Football: Wilson's big burden

Wednesday's manager has survived a baptism of fire.
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The Independent Online
ALTHOUGH Brian Clough never got past the 44th day at Leeds United, most football managers are entitled to expect a reasonable trot towards the first 100 days in the job. Danny Wilson has just reached the three- figure mark at Sheffield Wednesday with the pot still bubbling over the Paolo Di Canio affair and a stirring among the Hillsborough following at the low number of points in the bag so far.

Something as seismic as a player pushing the referee over is fortunately still a rarity but Wilson gives every appearance of having ridden the crisis sensibly. He continues to castigate Di Canio's moment of awfulness while at the same time wanting to get the issue resolved so that he can welcome a key performer back into his squad.

"Nobody condones what Paolo did," Wilson said after a soggy training session on Friday in preparation for today's game at Coventry. "It was absolutely stupid. You don't put your hands up to referees. But the sooner it all gets sorted out one way or the other the better, so the club can settle down again. Some of the stuff has gone well over the top. He has been hung, drawn and quartered in the press, totally unjustly at times. People with very respectable positions in sport are giving outrageous opinions, shooting from the lip."

Wilson hopes that Wednesday will benefit from their prompt action in suspending Di Canio soon after the end of that sordid clash with Arsenal just under a month ago when the FA hearing is eventually held and feels that by this stage the issue is being viewed with what he calls "a bit more common sense".

"We will argue for reinstatement as quickly as possible. We are not hoping he doesn't get punished because he will be and deserves to be. It is the length of the ban people are suggesting which is concerning us and we're hoping it isn't going to sway people in important places.

"You don't want to lose your best players. Paolo has fantastic ability to turn a game. We will welcome him back, no problem from this end, though he might get a bit of stick at away games."

It is cruelly ironic that the Di Canio incident eclipsed the fact of Wednesday's best moment this season, victory over Arsenal. "Our 45 minutes after the incident was the best we have put together so far," Wilson said.

"But that all seems a million years ago now. They say a week is a long time in football but crikey, I seem to have had three birthdays since then."

Wilson readily concedes that, even excluding the Di Canio horror, the job is a bigger challenge than he had thought. "That's because of the expectations. The supporters want us to compete with Manchester United. Realistically, we can't do that. But what we can compete with is people outside the top five.

"The priority is to get some stability and make sure we end up in a respectable position this season and then build on that. I don't think the club is going to end up in Europe but we have the potential to do that and it's our long-term goal. After getting a respectable position, then we have to entice better players to come to the club."

It is indicative of the present state of the Premiership that Wilson feels the need to "entice" people to a club of Wednesday's standing. "We need more quality, the club know that and the supporters know that as well, but it is difficult to get hold of players, especially overseas ones. Because you aren't in the spotlight all the time they don't know too much about you.

"There is quite a bit to be done here and the chairman has assured me he will do his level best to bring in the players I want. That's all I can ask for."

Frustrating is the word Wilson chooses to sum up those first 100 days. "I want the team to play exhilarating football and score five goals every time, but it isn't always as easy as that." Last time they played, in fact, four goals were conceded at Middlesbrough, which throws into even sharper perspective today's trip to Coventry.

"They are all big games nowadays. There is so much pressure and hype that people think the Coventry game is a six-pointer for both clubs, even at this stage of the season. You have to say, hold on a bit, it's too soon for that talk. If we had won last time out we could have been fourth in the table.

"There is not a great deal of difference between us and half the other teams in the division. If results go well we could finish sixth or seventh, but the aim is to get enough points so you aren't looking over your shoulder.

"All of this has added to my learning process as a manager. I am still only an apprentice at this job really, but one thing I have always believed in is never to look back. I've never done that. You can't pay your mortgage with history."