Sheffield Wednesday: What a difference a year makes

Carlos Carvalhal
Carlos Carvalhal

It is hard to believe that this time last year we were all still trying to figure out just who Carlos Carvalhal was.

Arriving as an unknown on June 30, 2015, a little more than a year later he has reached the status of an unforgettable figure at Sheffield Wednesday.

And better could be yet to come for the Portuguese.

His journey to his current iconic status at Wednesday – and the relative prominence in English football that saw him named as a candidate to become boss of boss Swansea City and Southampton – has been a fascinating one.

And you get the impression he always knew that he would reach this point when he unexpectedly landed the top job at one of the country’s grand old dames.

Following his appointment, it would be two weeks before Carvalhal would speak publicly, when he was introduced to the media.

And under the intense levels of scrutiny befitting an unknown personality, he shone.

He was instantly charming, laying bare an obvious intelligence and confidence without descending into arrogance – beyond that of a southern European gentleman with the top few buttons of his shirt undone.

In his first few minutes with the media, he quickly started the process of breaking down the wariness and went about winning over those who had initially predicted the appointment of an unknown would only end in disaster.

But, ultimately, what the press think does not matter at any club if the paying public are not on board.

Carlos Carvalhal and Dejphon Chansiri

Carlos Carvalhal and Dejphon Chansiri

Speaking through the media to the people, there was no doubt that Carvalhal was saying all the right things.

He said promotion was a realistic aim, and one he would deliver with attractive football that would fill the stands at Hillsborough and recreate the positivity of the past in S6.

They were statements that any new manager would be expected to make. Whether he could back the words up with results was unknown.

But in the past 12 months he has done just that.

Wednesday play entertaining football, breathless and breathtaking at times. He has built a team with that in mind, complete with attacking full-backs, midfielders exceptionally comfortable on the ball and attackers that show real intent.

That, along with positive results, got Wednesdayites excited - and quickly.

In October, I was granted half an hour with Carvalhal to talk simply about Carvalhal, to fill in the plethora of blanks in the background story of a man who had only just started to make an impression on Wednesdayites.

‘Carlos Had A Dream’ was fresh on the song sheets of supporters, coming after the breathtaking finish at Brentford in late September.

He was winning over supporters with progress on the field, and in his office he provided an insight into the methods behind it.

Carvalhal revealed himself to be a deep thinker, talking about his interest in philosophy, borne of the constant questioning of why. His desire to know the reasoning behind everything stretches through his life and particularly to football.

He spoke of, as a player, constantly stopping coaches to ask why they had given certain instructions. By the time he hung up his boots, he had developed his own philosophy on how the game should be played, one that has been in a state of evolution ever since.

It is something that has been reflected in the changing face of his Wednesday side. His early teams very much reflected the style of play detailed in his coaching manual.

But within a couple of months of the start of the season it had altered, no doubt due to his new-found experience of Championship life.

And after Wednesday were thoroughly outplayed in the Championship Play-off Final, expect Carvalhal to have been evolving his philosophy yet again over the summer - as the signing of Steven Fletcher would suggest.

Evolution not revolution is Carvalhal’s approach for the summer after coming within 90 minutes of the top flight.

What he built on solid foundations in two transfer windows was impressive and almost got the job done for Wednesday. But there were a few times last season when gaps in the construction work were laid bare, not least in the play-off final.

Carvalhal will know what he needs and, with Dejphon Chansiri’s financial muscle behind him, will be confident of getting it.

And he carries with him the confidence of Wednesdayites who believe they are on their way back to the top with him at the helm. But that comes with a price.

The coming season will provide the biggest test of Carvalhal at Wednesday yet. He started the Hillsborough section of his career with zero expectations, only those of himself and his chairman.

But after having almost no Wednesday supporters expecting him to succeed, Carvalhal now has almost every one expecting that he will.

If Carvalhal’s name is being sung as loudly and proudly at the end of his second year as he was his first, surely the Premier League will be beckoning for Wednesday.

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