Alan Biggs: No one should be surprised if buoyant Sheffield Wednesday continue with this rate of progress
For Sheffield Wednesday, a year of so many surprises. Mostly, as it now transpires, pleasant ones. To the extent that if 2016 is a good one for the Owls then it should surprise no-one.
How many thought, as I mistakenly did on first impressions, that the new owner was an intense and somewhat deadpan Thai tycoon who would stay largely in the background after completing his £37.5m takeover from Milan Mandaric? I described him as inscrutable and that, at least, has been accurate – because at every twist and turn Dejphon Chansiri has been so very hard to read.
A cousin of the new owner, speaking to this column, had prophetic words when he described Chansiri as a man who “thought outside the box” and one who “liked to spring surprises.”
Cue his unveiling of a transfer committee, all the members of which, barring a new head coach, have since left the club. The inherited manager Stuart Gray, having been backed, was then sacked. Perhaps no real surprise there, though, as this is the way of football.
But what followed left supporters and journalists in a state of angst and open-mouthed astonishment. The anticipated big-name appointment turned out to be a man you had to Google. Who was Carlos Carvalhal?
A sense of anti-climax turned into raw anxiety in a mid-summer lull that hardly suggested the promised raft of new signings was for real. Suddenly a trickle turned into a flood as 15 arrived and, with something around £8m spent on fees, the mood somersaulted.
Similarly, the man at the centre of it all appeared to change persona, while still carrying an air of mystery. On frequent visits, he was a smiling, genial, out-front figure, his name plastered on advertising boards around the ground on the back of a personal shirt sponsorship deal; and yet saying little or nothing in public and insisting on conducting the club’s business in strict secrecy.
All the while Chansiri has been learning so much and not just a grasp of the language to make himself more comfortable. What have we learned about him? Well, he’s an engaging character in private and certainly committed; so much so that, even from afar, he’s as hands-on as any chairman this column has known. Perhaps more so; nothing happens without his approval.
The criticism might be that, in acknowledging an initial lack of knowledge about football, he should delegate more. Then again, it’s his money on the line (a lot of it) and he has developed a trusted network of advisors.
In personal style, there is a contradiction in that the owner shies from the media and yet seems to enjoy high visibility on his visits.
He has made errors as anyone would in such treacherous new territory. Chansiri may have under-estimated the agent-riddled complexity of getting deals over the line, especially with too many voices in his ear, and he certainly misjudged the reaction to a controversial hike in match day ticket prices.
But mistakes are there to be learned from and the evidence is that this chairman will do exactly that, while bringing an overwhelming freshness to the club’s attempts to return to the Premier League.
Chansiri’s choice of Carvalhal could prove inspired. The bottom line is that there is a great deal more promise and optimism around the club than at this time last year.