“A true gentleman and the best manager Owls have had in decades” were the words used by several Wednesdayites to describe Carlos Carvalhal following his Hillsborough exit.
There’s no denying that Carvalhal left a lasting impression on the Championship club.
His two-and-a-half-year reign was a memorable ride. Carvalhal woke up the giant and he did it his way.
And I covered Carvalhal’s extraordinary tenure every step of the way.
From his official unveiling in the Dooley Suite to his final press conference in the bowels of Hillsborough, no one in the British press interviewed the 52-year-old Portuguese more than I did.
Oozing style and charisma, Carvalhal was a fun and unpredictable person to deal with on a weekly basis.
Carvalhal didn’t agree with everything I wrote and there were a number of occasions where he objected to my line of questioning at pre and post-match press conferences. But Carvalhal recognised I had a job to do and I was not there to be a cheerleader for the club. There was mutual respect.
I was lucky enough to get to know, a bit, the man behind the manager and what made Carvalhal tick. He took Sheffield to his heart and was frequently spotted dining out in the city. He particularly enjoyed eating at Italian restaurant Nonna’s, on Ecclesall Road. Occasionally he treated himself to a glass of a red wine after a long hard day at the training ground.
From time to time Carvalhal went riding on his mountain bike up around North Derbyshire to take his mind off the stress and pressure of management. He stopped going cycling in the final few months of his reign.
His wife and two children flew out to visit him in England when they could. Carvalhal, and his Portuguese assistants, would often go back to their homeland over international breaks.
Carvalhal is an intelligent, charming, classy man. He speaks multiple languages and his English is good but far from word perfect. Sometimes his message got lost in translation.
But Carvalhal’s quirky one-liners and odd metaphors made him a big hit with the press and the fans.
Carvalhal also had a fiery, ruthless streak in him. He was not afraid of upsetting people.
If your face did not fit with Carvalhal, he took no prisoners.
He did not see eye-to-eye with the committee, consisting of Paul Senior, Jonathan Hill and Glenn Roeder, from the off. The trio were quickly relocated from the offices at their Middlewood Road training complex to Hillsborough. The committee was disbanded less than six months after Carvalhal’s arrival.
It could be a lonely place for players as well if you weren’t under Carvalhal’s ‘umbrella’, just ask Darryl Lachman, Claude Dielna, Sergiu Bus and Lewis McGugan. Carvalhal placed the quartet on the transfer list and forced them to train with the Under-23s.
Carvalhal vehemently denied he fell out with McGugan, a proven performer at this level, but he refused to turn to the midfielder even when they were short of options in the middle of the park.
Generally, Carvalhal’s squad was a happy bunch in his first year in charge. Individually and collectively the team were in a good place. Carvalhal had everyone pushing in the same direction.
But the cracks started to emerge at the start of the 2016/17 campaign. Carvalhal stood his ground on the Fernando Forestieri saga. He won that internal battle, with the talented forward later apologising to him, his teammates and chairman Dejphon Chansiri for refusing to play at Norwich City.
Competition for places also increased significantly which made Carvalhal’s job harder to keep everyone happy. The dressing room dynamic changed. More players knocked on his office door asking why they were not getting a look-in in his side.
Carvalhal normally named his team the day before a match and frequently left it to his backroom staff to inform players that they would not be featuring.
His relationship with some senior players deteriorated over time. Carvalhal was involved in a heated bust-up with one individual over his recovery from injury earlier this year.
And Carvalhal also clashed with the physios over the treatment of a number of his injured players. Injuries to key stars such as Forestieri, Tom Lees, Kieran Lee and Gary Hooper hit them hard last term. In Lee’s case, he was rushed back too soon from his hip problem.
After the Owls’ second successive promotion near-miss, Carvalhal parted company with his medical team as part of a summer shake-up. In came new physios.
But Wednesday have continued to pick up lots of injuries this season.
One source said: “Pre-season training wasn’t anywhere near hard enough for the players to gain a base fitness that carries them through the season. Hence why so many injuries were picked up in the first half of seasons under Carvalhal.
“Training in general was not intense enough. Players only got conditioning from actual matches.”
There was no cross-country running, sprints or shuttle runs during their warm-weather training camp in Portugal. It was all ball-related work.
Their fitness levels and sluggish starts to matches have been questioned by observers on a regular basis this season. Opponents have exploited this weakness in their armoury.
It should be stressed at this point that Carvalhal, overall, did a good job and never shirked his responsibilities. He made mistakes but constantly fronted up to the media.
Off the field, Carvalhal was a great ambassador for the club. He attended Owls in the Park every year and visited the Children’s Hospice to offer sick children some festive cheer just days before his departure.
Carvalhal is an engaging character and is unlikely to be out of football management for long.
His replacement at S6 has got big shoes to fill.