THERE is a banner that is displayed at the back of the Hillsborough Kop which reads ‘Xbana Milan: This city is ours’.
It is a simple message which Sheffield Wednesday supporters have extra reason to reflect on this morning after owner Milan Mandaric yesterday agreed to sell the Owls for £30m to Thailand businessman Dejphon Chansiri.
Mandaric stepped in to rescue the Owls from financial strife four years ago, helping to stabilise the former Premier League side who were languishing in League One.
His money and business nous helped bring unity and stability to S6 and helped fuel promotion to the Championship. Along the way he refused to shy away from major decisions, none more so than sacking manager Gary Megson – an Owls legend whose father Don had led Wednesday in the 1966 FA Cinal – just days after beating the Blades in the Steel City derby in 2012.
It split supporters, before and after the appointment of Dave Jones, who would embark on an unbeaten run to pinch promotion back to the Championship at the expense of their cross-city neighbours.
But Mandaric, 76, was proven right with promotion being reward for his single-minded and ruthless approach to getting the job done at Wednesday. With the ultimate target of a return to the Premier League.
Even in the four short years since Mandaric arrived in Sheffield, the financial landscape has changed beyond recognition in the Championship, as clubs chase the lure of top-flight football and the golden pot of money.
To compete for promotion, Wednesday simply have not had the financial resources to take on clubs flush with cash, mainly due to parachute payments after relegation from the Premier League. The Owls were losing £5m a year just surviving.
That is why Mandaric accepted the need to open discussions with interested buyers who could spend more aggressively and finish the job which the Serbian-born businessman had started.
He came close to selling up to Azerbaijani busisessman Hafiz Mammadov in the summer, only for the deal to collapse.
That takeover always seemed to be shrouded in mystery as to where the money was coming from.
But with Chansiri’s family owning the Thai Union Frozen Group – the world’s largest producers of tuna – there seems to be nothing remotely fishy about this deal.
Whether Chansiri’s time at Hillsborough will be a success, only time will tell.
In the short-term, Owls head coach Stuart Gray needs to be given funds to bring in a couple of attack-minded players.
The foundations have been set, and while gatecrashing the play-offs is an outside bet this year, promotion back to the top-flight after a 15-year absence for Wednesday next term must be the mission statement.
Longer-term, Hillsborough needs to be given a facelift as some parts of the famous old stadium have seen better days, not least a new scoreboard to bring the club into the 21st century. Money also needs to be invested into the club’s Academy set-up, to help deliver the players for tomorrow.
But for now, Wednesday and their supporters owe a debt of gratitude to Mandaric – who remember is a businessman not a philanthropist – for his time in charge at Hillsborough.
Maybe now the Kop banner should be updated – ‘Thank you Milan: This city is yours’.