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Wednesday looks to Luggy

The manager's job at Sheffield Wednesday has become something of a poisoned chalice.

Crippled by debt and swallowed up by a losing culture, the Owls have slid from being a sturdy mid-table Premiership outfit to a side struggling in the Second Division (enough of this League One nonsense).

It's almost five years to the day that Wednesday lost 8-0 at Newcastle United, an indicator, if ever there was one, that all was not well at Hillsborough.

And so began a seemingly endless stream of managers. Danny Wilson, Paul Jewell, Peter Shreeves, Terry Yorath and most recently Chris Turner have all failed to revive a club that reached both cup finals in 1993. And in 1991 they had won the League Cup - John Sheridan firing home the winner against Manchester United - as a then-Second Division side.

Enter Paul Sturrock - the club's tenth manager in nine years.

Sturrock takes over at Wednesday with something to prove, to those at Southampton if no-one else. He has an impressive pedigree with Plymouth Argyle, including two championships (though the second was clinched by Bobby Williamson), which makes him an able appointment. Incidentally, his last game in charge of the Pilgrims was a 2-0 home win over the Owls.

'You play football to win and the aim for this season is promotion,' he said. 'This is a huge club. It may not be a Premiership team at this moment in time but the crowd and the stadium are in place.'

The end of Turner's reign was swift, and very much unexpected. Turner, who was between the sticks for the Owls' Cup triumph, had been told he would have until Christmas to mould a side capable of challenging for promotion.

He had completely reshaped his squad, releasing 13 at the end of last season and bringing in ten new faces. That he was only given nine games to get things right has rankled many supporters who believed Turner would be a success. Perhaps too much faith was placed in a former terrace hero.

But football is all about results, and although chairman Dave Allen had openly backed his manager to the hilt the writing was on the wall. After failing to keep the club in the First Division following his appointment in November 2002, Wednesday were woeful for large parts of 2003/04, finishing in 16th place - the second worst performance in their history.

And after going on a run of five games without victory and scoring only twice in their first five home games this term the axe fell. Perhaps Allen felt he had to act in order to bring in Sturrock before he was appointed elsewhere.

Sturrock will find a football club in a far better state than pre-Turner. The former Hartlepool manager completely reshaped the ailing club, reorganising the Academy and moving the reserves out of the FA Premier Reserve League where they could barely win a point let alone three.

And with the club's legion of big earners now out of the club - bar Craig Armstrong, who remains injured in the final year of his lucrative contract - there is definite room for manoeuvre at Hillsborough.

Although Sturrock is unlikely to have cash to spend to rebuild the squad in his own image, neither will he have his hands tied by players commanding wages of £15,000-a-week.

There is a new culture at Wednesday, and it is one many clubs are having to adopt to move forward after chasing the Premiership dream.

But the debt, now approaching £28million, still looms large. The chairman is taking steps to try and reduce debt, including the sale of the training ground to housing developers Bloor Homes for a sum in the region of £10million, but remains under pressure.

Allen has invested around £3million into Wednesday, but it is in the form of an interest based loan which has caused much consternation among the fan base. It was universally thought the money had been loaned on a interest-free basis, until a former board member highlighted otherwise at the last AGM earlier this year.

The spectre of former Chelsea chairman Ken Bates created a cloud over S6 throughout 2004 and without doubt added pressure on to Allen's shoulders. Although Bates remains in the background, the chairman stands firm.

A number of media statements have not helped his cause. He stated he would leave the club should he be forced to sack Turner, claiming he would feel he had 'failed'. But when pressed on the matter after ditching Turner on Saturday evening he insisted he would be staying - as he had too much money in the club.

Paul Sturrock: Lost the players' confidence
Paul Sturrock: Lost the players' confidence

It did little to dispel the belief among supporters that Allen is in it merely for the money.

Although the majority of fans would like to see the back of the chairman, he knows that a successful team will remove much of the pressure. And in Sturrock he may have finally got it right.

The appointment of Turner never looked to be the correct choice, maybe the cheap option when both Peter Reid and George Burley had decided against making formal applications.

But this time Wednesday have finally chosen a manager with experience and a track record of success at their level. He is still reeling from his treatment at St Mary's, although even he would admit he made mistakes, and is eager to restore his reputation.

The 47-year-old will bring organisation and tactical acumen - something that has been lacking since Ron Atkinson's brief tenure in 1997/98. And he brings with him Kevin Summerfield, his number two at Plymouth and Southampton.

'Luggy' won several honours with Dundee United as a player, including the SPL title in 1983 and also reached the European Cup semi-finals the following year.

Throughout these European adventures, the former Scotland international was a compelling and intelligent figure on and off the park. A deep thinker about the nuances of football, this was clearly a man destined to contribute to the game long after his playing days were over.

He began his coaching career with United in 1989, but did not enter management until 1993 with St Johnstone. He would return to Tannadice in 1998 before making the long trek south to Plymouth.

Thriving on a new way of life and climate in his adopted city, Sturrock quickly won over the Home Park punters and even turned his hand to working as a restaurant critic for a local newspaper. In three-and-a-half years with limited funds, Sturrock had taken Argyle from the depths of the Third Division to the upper reaches of the Second.

He won the Third Division title with 102 points, being named Nationwide Manager of the Year for the division.

This is a manager with the innate ability to cajole and inspire. Amiable yet demanding, humourous while constantly searching for innovation, Sturrock's thirst for knowledge has served him well.

He may not have been the fans first choice to take over at Hillsborough - most were eager for Gary Megson to jump ship from West Brom - but he may well turn out to be the best choice. Sir Bobby Robson was also interviewed for the post.

While the Wednesday job does remain a difficult one, the behind the scenes work of Turner would appear to have laid the foundations.

The Owls fans are desperate for success - it's about time someone delivered.

  • Any thoughts? Then you can e-mail Dale Johnson.