Managerless Sheffield Wednesday have made their third capture of the January transfer window as they have re-signed combative midfielder, Sam Hutchinson.
The 31-year-old’s six-year spell with the Owls came to an end last summer after being ostracised from the first team by Garry Monk, joining Cypriot side Pafos FC on a free transfer when his contract expired.
However, Hutchinson only lasted six-months in Cyprus and made seven appearances before his contract was terminated in December, sparking rumours of an immediate return to Hillsborough.
It has been reported by The Sheffield Star that Hutchinson has penned a deal for the rest of the campaign, with an option to extend.
Hutchinson will wear the number six shirt and is eligible to play on Wednesday night as the Owls travel to Coventry City.
The return of the former fans’ favourite has divided opinion amongst supporters.
Hutchinson’s pre-Owls career
Hutchinson joined the academy of Chelsea at the age of nine and emerged as a promising right-back, making his first-team debut as an 18-year-old in May 2007.
Injuries have been a reoccurring theme throughout Hutchinson’s career, forcing him to retire aged 21 with a chondral defect in 2010.
He spent the following months fighting physical and mental difficulties, battling back from the knee injury and a period of depression to sign a one-and-a-half-year contract with the Blues after a trial period in December 2011 – 18 months after stepping away from the game.
On 29 April 2012, Hutchinson returned to the field, replacing Jose Bosingwa in a 6-1 victory for Chelsea over London rivals Queens Park Rangers at Stamford Bridge.
That summer he joined Nottingham Forest on loan, making several appearances before another knee injury foiled his time at The City Ground as he missed 15 fixtures, returning to training with the Reds in March.
The following season saw Hutchinson be sent out on loan to the Netherlands, joining Chelsea’s affiliated club Vitesse Arnhem. Initially a season-long loan, he was recalled in January 2014 before his Sheffield Wednesday story began in February.
Becoming a Wednesday cult hero
Joining on an initial 28-day loan, he saw his time with the Owls extended for the rest of the season.
Hutchinson’s pugnacious performances in his newly adopted defensive midfield role made him a hit with supporters and then-manager Stuart Gray, who signed him on a free transfer in the summer. Supporters would be frequently heard chanting, “Oh, Sammy Sammy, [...] Hutchinson,” as he impressed.
In the 2015/16 season, Hutchinson made 27 league appearances as the Owls finished inside the Championship play-offs, starting the semi-final second leg against Brighton and Hove Albion and the final defeat to Hull City at Wembley.
The following season saw him start 34 fixtures as Wednesday finished fourth, but tasted defeat in the play-off semi-finals against Huddersfield Town.
Both of those play-off finishes came during the stewardship of Carlos Carvahal, someone the midfielder spoke highly of. When the Portuguese was replaced by Jos Luhukay, however, Hutchinson – along with goalkeeper Keiren Westwood – was exiled by the Dutchman.
The former Chelsea youngster returned after a four-month expulsion as interim manager Lee Bullen reintroduced him and Westwood to the starting line-up, and they remained regulars under Steve Bruce’s short reign.
When Bruce controversially exited Hillsborough for his boyhood club Newcastle United, déjà vu struck for Hutchinson and Westwood, as they were both slowly frozen out of Monk’s plans before the former’s contract ended in the summer of 2020, where he departed for his stint in Cyprus.
Why is Hutchinson’s return splitting supporters?
The 31-year-old’s homecoming in S6 has divided opinion on whether the signing was necessary.
Hutchinson’s first spell with Wednesday was blighted with injuries and he built up a reputation of being a ‘hothead’, picking up 51 yellow cards in 146 games and being dismissed on five occasions – albeit his last red card came in 2016. It is also worth noting that he played in all 24 matches up to being ostracised by Monk.
This has led many to describe the move as unwise due to his warlike playing style, his periods spent on the treatment table, and his age being a factor.
That being said, it was his passion and the full-blooded challenges that made him a favourite with the Hillsborough faithful, with many still holding him in high regard, and will be welcoming him back with open arms.
Over his career, Hutchinson has averaged 2.3 tackles and interceptions per game, and he can also cover several positions. Starting his career as a right-back, he played the majority of his time with Wednesday in a defensive midfield role, however, he frequently filled in at centre-back whenever Tom Lees or Glenn Loovens were absent.
The cover in midfield will be greatly received, with Massimo Luongo spending a lengthy time out with injury. Joey Pelupessy has taken the mantle and impressed in the Australian’s absence, averaging 1.7 tackles per game and commits an average of 0.8 fouls per 90 minutes – which is a 0.7 decrease from last season.
It could seem harsh to see the Dutchman be the casualty to fit Hutchinson back in the starting 11 after playing into some good form. However, Hutchinson’s return may see him become more of a squad player, which with the demands of a congested fixture list, could prove to be a good piece of business if he can still hack it at this level.
Hutchinson’s experience could also provide good learning for midfielder Liam Shaw, who has emerged as a future star from the Owls’ academy.
His determination and leadership will also help Wednesday in their current relegation battle, with his undeniable commitment proving to be a big asset in the past. It has also been said that he was a well-respected figure in the dressing room, which will aid them in their current bleak position.
Hutchinson has also expressed his desire to finish his career with Sheffield Wednesday in the past, so helping the Owls beat the odds and retain their Championship status this season could be a fitting end to his Hillsborough story.