It is just not in Stuart Gray’s nature to tolerate mediocrity.
The Yorkshireman sets high standards and prepares his teams as thoroughly as possible before every match. Attention to detail is everything to Gray.
Two days after being named Sheffield Wednesday’s new head coach in January 2014, Gray said: “You can’t stand still in this game. You have got to keep moving forwards.”
Gray, formerly of Southampton and Northampton, enjoys working on the training ground with players. When he was finally appointed by Milan Mandaric on a permanent basis, his main tasks were to make individuals better, the team collectively stronger and to push the club up the Championship table.
Under Gray, Wednesday have improved and there has been no real sign of them going backwards. When he succeeded Dave Jones at the helm, the Owls were second-from-bottom, six points adrift of safety. Gray engineered a revival, leading them to a 16th-placed finish.
Then there was the little matter of the Hafiz Mammadov takeover saga last summer. Ultimately, the Azerbaijan businessman’s buyout collapsed after dragging on for nearly three months. That whole episode could have been a distraction. But Gray and his staff just knuckled down and got on with their jobs.
Wednesday continued their steady progress last term. Perhaps they have not progessed as quickly as some Owls fans would have liked but the team still ended up three places higher and seven points better off than the previous campaign. Given their playing budget and resources, they over-achieved.
Now comes the tricky part for Gray. Expectation levels have soared at Hillsborough since Dejphon Chansiri’s arrival in March, with the Thai tycoon having vowed to spend “whatever is necessary” to make Wednesday top-six contenders.
With chairman Chansiri having set his sights on promotion to the Premier League by 2017, the pressure is on Gray, who held a meeting with Chansiri earlier this week to discuss his plans for next season, to prove he is the right man to take them to the next level.
There is a big rebuilding job to be done over the next couple of months. The Owls have left themselves with just 12 senior players after letting 11 leave.
Gray, who insists he will have the final say on Wednesday’s transfer dealings, needs to, in partnership with the club’s sporting director committee, act decisively in the transfer market this summer. His recruitment drive has got to be spot on. Aside from the goalkeeping position, Wednesday must bring in quality and add strength in depth to all departments or risk undoing some of Gray’s good work.