MENTION the word ‘promotion’ and that particular ambition has not quite been extinguished in the eyes of Daniel Pudil.
The Sheffield Wednesday defender is approaching senior status. Time’s winged chariot is hurrying along for the Czech, who is conscious of his 33rd birthday, which looms next month.
But the hope that convinced him to head to Hillsborough has not faded although he readily accepts that, as far as 2018-19 is concerned, it could well be a case of now or never.
The cards dealt to Wednesday are not kind. It is an open secret that the club are stymied in the transfer window due to Financial Fair Play issues. It is now others who are spending big in pursuit of the Premier League.
But Pudil, whose first season at the club ended in Wembley heartache against Yorkshire rivals Hull City in May, 2016, is not giving up the ghost.
Pudil, who admits that in an ideal world he will see out his career at Wednesday after signing a new 12-month deal last Spring, said: “Probably it will be my last chance. I will be 33 in September, let’s see if I can have another two or three years maybe over here, so this will be one of my last chances to get in the Premier league.
“Since I came I have tried to do my best in every single game and get close to the Premier League. It did not happen, but let’s see what will happen this season.
“It is always motivation for me. Wherever I have been I have tried to give my best and have had success wherever I have been. I am a little sad that promotion did not happen in the first season I came as we were quite close to the Premier League.
“But this is another challenge for me to improve myself and play the best football of my career and help Sheffield Wednesday go as far as possible.
“I am glad I signed for another year and that I can stay next season and I will do everything for Sheffield Wednesday and the fans to get at least in the top six and make them proud again.”
Pudil retains an inkling of hope and so do Wednesdayites, emphatically showcased by 4,500 travelling fans descending upon the DW Stadium today.
The Lancashire venue was famously where Jordan Rhodes made his much-heralded Owls debut back on a winter’s night in early 2017, a time when the glare of the spotlight was fully thrust upon Wednesday in their quest for promotion.
Now the pressure is on the shoulders of others just as it was in the Owls’ renaissance season of 2015-16 when their promotion push was thoroughly unexpected. Not such a bad thing then.
“We are not under as much pressure,” observed Pudil. “We know the chairman wants to go to the Premier League and so do we. We know the fans at Hillsborough want us to play a nice game and play nice football, but the pressure is somewhere else, not on us.
We know the chairman wants to go to the Premier League and so do we. We know the fans at Hillsborough want us to play a nice game and play nice football, but the pressure is somewhere else, not on us.Daniel Pudil
“To be honest, I am glad with the squad we have right now as last season we had 12 players injured who did not have the chance to play much.
“For the manager it is like he has so many new players as he did not see them play last season. We have confidence in our squad and I believe we can do well.
“When I came we had a great two seasons in getting to the final and semi-finals and seasons like the last one can happen to anyone in the Championship.
“We know we have to do much better and everyone has been more focused on pre-season and the first game of the season.”
Pudil’s emboldened feeling is based on practicality. It is undeniable that Wednesday, regardless of being hamstrung in the transfer market, currently have more workable options to chose from this season. The treatment room is far less congested and young players have stepped up and injected vitality.
Form at the tailend of last season was also encouraging and a rigorous pre-season also suggests that the Owls will be Championship-ready and fit for purpose in 2018-19, with the fitness regime far removed from previously, according to Pudil, who has viewed a sea change.
He said: “I think it is a massive difference between the last two pre-seasons. The level is really hard and we had a double session for every day for three weeks.
“I think we were not ready for the (last) seasons as we were not working hard in the last couple of pre-seasons. Especially for me as I had the European Championship as well and started quite late.
“That is why I am glad we have had this type of pre-season and everyone looks ready and sharp and we want to start well.”