Milan Mandaric talks at length and with great, understated passion.
The conversation is of change.
His life has gone through another one. For a pound, two years ago yesterday, he bought a football club. For a gloves-off scrap with the HMRC, he cleared his name.
Sheffield Wednesday, the true footballing giant he purchased, from the brink, back in 2010, cost much more than a quid. About £20m more, he estimates.
The clearing of his name took, it would appear, as big a cost in emotion and energy.
“The court case took a lot of smiles off my face,” he says. “I was the victim of people who never did proper due diligence on me.”
He sacked a manager – Gary Megson – after a Sheffield derby win.
Mandaric has to believe in those around him. He points to the longevity of his relationship with Harry Redknapp and the admiration he had for another former manager, Nigel Pearson, whom he took to Leicester and left in charge.
It is an important starting point, for his current manager, Dave Jones, is under pressure. Five successive defeats, including a 4-1 home reverse against Watford on Tuesday night, has caused unrest. Jones came out fighting in midweek, saying Jose Mourinho could do no more with his players.
Mandaric is more considered, but the backing, with Jones set to lead Wednesday against his former club Cardiff on Sunday, is about as emphatic as you will find, going way beyond the more tiresome vote-of-confidence line that is lazily trotted out on so many occasions.
“More than once I’ve been accused of letting managers go but I always stay with them when I find the right man and I believe in him,” he says. “You look at Harry and we stayed together for so many years, we are friends as of this day. Nigel Pearson was the same.
“I changed the manager [Megson] and there was bitterness because people didn’t understand. We had just won the big derby but I had made my decision before. The reason was because I didn’t see stability of the team. I was desperate to go to the Championship, it would have been a disaster for this club to stay longer in League One. I had to bring someone in to bring stability. I experienced some difficult stuff and humiliation.
“I made those changes to bring in David Jones. I found a really good, experienced manager and a really good man, I respect the man. He didn’t just rebuild a team, he refurbished the whole football infrastructure; the reserves, the academy and the training ground. For one reason or another we are not having a good season. The main reason is of recruiting. We brought in a lot of players. We need a little time. Let us show a bit of patience. Stability is what the club needs. I will not panic, I will not just jump in because we are at the bottom.
“For a couple of months we are down but being down can be constructive and we will be stronger. We need to be given time, be united, be patient and be brave and really show character. The chips are down but we need to not just jump off the ship. He is a good man and a good manager, he could not go from being a great manager to a bad manager over night.”
Mandaric has learnt rapidly about the size of the club he bought for that pound. He quickly had to pay a £1.4m tax bill. Another £10m was invested to pay off creditors and shareholders. “We would have went down to League Two,” he adds. A further £10m has been found to make Sheffield Wednesday competitive again. They went up last season, 38,082 fans watched the last-day win over Wycombe Wanderers. Despite a season in which they are currently second-bottom of the Championship, average home attendances are just under 25,000.
It is twelve-and-a-half years since Wednesday last kicked a ball in the Premier League but they still feel like a top-flight team in waiting.
“There are 25,000 for the team and we are bottom of the league,” says Mandaric. “I will do everything humanely possible to get us out of there.
“The club has not been in good shape for the last 15 years. There is a tremendous history and heritage. I’m very happy to be part of that. I knew there would be a lot of work to be done but I have found it harder than I thought. There was not much substance on the field and off it. It has been a complete rebuild.
“If you look at my history, that is what I have done all my life. I didn’t have enough money as a young man to buy businesses. I had to buy things what were broken. I would fix it, build it up and shape it. It is a challenge. You are doing something special with something people screwed up and messed up.
“I enjoyed cleaning the club and organising the infrastructure off the field, which there wasn’t much there. I like putting things together and seeing the progress. We are consolidating and building for the Premier League. Will we do it in one year, two years or three years? I don’t know, but it will happen.”
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