This time last year Carlos Carvalhal was an unknown quantity, the squad for his first competitive match contained a slew of loan players and many Wednesdayites were thinking it would all end in tears. What a difference a season makes.
If Carlos is feeling the pressure of managing a team transformed from underdogs to a force to be reckoned with, it doesn’t show. Perhaps that’s because in his view Wednesday are still pretty much in the underdog category. True getting to last season’s play-off final means opponents will treat us with respect but CC adds a strong reality check to any talk of automatic promotion or even a top six finish for 2016/17.
He believes Premiership parachute payments mean Newcastle, Norwich and Villa start the campaign as favourites. Is it fair?
“I’m not here to discuss the organization of English football! I’m just a simple coach but if you ask the other 22 coaches, they will be more happy if they have the same conditions as these three clubs.”
And he reminds us that Brighton finished 15 points above us, Derby were also well clear. And other teams have invested, improved and reorganized since May. In fact the theme of new chairmen, new coaches and an imbalance of spending power is a recurring one as Carlos creates a picture of the transfer market as a kind of supermarket sweep,
“If it was like the supermarket I take the credit card and say I want this, this, this. I know what I want. If it was easy I would go there and buy what I want but the rules are different… we are in the market in a different way and with responsibility.”
Responsibility is another word that crops up a lot – not only about the club’s transfer policy but also about Dejphon Chansiri’s approach to building solid foundations, step by step so “when it rains the house doesn’t collapse.” (CC reveals he’s all too familiar with shaky foundations following the collapse of his home in Portugal. You get the feeling it’s a lesson well learned).
What’s been happening in the close season to reinforce the solid building blocks of 2015/16?
Carlos’ comments on new loan signing Will Buckley are revealing.
“Buckley is one good example of what we are doing here in Sheffield Wednesday. If you remember last season when we bring… 5, 6, 7 players in the beginning. They did not do really well the previous one or two seasons but we recognize that they have abilities and of course now it’s easy to talk that we have a fantastic Barry Bannan, we have a fantastic Jack Hunt, a fantastic Forestieri… but we know that when they arrived at the club their previous season was not really at that level…Buckley is exactly the same. Last two seasons he didn’t do well, we know that, but we recognize his abilities so our target – and the target for him – we must create the environment to bring the maximum and bring the best abilities… We will give him time for him to give what we need to our team. If he plays the best level that he has, he can really help the team.”
As for the Ross McCormack transfer gossip, with opening game rivals Villa eventually shelling out £12M for the striker, Carlos is equally clear that the link with Wednesday was no more than press speculation,
“Let’s talk the reality. We are not in the market to have three or four players as our target and go there and spend £6M, £10M or £12M. We are in the market to try to do our best…it’s why we bring a player like Fletcher as a free transfer; we did very well with Abdi and Daniel…with Jake it was also a free transfer. And now with Buckley as a loan. We try to improve the team but at the same time with responsibility.”
It’s not all about shopping at Aldi rather than Waitrose. Wednesday have also been actively seeking some quality home grown produce. As Carlos told the Portuguese press in the pre-season, “the Championship is not for kids, it’s tough.” It’s a belief that has led him to seek out players with experience of English football as well as quality; players who “understand the competition” and in particular don’t look at the fixture list – playing Sunday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday – and go AWOL. “This is a competition that not all players can play at highest level.”
Let’s go back to last year. It was a slow burn season, due in part to taking time to get buy-in to his footballing principles, in part to coaching performances from a group that hadn’t played many minutes together as a team.
“In this moment we are much better than at the beginning of the previous season. More options, more quality, more ready… We are ready to start on Sunday… Our fans are ready like us for the game. We believe we will not play with 11 players on Sunday, we will play with 28,000 fans.”
Having charmed everyone with his “mirror of the city” quote earlier this week, Carlos continued in the same vein. At one point actually welling up as he recalled the support against Cardiff and then through the play offs to Wembley. “It was a big part of the decision to stay at the club.” (Hang on, he was thinking of leaving?)
He’s been in football long enough to know how quickly things can turn sour but God, when you see the manager of your club with tears in his eyes as he talks about the fans…
“Football to me is not just money, it’s the environment, the emotional connection with the players, with the fans and this is something we will never forget…we can’t forget it.”
What can we expect then, against Villa? In di Matteo they have a coach who has won the Champions League; they have an owner saying positive things about change and investment; they have good players. But,
“We have something that they can’t have on Sunday; we have 28,000 fans there. They will be beside us on the pitch”. They will be with us and they will give a lot of energy… we believe this can make a difference.”
We’re welling up again now…
And what can we expect for the season? With the three Premiership rejects starting as favourites, Carlos will do no more or less than place Wednesday as one of 17 ‘candidates.’ Strong contenders, willing to put up a fight and capable of winning but by no means better than the teams in what on first sight seems to be a stronger league this year.
So having managed expectations (as he did this time last year – and look what happened) surely there must be plans to maximize the possibility of another SWFC tilt at promotion?
CC is happy with the strength and depth of his attacking options. Probably some shopping activity in the defence aisle – he talked up his current quota of full backs and centre halves, with the defensive options also presented by Daniel Pudil and Liam Palmer on the left but it’s fairly clear he’d like to be less reliant on fielding players out of position – and to have more choice. Incidentally, Sam Hutchinson was the press conference warm up guy, talking about his ‘new’ role in defence actually being a position he’d played in for much of his career. He also thinks it will improve his disciplinary record as he won’t dive in as much as when he plays further up the field.
[Talking of discipline, CC confirmed there have been no approaches to the referees about Forestieri’s ‘diving’ reputation].
And if Dejphon has set any targets for where SWFC finish the season, CC ain’t telling. All he would say is,
“Why are we talking about what will happen in May? We must start now with Aston Villa and what will happen on Sunday… Let’s play.”