Sheffield Wednesday new boy Michael Ihiekwe on Rotherham United fan anger and Owls’ ‘massive’ fan base
Newly-signed Sheffield Wednesday defender Michael Ihiekwe has spoken for the first time about the decision to make his controversial move from promoted Rotherham United.
In an exit interview with the Rotherham Advertiser, the 29-year-old centre-half admitted he understood the fury of Millers supporters for leaving his old club for their biggest rivals.
An audacious double raid also saw last year’s Millers top scorer Michael Smith join Darren Moore’s promotion push.
And Ihiekwe said he was looking forward to moving onwards with Wednesday, who he sees as a side that can achieve their goal of a return to the Championship this season.
Alex Miller: Reported Sheffield Wednesday signing should put more fuel in tank of fallen star man
Sheffield Wednesday fight off Championship opposition in pursuit of young centre back
Sheffield Wednesday: Former Arsenal youngster 'set to join' Owls as defensive boost
Sheffield Wednesday closing in on ninth summer signing – but who is Mark McGuinness?
Sheffield Wednesday face race against time to get Cardiff City man in for Bolton Wanderers trip – what EFL rules say
“There's an element of sadness there,” he said on leaving the New York Stadium. “In any walk of life, when you've been somewhere for that long there's going to be sad feelings about going.
“I've made friends who I'll always keep in contact with. That includes players and staff. It's football, I'll move on and Rotherham will be fine without me. It's on to the next challenge for me now.”
Ihiekwe was chosen in the League One team of the year for a string of towering performances at the heart of Rotherham’s defence.
The double switch prompted a furious reaction from large sections of the Millers fanbase, a reaction Ihiekwe ‘gets’.
“Listen, I'm a football fan myself. I'm a big Liverpool follower. I get where the Rotherham fans are coming from, I fully understand it. You can't control how people are going to think or feel about you. All I can say is that I didn't take my decision lightly. I had to have a long, long think about it. It was based on doing right by my family.
“The size of the club [Sheffield Wednesday] is huge. I know that from being around the area. The fan base is massive. As I said earlier, it came down to me being 29 and doing the best for my family. That's it really.
“I came close to staying. There were points in the negotiations where I thought it might happen. I'm 29 and at this stage of my career I had to take my time with the decision and speak to everyone around me - my family and missus and all that stuff.
“It wasn't something I could just do in a couple of days. I appreciate Rotherham making me the offer they did but, ultimately, I had to do what was best for my family.”
The day before his Wednesday switch was confirmed, Millers boss Paul Warne claimed he was confident that ‘one or both’ of Smith and Ihiekwe.
Asked how came close he came to signing a new deal at Rotherham, Ihiekwe said: “As I've mentioned, there were points where I was close to staying. The offer I took in the end was the best one for my family and myself. Football moves quickly. I had to make a decision and it wasn't one taken lightly.
“I'm very much hoping I'll be back in the Championship the following year. That's the aim. Sheffield Wednesday have huge potential. I've joined a squad capable of winning promotion.”