Due to various complications with the impending takeover, Hillsborough had been deprived of any excitement in the transfer market. However, this week Sheffield Wednesday have recruited four players, which indicates that Hafiz Mammadov’s impending takeover of the club is edging ever closer to that all-important ratification from the Football League, as well as obviously bolstering the paper thin squad that Stuart Gray currently has at his disposal.
First through the door was Irish international goalkeeper Kieren Westwood, who penned a two year deal on Monday evening following his release from Premier League outfit Sunderland. Although the 29 year-old stopper only featured in 24 matches during his three-year stint in the North East, Westwood has a wealth of experience and is a proven performer at Championship level; he enjoyed three years in the second tier with Coventry City where he put in some outstanding performances between the sticks. The Manchester-born custodian was part of Ireland’s Euro 2012 squad, and after the retirement of veteran Shay Given, he and Millwall ‘keeper David Forde are fighting an intriguing battle for that number one jersey at international level.
Perhaps if Westwood regains his form at Hillsborough he could be the Irish’s undisputed first choice goalkeeper, but his battle to make Wednesday’s starting XI has become just as difficult after Stuart Gray retained the services of last season’s number one Chris Kirkland for another season. Kirkland has enjoyed two successful campaigns in South Yorkshire, where seems to have turned his career around following several injury-hit years at Wigan Athletic. The 33 year-old told Radio Sheffield’s Andy Giddings: ‘It’s been dragging (the negotiations) on for a while through no fault of anyone’s, but it was always my intention to stay here, I had other offers but I was always going to sign here.’ This came as welcome news for Wednesday fans who could have been forgiven for assuming that the arrival of a top goalkeeper in Kieren Westwood meant that Kirkland was moving on, but the fact that both men will be competing for that vital spot between the sticks can only be healthy for Gray’s men.
The Yorkshiremen have also strengthened the engine room this week, after securing the signatures of two combative midfielders. Wednesday fought off competition from Millwall to land utility man Sam Hutchinson, who is familiar with S6 after spending three months on loan at the back end of last term. Hutchinson left Chelsea earlier this summer after 17 years at Stamford Bridge following Jose Mourinho’s decision to finally let go of the Windsor born enforcer. The 24 year-old can play in central midfield, central defence and at right back due to his ability to combine passing ability and comfort in possession with bags of workrate and brute force in the tackle. If he end his horrific injury problems which forced him to retire in 2010, and his poor disciplinary record, then Sheffield Wednesday have an outstanding talent on their hands.
The Owls’ busy week was rounded off by gritty Portugese midfielder Jose Semedo extending his stay at Hillsborough for another 12 months. Semedo joined the club in 2011, and he played a pivotal role in Wednesday’s promotion to the Championship. He won the clubs’ official Player of the Year award in his debut season, which was testament to his outstanding performances in the middle of the park. Despite enjoying a dream debut season in the blue and white stripes, Semedo failed to really adapt to Championship football until Stuart Gray’s appointment in December 2013, which seemed to reinvigorate the ex-Charlton midfielder as he regained the form that initially endeared him to the fans, while also striking up a great partnership with the more creative Kieran Lee. It isn’t only his superb industry on the field that makes him a fans’ favourite, because Wednesdayites can also relate his clear affection for the club, which he once again showed in an emotional interview with Radio Sheffield’s Rob Staton. He told the local journalist: ‘In England, Sheffield Wednesday are the only club that matter to me, I’m so happy. I can’t explain why I have so much love for this club, I even felt it playing against Wednesday for Charlton, and God picked this club for me the next season. The main thing for me is to feel happy, loved and be able to give love back, which I can do here at Wednesday. I got offered more money at other clubs abroad, but I just wanted to be happy, and I want to retire at this club.’
Semedo will face a battle with for a staring XI place with Sam Hutchinson, a midfielder that plays in a similarly aggressive and combative fashion. Both men compliment Kieran Lee, who dictates the tempo and provides the Owls with more flair and creativity in the centre of the pitch.
All four signings are expected to feature in Wednesday’s first friendly of the summer away at York on Saturday 12th July, where the new home shirt will make its first proper public appearance. Owls’ fans have sold out their allocation of 2,000 for the warm-up game.