the squad and then had a word with Paul Warhurst, who I had brought to the club from Oldham Athletic when I first joined.
“He was quite a versatile central defender or full-back, with great pace, which I have always admired as a great attribute.
“In my office on the Monday morning I asked Paul, ‘Have you ever played as a striker?’ to which he replied, ‘Never.’
“So I told him my thinking: he’d got great pace and we needed someone up front who could get behind and stretch defenders.
“I told him I would work with him all week on the training pitch if he was prepared to give it a go ready for Saturday.
“We trained normally, then had an 11 v 11 game only for 20 minutes and he was very impressive.
“We did the same the following day and I showed him one or two runs he could make.
“He scored a couple of goals and I had no hesitation in playing him on the Saturday.
“He was very good and he played such a big part as a striker in helping us get to the finals that he eventually got called up to the England squad.
“We lost the first final at Wembley against Arsenal when Paul played up front.
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“By the time the second final came around the injury situation had eased and I had my recognised front two available – David Hirst and MarkBright.
“At the same time I had injury problems in the heart of my defence.
“On the day before the second final we were at Bisham Abbey as we had stayed over in Windsor.
“All week I was looking at the defensive situation and the players I was considering did not make it.
“So that Friday morning, without naming the team, I gave the squad a very good idea of what I was going to do by doing a little bit of team shaping with the players I was planning to use on the Saturday.
“I stopped and started the play often, to let them defend set pieces and then attack set pieces, switching in a short space of time which is something I like to do.
“I do not like to go into games without the players having an idea of what will be the format of the team.
“So I gave the bibs out and I decided that Paul would play as a central defender – when I gave him the bib he refused to play there saying, ‘I’m a striker.’
“I replied that I had a lot of defensive problems and I wanted him to play as a central defender and he again refused saying, ‘I’m not doing it.’
“I said, ‘So you are saying to me that you are refusing to play in a cup final tomorrow?’
“I was put in a difficult position because there I was on the training pitch and the other players could see what was happening.
“I really should not have put myself in that position but I never expected that sort of response and I don’t mind admitting it, it was a very difficult moment.
“Fortunately, in the squad I had some senior, experienced players who recognised what was happening and they got hold of Paul and more or less said to him in no uncertain terms, ‘What are you playing at, you are playing tomorrow.’
“Thank goodness he put the bib on and agreed to play.”
Francis’ autobiography ‘One In A Million’ is out now.