Sheffield Wednesday v Ipswich: Ex-painter Harlee Dean aims to grasp his chance with Owls

AS someone who has sampled working life away from football – in his case as a painter and decorator – Harlee Dean prides himself on not taking anything for granted amid the seemingly exalted life of being a professional.

He has seen life on the other side and is grateful for the opportunities that the game has afforded him after coming up the hard way – via first club Dagenham and Redbridge and non-league spells at the likes of Bishop’s Stortford, Thurrock and Grays Athletic.

This week, he spoke of a hunger and desire to do well in his opening utterances after joining Sheffield Wednesday on loan for the rest of the season. All well and good, most would say.

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In truth, those sort of comments can be bog-standard and slightly hackneyed when players switch clubs. But in Dean’s case, you quickly come to the realisation that he really does mean it and what you see is what you get.

Birmingham City defender Harlee Dean is relishing his loan move to Sheffield Wednesday. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)Birmingham City defender Harlee Dean is relishing his loan move to Sheffield Wednesday. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
Birmingham City defender Harlee Dean is relishing his loan move to Sheffield Wednesday. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Having swapped Birmingham – where he was captain before dropping out of favour in late autumn – for Wednesday, the centre-half will embrace his time at Hillsborough for all it is worth.

A leader and organiser on the pitch, with the passion to go with it, early impressions suggest that Dean is cut from the same cloth as other senior defensive figures of yore to represent the club at this level.

Names such as Rob Jones and Darren Purse spring to mind.

Dean said: “I started in non-league and was painting houses before I’d play a match. I know how lucky I am and I’d never let my standards drop for anybody.

Owls boss Darren Moore.  Picture: Steve EllisOwls boss Darren Moore.  Picture: Steve Ellis
Owls boss Darren Moore. Picture: Steve Ellis
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“It is real life, but I am not going to say it’s this, that and the other. That is my life and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

“I feel like it has made me a better person for having those experiences and I don’t ever take it for granted.

“I will never get comfortable and sit back and relax and I won’t let other people do that and that is why I was probably captain at both (main) clubs I have been at (Brentford and Birmingham).

“I try and lead by example and demand off other people. I won’t do it in a ‘shouty’ way in front of everyone. I am more about having a quiet word in someone’s ear and say this is how we do it better. It maybe goes unnoticed.”

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Dean’s comments relating to ‘comfortable’ have clear context.

Earlier this week, Birmingham manager Lee Bowyer, speaking after the midweek draw with Peterborough, said that Dean was among a group of Blues players who needed a change from their ‘comfort zone’ at the club.

The centre-half took the comments on board and admitted to being left ‘disappointed’ by them.

Dean said: “He (Bowyer) had never said that to me personally and to then say it in the press, I was a little bit disappointed – especially as I was club captain and I pride myself on leading by example, day in day out.

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“I think he maybe just meant it in a different way in that the club had been in that situation for four years running and I had been a main part of that squad.

“I could look at it the other way and if other players such as Lukas Jutkiewicz (and myself), perhaps if we weren’t there, then perhaps they’d never have stayed up.

“He is just trying to change the culture and the dynamic of that dressing room with younger players which is what a lot of clubs are doing. I have no issue between me and the manager at all.

“It was a business decision (to move) and they were open with that and I accepted it. I never got comfortable, I said that in the starting interview here.”

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After fighting fires at the wrong end of the Championship during spells of his time in the Midlands, Dean has a different mission in a different league and a different area of table at a club whose supporters are every bit as demanding and expectant.

The similarity between both Blues and the Owls extends much further than their traditional blue and white colours and the fact that both operate in football-mad cities.

He continued: “It is something to fight for and I wanted that feel good factor and good dressing room atmosphere back with the expectancy to win games.

“You underestimate that in terms of your head (mind) and enjoyment outside of football.

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“It is funny, but I have thought about this. This is pressure, but I remember the promotion and play-off seasons at Brentford and you don’t even see it as pressure. You just see it as excitement and the next game and going to try and win it.

“At Birmingham, when we could have got relegated, that was pressure. This is enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong, there will be times when it is tough and not as good as people have expected.

“But that’s football – it is about how you react and having more positives than negatives.”

When it comes to his time at Hillsborough, he is very much ‘all in’ for the ride.

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He certainly plans to help himself, hopefully by earning a longer-term contract at the club, having come to the realisation that his time at St Andrew’s is effectively over – even despite the fact that he has another season left on his deal.

If that does not transpire, he hopes to put himself in the shop window for something elsewhere at least.

Dean added: “I am always all in. My ‘old man’ says that if you are going to do something, you are going to do it properly.

“That is how I live my life, really – fully invested and I am very excited.

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“This is a two-club city and you are either red or blue, aren’t you..It is similar to Birmingham – a massive club with a massive history and a sleeping giant.

“It has been in a bit of a backward cycle for a while, but if it did get into a forward one – which I think the manager is starting to do, it will just get better and better and hopefully I can play a small part in turning that wheel.”

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