Sheffield Wedneday have problems on and off the pitch. Graham Lightfoot finds out where it has gone wrong
In 1992 Sheffield Wednesday were the third best team in England. The following season they reached two cup finals. The years since those comparatively heady days have been hard to bear for Wednesdayites. The club’s board has been accused of investing in the stadium at the expense of the team since the Sixties, but lately there has been a steady haemorrhaging of the club’s support. Wednesday have no money, little in the way of young players coming through and a playing staff who have yet to convince supp-orters that they care about playing in the blue and white.
Dave Richards, the current chairman of the Premier League, as well as Sheffield Wednesday, blames the club’s decline on Wednesday’s Italian imports. In a recent attack on them, after the 8-0 mauling at Newcastle, Richards said that the antics of Benito Carbone and Paolo di Canio were “killing us and killing the game”.
The fact that Di Canio, valued by Wednesday at £5 million, had to be sold for £1.7 million to rivals West Ham, coupled with the equally devastating likelihood that Carbone (also valued at £5 million) will walk away from the club at the end of the season on a Bosman free, means that Wednesday have effectively had to write off £8 million on two players – something they can ill afford to do.
For the fans, however, Carbone’s skills have illuminated a very dark period for the club. Like his compatriot Di Canio, Carbone has been idolised since arriving at Hillsborough. Accusations that he is a fly-by-night mercenary are ill judged, as Carbone has spent longer at Wednesday than at any other club in his career.
At the end of last season, Carbone indicated that he was happy to stay in Sheffield, if the club made him an offer he considered matched his reputation. During the close season, Wednesday announced that the player had turned down a contract worth £29,000 a week. Supporters found the amount offered harder to believe than the fact that Carbone had rejected it. The Wednesday board decided that off-loading Carbone to the highest bidder in the last year of his contract was their only alternative. Danny Wilson indicated that Carbone did not figure in his plans, which was seen merely as a move to provoke the Italian into leaving. Carbone stubbornly insisted he would see out his contract.
The final straw in the relationship between manager and player was the pre-match row at Southampton, when Carbone was named as a substitute for the game and duly flew home to Italy two hours before he should have done.
For many Wednesday fans, the thinking behind Wilson’s decision bordered on the surreal. Two terrible home defeats prior to this game had made it plain that Wednesday’s best hope lay with Carbone. The Southampton incident seemed also to be the watershed in Carbone’s relationship with the rest of the team, as players such as Petter Rudi and Kevin Pressman publicly condemned him for his actions.
The player’s agent apologised for his client and the club fined the player £32,000, two weeks’ wages, declaring that they saw this as an end to the matter. However, for Wilson this was clearly not the case. Expecting a personal apology, not only to himself but to the rest of the team, he banished Carbone to train with the reserves. With the two not on speaking terms prior to the game against Everton on September 11, Carbone received a mixed reception from supporters when he finally came off the bench.
As long as Wilson remains in charge – and, barring a financial miracle, he is likely to – Carbone is set for a miserable last season at Hillsborough. Sadly, so too are the supporters of Sheffield Wednesday.
From WSC 153 November 1999. What was happening this month