Sheffield Wednesday face summer rebuild, but is Garry Monk the man to lead it
Senior players Steven Fletcher, Fernando Forestieri, Morgan Fox, Kieran Lee, Joey Pelupessy, Atdhe Nuhiu, Sam Winnall and Sam Hutchinson are out of contract in the summer. Keiren Westwood and Jordan Rhodes, currently frozen out along with Hutchinson, are not. January’s signings all came on loan.
Their brush with financial fair play was a stark reminder the reorganisation needs to take place on more sensible financial grounds. Signings like Rhodes only made sense if they delivered instant promotion, and they did not.
The Owls only avoided punishment for breaking the Football League’s “profit and sustainability” rules by selling Hillsborough to owner Dejphon Chansiri and leasing it back. It is not something they can do twice, and the way they did it could yet land them in big trouble.
If their finances are so shaky in the Championship – even making a £38m profit on Hillsborough, they still lost £28m over the last three years of accounts – imagine how much more difficult it will be in League One?
It is not just financially where things need to change. In the aftermath of Saturday’s Griffin Park surrender, manager Garry Monk hinted darkly about a “deep-rooted culture”. When asked to elaborate about his apparent discomfort with the club’s approach to recruitment by a radio reporter recently, he said a press conference to preview the FA Cup tie with Manchester City was not the time.
Given that all games are so important at the moment – more vital than an FA Cup game against the Premier League champions – it is hard to know when the right time will come.
Had Monk been the only manager to put Westwood and Hutchinson in the deep freeze, we might dismiss it as a clash of personalities, but repeating what Jos Luhukay did is more troubling.
The pattern of under-achievement from largely the same players makes assessing the manager’s culpability harder.
Normally you would reason it is far easier to change one manager than a group of players, and between now and May it is, but come the summer the group will be ripped up. They cannot wait until then to turn their fortunes.
The buck really falls with Chansiri, the hardest to remove.
Since Christmas, Wednesday have won only two of 14 league matches. They are nine points above the relegation zone, seven off the play-offs, which under normal circumstances would suggest they can freewheel to the end-of-season reboot. But that nine-point cushion could easily be taken away in a points deduction for the sale of Hillsborough.
What is frustrating is we know what the squad is capable of.
One of the two wins was at Elland Road, they also knocked Brighton and Hove Albion out of the Cup on their own patch. Before the run started they were third in the Championship. Most Owls managers start well until the novelty wears off. Steve Bruce did not hang around long enough to discover what happens next.
The 1-0 defeat to Manchester City was an exercise in damage limitation, but a successful one from players willing to graft. The comeback at Birmingham City, like hammering away at Charlton Athletic until finally scoring the game’s only goal in its fifth added minute, pointed to determination. That Fletcher and Fox rushed back early from injury to play spoke well of two players whose contracts the club are looking to extend.
But this is the team which conceded four first-half goals at Brentford on Saturday, three before half-time at home to Blackburn Rovers in January, and not only handed Reading their first league win in eight matches, but did so by losing 3-0 at home.
Monk had a good initial 18 months at Swansea City, but was sacked midway through his second full season. He put Leeds United firmly in the 2017 Championship play-off picture, only to fall away in the last eight matches. He impressed enough to earn another year, but rejected it. “Smashing” the division with Middlesbrough did not work out, and his steady hand on the tiller served Birmingham City well after a nine-point deduction, only to be sacked because of a breakdown in trust with the owner.
Losing his fifth managerial job so soon after his 41st birthday could be costly for him too.
The Owls need someone who can motivate this team to more good days than bad, and preferably none of those shockers. Can Monk do that?
History suggests a new face might be able to, but the squad will just fall back into its old ways. It is a formula only for treading water, and a club of their stature deserves so much more.
The answer is to find the right man and trust him to take the scalpel to the squad this summer.
But treading water is a lot more appealing when you are sinking like a stone.