In many ways, Fernando Forestieri symbolises the last five years at Sheffield Wednesday. Full of potential, scintillating early on, yet volatile and in a steady decline, it has been an interesting chapter for both the Argentine maverick and the club.
The departure of Forestieri was all but confirmed yesterday, when the Owls announced that he had rejected the offer of a contract extension. Influential defender Morgan Fox and talisman Steven Fletcher also snubbed new deals, and it was also confirmed that Sam Hutchinson, Sam Winnall and David Bates will be moving on.
Although Bates was rarely seen for the duration of his forgettable loan spell, the exits of Hutchinson and Winnall will be bittersweet for supporters. The former became a forgotten man towards the end of his spell but will be ending a six-year association with the Owls. Winnall featured sparsely, but many supporters considered him a coup upon his arrival from Barnsley in 2017.
It cannot be denied that talented players are leaving Hillsborough, but their exits could enable the club to usher in the new era that supporters have been clamouring for. After all, it has been three years since Sheffield Wednesday competed in the play-offs and they have not threatened the top six since.
Conflicts in the dressing room have been well-documented, with the ostracising of senior figures such as Keiren Westwood casting doubt over the Hillsborough harmony. Recently, former striker Sergiu Bus even went public with comments about how poorly he was treated by teammates during his time at the club.
The true extent of these issues may not be revealed for years, but the focus of Sheffield Wednesday must now be firmly fixed on a fresh start.
With the release of the likes of Hutchinson, Wednesday are letting go of players that as well as being crucial in play-off reaching campaigns, were also part of the subsequent stumble and stagnation. It is perhaps telling that this season, the shining lights have primarily been fresh faces that did not suffer Wembley heartache in 2016.
Short-term extensions have been handed to Paul Jones, Kieran Lee and Atdhe Nuhiu, but even if they stay beyond the end of the current campaign, Wednesday’s squad will still require rejuvenation.
Wednesday will, of course, be forced to contend with the harsh reality of a transfer market that will undoubtedly feel the impact of COVID-19. Fortunately, the club have some highly rated young prospects on the books and the likes of Osaze Urhogide and Alex Hunt have already tasted first-team football.
Regardless of who comprises the bulk of Wednesday’s squad for next season, it is a new mentality that is perhaps needed the most. Too often, supporters have seen collapses under pressure and gutless displays, leading to Hillsborough being a considerably quieter place these days. It may prove difficult to assemble a squad capable of challenging for promotion this summer, but supporters will demand a squad that battles for 90 minutes, every week. They need to feel represented again.
If Sheffield Wednesday are still a Championship club at the end of the current campaign, change will surely happen on a large scale. New faces must be added, young talent must be blooded, and the ghosts of the past decade must be banished if South Yorkshire’s sleeping giants are to awaken.