There will be balloons released at Hillsborough for their Friday evening fixture but it will not be a celebration. With the Sky Sports cameras broadcasting, Sheffield Wednesday supporters are planning a protest to show their unhappiness after one of the most dramatic shifts in football narrative over the course of four months.
From capturing the hearts of the neutral by coming from 4-0 down against Peterborough United to win the League One play-offs, they are back in crisis. No wins this season, confidence lost in their new manager and an owner who supporters want out. The balloons released while they play Sunderland will be black, symbolising the predicament of the club under their current leadership.
Dejphon Chansiri, the Thai businessman whose wealth came from tuna, was around the dressing-room area after the famous win against Peterborough that captured the imagination of fans who had witnessed the impossible happen. And it is upon his decisions that the club’s fortunes seem to fluctuate wildly.
Fans, upset at expensive ticket prices, want Chansiri out but there is a stalemate. Chansiri is refusing to put more money into the club after what he sees as unfair treatment during the period where the club has been turned on its head.
Within a few weeks of securing promotion to the Championship, Darren Moore had departed the club. The mastermind of their famous comeback and the man who changed the culture of the club had gone. Chansiri says Moore asked for a new contract worth four times his existing terms. Telegraph Sport understands that Moore was willing to negotiate, although that was not allowed to happen. Moore left and last week, inevitably, picked up the first available Championship job of the season at Huddersfield Town.
Moore’s work at Hillsborough cannot be underestimated. He turned up and saw bickering among players at the training ground and slowly – in football management terms – managed to get players pulling in the same direction. “Within that circle there is trust, humility, honesty, hard work. You can step out of it, but you’ll stick out like a sore thumb,” he told them.
Part of Moore’s method of working was keeping the lines of communication open with Chansiri. They spoke often. Sometimes their calls would be daily. Moore was happy to be the voice of the club when he addressed media during those days when winning became a habit. In the final week of 2022, Moore’s team were within sight of the most points for that calendar year by a professional club.
They had overcome transfer embargoes, points deductions and a threadbare squad to look like a club going places again. Their 96 points that year were earned with a flourish, with Moore’s attacking football a contrast to his style as a player when he was a no-nonsense centre-back.
It is the mark of the man that some at the club felt he knew the end was coming in his final days, yet continued working, trying to build for the next season and secure the future of existing players or recruit new ones to improve the squad. Until the final afternoon he was taking calls from agents. Then in the early evening, on the final day of the football season with England playing North Macedonia, it was announced he was gone.
Without the man who changed the fortunes of the club, there would inevitably be a period of uncertainty. Unfortunately for Chansiri, that period has been on the club’s return to one of the most competitive leagues in the world. Two months into their return to the Championship and they are still looking for a first win.
Chansiri looked at a variety of candidates. One of the interesting coaches on his radar was Danny Röhl, who worked as Germany assistant manager at the time and previously held No 2 roles at Bayern Munich, RB Leipzig and Southampton. Röhl was concentrating on his national-team role at the time but is likely to be in the mix for future jobs in England.
Slaven Bilic was interviewed but the pairing of club and manager was not a match. Former Southampton manager Nathan Jones was on the radar, as was Dean Smith after his brief spell at Leicester City. In the end, Chansiri went with Spanish coach Xisco Muñoz, who had a 10-month spell at Watford. His previous appointment was at Cypriot club Anorthosis Famagusta.
Fans turned on Muñoz last week against Swansea when their run without a win continued. “When I arrived we had [only] 10 players and we signed 10 new players,” he insisted during an interview with BBC Radio Sheffield. “We have made progress.”
But some decisions have been bizarre. The Spaniard has not selected Marvin Johnson or Reece James in his matchday squads, overlooking two important members of the promotion group and offering little explanation why. Johnson’s situation has now involved the Professional Footballers’ Association union getting involved to try to find a solution.
Derby County were interested in a deadline-day deal for Johnson, which would have seen one of Wednesday’s better earners off the wage bill, but the move fell down over a loan fee, leaving Johnson frozen out.
Fans lay the blame on the club’s plight at the hands of Chansiri. The 1867 Group is a collective of Wednesday fans who are orchestrating the black-balloon protest. They threw tennis balls onto the pitch against Middlesbrough and this is their next gesture in their attempts to get Chansiri to leave. It seems a long way from the jubilation of last season, even though it was only four months ago.