My old Forest mate can lead Owls back to Wembley, says FA Cup legend Francis

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I t was one of the few trophies he didn’t lift during his glittering playing career with the likes of Nottingham Forest, Rangers and Sampdoria.

But two decades after reaching the FA Cup Final with Sheffield Wednesday, ex-Owls boss Trevor Francis finally got his hands on perhaps the most famous piece of silverware of them all last week when it visited Hillsborough.

What might have been the FA Cup at Hillsborough Owls Manager from the 1993 FA Cup Final Trevor Francis with  the Cup against the picture of him leading out the Owls at Wembley,Wednesday lost to Arsenal in the Replay

What might have been the FA Cup at Hillsborough Owls Manager from the 1993 FA Cup Final Trevor Francis with the Cup against the picture of him leading out the Owls at Wembley,Wednesday lost to Arsenal in the Replay

The closest Francis came was in in 1993, when they lost that year’s final to Arsenal after beating arch-rivals United in the semi-finals at Wembley.

And if Stuart Gray’s modern-day Owls side can overcome Charlton at Hillsborough on Monday, they will set up arguably the biggest Steel City derby since.

Gray and Francis - who also took Wednesday to the League Cup final in 1993, losing again to Arsenal - were team-mates at Forest, under the late, great Brian Clough - whose son Nigel, of course, manages possible quarter-final opponents United.

“Stuart has done a good job as manager of Wednesday,” Francis told the Sheffield Telegraph.

“It’s also good that the chairman [Milan Mandaric] rewarded him for his efforts while he was caretaker manager. I remember him at Forest; he was a reliable type of player, an honest and hard-working sort of lad.

“The players would respect him for that and responded to him, because honesty is a good trait to have in this field.

“I am sure he has taken those qualities into management, and I hope he continues to do such a good job.”

Much of Forest’s success under Clough relied on a formidable team spirit, so it should come as no surprise that Gray has attempted to replicate a similar environment at Hillsborough.

Injured midfielder Jose Semedo has joined a growing chorus of Owls players in praising Gray’s methods recently, and Francis added: “Team spirit is always good when a team is playing well and winning, but the testing times come when things aren’t going so well.

“But when I was a player, I always tried to be as dedicated as possible and sometimes, a player has to look at himself, first and foremost.

“There is only so much a manager can do, and it appears to be that when the team is winning, the players take the glory.

“But then when they lose, the manager takes the blame and there needs to be something of a balance.”

As a player, Francis almost did it all: months after becoming the world’s first £1million footballer, he scored the winner in the European Cup final and went on to win more than 50 caps for his country.

But Francis, now a pundit for Sky Sports, has one regret after making the transition into management: that he was not given more time in charge of Wednesday, before being harshly sacked in 1995.

When he left, the Owls had just finished mid-table in the Premier League, and enjoyed four trips to Wembley in a matter of months.

In the subsequent years, Wednesday have twice been relegated to League One, and almost entered administration before they were rescued by current owner Mandaric.

“I can’t put my finger on what went wrong at Wednesday,” added.

“I left them and followed their results, but as I don’t know the inside track it’s difficult for me to say exactly what went wrong.

“What I will say is that Wednesday were wrong to sack me when they did.

“I have never said that before in public, but I think I am entitled to say it now.

“We had been to two cup finals and finished 13th in the Premier League the season before.

“I was there for four years, and I felt that some things needed to be changed: I felt some younger players needed to come in, and some of the older ones needed to be moved out.

“When you have to go through that period of transition, your league position will suffer.

“It was the board’s decision to get rid of me, and of course I had to abide by it, but I never thought it was right.

“And looking back, how they have since gone down into League One and almost went out of business, my feelings are even stronger now on the deterioration of the team and the club since I left.”

“I take no pleasure in seeing what happened, of course,” the 59-year-old continued.

“Wednesday is a great club and I still feel an affinity with them. It was a job that was sought after, because we were regularly upthere competing with the best teams in the country.

“We finished third in the top flight in my first season, and since I left it feels like there’s been about 40 managers there.

“That may be a slight exaggeration but there’s been so many - too many - but it’s not the job that it once was.”

The Owls, who lost 1-0 to Derby on Tuesday evening, make the short trip to Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield Town this weekend, before facing Chris Powell’s Addicks on Monday.

“We wanted to avoid the Premier League boys, but it’s a fantastic draw for both clubs,” Gray said.

“But we have a long way to go before we can think about Sheffield United.

“Charlton will be angry at having to come up here on the day and we’re disappointed that we couldn’t play the game last weekend.

“But when United came out of the draw, that became an incentive for everyone.

“But we have three points to play for before we can think about that, and the focus has to be on beating Huddersfield in the league.”