Third time appears to be proving lucky for Mandaric

Sheffield Wednesday's Milan Mandaric
Sheffield Wednesday's Milan Mandaric
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Milan Mandaric feels that he was right to swallow his personal pride and bring Gary Megson to Sheffield Wednesday.

The former Portsmouth and Leicester City chairman had twice been let down by Megson in the past but opted to bury the hatchet for the good of his new club.

Manager Megson has duly led the Owls to second in the League One table, raising the possibility of a return to the Championship next season.

Owner and chairman Mandaric, currently celebrating his first anniversary at Hillsborough, turned to Megson after sacking Alan Irvine on February 3.

A former Wednesday player and lifelong supporter of the club, he ticked all the key boxes and was hungry to return to football after 12 months on gardening leave from Bolton Wanderers.

But Megson’s shock decision to quit Leicester just 41 days into the job had left a scar on Mandaric that was still fresh in the mind.

He also pulled the rug from under Mandaric’s feet at Portsmouth – accepting the manager’s job then performing a U-turn because he wanted to stay closer to home.

So when Mandaric, 73, revealed his intention to move for Megson for a third time, it inevitably raised eyebrows among some of his associates.

“People did ask why I would appoint someone who had let me down twice before,” he reflected in his office at Hillsborough. “But that was the past and it is what I needed today that mattered most.

“At Portsmouth, we interviewed a few managers the year after I had arrived. I came up to interview Gary and I went home to America telling everyone that he would be starting in two weeks’ time. But he called and said he couldn’t take the job because his wife didn’t want to move.

“I was very upset with him and, when he took the West Brom job, I told him ‘Gary, you let me down, didn’t you?’ He apologised but we kept in touch.

“At Leicester, I appointed him as manager and he had just started to organise things with the players. But after six or seven weeks, Bolton wanted permission to speak to him and he left, which was a disaster for me. We couldn’t pull out and everyone was upset but it shows that I am not vindictive or bitter.

“It doesn’t matter how I feel personally, it’s what I think is best for the club,” he stressed. “He was a manager with the experience, eager to get back into the job, and this was a special job at a club he loved. It all seemed to fit.

“We don’t have dinners or lunches together every day but there is a tremendous respect that goes both ways. It’s a professional relationship and we both have the same agenda.

“It is still too early to say that we are going to get promoted but the whole world knows that is our aim. And if there is anything in his character, I would hope that he is paying back to me what he owes me. I am happy I made the decision and it was the right one to make.”

Mandaric arrived at Hillsborough with a reputation for displaying a lack of patience towards managers. Irvine was the 14th casualty of his 12-year involvement in English football yet Megson is now his third-longest serving behind Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth and Nigel Pearson at Leicester.

“Some people say I am easy to let managers go but I am very sensitive about things being done right,” said Mandaric. “It doesn’t mean the managers I have let go are bad managers. They just didn’t fit the environment or into the team.

“It is not easy letting managers go. It costs money to settle and change the staff. But if it’s not working, you have to make changes. I don’t do it for the pleasure.”

One of the ironies of Irvine’s departure was that, in the previous month, Mandaric had helped him buy five new players. Rather than improving the team, however, it led to a dip in results.

With just three games to go before the New Year transfer window opens again, Mandaric has been in talks with Megson about what needs to be done.

“I spoke to Gary this week about January and he made the statement that we have lost only one out of the last 12 games. He says ‘who do we replace, who do you put out of the team?’ He is loyal to his team and, if they are doing well, why would he want to change it? It is a different situation to last year because now we have a team that is working.

“The No 1 priority is to secure the loan players who are helping drive the team – Danny Batth, Ben Marshall, Stephen Bywater, James Tavernier. We want to convert some of those deals into permanent moves and keep on improving. But if we lose some of those players, we will look at similar quality in the market and we won’t back off.”

Although there have been reports of possible fresh investment at Hillsborough, Mandaric is in no rush to leave and remains focused on leading the Owls back towards the Premier League.

“When I arrived, I made it clear that I didn’t know how long I would be here but I came with a mission to do something good,” he said. “Whatever happens in my time, I would like to leave in the right way so that the small fraction I participate in will have been very positive. When that day comes, I want to be able to look in the mirror and think I am happy with what I have done. I will do my job while I am here and hopefully, if I leave, I will be able to come back to friendly territory just like I can at Portsmouth and Leicester.

“We are just getting this boat moving in the right direction and I really feel good about the club. If I left tomorrow, I would leave something behind me that is working. The only condition I would leave is that the people who took it on follow the same direction that I have established.”

Looking ahead to this afternoon’s fixture, Mandaric said: “Every game is a big game but there will be more emotion because we are neighbours and two of the four teams fighting for automatic promotion.

“There is still a long way to go and another three games before we reach the halfway stage of the season. It is good to look at the table but it would be even better if we were are at the top.

“What is encouraging though is that, last season, we had a good month then a bad month. In football, you need consistency. A proper team bounces back from defeats or a poor first half. That’s what makes a good side and so far that is what we have done. Hopefully, it will continue.”