Chairman Dejphon Chansiri is pleading with Wednesday’s fans to give new chief executive Katrien Meire “a chance” to prove her credentials.
Eyebrows were raised when the Owls added Meire to their senior management team on New Year’s Day.
Meire was an unpopular figure at her last club Charlton Athletic. Supporters protested against the Belgian and Addicks owner Roland Duchatelet, who is currently trying to sell the club.
She spent almost four years at The Valley, falling out with supporters after branding them “customers”. Meire, a lawyer by trade, complained of “extreme abuse” from disgruntled fans as Charlton slipped into League One. She left the Addicks at the end of 2017.
But speaking last night at the Owls fans’ forum, which lasted nearly six hours, Chansiri defended his decision to appoint Meire.
The Thai businessman said: “This is Sheffield Wednesday, not Charlton. You need to give her a chance.
“I need to be responsible for this club. The fans need to trust whoever I choose.”
There was a round of applause from the 300 people packed into the 1867 Lounge at Hillsborough following Chansiri’s last remark.
His message was crystal clear. Judge Meire in the future, not now.
Yesterday was Meire’s first public outing since moving to S6 and she spoke very well. If anything, it would have been nice to have heard more from her.
Meire insists she has learned valuable lessons from her time at Charlton.
“I had a good and bad experience at Charlton and I learned a lot of things on the job,” she said.
The 33-year-old, who has also worked at Belgium club Standard Liege as a legal and international relations manager, claims she attended over 50 fans forums with the Addicks. Meire said she is looking forward to interacting and engaging with more Wednesdayites over the coming weeks and months.
Describing the Owls as a “great club”, Meire went on to say she has “bought into” Chansiri’s vision for the future.
She said: “The chairman understands the history of the club. My role will be adding value to what you (the fans) are paying.”
Chansiri revealed he first became aware of Meire in March 2016 when Wednesday defeated Charlton 3-0 at Hillsborough.
He said: “I asked someone ‘who is she’ and they told me she was CEO, not the owner. I was impressed with her passion for the club. She made me feel like she was the owner (of the club), not CEO.”
As part of Meire’s duties, she will work closely with Wednesday’s academy. It is understood she played an instrumental part in Ademola Lookman’s reported £11m move from Charlton to Everton a year ago.
But Chansiri was also keen to point out Meire will be tasked with supporting the work of Wednesday’s first-team and help with the day-to-day running of the club.
“I need someone to help me when I’m not here (in the country),” said Chansiri. “I need someone to help me and I think she is the right one. We recruit people who we think are good.
“I want every fan to support her. Charlton and Sheffield Wednesday are different and have different owners. I think she is going to do good. I hope everyone is going to welcome her.”
Chansiri has not ruled out the prospect of Wednesday promoting some of their youngsters into the senior set-up. Jordan Thorniley, Jack Stobbs and Sean Clare have all returned to the club following loan spells at League One and Two clubs.
“Our young players have improved a lot in two years,” said Chansiri, who is resigned to losing George Hirst when his contract expires this summer. “We have done well.
“I’m not stupid. I don’t want to spend money if we have young players who can play.
“We have invested a lot in young players. We want to use them when they are ready.
“We have brought in experienced players so it is more difficult for our academy. It is why we loan them out. We want to make them more strong.
“Our academy players need to play first-team games.
Chansiri and the rest of the panel extensively covered a number of issues at the forum, ranging from their matchday pricing structure to the appointment of new manager Jos Luhukay.
Some supporters voiced their concern over the club’s recruitment drive. Under Chansiri, the Owls have spent big money on transfer fees and wages in an attempt to secure promotion to Premier League. But the club have fallen short in each of the last two campaigns and are now struggling in the lower reaches of the division.
Chansiri said: “When we have recruited, we thought they were the correct ones. It is the same when you recruit your staff. When you interview and look at everything, you believe they are good enough.
“We are disappointed in some players we have brought. In the second year, they were not as good as we expected.
“We thought they were the best choices at the time. Sometimes the players we want other clubs don’t want to sell or loan.
“In football you can’t release players. It depends on us, the player and the other club.”
Chansiri refuses to accept the Owls have wasted money in the transfer market, arguing: “Even Manchester United and Manchester City, who have bigger recruitment teams than us, get things wrong. Sometimes players don’t perform or fit in.”