The Owls are a big club with a proud history and large fanbase, but the inability of their chairman, Dejphon Chansiri, to recognise the reality of their current situation on the pitch and in the boardroom as he finally did on the balance sheet piled on problems a decaying squad was not good enough to overcome.
History and support only take a club so far. Now Wednesday will spend next season in League One alongside Ipswich Town, Portsmouth, Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanderers, all of whom have played European football since they were last in the Premier League.
Then-manager Garry Monk recognised the need to let fresh air into a squad which had grown stale – it was obvious after the post-Christmas 2019 collapse – but with spending restricted by Covid-19, having already played the ‘Get out of jail free’ card of selling Hillsborough and seeing their pulling power restricted by the 12-point deduction for the ham-fisted way they did, the recruitment drive was modest despite the loss of big players led by top-scorer Steven Fletcher.
Josh Windass, on loan the previous season, and Callum Paterson proved shrewd additions but the rest were free transfers and loans who had negligible impact.
Chey Dunkley could blame injuries for restricting him to 10 starts but it should hardly have come as a surprise when he joined with a broken leg. Loanees Jack Marriott and Aden Flint had injury problems, too, and Izzy Brown, Korede Adedoyin, Elias Kachunga, Fisayo Dele-Bashiru and Andre Green made very little impression, most of them developing players thrust into a difficult situation.
Reining in spending was necessary from a chairman who pumped huge amounts of his own money into the club in previous years but that realism was not matched elsewhere in his head.
When Chansiri spoke to the media on November 5, the Owls were still bottom of the Championship, despite their deduction having been halved.
“We still hope we can push for the play-offs or even go up automatically,” said Chansiri.
Ambition is an important part of sport but when it crosses into delusion, it can be become extremely dangerous.
Elsewhere in that briefing, Chansiri expressed support for Monk, whom he sacked one game later. Monk was not a popular manager and the football his team played was far from thrilling, but despite the Chansiri-inflicted handicap he was picking up points at a rate which would have kept the team up – just.
The chairman’s impatience was followed by what seemed a realistically safe appointment in Tony Pulis but he appeared to have no faith in the squad, no clear direction and no relationship with Chansiri, and in 10 weeks the axe fell again.
If Pulis’s tenure was wasted time, so was having a caretaker manager for 13 mid-season matches. That is no disrespect to Neil Thompson, who picked up 15 valuable points, but it meant another change of direction and no opportunity for Darren Moore, who played a far more progressive brand of football than his three immediate predecessors, to bring in players suited to it when he took over in March.
Errors like the one which allowed Swansea City to lead at Hillsborough when Tom Lees was asked to take on the role of ball-playing defender despite a much more no-nonsense natural style highlighted that.
Six points from safety with 14 games to play, Moore’s task was difficult and luck was against him, missing matches as Thompson had through Covid-19 – three in Moore’s case – then four more with its after-effects, pneumonia and blood clots on his lungs.
He looks a good choice to rebuild the club at pitch level, but a similar job is needed above it, where Chansiri is effectively chairman, chief executive, director of football and board, supported by an unknown number of unknown “advisers” of unknown footballing pedigree.
Chansiri needs to accept he is not good enough to spin all those plates – who is? – and the advice he is getting is not helping.
When it comes to what Moore can control, there is far more optimism. Allowing so many contracts – 13 senior players – to run down at once at least allows him to address that staleness.
April’s 5-0 win at home to Cardiff City showed the Owls’ ability, the 4-1 defeat at Queens Park Rangers five days later why it was not amounting to anything.
Once-reliable players such as goalkeeper Keiren Westwood have become increasingly error- and injury-prone, others showed they were no longer or never as good as their wage packets implied.
Despite the mixture of a rotting squad and sub-standard replacement parts they very nearly summoned enough to pull through.
Barry Bannan wants to stay on and should be as out of place in League One as former Owls loanee Aiden McGeady is.
Jettisoned in the summer, brought back in the winter, Sam Hutchinson is another whose love for the club ought to make him worth building around. Dunkley showed leadership when fit.
Osaze Urhoghide looked good, too, but like Celtic-bound Luke Shaw, the failure to tie him down to a new contract may be costly.
The loyalty of players often not been paid on time during the pandemic will be stretched, and those who have played well might think they have earned the right to remain in the Championship.
There is a huge amount to do, but it needs to start with honest self-assessment.
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