DUNLAVY: Pres­sure is mount­ing on Car­val­hal

The Football League Paper - - FRONT PAGE - Chris Dunlavy

CAR­LOS Car­val­hal must feel like Theresa May. Twelve months ago, Sh­effield Wed­nes­day’s Por­tuguese gaf­fer looked safer than a punt on a Rus­sian ath­lete.

Now, af­ter a sea­son of mis­for­tune and mis­judg­ment, mutiny is fer­ment­ing and the Por­tuguese looks ready to top­ple.

Like the Tory leader, eviction is not im­mi­nent. He re­mains pop­u­lar with sup­port­ers. He still en­joys a strong bond with owner De­jphon Chan­siri. Nev­er­the­less, there is a sense that only per­fec­tion will keep him in his post.

When Chan­siri ended Car­val­hal’s three-year man­age­rial ex­ile in 2015, he de­manded Premier League foot­ball within two years.

Dy­namo

The first brought buoy­ancy and op­ti­mism, big-name sign­ings and a heart-break­ing de­feat to Hull City at Wem­b­ley. A mem­o­rable 3-0 tri­umph over Ar­se­nal in the EFL Cup show­cased a care­free, cre­ative, coun­ter­at­tack­ing style that quick­ened the pulse. Things were only go­ing one way.

Yet it is now 2017. Not only do the Owls re­main in the Cham­pi­onship, they have been tread­ing wa­ter ever since that evening at Hills­bor­ough.

Yes, points and plac­ings say oth­er­wise. But regular Wed­nes­dayites saw things last sea­son that no statis­ti­cian can il­lus­trate – sign­ings who failed to im­prove the team, a dearth of cover in key po­si­tions, a drop in pace and pen­e­tra­tion. If 2015-16 was a trip to Al­ton Tow­ers, last sea­son was an evening in, watch­ing Songs Of Praise.

Car­val­hal was un­lucky. Kieran Lee, a box-to-box dy­namo who plugs more gaps than Poly­filla, missed 19 games through in­jury. De­prived of his ath­leti­cism on the break, Wed­nes­day slowed to a stodgy crawl.

“When you play along­side Kieran it’s al­most like there’s two of him,” ex­plained mid­field part­ner Barry Ban­nan. “You look up and he’s in the box, try­ing to score. When they break, he’s back try­ing to win the ball. If there’s one player in the en­tire squad you wouldn’t want to lose, it’s him.” Gary Hooper’s ab­sence proved equally crit­i­cal. When the former Celtic striker re­turned from a five­month lay-off in April, his part­ner­ship with Steven Fletcher sparked six straight wins. Car­val­hal jus­ti­fi­ably lamented the ab­sence of play­ers he called Hills­bor­ough’s ver­sion of Luis Suarez and An­dres Ini­esta. Yet the 51-year-old made eight sign­ings last sum­mer, plus an­other cou­ple in Jan­uary. The fact that Wed­nes­day’s side for the play-off semi-fi­nal de­feat to Hud­der­s­field fea­tured all but one of the 11 play­ers who’d fin­ished the 2015-16 cam­paign tells you how ef­fec­tive they were.

Worst of all, none was a like­for-like re­place­ment for ei­ther Hooper or Lee. To date, that prob­lem re­mains un­rec­ti­fied and was vividly il­lus­trated by the ab­sence of both play­ers (one dropped, one in­jured) dur­ing last week­end’s limp de­feat to Pre­ston.

The per­cep­tion re­mains that in try­ing to im­prove his side, Car­val­hal has ac­tu­ally made it less co­he­sive.

That ex­pen­sive sign­ings like Jor­dan Rhodes are be­ing ac­com­mo­dated at the ex­pense of those more suited to his sys­tem. That ev­ery­thing’s dandy when key cogs are turn­ing, but a Plan B is miss­ing when the ma­chine seizes up.

Such is­sues have not turned sup­port­ers against Car­val­hal so much, but di­min­ished a once un­ques­tion­ing trust in his skills. Mi­nor grum­bles are be­com­ing major com­plaints.

Chan­siri, too, is known to blame the play­ers for Wed­nes­day’s play-off fail­ures. That is why he swiftly re­newed his man­ager’s con­tract in May. It is an ad­mirable stance.

But, if Car­val­hal’s men fail to con­vince as ti­tle contenders, he is about as likely to see 2018 as May is to con­test an­other elec­tion.

A BBC in­ves­ti­ga­tion into foot­ball Premier fi­nance warns that the “closed shop” League is be­com­ing a TV deals. thanks to ever-in­creas­ing ap­pear the case. Os­ten­si­bly, that would ex­plo­sion in trans­fer How­ever, given the cur­rent foot­ball, it is hard to see fees and wages in elite get ma­te­ri­ally richer. This, how top-flight sides can re­marked, is the “prune as Alan Sugar mem­o­rably juice” ef­fect. sides will hit the Fur­ther­more, rel­e­gated by ut­terly un­sus­tain­able Cham­pi­onship bur­dened too lengthy for cur­rent pay­rolls and con­tracts ab­sorb. para­chute pay­ments to back eas­ier, but Yes, that will make bounc­ing Fail, and the door only for a sea­son or two. else. The wan­ton will open for ev­ery­one clubs largesse of Premier League the gap, could serve to nar­row not widen it.

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