by Richard Brook
‘If you cut him he would bleed…’ insert the colours of any football team you care to, is an over-used expression amongst English football fans, but if it were only to be used once, ever again, it is harder to imagine a better use than to describe Gary Megson and the famous blue and white of Sheffield Wednesday.
Megson has not only played for and managed Wednesday; he grew up supporting the Owls while his father, Don, captained the side. It is fairly well known, by the fans of the Hillsborough club, that ‘the Ginger Mourinho’ as they affectionately term him, paid for his name to be on a brick in a ‘wall of fame’ at the ground along with many other supporters. Upon being appointed Wednesday manager football reporters congratulated Megson upon getting his dream job, recounting that before the camera was rolling at post match interviews for his previous clubs, Megson’s first words to them would be. “How have Wednesday gone on?” Wednesday are most certainly in his blood.
The love for Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, set out above, is the reason that Megson’s shock departure from S6 is such a bitter pill to swallow both for himself and for Wednesdayites everywhere. Rumours abounded ahead of the Sheffield Derby that such a move might be under consideration, by Owls Chairman Milan Mandaric, but they were widely dismissed as just that: Rumours. When the team ran to the dug out to celebrate Chris O’Grady’s goal with Megson, when Wednesday emerged triumphant in the weekend’s encounter with Sheffield United and when 30,000 or so Owls fans sang Megson’s name as the team left the field, the rumours having any credence whatsoever seemed inconceivable. Sunday’s win saw Wednesday retake third spot in the League One table from the sides that had crept above them on the Saturday. However, that was Sunday, and on Wednesday night, without another ball being kicked, Megson had lost his job.
The harshest of critics will point to the fact that in his last ten league games, Megson oversaw just three wins against Scunthorpe, Yeovil and Sheffield United. It is worth noting that the slump in form coincided with Wednesday’s failure to secure, half-season loan star, Ben Marshall for the second half of the season. The skilful winger was missed in terms of goals, assists and space created for others when he left to sign permanently for Leicester City in January. Marshall was one of a number of the highlights amongst Megson’s recruits, and was not adequately replaced, certainly until the arrival of, long term Megson target, Michail Antonio just in time for the weekend.
In sacking Megson, Mandaric has shown that he has unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved.
All too often for the tastes of the Owls faithful, and undoubtedly for Megson himself, Wednesday missed out on transfer targets, being outspent by their League One promotion rivals. It is a very arguable point that Megson was adequately backed in the transfer market. As League One Manger that had been in situ just over a year, a look at the Owls squad reveals 13 players that were brought in by Megson and that does not include former loan players that were signed by Megson and have since left. Given Wednesday’s recent history and the flirtation with administration, from which Mandaric saved them, shortly before Megson’s arrival, a cautious transfer policy, leaving Wednesday as a well run club capable of maintaining itself seems a very sensible aim. Of course Wednesday’s fans all owe Milan Mandaric a huge debt of gratitude for the fact that they still have a club, but that does not mean he should be immune from all criticism and the decision to sack Megson has attracted widespread criticism amongst Owls supporters.
The problem is that the chairman must curtail his ambitions for the club equally sensibly. In sacking Megson, Mandaric has shown that he has unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved on the budget that he and Chief Executive, Paul Aldridge are willing to sanction. It may not be a fact that Mandaric likes, but even a club with one of the two highest budgets in the division do not have a divine right to automatic promotion. If the club are not among the top two spenders they have even less chance of a top two finish.
Of Megson’s signings only four players were both permanent transfers and cost a fee. In the current world of undisclosed fees there can be no certainty as to the accuracy of these figures, but the reported figures for these players ranged in between £350,000 for the most expensive and £50,000 for the cheapest.
In spite of such constraints Megson, arrested the decline of the side he inherited from Alan Irvine leading them to finish in 15th place. This season with his own squad, of mostly loan players and free transfers, the club lay in third place at the time of Gary Megson’s departure. Only the big spenders of the summer Charlton, and Sheffield United, with the vast wage bill of their retained Championship squad, lie above the Owls. Megson’s achievements should not be underestimated, but they have been by the one person with an opinion that counts.
Megson’s love, enthusiasm and pride for Sheffield Wednesday appeared infectious within the squad, and for the first time in decades, fans were enjoying watching a team that played football how a fan wants it to be played: Players that wanted to win every ball and seemed to have genuine pride to wear the shirt. As Megson often told them ‘There are only two things the opposition can’t stop you doing: running and talking to each other’. Another message that the players seemed to take to heart was Megson’s insistence that new signing sit with him at the back of Hillsborough’s Kop so they could fully appreciate the size of the club that they had signed for. These techniques, clearly the inventions of an avid fan, seemed to have the desired effect of building a strong team spirit between the players, the management and the fans. Until Megson’s sacking I would have included the board in this statement.
Mandaric’s official statement, regarding Megson’s departure, concedes it “may not be the most popular of decision” with supporters, but explains that he believes “we have a better chance of achieving our key aim of promotion by making the change”. Noticeable by its unjustifiable omission from the statement is the standard message of thanks football clubs append to announcements of a departure.
It is hard to suppose that anyone could believe that this decision will aid Sheffield Wednesday’s promotion bid. After the derby, Wednesday were two points behind Sheffield United, but having played two more matches than the Blades. If United won both of these matches the gap would appear insurmountable, irrespective of who was in the dug out. As it was, news of Megson’s departure came out midway through the first of the Blades games in hand. United were losing 1-0 at the time, but went on to win 2-1. News filtering through of goings on at Hillsborough cannot have harmed their chances.
Social networking sites, and fan sites, on Wednesday night were awash with disbelief and anger.
If Mandaric’s statement is to be taken at its word, and promotion must be achieved at all costs, one assumes that the next manager will be judged by the same exacting standards, and that if promotion is still not achieved he too will be facing the axe.
Social networking sites, and fan sites, on Wednesday night were awash with disbelief and anger at the decision to sack Megson, from fans, pundits and ex-players. Wednesdayites have loved having one of their own in charge of first team affairs and have a great deal of gratitude for Megson’s achievements in beginning the turnaround at their club, and the decision to sack the manager has hurt that much more because of the fans’ affinity with him. It seems Mandaric has severely misjudged he depth of feeling of the supporters, when he described his decision as “not the most popular” and only time will tell how he has affected the supporter’s relationship with the club after the dust has settled.
One thing is for sure, Mandaric’s omission from his statement, whether by accident or design, cannot go unrectified, so on behalf of a wounded and grateful fan base: Sheffield Wednesday’s fans would like to place on record their sincere thanks to Gary Megson for all of his hard work and achievements during his time at the club, and wish him all the best with his future endeavours.
In his emotional statement issued through the League Manager’s Association Megson stated that he was “gutted” and that one day he would like to come back to Wednesday and finish the job he feels he had only just begun. Be assured Mr Megson, there is a massive section of Sheffield Wednesday supporters that would have you back tomorrow.