Six things Sheffield Wednesday fans can expect from Dave Jones
Since being sacked by Cardiff City in the summer, Dave Jones has spent a surprisingly long time unemployed. Sheffield Wednesday have finally given him a route back into management, with the Owls currently lying third in League One and owner Milan Mandaric desperate for promotion to the Championship. So what can Jones bring to the Steel City? Here are six things (one for each of his seasons with the Bluebirds) Wednesday fans can expect: three that might frustrate, followed by three that are more positive.
1. Professional Detachment
In his last job, Jones refused to play the sort of lip-service to passion, commitment and undying love that are common currency in football, frequently commenting that he wanted Cardiff to succeed simply because it was his job and saying he would never claim to feel about the club the way fans do. This also led to common downplaying of the South Wales derby matches against Swansea, with Jones consistently stating that it was just another game, the same as any other.
Frankly, he may pay for being too honest here, there is a lot of truth to what he says but it is not the sort of rousing talk that gets fans onside. Another feature of this was Jones’ awful relationship with the local press, who he once famously wished “a shit journey home” following an away fixture. These issues may not present huge problems in themselves, particularly when things are going well, but when things go badly they only add to the pressure and ill-feeling, as well as meaning that by the end there were few people willing to publicly fight Jones’ corner.
The tactical inflexibility Cardiff showed under Jones was a particular bugbear for many fans. It was flat 4-4-2 and flat 4-4-2 all the way. Rather than change tactics to accommodate players, Jones would choose to move players so that they fitted his template. In itself of course, having a preferred set-up isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and 4-4-2 can (and frequently was) more than adequate.
However, in a team chasing promotion (as Wednesday are now), there was a persistent feeling that Cardiff became too predictable: more flexibility, particularly away from home, could have been useful. Ironically, one of the few times Jones did change tactics, at home to Swansea, the result was a 1-0 defeat and a dire performance.
The most common complaint from Jones’ reign in South Wales. Cardiff’s end of season collapses become so well known that a Daily Record headline reported Celtic manager Neil Lennon warning his side “Don’t do a Cardiff” (before losing the subsequent match and the league title — ha!). 2008 saw a limp performance in the FA Cup final; in 2009 Cardiff missed out on the play-offs after only one point from the final four games; 2010 culminated in a poor performance in a Play-Off Final defeat to Blackpool while Reading defeated the Bluebirds in the 2011 Play-Off semi-final.
In 2002, Jones’ Wolves team managed to lose an 11-point lead in March to lose out on promotion, though it should be noted that they went on to win promotion the following year, winning a Play-Off final 3-0 (against Sheffield United!). With a famously trigger-happy chairman clearly desperate to see his club in the Championship, to keep his job Jones may have to do something he failed to do in South Wales and gain promotion.
Under Jones’ stewardship, Cardiff undoubtedly made huge advances, on and off the field. Joining the club after they had narrowly avoided relegation, Jones improved the team year on year, going from mid-table to play-off challengers to top-six certainties. Only in his final season did his side undoubtedly finish in a position lower than they should have, while his reign also saw the Bluebirds historically reach the 2008 FA Cup Final.
Off the field, the financial problems he had to deal with have been well-documented, but Jones’s tenure still saw the club’s stature grow consistently: the average attendance in his first season was 11,802 whereas by his final season (in a new stadium of course) that average had almost doubled to 23,231. Jones deserves immense credit for the clear progress made by the club during his time in charge.
5. Attractive Football with Talented Players
Perhaps unlike his predecessor at Hillsborough, Jones’ commitment to attacking football was apparent as Cardiff became one of the most attractive sides in the Championship. This style was reflected in the players brought to the club: Bluebirds fans were treated to seeing the likes of Koumas, Whittingham, Chopra, Bothroyd and others. It is a testament to Jones that in his final season, Cardiff’s players were referred to as “big names”: apart from Craig Bellamy, none of those players had made their names before they were brought to South Wales and had developed into fine players under Jones’ tutelage.
He also had an aptitude for dealing with notoriously difficult characters — Jones was able to succeed where many others had failed and bring the best out of talented players like Bothroyd and Koumas, who became excellent players for the Bluebirds.
6. Operating Shrewdly on a Small Budget
As mentioned above, Jones was able to bring in a lot of very good players during his time at Cardiff. What made this more remarkable was that he was able to do so while consistently having to make money through the sale (and replacement) of key players. To do all this and continue the forward progress of the team was nothing short of remarkable.
Jones had to sell the likes of Jobi McAnuff, James Collins, Danny Gabbidon, Cameron Jerome, Aaron Ramsey, Roger Johnson and numerous others. Of course, there were lots of cheap and short-term signings that did not work out, but in the market Jones was operating in that was all but inevitable any failures are more than outweighed by signings such as McNaughton (free), Whittingham (£300,000), Bothroyd (£350,000), Roger Johnson (£275,000) and more; a hugely impressive record.
The memory of Jones’ time at Cardiff was stained by the ultimate failure to gain promotion, particularly in his final season when the Bluebirds underachieved in finishing fourth. However, this has clouded what was otherwise an extremely impressive tenure, in which the club made huge strides on and off the field. He is not perfect, but he is good enough to give Sheffield Wednesday fans genuine cause for optimism.