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Dunlavy Column: Oh Fernando, where did it all go wrong?

Forestieri

There was a time, not so long ago, when a six-game ban for Fernando Forestieri would have spelled disaster for Sheffield Wednesday.

Now? The Italian won’t even be missed. The beating heart and creative lynchpin of a once irresistible Owls attack, Forestieri has become both passenger and problem.

Wednesday fans will always retain a soft spot for the man called Fessi, and justifiably so. The forward’s arrival from Watford in 2015 was the catalyst for the club’s unexpected revival under Carlos Carvalhal.

No other player so perfectly captured the giddy euphoria of that campaign. Fearless and bold, his fleet feet, edgy temper and spectacular goals were arguably the most exciting thing to hit Hillsborough since Chris Waddle strutted his stuff in the fledgling Premier League.

Prolific

Andre Gray won the Championship Player of the Year award for a prolific season at Burnley, but it was Forestieri whose brilliance illuminated the division.

Everything since has represented a dying of that light; a vain and often half-hearted battle to recapture the rapture of those glittering afternoons.

Injuries have played their part, of course. Alongside various knocks and niggles, the 29-year-old lost six months of the 2017-18 campaign to major knee surgery.

Fitness, though, is not the whole story. In the summer of 2016, rumours of a bid from relegated Newcastle prompted Forestieri to go on strike.

As it happened, no offer materialised and Forestieri was forced into an embarrassing climbdown, but the damage was done. Never again did he play with the same laser focus, nor enjoy the same unadulterated affection from the stands.

The statistics tell the tale. In his first season with Wednesday, Forestieri directly contributed towards 21 goals. In three seasons since, he has contributed towards just 28 more.

Other key metrics such as shots per game and key passes have also tumbled. Then there are the silly red cards and bookings, a curious injury that allowed him to spend last Christmas with his family in Argentina.

Now he is missing again. Accused of using racist insults towards Mansfield’s Krystian Pearce during a pre-season friendly in the summer of 2018, he was acquitted in a court of law but found guilty by an FA panel.

Yet if Forestieri has cause to feel embittered at the six-game ban handed out by the FA, he is entirely culpable for the pointless high tackle that sparked the incident, the melee that followed, and whatever words were subsequently exchanged.

Taken in context, it all adds to the perception of a talented but frustrated individual now more trouble than he is worth. For Forestieri, it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Garry Monk, appointed as the Owls’ new manager last Friday, is a man whose mantra is ‘the group’. No loose cannons. No mavericks.

Intelligence and discipline are the qualities he prizes in a player. “The team role and team ethic is number one,” he said during his ill-fated stay at Middlesbrough. “You have to carry out your role. If you don’t do that, you don’t play.”

Fernando Forestieri

Playmaker

Adama Traore, Boro’s deadliest asset and now a Premier League star at Wolves, found that out the hard way. Forestieri, a player cut from similar cloth, is unlikely to fair much better.

If Monk deploys the 4-4-2 he used to such great effect at Birmingham last year, the little playmaker could yet have a role to play. He thrives in the hole behind a big No.9.

Unfortunately, by the time he returns, Monk may have settled on a different system and the personnel to play it.

If so, we may have seen the last of Forestieri in a Sheffield Wednesday shirt. Whatever happens, we have certainly seen his best days. Neither his head nor his heart seem in it any longer and, with his contract up in May, a parting of the ways now looks inevitable. 

This article was brought to you by The Football League Paper. On-sale every Sunday, the newspaper provides extensive coverage for all 72 Football League clubs with news, features and gossip plus comprehensive match reports.
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