Opinion: Lee Bullen Not The Man For Sheffield Wednesday

Opinion: Lee Bullen Not The Man For Sheffield Wednesday


Why Lee Bullen is not the manager Sheffield Wednesday need

Lee Bullen looks likely to take the permanent job at Sheffield Wednesday. With SkyBet, he is as short as 1/10.

On the face of things, this would look like a sensible appointment.

At a potentially destabilizing period for the club and with little time to look for an alternative with the season already begun, the Owls already have a boss loved by the fans, respected by the players and with a strong track record in caretaker management.

Bullen has overseen four victories in nine games in charge across three different stints and just two defeats.

A return of 1.67 points per game over a full league campaign would give a team 77 points – more than newly promoted Aston Villa amassed last season.

The problem, though, is that a lot of those games were highly-charged on emotion.

Caretaker not always the man for the job

After Joss Luhukay’s regime, for example, fans and players were so glad to see a change of manager that the presence of an honest, passionate figure in Bullen on the touchline gave the whole place a huge lift.

The question though, is whether that kind of impact could be sustained over a longer period.

Since Sheffield Wednesday last gave a caretaker gaffer the permanent job, Stuart Gray in January 2014, five other interim managers from the Championship have also got their gigs.

Gary Caldwell, Neil Harris and Paul Warne were all given their jobs at Wigan, Millwall and Rotherham respectively in preparation for a season in League One – Caldwell and Warne delivered promotion instantly while Harris achieved the feat in his second season with the Lions.

It was a different situation though, for Kit Symons at Fulham.

He was appointed off the back of Felix Magath’s extreme disciplinarian regime so, as a nice, affable guy, he was always likely to have a positive impact on the squad.

After that though, he was not quite able to take the club forward in-line with expectation and while he has the best wishes of fans, it would be difficult to say that the permanent move worked out.

Paul Heckingbottom, meanwhile, got the permanent job off the back of winning League One promotion with Barnsley – and he did reasonably well with the Tykes in the Championship before leaving acrimoniously.

These caretaker managers have generally done well at smaller-sized clubs, or in the case of Gray and Symons – did the initial job that was asked of them.

However, we are seeing tactical changes in the Championship with a constant influx of fresh ideas: centre-backs who overlap, goalkeepers who play like outfielders, full-backs acting like wide forwards. 

We are also seeing high-pedigree managers drop down to the second-tier; Slaven Bilic and Phillipe Cocu give West Brom and Derby an extensive, useful book of contacts.

Just a short term fix?

While Lee Bullen has the right principles, it remains to be seen whether he has the depth of ideas to improve Wednesday over a prolonged period or the contacts, having only worked at Hillsborough since 2011.

The Owls have a squad that has stagnated over the last three years and, in terms of permanent signings, their recruitment has been poor since they reached the Championship Play-Off Final in 2016.

Yes, Wednesday managed a top half finish last season but that was mainly due to moments of individual magic from outside the box – chiefly from Adam Reach – and it would be unfair to rely on him to repeat the trick every week.

In terms of shot data, they averaged 1.23 Expected Goals For (xGF) per game and 1.55 Against (xGA), giving them a ratio of 44.41% – 20th in the Championship.

That shows that in terms of a long-term vision, Wednesday do not want continuity, or necessarily somebody who gets on well with the current players – they want somebody who will evolve the squad and make ruthless decisions based on quality, as well as effort.

Bullen would be the ideal man to galvanize the Owls for a relegation battle – but he may not be the man to take them forward.

Sheffield Wednesday next manager odds

(all odds via SkyBet)

Lee Bullen – 1/10

Gary Rowett – 8/1

Chris Coleman – 10/1

Tony Pulis – 14/1

Chris Hughton – 16/1