THERE have been times this season when Sheffield Wednesday fans actually questioned whether the club had actually signed Frederico Venancio.
The 24-year-old – who started out this season playing for Vitoria Setubal against Sporting in Portugal’s top flight – failed to make a single Owls appearance before December 23, after arriving on a season-long loan in August.
Despite injuries and loss of form, as Wednesday slipped down the Championship table, former Owls head coach Carlos Carvalhal refused to select his compatriot.
So it was somewhat ironic that Venancio’s long-awaited bow in English football – four long months since moving to Sheffield – would prove to be Carvalhal’s final game in charge.
Since that Middlesbrough game, two days before Christmas, the centre-back has started to settle into the robust nature of the Championship.
Four successive clean sheets are evidence of this, and he has started all three games – including Saturday’s 0-0 stalemate with promotion-chasing Cardiff City – under new manager Jos Luhukay.
“It was hard at the beginning, but I understood it (not playing) because there are a lot of talented players here,” said Venancio.
“I knew it was going to be a difficult challenge because all the players in this team have talent and quality.
“I just needed to carry on working hard and wait for my opportunity. My opportunity has now come and I’m trying to impress the new coach and make him feel that he can trust me.”
With centre-backs Tom Lees and Joost van Aken out with long-term injuries and captain Glenn Loovens suspended, Venancio’s patience is finally paying off.
He said: “It is a really hard challenge for me. I’m playing in a different league against different players.
“I’m still learning about the different culture, but I’m trying my best to learn every day from all of the lads and I’m enjoying it.
“It was my dream to play in England and I just want to help the team and the club.
“As a player, you don’t want to be in the stand; you want to be on the pitch helping your team mates and I’m doing that now, and I’m happy about that.”
I would love it to become a permanent move come the end of the season. I will do my best to make that happen, but it is not in my hands.Sheffield Wednesday’s Frederico Venancio
Venancio has certainly had his fair share of defensive partners since Luhukay took charge and opted to play with three centre-backs.
He was paired with the experienced duo of Loovens and Daniel Pudil at Sheffield United before guiding rookie pair Conor O’Grady and Frederik Nielsen through their Hillsborough debuts in the FA Cup win over Carlisle.
There was another Owls debutant against Cardiff in 21-year-old Jordan Thorniley, who featured alongside Venancio and Pudil.
Whatever the personnel, Luhukay’s switch to a 3-5-2 formation has helped plug Wednesday’s leaky defence.
But against Cardiff they were guilty of spurning several chances to score.
After a timid opening 40 minutes, Wednesday suddenly found an attacking impetus as Lucas Joao and Jordan Rhodes combined in attack.
Rhodes – with six goals to his credit this season – should have done better when he found space six yards out to get on the end of David Jones’s free-kick, but he headed over.
Portuguese international Joao then turned provider, slipping Rhodes clear, one-on-one with goalkeeper Neil Etheridge.
But the former Huddersfield Town poacher saw his shot saved, and Adam Reach blasted the loose ball over the bar.
After the break, it was the turn of Joao – who has netted just twice this season – to be frustrating in front of goal.
First, the 24-year-old dragged a shot wide of Etheridge’s goal before his header – after an inviting cross from Rhodes – lacked the power to trouble the Cardiff goalkeeper.
The Bluebirds had the ball in the net on 13 minutes, but Kenneth Zohore’s effort was ruled out for a foul on Thorniley.
It was a decision that had Cardiff manager Neil Warnock yearning for the “olden days”.
He said: ”That’s never a foul in a million years. In the olden days, they wouldn’t have even thought about that being a foul.”
Yanic Wildschut and Marko Grujic both had good chances for the visitors, but Joe Wildsmith – standing in for the injured Keiren Westwood – put in another good shift with the gloves.
The stalemate left Wednesday with just one victory from their last 12 Championship games.
But Venancio – who is on a season-long loan from Vitoria Setubal – was happy to take the positives out of another clean sheet.
“It was a really tough challenge. They are a hard team, but we did well. We were solid at the back and created some chances.”
As for the future, Venancio is hoping he can impress Luhukay to earn a permanent deal at Hillsborough in the summer.
“I would love it to become a permanent move come the end of the season,” he said. “I will do my best to make that happen, but it is not in my hands.
“I can control what I do on the pitch, but after that it is down to the chairman of the club.”
Sheffield Wednesday: Wildsmith, Venancio, Pudil, Thorniley, Palmer, Wallace (Boyd 81), Jones, Reach, Fox, Rhodes (Matias 72), Joao (Nuhiu). Unused substitutes: Dawson, Hunt, Pelupessy, Clare.
Cardiff City: Etheridge, Manga, Morrison, Bamba, Richards, Grujic (Paterson 78), Ralls, Bennett, Wildschut (Mendez-Laing 71), Hoilett (Harris 83), Zohore. Unused substitutes: Pilikington, Halford, Damour, Murphy.
Referee: R East.