The inevitable sacking of Dave Jones and the murky big picture
Picture the scene: it’s 6 May 2012 and over 38,000 fans pack a sold out Hillsborough stadium for a League One clash between Sheffield Wednesday and Wycombe Wanderers. The Owls beat The Chairboys 2-0 to secure a return to English football’s second tier and pip their city rivals United to automatic promotion. Wednesday boss Dave Jones is lauded for the unbeaten run he has overseen since being appointed thirteen games ago and an air of optimism fills the ground. The chants of delighted fans ring around Hillsborough in the direction of Owls owner and, saviour from almost certain administration, Milan Mandaric. The optimism continues into the summer with Mandaric fuelling talk of promotion and comparisons involving Norwich and Southampton are encouraged by chairman and manager alike.
Now just 19 months later, the picture is rather different. After a run of 1 win in 16 games, Jones has been relieved of his duties. Despite Mandaric’s reputation for having a short fuse when it comes to manager performance, he has given Dave Jones more than enough rope to hang himself and after successive defeats to Derby, Huddersfield and Blackpool, hang himself he has.
So where do Wednesday go from here? With little success to speak of since their relegation from the Premier League in the late 90s, Owls fans have suffered through boardroom uncertainty and more managers than one cares to remember. High points in the form of promotions from League One to the Championship in 2005 and 2012 respectively, have been tempered by the reality that there has been little to no consistency within the club that suggests a Championship status is anything other than precarious at best.
Sitting 6 points from safety and in the midst of a tough run of fixtures, the remainder of the 2013-14 campaign will prove a tough challenge for whoever is next in the Hillsborough hot seat. But can we really expect anything other than a battle against relegation this season and, if lucky enough to survive, each season beyond? Whilst Owls fans should be forever grateful to Mandaric for saving the club from almost certain extinction, the rumblings of takeover have led more than a few fans to question the Serbian businessman’s motives. The facts are that the club continues to lose money on an annual basis and, with stopgap loan moves the modus operandi at present, there seems little opportunity for the club to re-establish the dressing room spirit that helped propel Wednesday to promotion two seasons ago. The sooner a long term buyer is found for the club, the better.
Dave Jones can be considered as one in a long line of Hillsborough managers who could point to the boardroom to explain away their failings. The money has never been plentiful but has the Liverpudlian really made the most of the resources at his disposal? Jones has certainly had some successes in the transfer market – plucking ex-England international Chris Kirkland out of obscurity being one of a few highlights. But too often Jones’ wheeling and dealing has had the air of ‘Arry on Transfer Deadline Day – disorganised, short-term and with a mantra of ‘I’ll have anyone I can get my hands on.’ Out of contract players, usually in their mid-30s, train with the club before being offered pay-as-you-play short term deals – Seyi Olifinjana and Stephen McPhail are the latest examples of this policy. Such short-term deals represent two things:
- the club has no real funds to recruit better, and
- of those we can recruit, we trust them to deliver for the following thirty days and no longer.
What little money there is has been spent on players who then struggle to get a consistent run in the side – Rhys McCabe (Rangers ‘wonder-kid’) and Chris Maguire (signed for a hefty sum from Derby) – are yet to see prolonged game time (Maguire has been loaned out to Coventry this month at a time when the club are down to two fit senior strikers). All this whilst out-of-form players like Michail Antonio and Jeremy Helan have been allowed to try and play through their poor performances when going for a different option may have yielded more positive results. As Wednesday stumble into December as the only club in the football league yet to keep a clean sheet, Jones’ status was that of a condemned man.
So at whose door can we lay the blame for the latest Hillsborough crisis? Whilst Mandaric continues to fund the club in the short-term, without significant investment in younger players who may actually see the hallowed Hillsborough turf, we can expect little progress to be made. Dave Jones’ mistakes outweighed his successes and on such a tight budget, that combination will never work. So whether it is Ian Holloway, Steve Evans, Stuart Pearce, or even Neil Warnock, who fills the Owls vacancy, it seems that without a resolution to the long-term future of the club the new manager will encounter the same problems the old ones have – a lack of money resulting in the need for a successful temporary solution. Perhaps as Blade and ex-Sheffield United manager Warnock throws his name in the ring as being willing to do the job for the remainder of the season, Wednesday fans may do well to swallow their pride and accept that for a club that currently needs a stop-gap solution, Warnock may just be the best option there is. The more pressing question could be when will the club stop looking for short-term solutions? The big picture looks very murky at present.
Written by Neil Piper