Soccer AM/MW - the home of lively and humorous discussion from the Football and Non Leagues

Monday, May 03, 2010

Wise to leave Owls

After Sheffield Wednesday are relegated from the Championship, Nobes explains why it might be best for man and club if there's a change of manager.

Alan Irvine has been unable to save Wednesday from relegation to League One

In the end, a season of 46 games and nine months came down to just five desperate minutes of stoppage time for Sheffield Wednesday.

Ultimately, their quest to find the goal which would have meant salvation for themselves and relegation for opponents Crystal Palace proved fruitless.

And so, after four seasons in the Championship, the Owls have been relegated back to League One.

It also means a summer of reflection and recriminations after a relegation that nobody expected back in August and one that, on the face of it, appeared completely avoidable.

Nobody will be doing that more than Wednesday boss Alan Irvine. The likeable Scot, who took over at Hillsborough in January, had hoped to save the club from dropping into the third tier.

An initial good run of results hinted that, just as he did when taking over at Preston North End in 2007, he would be able to lift a struggling club away from Championship relegation danger.

However, that early run was not to be sustained, culminating in Sunday's shoot-out against Palace - a game where Wednesday always appeared the weaker of the two teams.

Unlike at North End, Irvine was unable to turn the tide. Yes, he had two months fewer than his SOS mission at Deepdale, but it could also be argued that, in terms of quality, he was working with a better squad to start with.

Back in early 2008, Preston owner Trevor Hemmings had opened the purse strings and allowed his new manager to bolster the PNE ranks.

Perhaps his early honeymoon at Hillsborough in January papered over the cracks of a squad that, as with Preston, was in need of strengthening. It wasn't just confidence that Wednesday lacked - it was out-and-out quality.

After all, this was a team who, under previous boss Brian Laws and then caretaker Sean McAuley, had gone 11 matches without winning. It is that run, more than anything, which has proved so costly.

However, everybody possesses 20:20 hindsight, indeed, in December, I myself spoke about Wednesday having the quality to avoid being involved in any relegation scrap.

Not only did they lack the ability to stop themselves being embroiled in a battle at the bottom though, they didn't even have enough to stay up.

It would only be the harshest of Owls fans who would therefore lay the blame for relegation at Irvine's door.

However, that understanding and patience will quickly evaporate if Wednesday aren't challenging for an instant return to the Championship next season.

This is where the 51-year-old must make a difficult decision. He is not a quitter, but he is also honourable and, although he might not admit it publically, offering his resignation would have crossed his mind.

Of course, it's not something which should be done in the heat of the moment. However, it is something he should lend thought to.

After all, a study of the history books suggests that Irvine bringing Wednesday back at the first attempt is unlikely.

Wednesday's loyal fans must face up to life in League One again next season

Indeed, they need only look at the last time they went down - in 2003. They stuck by boss Chris Turner who, like Irvine, had come in mid-way through the season and had been unable to save Wednesday from the drop.

In their first season in League One they only narrowly avoided dropping straight down to the basement division. A poor start in the following campaign saw Turner replaced by Paul Sturrock - and it was he who led them to promotion through the play-offs at the end of the season.

It would be fair to say that Wednesday are in a much better state both on and off the pitch than the last time they entered the third tier though.

However, failure to bounce back under the same manager who presided over relegation is a recurring story.

Of the last 33 teams relegated from the Championship, only two - Walsall and Crewe - have been promoted back at the first attempt under the same manager. Although Charlton may yet manage it this term.

Both Walsall and Crewe were smaller clubs with less pressure and who had managers who knew the lower divisions well. None of which applies to Irvine and Wednesday.

Their situation is more similar to that of Leeds, who failed to return in their first season - albeit they were hampered by a points deduction and saw boss Dennis Wise depart. The Yorkshire outfit are now on the brink of escaping - at the third attempt.

Nottingham Forest, likewise, kept faith with Gary Megson in 2005 when they were demoted to League One. However, Megson couldn't halt the downward spiral at the City Ground and was sacked a few months later.

Ultimately, it took the twice former European Champions three years to escape life in the third tier.

Contrast that with the fortunes of Leicester and Norwich. The Foxes made a clean break - sacking boss Ian Holloway and replacing him with Nigel Pearson after relegation in 2008.

The new manager led them to the League One title and instant promotion. Norwich have done the same under Paul Lambert this term - although he came in after only a few games.

The board at Carrow Road had obviously, and correctly, felt that a new man at the helm was required - rather than club legend Bryan Gunn - who had been in charge when the Canaries were relegated.

It is the theory that a new manager, a new regime, and a clean break from the previous season of misery and pain can help renew a club.

Someone coming in with fresh ideas, energy, and impetus - a new voice on the training ground that can motivate a group of players dispirited after demotion.

For that reason Irvine leaving now could actually be good for the club. Him leaving the club of his own volition now though could actually be more beneficial to his long-term career too.

True, he could stay on at Hillsborough and mastermind an instant return to the Championship - earning him hero status in the blue half of Sheffield. As we've seen though - history proves how difficult that is.

he can walk away and let a new man lead the promotion charge. Little blame can be attached to him for Wednesday's failure to stay up - and he can leave with his head held high that he gave it his best shot.

He was always fighting to turn around their fortunes, and the relegation won't prove to be too much of a black mark on a CV which deserved much more than the sack at Preston.

With that record, and as a capable coach as well as his managerial experience, he won't be short on offers to return to the game. Although he may even appreciate a break from the game to re-assess his methods and approach.

If he was to stay on at Wednesday though - where expectations will be huge - and not get off to a good start, he could soon find himself given the sack again.

Although he may receive a financial pay-off - unlike if he resigned - choosing to leave now would show him to be the man of dignity and decency that he is.

It is those characteristics which may also lead him to stay on though - not wanting to leave the club when they are at a low ebb for the benefit of his own prospects in the future.

However, when the Owls sacked Laws, I spoke about them needing to make the right decisions for their long-term good. It is now time for both Wednesday and Irvine to do the same again.

No comments:

Post a Comment