'It's gruesome stuff': The expert verdict on whether Sheffield Wednesday can challenge Sunderland for promotion amid wage dispute
It’s perhaps no surprise that the bookies odds list Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland as the early favourites for promotion from League One next season.
The duo are two of the biggest clubs to have graced the third tier – but amid their current off-field uncertainties, will Wednesday be challenging for the title?
We asked Alex Miller of The Sheffield Star, and got the inside track on the current goings-on at Hillsborough...
Q: Relegation from the Championship will no doubt have been disappointing - but how is the mood around the club ahead of their return to League One? Are fans optimistic of an immediate return or is there some trepidation?
AM: At current, there is very little optimism among the fan base and the mood around the club is one of limbo. Many players have not been paid in full in several months and there is a cashflow issue that is hanging over the club like the darkest of dark clouds.
In a poll we conducted with over 1,000 Wednesdayites, 58% of respondents indicated they were not confident of an immediate promotion push.
Wednesday have a long list of matters they need to sort out before we even have much of an indication of what the team could look like heading into August - 10 senior players including the likes of former Mackems keeper Keiren Westwood, Adam Reach, Jordan Rhodes and former Wednesday skipper Tom Lees were included on the club's release list.
Two more first team players - both defenders - look set to leave, too.
Sort those issues out as soon as possible as the tide can quickly turn of course, but there's a manic few weeks ahead if the club are going to be able to lift the mood.
That said, there are a handful of promising youngsters in the club that may be given more of an opportunity and Darren Moore's reputation is cause for cautious optimism.
Q: Is there a belief that Darren Moore is the right man to lead the side back to the Championship?
AM: In a word, yes. That same survey suggested 77% thought he was the right man to take the club forward, despite relegation last season.
His start to life at Hillsborough was blighted by illness - Moore is an asthmatic and was hospitalised with the after effects of Covid - and ultimately he was unable to inspire the mythical 'new manager bounce' that would have seen them safe.
He is a man with a solid reputation within the game and particularly for bringing on talented young loanees, which we understand will be a market the Owls rely heavily on next season. His contacts should stand the club in good stead.
He has spoken passionately about the need for a positive style of football and to bring the club an identity, which they haven't had for several seasons.
You'd like to think he'll be given the time to impress his ideals on the club.
Q: The wage situation seems to be a cloud over the club at present. What's the latest on that front?
AM: Several players have not received their wages in full for at least three months. Under FIFA rules, it is understood players are within their rights to hand in their notice and walk away from their contracts if not paid in full within 15 days. It's gruesome stuff.
Owner Dejphon Chansiri was up front about the club's cashflow issues, which he says is solely down to the coronavirus crisis, several months ago and warned there may well be future issues.
The raft of well paid senior players leaving the club at the end of the month is set to ease these issues, though severance payments are duty bound to be paid for July, and the club are working hard to resolve their issues soonest.
But there's no doubt it's a worrying time for the football club.
Q: We've already seen a few League One clubs splashing the cash this summer - do you expect Wednesday to do the same?
AM: No, no and no. In the past two years Wednesday have bought three players for fees; Massimo Luongo for a touch less than £1m and both Josh Windass and Callum Paterson for £500k apiece.
The big-spending purchases of Fernando Forestieri, Adam Reach and Jordan Rhodes - all of whom will have left the club for nothing in a few weeks time - are a thing of the past.
Our understanding is that Wednesday are focusing almost solely on free agents and loan signings as it stands.
Oh, they're currently under a transfer embargo, too, though the terms of these as revealed by The Star mean they can sign players on those terms under EFL rules designed to ensure each club has at least 23 'established players' by the end of the transfer window.
Q: Sunderland and the Owls have been made early favourites for promotion. Do you think Wednesday will be challenging at the top of the table, and who else do you expect to be up there?
AM: As it stands, it seems Wednesday may well be looking ahead to something of a transition season, though Moore is a man who knows League One and it remains to be seen what sort of squad he is able to assemble.
If the club are able to overcome their current off-field issues and get some momentum going heading into preseason, you never know. Sheffield Wednesday can be a powerful beast when things get going.
My early favourites for the title are Ipswich, and I'd certainly expect Sunderland to be up there, too, with Lincoln and Rotherham. But it's early days.. who knows!