MANAGER Jos Luhukay insists there has been no fall-out with Hillsborough’s out-of-favour players as he strives for a “team for the future” at Sheffield Wednesday.
The Owls boss has frozen out the likes of Keiren Westwood, Sam Hutchinson, David Jones and George Boyd from first-team duties.
Last week at Birmingham City – when the Owls slipped to a third consecutive defeat – Luhukay opted to fill his bench with six players who have emerged from the club’s Academy rather than select his more experienced players.
It was a bold selection move that has divided opinion among Wednesday fans and fuelled several conspiracy theories.
But Luhukay yesterday met the media ahead of today’s Championship visit of Norwich City to set the record straight.
He insisted there had been no rifts with players, like Westwood or Hutchinson, two key figures in the Owls reaching back-to-back Championship play-offs in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
When pushed if there were clauses in player contracts that would trigger financial rewards if they continued to play games for the Owls – under a transfer embargo earlier this year due to financial problems – or intervention from chairman Dejphon Chansiri on team selection, Luhukay responded: “Absolutely not.”
He said: “I have never had a problem with these players. There is no situation where we have a problem between them.
“We have made decisions. They have not played enough minutes or games in the last 10 months, and we need in the Championship players who have the shape and physical side who are available for every training (session) and every game.
“That is why we make these decisions. You must have respect for that.”
Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Westwood has never played under Luhukay despite returning from long-term injury. His last game was on December 9 at Norwich.
The last time Hutchinson, 29, Boyd, 33, or Jones, 33, were seen in an Owls shirt was the League Cup loss to Wolverhampton in August.
Luhukay inherited an ageing squad when he arrived in January and the Dutchman has been keen to promote youngsters like Cameron Dawson, Jordan Thorniley and Matt Penney.
But the transition has not been easy, and three successive defeats – to Middlesbrough, QPR and Birmingham – have seen the Owls plummet from sixth to 15th in the table.
Luhukay said: “When we think one week back – the last week has been terrible for us with results – but we were in sixth position, and everyone was very positive, and, ‘maybe we can go to the Premier League’.
“But after one week and three games suddenly everything is negative. That is football, there is nothing in between.
“That’s why all your questions are about other players. When we won three games there were no questions about this.
“It is not a personal situation. We like every player in the team, but we have to make decisions and we stay behind that.
“You never know what the future is bringing and when we have players in our squad who can help us then we do it.
“But at this moment we have a lot of experienced players in the team. Also you need young players who have the dynamic, for example Matt Penney.
“We need young players who give the team spirit and dynamic.
“The players you speak of in the last 10 months have only played a couple of games – or not even one game.
“So it is not easy for these players to come back into the team, and to say, ‘I am fit and I can play’.
“At this moment they are not in the (match) squad, but you never know what the situation will be. But we have enough experienced players in the team and they must take responsibility.
“In defence, midfield and the strikers we have experience, Premier League players in the team.
“But you cannot play with 11 players where they are all older than 30. This team need a good balance and mix between older and younger players.
“This is a team for the future and gives the team a good direction.”
To add to Luhukay’s problems, injured duo Marco Matias and Fernando Forestieri have been ruled out today and for next week’s Steel City derby.
Wednesday desperately need to stop their losing streak today against a Norwich City side who have been thrashed 5-1 on their last two visits to Hillsborough.
The Owls then head to Championship leaders Sheffield United, and defeats against the Canaries and Blades would heap more pressure on Luhukay.
His selection decisions – in leaving out fans’ favourites Westwood and Hutchinson, in particular – have served to focus the spotlight on the manager’s position. But the Dutchman is confident Wednesday can halt their slide down the table.
He said: “I am responsible, I have the responsibility for winning games and losing games. But we must do it together. Every player and the team has responsibility. We win together and lose together.
“When you are winning games it is always the team and the players who have been good in the spotlight, but when you lose it’s always the coach and the negative side.
“The players are disappointed, angry. But the season is long and we must have the trust and belief that we can win the next game.
“The reality is the team must do better and we are trying everything to make it better.
“The trust is always there. I am not nervous. The situation is still the same as before only the position in the league and the last three games were not what we expected.”