by Chris Dunlavy
Rejuvenated Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Sam Hutchinson has thanked manager Carlos Carvalhal for urging him to train through the pain.
The former Chelsea trainee’s formative years were marked by a string of serious knee injuries, even forcing him into temporary retirement.
Even when he returned in 2011, knocks, niggles and strains restricted him to 22 appearances in four seasons.
But. after playing 20 times for the Owls last year and 15 more this term, the 26-year-old thinks Carvalhal’s tough love has finally laid his fitness issues to rest.
“At times, even I’ve doubted my fitness,” admits Hutchinson, who joined Wednesday from Chelsea in 2013.
“Now I don’t – and Carlos has done more than anyone to instil that in me.
“Sometimes, I don’t feel like I can train and, in the past, I’ve had managers who said ‘Yeah, don’t worry, sit this one out’.
“But Carlos isn’t having that. He makes me train, he makes me run and it’s been a revelation. I come off the pitch feeling great. He’s completely changed my mentality from thinking ‘I need to rest’ to thinking ‘No, I need to get out there’.”
Could England and Liverpool’s most notorious absentee Daniel Sturridge benefit from such an approach?
“Yeah, I think so,” adds Hutchinson. “I played with Studs at Chelsea so I know what he’s like. And it’s a very similar thing.
“Obviously I can’t speak for his injuries now, but I know from experience that your body can lie. You don’t always know best.”
Hutchinson’s body was put to the ultimate test on Tuesday as the Owls were beaten 2-0 in the Capital One Cup quarter-finals by Stoke.
Wednesday battered Arsenal 3-0 in the previous round and went into the tie boasting one defeat in 14, but they were steamrollered by the bigger, stronger Premier League side.
“They’re a proper team, a men’s team,” said Hutchinson. “They’ve got quality players but even Marko Arnautovic is 6ft plus. That’s what life is like in the Premier League.
“When I was at Chelsea, everyone was massive. We had Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard in midfield and, for all their ability, they were big old lumps.
“I remember even further back, when I was a ball boy against Arsenal during my days in the U12s. People talked about the power of Patrick Vieira, but I stood next to Robert Pires and he was over 6ft. You just think ‘They’re destroyers’.
“You get all these pundits saying ‘People don’t tackle’ and things like that. But they don’t realise how physical it is every minute of every game these days. It really was men against boys at times.”
One person who certainly does tackle – and not always too well – is Hutchinson.
The midfielder missed the last two league games after collecting ten bookings and, while he has vowed to cut out the daft ones, he blames enthusiasm rather than malice.
“I just feel so blessed to be playing again,” he explains. “I’m savouring every minute, throwing myself into every game.
“I’m probably trying to win balls I can’t win because I’m thinking ‘This could all end at any moment’.
“I just want to enjoy playing and nothing – no injury or niggle – will stop me again. I won’t retire.
“Until I can’t walk, I won’t stop playing because I’ve done that before and it was so depressing.”
The question is, will he be continuing his renaissance in the Championship next season?
Or can Wednesday, who went into the weekend tied with sixth-placed Birmingham, turn a solid start into a genuine push?
“I don’t see why not,” he says. “We’ve got a quality coach, a good group of lads. Guys like Barry Bannan and Fernando Forestieri have injected us with the little bit of quality we lacked.
“There are a lot of rich clubs in the Championship but when we really hit it – as we did against Arsenal – we’re a match for any side.”