MANAGER Jos Luhukay faces a summer challenge to reduce the average age of Sheffield Wednesday’s squad.
Set against the backdrop of Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, the Owls boss is looking to recruit several players in the 18-22 age bracket – while sticking to a tight budget – when the transfer window re-opens.
Luhukay and Owls owner Dejphon Chansiri have already met to discuss next season’s playing budget.
But there is unlikely to be a big transfer kitty as the club have to balance the books to avoid falling foul of FFP laws.
The Owls lost over £20m last season, due mainly to a £25m-plus wage bill, with the latest club accounts showing Chansiri pumped in £37.658m after taking over from Milan Mandaric in 2015.
FFP rules in the Football League state that clubs can lose up to £13m per season over a three-year period.
That means a more frugal approach when it comes to spending this summer for Luhukay, who replaced Carlos Carvalhal in January. The Owls have already told captain Glenn Loovens, 34, and winger Ross Wallace – who is 33 this month – their contracts will not be renewed this summer.
Other senior players such as goalkeeper Keiren Westwood, 33, and £8m record signing Jordan Rhodes have been linked with summer exits.
Offset against that is the return of long-term injured Gary Hooper, Steven Fletcher and Kieran Lee for pre-season.
The trio have yet to play under Luhukay, who has seen an upturn results – after a poor season in the Championship – following the return of Barry Bannan, Tom Lees and Fernando Forestieri from lengthy lay-offs.
But Luhukay’s recruitment plans will focus on young, emerging talent.
“We know the positions (to strengthen) and that is our job to do that,” Luhukay told The Yorkshire Post. “We must have time with that.
“Tom Lees, Barry Bannan and Fernando have come back in the last weeks and these players have quality and made the team stronger.
“We have seen that in the last weeks and games so we are very happy with that.
“When the other long-term injured players come back they also have quality and maybe in the future we must be creative with the new players to come here.
“I have spoken with the chairman about the budget. I’m happy. We have open conversations and the communication is there. We know what direction we will go.
“We start pre-season on June 25. Hopefully the players can make a good pre-season and have no problem with their old injuries.
“The medical team hope the players will make good progression in the next weeks also and hopefully they can start with us.”
On the impact of FFP, Luhukay added: “It is not what I’m thinking about.
“It’s important for me (that) I look to our young Academy players and I’m working always with the club at what is possible.
“When it is not possible I must live with that. The club, the team and me together must be in a good direction and that’s what I must try to do.”
Academy duo George Hirst, 19, and Sean Clare, 21, have yet to sign new deals at Hillsborough.
But Wednesday would be due compensation for the youngsters if they depart when their contracts expire next month due to their age.
Asked for an update, Luhukay replied: “I don’t know. They have the contracts. They can stay with us, they can sign, but it depends on them.
“It’s a decision the players must make for their own futures. I think our Academy has done fantastic work.
“We have an example with Cammy (Cameron Dawson). He did a fantastic job last Saturday. He’s 22 and came here as a young boy. So did Joe (Wildsmith).
“They have identification with the fans. It’s very positive and that’s what we would like to do in the future.
“We want to give our young players a chance to play with us, not just train. A lot of players have trained with us in the last few months and they have come into the squad and also played.”
On the departures of Loovens and Wallace, Luhukay added: ”We had to make a decision. Glenn is 34 and will be 35 this year so we made the decision that Glenn can make his own future and what he would like to do.
“I think we have enough experienced players in the team. We will look to young players who can develop also here with us and the team and with this club. It’s what we will try to do.
“He (Wallace) is a very good player and good character. But his age is also not where we think about in his position.
“We know what he can do, but we must also look to the future and the future is not for Ross at this age.
“We must look for players at the age of 18-22, 23 so that’s why we made the decision.”