Milan Mandaric — wealthy benefactor who saved Sheffield Wednesday at its lowest ebb? Or ruthless businessman who saw an opportunity to make a quick buck and would sell to Kim Jong-un if the price was right?

As we mark four years since the Serbian completed his purchase of the club, two of our contributors – Hugh and Peter – discuss whether it’s a case of ‘Uncle Milan’ or ‘Maleficent Mandaric’.


Badge Owl POSTHUGH – ‘Progress on and off the pitch’


As I sit to write this, in what feels like a defence of Milan Mandaric, I am struck initially by two issues.

The first is that, at the time of writing, three Championship clubs; Nottingham Forest, Blackburn Rovers and Leeds United, have just been placed under transfer embargoes by the Football League.

All three clubs are running at substantial losses funded by erratic chairmen.

When it comes to considering our own position, I often feel we should be careful what we wish for.

Secondly, I am struck by an old cliché: if a year is a long time in football, four years must be an eternity. I think we can all be glad that Darren Purse is no longer club captain.

Milan Mandaric took charge of Sheffield Wednesday four years ago. He gained control over a club that was being torn apart.

With the board at the time no longer able to finance growing debts and tax bills, Mandaric bought the club for £1. He settled the huge debt owed to the Co-operative Bank, and structured deals with loan note holders that would see them paid a fraction of their debt upon promotion to the Premier League.

Dave Allen, interestingly, never agreed to a reduction of the debts owed to him.

Over the following four years, Mandaric has overseen a successful restoration of the club as a functioning business.

Key trends over Mandaric's tenure

Key trends over Mandaric’s tenure

From the point at which Mandaric has influenced the financial fortunes of the club, turnover has increased by over 50% from £9.4m in the year ending 2011 to £14.9m in the year ending 2013.

Last season’s figures will be published in the New Year, if the club follow recent precedent.

As a point of comparison, turnover was £1m better in the year ending 2013 than 2010, despite the club selling a similar amount of season tickets for the same division. This points to a greater utilisation of the commercial wing of the club.

Shirt sales are up, shop profits are up. These are not mere coincidences.

Losses have been reduced from near £7m to under £4m. Crucially, losses now make up 26% of total turnover, in comparison to 72% in 2011.

Mandaric’s strict control of finance is most evident in figures relating to the 2011/12 promotion season; where expenditure was reduced, turnover increased and losses contracted while the club navigated a path to promotion on the pitch.

The celebrations on the final day will live long in the memory

The promotion season was a success on and off the field

From the most recent available figures, Wednesday run on the fourth lowest wage bill in the Championship. To achieve relative security last season on such a budget is admirable.

Critics will point to recent discussion of ‘losing £6m a year’ but it should be stressed that no such figures are currently published.

Alongside more encouraging financial figures, the club continues to rise the league ladder, doing so each year with Mandaric at the helm.

The radical transformation of the quality of the playing staff is often overlooked but it seems incredible that Wednesday have gone from a first choice midfield of Teale-Potter-O’Connor-Sedgwick to now, in three-and-a-half years, while reducing losses.

As a club we are investing in youth players to a greater extent than at any other point in the past 10 years. We have promising academy graduates within the first team set-up and the club is beginning to compete at youth level.

Under Dean Ramsdale and Lee Bullen’s guidance, the staff at Middlewood Road are developing good young players, and while it will be another few years before we can truly reflect upon the success of their work, the signs are promising.

The decision to sack the popular Gary Megson proved the right call

The decision to sack the popular Gary Megson proved the right call

While heavily criticised at the time, Mandaric made the correct decision in sacking Gary Megson.

In retrospect, whether it was his sacking or Dave Jones’ appointment that propelled us to promotion is up for debate.

The appointment of Stuart Gray and subsequent revival of his managerial career has also proved to be a hugely positive decision.

Mandaric is not untouchable though and serious questions have to be asked regarding his movements to sell the club over this summer.

Very quickly it became clear that Hafiz Mammadov’s business dealings in both France and Azerbaijan rendered him unfit to take control at Hillsborough.

While he is looking to sell, Mandaric made the best decision for this club in not doing but it is worrying that he seemingly will sell to anyone given the chance.

For the moment however, the picture is reasonably positive.

Steady progress on the pitch alongside the continuing tightening of financial structures can only be viewed through a positive lens.

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Badge Owl POSTPETER – ‘Mammadov farce showed Milan’s true colours’


Has Milan Mandaric been a success as chairman of Sheffield Wednesday? On balance and in my opinion, no.

I was never on board with the whole “ Xвала Milan” thing, and at the risk of perhaps sounding condescending, I always found it a bit cringeworthy.

I just cannot relate to the idea of people willingly, and joyfully, surrendering something – be it a state, their football club or anything dear in their life – to a single individual. But that’s what happened.

You have to sharply separate what he did, and why he did it.

Yes, Mandaric buying the club for £1 and clearing our debts (at least for a while) meant we staved off going out of business then and there.

But no: He didn’t so much “save the club”, as he made what he thought was a shrewd business decision to keep us afloat. As he’d done time and again in English football. No more, no less.

Wednesday fans are too deferential in their praise of Milan

Wednesday fans are too deferential in their praise of Milan

So, please, stop with all the sentiment stuff from him, and the outpouring of overzealous (but embarrassing) gratitude every time Mandaric has a message for the public crafted.

Messages that are always crafted with a keen eye for hitting the sentimental sweetspot with what seem a great number of my fellow fans.

And messages always conspicuously timed for when questions might be starting to be raised about the direction of our club, even amid all the “Xвала Milan” nonsense.

Most of all it hurts me that this is, or should be, our club, not the simple possession of someone who has, at his heart, simply the objective of selling at a profit.

Can nothing good come from chasing a profit?

Yes, it can be a very productive. But, as the saying goes, the market is a very good servant, but a terrible master.

I’m afraid that Mandaric very clearly showed his hand this summer, and the market – Mandaric chasing a return on his investment – has become the master of our football club.

Hafiz Mammadov – let’s not mince words – is a crook.

We were led to believe that he’d made his supposed fortune as a businessman in Azerbaijan – in truth he was the beneficiary of close ties to an authoritarian regime with only a smidgeon more freedom than Saudi Arabia.

When news broke of Mandaric’s deal with Mammadov, I was again sad to see so many fellow fans fawn at the “new era” and “we’re rich now” etc.

Again, the market was our master, and in pursuit of the promised land, the end justifies every mean. Even doing a deal with an autocrat.

The Mammadov affair revealed Mandaric to be desperate; how else can we explain an otherwise savvy businessman completely surrendering common sense, and agreeing a deal without a proper show of funds first?

And, let’s not forget, gifting the shirt sponsorship of the club to Mammadov. A gift, as it was apparently not contingent on the takeover being completed, as we’re still carrying the abomination of an advert for a dictatorship on our club’s shirt.

Continuing to carry Mammadov's logo is a disgrace

Continuing to carry Mammadov’s logo is a disgrace

The Mammadov affair alone flushed all Mandaric’s PR talk of us being a community club, of it being about the fans, right down the toilet.

But it also showed Mandaric’s desperation had robbed him of the only skill that has proved valuable to us as a club: His business sense.

For all the times his PR announcements have pleaded with the fans to trust him, he has shown he cannot be trusted to have the club’s best interests at his heart.

These days you’d think being owned by one individual was the only certified route to success.

But has that been the route for Bayern München, Dortmund, Real Madrid, Barcelona? No, they are owned by the fans.

I’m not suggesting we’re comparable to those behemoths of modern football. But it does suggest that fan ownership of their club is not at odds with being successful.

I might well be the odd one out, and I’d normally consider myself both rational and reasonable.

I can understand people saying the only way to get success for our Wednesday is to have a rich benefactor funneling millions upon millions of pounds into the club.

And I can understand the people saying that if we don’t do what everyone else is doing – spending vastly beyond our means – we won’t be in the Championship at all.

But just as the crafted sentiment of Mandaric has seemingly got to so many fellow fans, I must admit to being the prisoner of another sentiment, probably neither rational, reasonable nor realistic: Sheffield Wednesday isn’t just a football club.

It’s a community, and it’s a set of values.

And it should be ours, not Mandaric’s.

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Hugh and Peter
Owls Alive

Twitter: @hughwragg, @ploehmann and @OwlsAlive


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