Mandaric leaves door open for return to game he dearly loves

Owls Chairman Milan Mandaric waves goodbye to the fans
Owls Chairman Milan Mandaric waves goodbye to the fans
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At 76, Milan Mandaric could be forgiven for wanting to enjoy his retirement and avoid the stressful world of owning a football club.

After selling Sheffield Wednesday last month for £37.5m to Thailand businessman Dejphon Chansiri, he certainly deserves a break after four years of hard toil at Hillsborough.

Take in his shifts at previous clubs Portsmouth and Leicester City – where he did a “firefighting job” before promotion and success – and it’s been a 16-year love affair with English football.

Remember this is the football fanatic that lured George Best to play for the San Jose Eearthquakes in the Seventies. He has also owned clubs in Belgium and France. Football is in his blood.

What Mandaric has done at Wednesday – where he found a club divided, splintered with different factions after years of in-fighting and decline on the pitch – will have come as no surprise to Pompey and Leicester fans.

For he used the same tried-and-tested template; offering leadership, endearing himself to fans by engaging with them and offering them light at the end of a dark tunnel.

After uniting the Owls, he guided them to promotion from League One – repaying his belief in the controversial sacking of fans’ favourite Gary Meson along the way – and has established them back in the Championship.

Their promotion push faded away this season as Wednesday lacked the financial resources to strengthen last summer, something Chansiri’s arrival should change.

So what legacy does Mandaric feel he has left behind?

“My legacy is, whenever I go to my previous clubs, whether Portsmouth or Leicester, I am more than welcome,” Mandaric told The Yorkshire Post. “I did what I promised to those clubs.

“I took all three clubs in big difficulties, put the heart back into the club. They have all been done to the same formula, the relationship with the supporters, knowing that it is their club.

“Every club I left it without any further debt, and in good hands.

“Even Portsmouth, the guy I sold to did well after I left. After that something happened and it breaks my heart to see what happened to such a great club.”

In the short-term, Mandaric wants to give more time to his other “neglected” businesses, and family.

But he dropped the broadest hint, to date, that English football has not seen the back of one of the game’s most colourful characters.

“If I said this is my last (club), I would be lying to you,” he said. “If I said I am going to take a club at the end of the season, it’s also not true at this point. I need some rest, to pick up some of the neglected areas, like a project I have in Slovenia, and my investments back in America.

“Everyone knows I love the game, I have been in football all my life, we will see how long I can go before I get involved again.”

Packing up his Hillsborough office has been an emotional wrench for Mandaric, who admits it will be tough to adjust to life without a direct involvement in the club.

“Leaving this special club, realising my mission is finished, is strange,” he said.

“Without the supporters’ trust it would have made things very difficult to arrive at the point where we can hand over the club to somebody else, who can accelerate the programme and meet the next objective.”

Expect to see Mandaric getting up for the challenge of saving another fallen English giant in the not-too-distant future.