Sheffield Wednesday need to become a close-knit fighting unit
It was no secret that Sheffield Wednesday players felt the jolt when the name over the manager's door changed midway through last season. Longer days, afternoon sessions, a far more intense atmosphere.
Was it popular? Well, try doing the same in any professional environment, an office, factory, or wherever. Groups of workers don’t like change. Hence the jolt.
While changing conditions are more prevalent in an industry like football, with its revolving door for managers practicing drastically different methods, it’s a hard sell for the workers if the results aren’t evident. As they weren’t for a rocky period after the early stabilising effect of Jos Luhukay’s replacement of Carlos Carvalhal.
But after a blazing end to the season, my guess is that Luhukay will have earned full attention and respect for the report back for pre-season training – when he will have the first real opportunity to fully instil his methods. And if training was tough in company with one or two matches per week, you can bet that Middlewood Road will be no summer camp.
Fitness is key to imposing talent, of which this squad has plenty. Was it lacking in the past? Well, certainly in the undeniable aspect of a plague of injuries. Or was this pure misfortune? Unless you are a medical expert it is impossible to speak with any authority. Besides, it is overly convenient for new managers to suggest, as they too often do, that the players they inherit are out of condition – not to say unfair on predecessors.
To his credit, Luhukay was careful not to imply this. After all, did anyone make such an assertion across the opening two seasons of Carlos Carvalhal’s reign, which both ended in the play-offs?
But what is fair to suggest is that the squad as a whole seemed to lack three things going into Carlos’s third season; drive, intensity and – most crucial of all - togetherness. To say they lacked fitness is simplistic and misleading. That tends to find out teams late in games. That was when Wednesday tended to be at their most assertive.
The reason for that anomaly is what has to be cured. The slow, pedestrian starts that afflicted some of Luhukay’s games also.
Within that, too few players – the most notable exception being Adam Reach – took responsibility for setting a higher tempo.
It was as if individuals were content to fight their own battles and not worry over anyone else’s.
Shifting that perception, real or imagined, must have been a pressing priority for Luhukay. By the end of the season, albeit with the return of key players, there was a more committed feel of togetherness about the group.
This, for me, is where the drilling for the new season comes in.
Not just to build a peak of fitness – which should be a given – but to establish a close-knit fighting unit. It will also mean the aforementioned jolt has been fully justified.