2018-19 preview: Intensive approach key for Sheffield Wednesday

Wednesday chief Jos Luhukay: Busy times ahead.
Wednesday chief Jos Luhukay: Busy times ahead.
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FIFTEEN games inside a little over two months was the daunting schedule that welcomed Jos Luhukay to English football at the start of this year.

Even to someone with the best part of 40 years in the game, including the past two decades as a coach, such a rapid turnover of matches took some getting used to for the new Sheffield Wednesday manager.

It also meant Luhukay had little opportunity to sample anything of his new surroundings, his daily routine being restricted to the commute between the club’s Middlewood Road training base and home. Fast-forward several months and little, if anything, has changed.

“At first it was just training ground and apartment for me in Sheffield,” the Dutchman told The Yorkshire Post. “I am still the same now. I have a lot of work to do. I do not have time to go visit other places.”

Luhukay’s dedication to the job is commendable. Nor is it a surprise to those who have followed a coaching career that has included three promotions to Bundesliga 2.

He has always been a coach who demands commitment from players as total as his own. Such a single-minded outlook is why the many delights that the Steel City has to offer have so far eluded Luhukay.

One aspect of his adopted country, however, with which Luhukay is fully up to speed is the Championship.

“I learned that this is a very intensive league during my time here last season,” said the 55-year-old. “With a lot of games and a lot of times where the next game is only two or three days after the last one.

“That makes it very hard for the players. I learned from those five months last season and my job now is to use that experience to help Sheffield Wednesday.

“It did surprise me a little bit that there are not many what I call ‘normal weeks’, from Saturday to Saturday, to train the players.

“The planning is not so easy because of that. The time for training can be small, that is why I knew I wanted the players to be very fit for the new season.

“We need to be intensive all the time in games. We cannot rest. I wanted them to have a good recovery after last season but then be ready to get in a very good physical shape. They have done that.

“We need to not have as many injuries as last season. That is very important.”

Ah yes, injuries. At one stage last season, Luhukay had no less than 16 players out. Kieren Westwood, Steven Fletcher and Gary Hooper – all key players under predecessor Carlos Carvalhal – are still to play a competitive minute for the Dutchman, who also had to cope without Barry Bannan and Fernando Forestieri until March.

The return of Bannan and Forestieri helped revitalise Wednesday, who finished strongly via six wins and a draw from the final nine games. By then, Luhukay’s ability to improve players had become apparent with Adam Reach, Atdhe Nuhiu and Lucas Joao all having stepped up a gear.

Joey Pelupessy, the one signing he has been able to make amid the need to comply with Financial Fair Play, also blossomed during those final few weeks.

“I am a person who likes being on the training field,” added Luhukay. “That is where I am most happy.”

In appointing Luhukay just five days into the new year, Wednesday went for the polar opposite of their previous manager. Where the charismatic Carvalhal had loved to regale the Yorkshire press with the kind of analogies that soon became his trademark in the Premier league, Luhukay is much more guarded. Little is given away.

Training is also said to be much more intense under a manager renowned in Germany for being a strict disciplinarian, Luhukay having once famously dropped two players to the bench for the final game of a season that had already brought promotion due to the pair having turned up a couple of minutes late for a team meeting.

That came at Augsburg in 2011, his other promotions having been won when at the helm of Borussia Monchengladbach (2008) and Hertha Berlin (2013). Asked if there was one characteristic that those three successful sides shared, Luhukay replied: “They all believed in each other. That was very important.

“We could not have been successful without that. We also played a very offensive style. When possible, we wanted to dominate games and create a lot of chances.

“Sheffield Wednesday became like that at the end of last season. We have to do that again in the new season.”

A summer that has seen FFP rules cast a long shadow over Hillsborough means few outside S6 expect Wednesday to be in the running for promotion.

The need to trim a squad that become bloated under Carvalhal has been the priority as the Owls look to slash outgoings after posting a £20m loss in their most recent set of accounts for 2016-17, more than double the previous year’s deficit.

This has not made life easy for Luhukay and explains why he is still yet to stray much further than the club’s training ground, even on the days when he is supposedly off. “Confidence is important,” he added. “We must have lots of belief and a good start can give us that.”