Sheffield Wednesday skipper Tom Lees on Garry Monk, dropped heads and Owls leadership

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - MARCH 04:  Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City battles for possession with Tom Lees of Sheffield Wednesday during the FA Cup Fifth Round match between Sheffield Wednesday and Manchester City at Hillsborough on March 04, 2020 in Sheffield, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - MARCH 04:  Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City battles for possession with Tom Lees of Sheffield Wednesday during the FA Cup Fifth Round match between Sheffield Wednesday and Manchester City at Hillsborough on March 04, 2020 in Sheffield, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - MARCH 04: Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City battles for possession with Tom Lees of Sheffield Wednesday during the FA Cup Fifth Round match between Sheffield Wednesday and Manchester City at Hillsborough on March 04, 2020 in Sheffield, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images) | Getty Images
Tom Lees has been a consistent performer since joining Sheffield Wednesday from Leeds United, but he admits that this season has been his toughest yet at Hillsborough.

The 29-year-old centre back has been a regular in S6 under Stuart Gray, Carlos Carvalhal, Jos Luhukay, Steve Bruce and now Garry Monk – as well as interim managers such as Steve Agnew and Lee Bullen – but has found himself come in for criticism in 2019/20 after the Owls’ season derailed at the start of 2020.

Lees played a big role for SWFC as they twice came close to securing top-flight football, but will soon be one of only a few of the players left at the club from those Play-Off squads that were on the brink of a Premier League return.

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He still has hopes of featuring in a Wednesday side that does achieve the holy grail of promotion, but the Wednesday captain knows that – even though he’s performed well in the past – he can’t afford to settle.

Speaking to the Star, the Owls skipper said, “My time at Wednesday has been the best part of my career, without a doubt, but you can’t afford to hang onto that, and I’m aware of that as well. I’d like to think that when I’ve had my chances, when I’ve played consistently in back-to-back seasons, that my performances showed that I deserved that. I’d like to think that all these different managers have played me for a reason.

“I think the last season has been the most difficult in my time here, but I still get the hunger that I had when I was 17 or 18 and hadn’t played a first team game. I still have that hunger and still want to maximise what I can, and that’ll be the same when football does restart.

“It’s nice to have a bit of a break, because you’ve got time to go back and look back and it will reignite that hunger for some people for whatever the challenge is. I just want to get back to playing at the level that I’ve been playing at for 99% of my time at Sheffield Wednesday.”

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And he had positive things to say about the man leading the team, too, praising Monk for his thoroughness since taking over from Bruce, saying, “The organisation of things, the structure of your week and the structure of training, and the general organisation around the club is something Steve Bruce started to change and then that’s now been carried on and taken to the next level in terms of the finer details being done properly and organised.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 24: Tom Lees reacts to an injury during the FA Cup Fourth Round match between Queens Park Rangers and Sheffield Wednesday at The Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium on January 24, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by James Chance/Getty Images)LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 24: Tom Lees reacts to an injury during the FA Cup Fourth Round match between Queens Park Rangers and Sheffield Wednesday at The Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium on January 24, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by James Chance/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 24: Tom Lees reacts to an injury during the FA Cup Fourth Round match between Queens Park Rangers and Sheffield Wednesday at The Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium on January 24, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by James Chance/Getty Images) | Getty Images

“The routine has been really strict and thoroughly thought through, and that attention to detail follows through into the football side of things – how we’re going to set up and play.”

Another aspect of Lees’ season that has been under scrutiny is his role as leader of the current crop of players, but the experienced central defender knows the responsibility that comes with the armband, and revealed some of the complexities of the role.

“Of course, if you see players who look like they’ve got a lot on their mind, then you go and have a chat with them,” he said. “You know, check that they’re alright and see if they’re ok. Some players might need an arm around them, and others need a geeing up or a bit of a talking to. We also have chats as a team, with just the players, and as captain you have a big responsibility to try and steer the ship in the right direction, and as captain you do feel responsible for that. You have to try and take care of people.

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“When you’re going through those periods, you can sometimes overthink and overanalyse, and you can see it with some of the guys that they’re almost trying too hard, and it’s about breaking that cycle and getting going again. It’s been tricky with all the pressure going on.

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 29: Tom Lees of Sheffield Wednesday scores his side's first goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Sheffield Wednesday and Cardiff City at Hillsborough Stadium on December 29, 2019 in Sheffield, England. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 29: Tom Lees of Sheffield Wednesday scores his side's first goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Sheffield Wednesday and Cardiff City at Hillsborough Stadium on December 29, 2019 in Sheffield, England. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)
SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 29: Tom Lees of Sheffield Wednesday scores his side's first goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Sheffield Wednesday and Cardiff City at Hillsborough Stadium on December 29, 2019 in Sheffield, England. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images) | Getty Images

“We tried what felt like everything we could to try and change things, so this (the break) was probably the only other option now. Getting to the point where you go away, there’s a big break, and a chance to reset. I think the feeling of coming back now will be like a new season, even if it is the old season. I think it’ll have done the boys good, it’ll get some of the rubbish out of people’s minds, and that confidence hit will be forgotten. We can come back in fresh and start again, raring to go.”

The lockdown and lack of football has also given Lees – and his teammates, he thinks – time to reflect on what the sport means to fans, insisting that it will no longer be something that is ‘taken for granted’ when they are allowed to get back to work.

He added, “Ultimately we’re very lucky to be fit and healthy, and when you hear fans saying how much they want football back, it makes you realise the importance of it in everybody’s life. I don’t think anyone will be taking it for granted anymore.”

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Since his arrival in Sheffield back in 2014, no Wednesday player has played more games for SWFC than Lees, and as he approaches his 250th appearance in the blue and white stripes, he’s itching to get Wednesdayites back on side and show the form that got him the club captaincy in the first place.