A fond farewell to Milan Mandaric, a Wednesday hero

Owls supporters thank Milan Mandaric
Owls supporters thank Milan Mandaric
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On Saturday a fond farewell will be said to one of the most important figures in the history of Sheffield Wednesday.

There will be plenty of hyperbole flying around as Milan Mandaric is eulogised on his exit from the club.

But, while his time in charge at Hillsborough has not been entirely smooth, there is substance behind the hero worship that will be poured upon the out-going chairman.

It’s easy now to forget what the majority of 2010 was like in S6, when Wednesday simply could not shake off the threat of liquidation.

The fear of oblivion was real, tangible. There was always the threat that the Owls would be the club made an example of as they joined others in dodging winding up orders and High Court rulings. Surely at some point a club would be sent to the wall for their financial indiscretions.

Each day in court brought another nervous wait and further fraying of the thread on which the club’s future dangled.

It’s fair to say wasn’t a happy time to be an Owl.

As the countdown to oblivion ticked on, the search for a hero became ever more desperate and increasingly unlikely.

You could not blame anyone with a few quid in their pocket for running a mile in the opposite direction from Hillsborough. Sheffield Wednesday was poison when it came to handling cash.

But the antidote was found, and it came in the form of Milan Mandaric.

It seemed like madness for any right-thinking businessman but Mandaric saw through the mire and spotted the potential.

Sweeping aside the romance for just a moment, that potential which Mandaric saw four years ago lay in a renovation job.

He bought a shell but saw in it an opportunity for a spruce up job that would make Wednesday look like an investment opportunity you’d be mad to turn down.

It took him longer than he expected, but he got the job done in the end, giving him the profit he always intended to make.

Just sorting out the horrendous behind-the-scenes mess at Hillsborough would have been more than enough to add the name Mandaric to Wednesday folklore.

But his tenure brought much more.

The Mandaric era delivered excitement and optimism from the day he first appeared in the directors’ box.

There was a real buzz at Hillsborough on December 11, 2010, and that started well before the Owls destroyed Bristol Rovers 6-2. It was the start of a new era and it felt like one.

Of course it hasn’t all been plain sailing.

The decision to sack Gary Megson after the pivotal win over Sheffield United caused tension - even if his methods were justified a couple of months later as he celebrated promotion arm in arm with Dave Jones.

There has also been - increasingly so over the last couple of seasons - frustration over a perceived lack of investment in playing staff. It could be argued that the hunt for a reliable goalscoring striker was never successful under Mandaric’s stewardship.

And then there was the ill-fated brush with Hafiz Mammadov. The automatic relegation of Mammadov’s RC Lens from France’s Ligue 1 the same day as Chansiri’s Owls takeover provided a harsh reminder of what might have been.

But the positivity of Mandaric’s tenure rightly overshadows any issues which have stuck in the craw.

He will be remembered as the man who helped deliver promotion back to the Championship in the best manner possible - surging back from behind to overtake their bitter rivals at the death and grab an automatic promotion place.

When he walks out onto the pitch at Hillsborough one last time on Saturday, there will no doubt be a few tears shed.

Those who packed into all four sides of Hillsborough to witness the win over Wycombe and surged onto the pitch to celebrate winning automatic promotion will be taken back to that 2012 day.

And so will all those who poured onto the city centre streets a few days later, having a party in the driving rain when - whisper it - it felt like the city was indeed blue and white.

Those were special days. And Saturday has the potential to be another.

His stewardship may have been driven by the desire to make a few quid through a last big football investment. But it’s clear to see that the Owls got to Mandaric and he’ll likely have a lump in his throat as well.

It’s probably been a tougher job than he expected but he departs Hillsborough with a strong affection for Wednesday.

Who knows what the new Chansiri era will bring.

But the Mandaric era delivered exactly what it said on the tin and even a little bit more.

Xbana Milan. It’s been great.