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'Rock and Roll Football'

Thursday 21st January 2016
On June 30th 2015, Sheffield Wednesday took the bold step of appointing their first ever foreign coach. Carlos Carvalhal took the reins at Hillsborough prior to a seismic shift in direction for the Owls. The Portuguese manager now has his team sat (just) inside the Play-Off positions with the capability, as he explained after defeating Bolton, to play “rock and roll football”.

As ambitious Thai businessman, Dejphon Chansiri, completed his takeover of Sheffield Wednesday a year ago many fans sensed far more on the horizon than another false dawn. Finishing in a comfortable mid-table position, the foundations were in place for a Summer of change to ensure new faces and ideas were brought into the club. It began with the appointment of Carvalhal, the former Braga central defender, who had coached around Europe at the likes of Besiktas and Sporting Lisbon.

Out of Management for a couple of seasons, Carvalhal wrote a book on football philosophy and took a technical role at Al Ahli in the UAE. A name unfamiliar to most within English football, Wednesday fans harboured reservations initially but began to see their new look side take shape with the arrival of fifteen players. Most understood that with the amount of change, time would have to be afforded to both the new Head Coach and his squad.

Through early press conferences and interviews, it became clear that Carlos Carvalhal views on football transcended that of a run-of-the-mill Coach. In his book, ‘Soccer: Developing a Know How', both he and his co-authors delve into the thought processes required to operate and implement a successful style of play within a team. He has since talked about football in its purest form and, after the visit of Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner, described how a good team is like a good band because “alone, the singer can do nothing”.
Although a newcomer to English football, Carvalhal has an unshakeable self-belief in his instruction of the team and his player's ability to carry those carefully constructed plans out. Football can change very quickly both on and off the field, but the Portuguese seems to remain constant in his ideals on how the game should be played. Overhauling the previous squad entirely, the new Head Coach and Owner set about recruiting the correct players to suit the passing style and attacking philosophy promised to the supporters. The team interchanges between the traditional 4-4-2 system, and more dynamic 4-3-3 depending on the needs of the game and the players available. Instead of a relentless high press, the players are encouraged to view the pitch as zones allowing the opposition to have the ball in certain areas and then swarm them to win possession back in others. It is demanded that full backs support attacking moves with ball retention absolutely crucial.

Just as players took time to become comfortable with the new concept, fans also had to be patient with their team looking to play out from the back and probe in possession – a definitive style and outlook not seen at Hillsborough since the glory days of the early to mid nineties. This patience has been rewarded, with only one defeat at home all season and five wins in a row on their own patch over the congested festive season – not to mention the hammering of Arsenal in the League Cup back in October. At this point last year, Sheffield Wednesday had only scored seven league goals on home soil. They have eclipsed that in the last three outings.

Of course, with fresh investment and a raised standard of player arriving at the club there is an expectancy for improvement on the previous year but there are just as many examples of failure in doing this as there are stories of success. The likes of Charlton and Nottingham Forest have struggled to achieve the goals set under new ownership, and those clubs' current predicaments serve as a reminder of where poor leadership can leave a well -established, respected club.
With so much having changed this season for Wednesday, it is easy to forget that Chansiri has only been in post for twelve months and Carvalhal present half of that time. Still early days indeed, but there is a feeling that a philosophy is gradually being created throughout the club with shrewd recruitment and a unique playing style. Of course, there is an undercurrent of conjecture that comes with the promise of Premier League football within two years but that is being used as a positive by Carvalhal in developing the team. He has managed fourteen clubs previously, and is no stranger to the demands of European football where even winning a title may not be enough to guarantee your job should the team disappoint soon after. By Carlos' own admission, football pressure does not phase him.

The Owls enter the final four months of the season with a great opportunity of staying in the top six, with most acknowledging that the automatic promotion places are in the hands of teams that have challenged and built over previous years. For a team that started largely as an unknown quantity to finish in the Play Offs would be a remarkable achievement, especially with the relentless scrap taking place to reach the riches of the top flight.

Following the often frantic second half against Bolton, Carvalhal described the first forty five minutes as “very calm and very quiet” and that his side were caught “listening to the melody” of the visitors. Another quote in an ever growing catalogue of amusing insights endearing the Head Coach to the Wednesday faithful. So much so that he has been immortalised in a chant bellowed proudly by fans home and away.

Should this measured and exciting progress continue, ‘Carlos had a dream, to build a football team', may become more of a prophecy than a football chant.
James Dean
A lover of football. Season ticket holder at Sheffield Wednesday and known as the "Andrea Pirlo of the North".

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