Sheffield Wednesday: Departed Joost van Aken a prime example of previous poor recruitment

It is well-documented that the Owls found it difficult to recruit a top centre-half in the summer of 2017.

Wednesday, 14th August 2019, 9:36 pm
Updated Thursday, 15th August 2019, 9:42 pm

Carlos Carvalhal, the then Wednesday manager, claimed they looked at players in the Premier League, Championship, League One, League Two and abroad.

"We have had chances to bring in centre-halves but we have not found the correct ones," argued Carvalhal after a pre-season friendly at Doncaster Rovers. "My staff and I have seen more than 200 centre-backs but for various reasons we have not brought."

It was a long, painful process, with the Owls having missed out on Carvalhal's top transfer target Sean Morrison.

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Joost van Aken has joined VfL Osnabruck on loan. (Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images)

But Carvalhal could not contain his delight after they drafted in Joost van Aken from Dutch club Heerenveen at the end of August. Wednesday paid around £3m to bring the 23-year-old to English football. Carvalhal was absolutely convinced van Aken would be money well spent in the long-term.

Carvalhal said: "Van Aken comes from the Netherlands, a centre-back... with a bright future. He is tall and a very good header [of the ball], fantastically technical in playing the ball out from the back with his left foot."

You could instantly tell from van Aken's debut against Nottingham Forest that he was talented but raw. His composure and ability to bring the ball out from the defence shone through from the off.

But van Aken at fault for Forest's equaliser. He dived in on the edge of the penalty area trying to prevent Ben Osborn from latching on to a clever Barrie McKay reverse pass but Osborn was too quick for him and beat van Aken to the ball first before drilling a low shot past Keiren Westwood. To paraphrase Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness, van Aken did not smell the danger.

Yet despite that error, van Aken's performances against Forest, Brentford and Cardiff City were largely encouraging. The tall Dutchman, with his cultured left foot, looked confident and assured spraying the ball out wide on to both flanks with consummate ease and he even stood up to the Bluebirds physical threat.

Then came the Sheffield derby.

On that wretched Sunday afternoon in front of the Sky cameras at S6, old boy Leon Clarke bullied Wednesday's feeble back four and Blades midfielder Mark Duffy turned van Aken inside and out for the visitors third goal.Van Aken's harshest critics will argue that he has never recovered from that chastening experience. They probably have a point.

Indeed, van Aken has only made a further 12 appearances since the Owls' 4-2 thumping against their fiercest rivals.

What I will say in van Aken's defence is he has had horrendous luck with ankle injuries and that has certainly hindered his development. I definitely think there is a good player in there.

But it is no surprise Wednesday have allowed him to join Bundesliga 2 side VfL Osnabruck on a season long-loan. Not only does van Aken need regular first-team football, but it was important for the Owls to continue trimming their bloated squad as they look to avoid falling foul of Profitability and Sustainability regulations again.

Plus Wednesday are not short of options at centre-back, with caretaker boss Lee Bullen able to call upon Tom Lees, Julian Börner, David Bates and Jordan Thorniley. It is good business all round to send van Aken on loan and makes sense for all parties.

You never know; van Aken may return to Wednesday next summer and prove his doubters wrong and show everybody that he can hack it on a consistent basis in the hustle-and-bustle of the Championship.

But van Aken's departure is another stark reminder of Wednesday's scattergun approach to their recruitment drive post the 2016 Championship play-off final. None of the big-money signings, with the notable exception of Adam Reach, have delivered.

It took a little while for the Owls to refine their transfer policy but they finally seem to be going in the right direction. Lessons appear to have been learned and the recent transfer window was one of, it not the best, of chairman Dejphon Chansiri's reign. They have not spent fortunes on signing good players in Börner, Moses Odubajo, Kadeem Harris and Massimo Luongo and have also drafted in Jacob Murphy and David Bates in on loan. Their squad looks way stronger and more balanced.