In the final part of our extensive Q&A with the chairman, Mr Chansiri addresses the George Hirst situation and the prospect of an in-house Ladies team.
There is a lot of speculation about the situation of George Hirst. Could you provide supporters with an update from the club’s perspective?
My belief is that the majority of issues at a football club should be kept in-house but sometimes there is so much talk and speculation outside that we must tell our side of the story. A lot of rumour and continued untrue speculation can be damaging so we are left with no choice but to set the record straight.
We have tried over and over again to negotiate to extend the contract of George Hirst but each offer has been turned down. We were categorically informed just before the closure of the transfer window in August 2017 that “George will not be signing a new deal at the club.”
Coincidentally, the notification that George would not be signing for SWFC came just over an hour after we had turned down an offer from a Premier League club for the permanent transfer of George’s registration. Of course, this made us wonder if there were talks taking place with regards to George’s future which we were not party to. Two other clubs had also showed an interest in the permanent transfer of George during the summer transfer window, one being a nearby rival in the Championship.
Going right back to when George came through our academy, he did very well and fully earned his first professional contract which was arranged as soon as he was legally able to enter into a professional agreement. This contract runs until June 2018. Offering professional contracts to our young players not only recognises their achievements but also gives them an incentive to further progress on and off the pitch.
In George’s case, he signed and went on to do well for the Under-18s and Under-23s, scoring a lot of goals, so we wished to open discussions on a new, longer term contract prior to the transfer window in January 2017. Our offer broke our current salary structure for the Development Squad on a level never previously matched. We have policies in place to ensure continuity throughout the squad and fairness to all players at pre-first team level.
The reason we broke our structure was based on appreciation of the promising signs that George was showing and in recognition of his hard work and achievements for the Under-23s and England team at youth level. Our policy is based on basic salary but as with all development players is enhanced with bonuses subject to the player participating in first team matches.
Our offer to George was declined by the player’s advisors and when we asked them to submit a proposal to us, we found they were requesting the basic salary of an established first team player at our club, plus completely unrealistic bonuses, clauses and add-ons. We therefore had no choice but to decline this proposal, not because of the money, but in the interests of fairness and squad morale.
Although negotiations were proving difficult I did not close the door because that is never my style as chairman. More discussions were held over a period of time and we increased our offer to make this contract by far the most lucrative of its kind in our club’s history. The decision was made that subject to George extending his contract with SWFC we would help source a loan move to a League One or League Two club to help him gain first team experience.
This is the best way that young players can develop and gain physical and mental strength, the gulf between Under-18s football and first team Championship football is enormous and such a jump could ultimately set a player back if they are not ready for the competition we face in the Championship.
Of the numerous League One and Two clubs interested in potentially loaning George, even with our more realistic sums proposed in the contract offer, all but one were very quickly out of the running due to these clubs simply not being able to pay these levels of salary. The loan club remaining was itself willing to break their own wage structure to enable the temporary transfer but when George did not sign with SWFC the move could not materialise. We then received an unwelcome ultimatum from his agents insisting we sell George if a loan move was not forthcoming.
As a club, we respect every player’s right to choose his own career path, but I have to question the advice George has received from his agents and other advisors. I am not pleased with how they have conducted themselves throughout this process. Even now, we are still awaiting the courtesy of a reply to two separate communications, the second of which was sent over three weeks ago. We have simply asked for a meeting to discuss the situation and see if we can find some common ground to resolve this situation satisfactorily for all parties. Unfortunately, they are now unwilling to even talk.
We must channel our time, commitment and resource into those young players who want to prosper at Sheffield Wednesday. The whole situation involving George’s advisors has been disruptive, as was another party close to George who used unacceptable foul and abusive language to a senior member of our academy staff.
Regarding interest from other clubs in George, as previously stated, we did receive offers from the Premier League and another club nearby in the Championship in the most recent transfer windows. But these bids, on all levels, were not in the best interests of our club and were dismissed. In addition, agreeing to sell George, or any player, in these circumstances would send out the wrong message to all players in all age groups at Sheffield Wednesday.
As far as we are concerned, we have tried our best and we are disappointed but it seems there is little more we can do to keep George at Sheffield Wednesday. Ultimately, we are a team on and off the pitch, we all help each other. If we allow an agent or advisor to disturb what we have in place then they will be bigger than the club, which will never happen under my chairmanship.
We will provide a further update should there be any significant developments in due course.
Will there be an official Sheffield Wednesday women’s team?
At the moment we have the Sheffield Wednesday Ladies, who are currently not in-house but are affiliated to the club in terms of using our name. We have had various discussions with representatives of the Ladies about where the relationship will go in the future and it has essentially been agreed that we will re-open discussions when we reach the Premier League.