by Richard Brook
The PFA have announced their ‘Teams Of The Year’ for the English divisions, and fans of League One promotion hopefuls Sheffield Wednesday have been left scratching their heads. The Owls have spent virtually all season in the top three, and yet not a single one of their players has been selected for the annual League One side.
It certainly seems odd that, with the rest of the top five clubs represented in the eleven, the Owls, who lie in third place, a single point behind steel city rivals United, have been omitted altogether. The Hillsborough side are the only team to have kept pace with the top two, and are guaranteed a finish at least equal to their current position. The sides above Wednesday dominate the Team Of The Year with Charlton and Sheffield United collectively represented by seven players. This somewhat controversially includes the recently jailed Ched Evans.
Given the season they have had it would be astonishing for anyone to seek to assert that Sheffield Wednesday lacks a single player that deserves to be picked in this team. So what else is at play, and should the fans and the club regard this as a snub or as a back-handed compliment?
Owls fans are pointing towards such players as the leading candidates for the club’s own Player Of The Year award, Danny Batth and Jose Semedo, as players that should have been included. The pair have been outstanding for Wednesday, during the current campaign, in keeping the opposition at bay.
Batth is a firm favourite amongst the fans, despite only being at the club on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers. There is a greater feeling of permanence in his stay at Hillsborough than in the average loan move as he has been at Hillsborough all of this season and was also loaned to Wednesday for the run-in last term. He is an exceptional young central defender, with an old head. His reading of the game and a string of vocal performances belie his years. Batth has effectively contained many of the more notable League One strikers, in his proverbial back pocket. His consistent, no-fuss approach and his ability to be in the right place at the right time have been a huge hit with the supporters.
Semedo is one of those free transfers you dream about. A player, available without a fee, who immediately resolves, the main problem you have identified with your team for many seasons. In the case of Semedo this was to add steely determination to a central midfield that has been prone to being out-muscled for a number of years. The Portuguese defensive midfielder is a metaphorical wall shielding the back four. Semedo has looked composed, tenacious and disciplined, with a genuine desire to win every ball. Wednesday fans sing that “he’s magic” and “you’ll never get past” him and this is not far wrong. Given former club Charlton’s success this season it would be disrespectful to suggest that they will be kicking themselves over Semedo’s departure, but if they are giving away any more players of Semedo’s quality, there ought to be a long queue of interested clubs.
In addition to this pair Wednesdayites have been making a case for the inclusion of Reda Johnson and Gary Madine.
Following his arrival in January 2011, Reda Johnson was plunged into the deep end with a struggling Wednesday side. The former Plymouth centre half’s start to life in S6 was pretty inauspicious as a result, leading in part to Danny Batth’s arrival. The successful partnering of two from Batth, Rob Jones and Miguel Llera has restricted opportunities in the centre of the Owls defence. When Johnson’s chance did come, he was selected by Gary Megson as a makeshift left back, causing consternation in some quarters. They need not have worried as Johnson has made the position his own. He possesses qualities traditionally associated with a fullback such as pace and guile, combined with the aerial ability and physical presence of his original position. Johnson also has an eye for goal weighing in with an impressive seven goals this season.
Before discussing strikers it should be pointed out that it is beyond the mandate of this article to fully discuss the rights and wrongs of including a jailed man in the Team Of The Year. There is a case to be made both ways. On this season’s form if I were selecting League One strikers to score because my life depended on it, I would be picking Rhodes and Evans. There is, though, a valid question to be asked as to who is an appropriate role model to hold up for our children, and who is not. Chairman of the PFA, Clarke Carlisle, has tweeted on the matter: “I agree with all your comments re Ched Evans. We at the PFA must address this today, and I’ll ensure your opinions are heard”.
Irrespective, Wednesday striker Gary Madine is worthy of consideration, for the team, for his goal scoring exploits and all round play during the 2011-12 season. “The Goal Machine” is currently fifth in the League One scoring charts, with 18 goals. Madine offers the aerial prowess and hold up play afforded to him by his 6’4” frame, and a surprising deftness of touch. It seems certain that Madine would have added to his tally, already the highest for the club since the Owls last League One Promotion, but for a suspension following a sending off at former club Carlisle and a long lay off with a foot injury.
The point isn’t that all four of the above players should have made the team, it is just that maybe including a couple of them would have made for a more accurate reflection of the way League One has unfolded this season.
So why should the Owls take their total exclusion from the team as a compliment? It is simple: The PFA Team Of The Year is selected first by a shortlist of PFA union members, and then voted on by every player in the division. The real statement in the Owls exclusion is that is that other teams didn’t like playing against them. Surely this is good news for any club and means that they are doing something right. It certainly isn’t news to Wednesday or anyone in League One. The post-match press conferences have come and gone with opposing managers and players bemoaning Wednesday players utilising their physical size to their advantage.
Any assertion of that Wednesday’s play this season has been anything beyond fair can be quickly dismissed by a look at the fair play table, which shows several teams with a worse disciplinary record than the Owls. It amounts to opposing managers, player and fans wistfully complaining that bigger boys took their ball. Wednesday have successfully balanced effective football, at times attractive football, and players using their physical attributes to their full extent within the laws of the game.
All associated with Wednesday ought to be pleased that opposing players dislike playing Wednesday sufficiently as to down play the obvious talents within the squad. For years fans have witnessed Owls midfields being overrun and defences capitulating week in, week out. Two erstwhile Wednesday players to be congratulated on their inclusion in the team, Darren Potter and Michael Morrison can attest to that. I suspect not one Wednesdayite would swap either for Batth or Semedo.
Hillsborough is once again a difficult place for opposing players to visit, which for Wednesday fans is a far more valuable measure of the players’ success than PFA Team Of The Year.