Sheffield Wednesday will be on promotion trail next season: Mandaric

Owls Chairman Milan Mandaric
Owls Chairman Milan Mandaric

Milan Mandaric “expects” Sheffield Wednesday to be challenging for promotion next season and today declares himself “not happy” with the job he’s done as chairman over the past two campaigns.

Mandaric also declares that former loan hero Matty Fryatt WILL be among the club’s top transfer targets this summer - while pledging to reduce a reliance on loans.

And the Owls owner reveals in this exclusive interview:-

n He has ploughed almost £30m into Hillsborough.

n A partnership with an outside investor could be considered after approaches on those lines.

A full takeover remains tantalisingly elusive but Mandaric – who believes Sammy Yu’s Chinese group have some of the knowledge required – is gearing up regardless to take on the challenge for another season. And that means setting his sights on the Premiership.

Mandaric pledges his commitment to sign up the best of the out-of-contract players, including Chris Kirkland and Glenn Loovens, and insists the emphasis on recruitment will be on quality rather than quantity.

“I’m not defending this season,” said the Wednesday chairman, despite the team’s surge to safety and beyond under Stuart Gray.

“The scars are still there from earlier.

“I expected to be pushing for the play-offs, to be honest. When I came here this club was neglected in every area. But we’ve made progress and it’s right for us to be expected to challenge next season, absolutely.”

Mandaric, who has identified summer recruitment as an area to improve, stressed: “We need some players but not too many. . . maybe four or five of quality in certain positions. And our number one priority is to find someone who can score 20 goals.”

Asked about Fryatt, who hit four in nine appearances for the Owls and is soon a free agent at Hull, he said: “Matty will be on a very short list for us. I don’t like to advertise that but, yes, he’s experienced and knows where the goal is. He was my player at Leicester previously and I know what he can do.”

More immediately, says Mandaric, “we can start talking to people like Kirkland and Loovens” about new deals. He admits some of the dozen soon-to-be free agents will leave to afford a tighter, better squad and “avoid the problem we’ve had of carrying some who were injured or not good enough.”

He said: “We can’t afford to make similar mistakes. I’m not 100% happy with our results here. Overall we could have done a lot better apart from my first 18 months. Now there’s time to accelerate the programme.”

Hardly the tone of a man desperate to sell up or one, even at 75, who’s weary of a burden. Still as fidgety and energetic as ever, he again insists the future of the club is paramount and that he will do what it takes.

“Altogether, I’m in here for close to £30m,” he said. “A lot more than I thought. That includes what I had to pay to get the club and clear debts. We’re losing money but not as much as some clubs.”

Most at the same level, in fact. In reply to fans perplexed that one of the best supported outfits can be losing money (at a rate of around £5m a season), he said:

“I can see where they’re coming from. Leeds have good support, too – but they’ve been losing probably twice as much, even though their commercial income is £26m compared to our £15m. It’s an expensive business.

“You should ask: Why should people buy the club? Business people come in, look and then cool off. Commercially, it’s not a good purchase.”

But, of course, it could be if the Owls get to the top – and refreshingly that requires a football-motivated interest. “I’ve talked to a lot of people,” said the chairman.

“I never realised how many people were interested in buying the club but when it comes to what they can do – and the money – it’s not there.

“There are some possibilities with some people looking for me to stay on in partnership with them. With the right people, I will look at that. Why not? But you can’t go 50-50 and end up in tears. I’d rather squeeze some other assets and put money in before that happens.”

As for fears of mounting liabilities, he insists: “The debt is not club debt, it’s my debt as far as I’m concerned.”

It remains to be seen whether Yu and the Chinese will finally bid. “They are good people to be honest,” argues Mandaric, explaining his tolerance.

“They know what needs to be done. If they can put something together we can talk, although right now we don’t have anything.”

Except, that is, his own considerable commitment which won’t waver: “I left Leicester because of Sheffield Wednesday.

“I begged them to release me. I love the club and the supporters here.”