Alan Biggs: Big year for Mandaric as Owls start slowly but can prosper

Owls Chairman Milan Mandaric at Loftus Road
Owls Chairman Milan Mandaric at Loftus Road

This, you detect already, is a pivotal season for Sheffield Wednesday, owner Milan Mandaric and manager Dave Jones.

First, some perspective. The Owls were unlucky losers at QPR (2-1), sorry losers at Rotherham in the Capital One Cup (2-1) and a little unfortunate again at home to Burnley (2-1). Those identical scorelines alone tell you that, results apart, the performances in the absence of key players are hardly calamitous.

It will go one way or the other from last season’s relegation scare; a financial balancing act producing progress... or a tipping point. When a league is as unpredictable as the Championship you have to go with your instinct. It’s about a whiff of excitement or a sniff of trouble ahead. Or, in this case, a holding of breath.

There has been a feel-good presence at Hillsborough throughout Mandaric’s reign. It holds into a third full season along with an enduring trust. All the same, you can’t help but sense danger unless Wednesday quickly correct a troubling start.

Faced with a rejuventated Leeds at Elland Road on Saturday, there are those already fearing the worst. It’s far too early for that sort of talk or to spotlight the manager.

But it would be foolish to think that, after the latitude quite fairly granted to Jones last season in the wake of promotion, Mandaric will again tolerate being in the wrong half of the table.

Besides, he has a club to keep marketable for the possibility of a sale. It will stop advertising itself if prospective owners detect a risk of relegation.

So could it be that Mandaric will feel the need to invest further in the team to protect the value of his investment? On that score, no criticism whatsoever can be levelled at the saviour of the club who rightly champions Financial Fair Play as a buffer against past excesses.

However, it was plain against Burnley that the two needs I referred to pre-season – a midfield playmaker and a finisher akin to confirmed target Billy Sharp – remain pretty glaring.

Restoring full-backs Lewis Buxton and Reda Johnson will help a lot both forward and back. But, with Jones having to offload first, there is a challenge to be met on how much the existing squad can realistically achieve.

It’s a good offer for McDonald, however Blades will take time to find their way under new boss

Some say he can’t be worth that much surely. Others reckon he’s worth much more. We’re talking the £750,000 Wolves are reportedly paying for Kevin McDonald amid much confusion generally over transfer valuations.

Well, it sounds right enough to me. Right as a figure at which Sheffield United would have had a contractual obligation to sell and right as a price-tag on a 24-year-old midfielder who has proved he can play higher. It’s still my belief that Sheffield Wednesday came close to signing McDonald last summer.

I’m not an apologist for the Blades - they have been what might be termed a “selling club” for longer than they have cared to admit. But it does strike me that, unpalatable though selling to a rival may be, there was no stopping this deal. Nor has there been any attempt by the club to deflect from the expectation of players leaving for a price.

It’s good money for the third tier and parachuted Wolves are among few at that level who could have afforded the package. The far bigger question – assuming the deal was finalised as planned as the Telegraph went to press – is what United do with the cash.

McDonald is of a type who is harder than most to replace. True, manager David Weir’s recruitment has been more extensive than anticipated and there is always a need to balance the books. But some re-investment is surely necessary. You’d like to see a couple of players added if it is impossible to find a like-for-like.

Overall, it has been a start of no surprises... a promising home win over the ten-man Notts County followed by defeat at a strong Brentford. Maybe it will carry on like this before a new team finds its level, at which time United will hope the mix is competitive.

Interesting, by the way, to see former Lane chief executive Trevor Birch fronting a survey showing that a third of club owners in football’s bottom three divisions are looking to sell up. The report from accountants and administrators BDO LLP, who employ Birch, says 65% of clubs admitted to a funding reliance on their principal shareholders.

Many of these, it seems, have had enough of chipping in the extra. United’s Kevin McCabe drew the line some time ago and his club are in step with a general trend in steering away from the benefactor model amid the demands of Financial Fair Play.

I think that all of this will be good for the game in the long run.