Boyce’s anguished departure signals the end of an era

 

Photo courtesy of Daily Mail.

Photo courtesy of Daily Mail

 

I don’t think the history and tradition should ever be forgotten and it certainly should never be seen as a problem or an excuse for how we’re doing now. Showing that this club has enjoyed success in the past provides a target for everyone. But there is a generation of fans who are fed up with hearing about the European Cup victories from my time. I would really like this generation to share the times that the previous ones have done, as they did when they got a bit of glory in 2005.

It is a huge ask to get back to where we were in the Seventies and Eighties, but you always have to aim as high as you can, while at the same time being totally realistic. This club used to be so unified; everybody was pushing in the same direction. As long as I’m sitting here, there will be no divisions. Everybody will be treated with the utmost respect in the position they hold in the football club. “

So said Kenny Dalglish on his return to Liverpool in January 2011. The Scot is not known as one of the most eloquent men in football, but these words were powerful and struck a chord.

Twenty years from now will there be Wigan Athletic fans who are fed up of hearing about winning the FA Cup and the glories of wins over the elite clubs of English football? Will past successes provide a target or will they be a millstone around the club’s neck?

League 1 beckons Wigan after ten years away in the upper echelons. This time around it feels like a step into the unknown. The deconstruction of the playing staff that started in January will be completed over the coming weeks. The club has to cut its coat according to its cloth, from a £50 million salary bill in the Premier League in 2012-13 to one nearer £10 million in 2015-16.

Players come and they go. That is the nature of football. But Emmerson Boyce’s departure is much deeper than that. For me his presence on the field was always a reminder of the teams of the Martinez era, who achieved what was beyond our wildest dreams. Boyce and Wigan Athletic seemed to go hand in hand, the player and the club making constant, steady progress, jointly punching above their weight.

Boyce was signed by Paul Jewell from Crystal Palace in August 2006 as a replacement for right back, Pascal Chimbonda. He quickly established himself as a solid and reliable defender, playing either at right back or in the centre of defence. Boyce was to make 34 league starts in that 2006-07 season. However, Mario Melchiot was signed in the summer of 2007 and became the first choice right back, with Boyce being used primarily in the centre of defence. He made 25 league starts in that 2007-08 season. The following season saw him make 26 starts.

But it was the arrival of Roberto Martinez in the summer of 2009 that was to change Boyce’s career. Distribution had not been Boyce’s strong point, but under the influence of the Catalan, it started to improve.

Boyce was to experience true highs and lows during the four years with Martinez.

In September 2009, with Latics playing a new brand of football, Boyce lined up at centre back with Titus Bramble, in Wigan’s first ever league victory over Chelsea, a 3-1 win. A couple of months later that same central defensive partnership had a torrid time at Tottenham, resulting in a 9-1 defeat with Jermain Defoe scoring five goals. Gary Caldwell was to be signed in January, with Boyce losing a regular place in the lineup. However, Boyce did play in the last match of the season when Latics were thumped 8-0 by Chelsea. He had made 23 league appearances.

Boyce was back in the starting lineup in the 2010-11 season, but missed some 10 weeks due to injury. He went on to make 22 league appearances, including the final game of the season at Stoke when he made a goal line clearance in the first half before Hugo Rodallega’s header guaranteed safety from relegation.

Latics started the 2012-13 season badly and suffered seven consecutive losses in September and October. Following a 3-1 defeat by Wolves on November 6th, Martinez decided to change the system of play. For the next match with Blackburn he brought in a back line of three central defenders – Steve Gohouri, Gary Caldwell and Maynor Figueroa – with Ronnie Stam and David Jones as wing backs.

Gradually results started to improve as the players adapted to the new system. Boyce’s first game in the new system was as a wing back in a 3-1 defeat at QPR at the end of January. He moved into the back three for the next couple of matches, a 3-0 defeat at Tottenham and a 1-1 home draw with Everton. Martinez then opted for the safety of Boyce at wing back, rather than the defensively- suspect Ronnie Stam. Boyce was to get a better feel for the position, which was more physically challenging for him.

The tide was to turn in mid-March as the players started to play really well in the system. Shaun Maloney had established himself as a starter, with Boyce and the January arrival, Jean Beausejour, playing key roles as wing backs. Boyce’s form was a revelation. He had been transformed into a high quality wing back, defensively solid as always, but making long runs off the ball to make himself available to receive passes. But more than anything else it was the quality of his passing that caught the eye for me. Could this be the same player we saw in the Jewell era? He will be long remembered for his classy performances in the epic wins at home over Manchester United and away at Liverpool and Arsenal.

The following season was Latics’ last in the Premier League, but Boyce was to play a key role in helping lift the FA Cup. He had played at wing back in the 3-0 win at Everton and the 2-0 victory in the semi final against Millwall. But for the final he was drafted into the back three, together with Antolin Alcaraz and Paul Scharner. Being captain of a side that won the FA Cup is something he will never forget.

Boyce was clearly a late developer who had gained the self-confidence to play football in the Martinez style. The arrival of Owen Coyle meant a return to a flat back four, but Boyce did get opportunities to play in the wing back position on the occasions when Uwe Rosler chose to play with three central defenders. In the absence of Gary Caldwell through injury, Boyce had become the regular captain and an automatic choice in the team. He was to play a remarkable 50 matches in that 2013-14 season.

In August he had been back once again back at Wembley, leading his team out in the Community Shield against Manchester United. In September he led them out in the club’s first ever European competition match in Bruges. In early March he was to captain them to another famous FA Cup win over Manchester City, a 2-1 win in the sixth round at the Etihad Stadium. A month later he was back at Wembley for the 1-1 draw in the semi final against Arsenal. His season finished with two close encounters with QPR in the Championship playoffs.

Sadly Boyce could not maintain the same kind of form in the 2014-15 season that followed. He was not alone in that respect – it would not be an exaggeration to say that not one single player in the squad played to his potential. However, at times it looked like the years had caught up with him and at 35 he had lost some of his previously considerable pace. January saw a clear out of 13 players including his fellow cup final winners Roger Espinoza, Shaun Maloney, Callum McManaman and Ben Watson.

Just like with Liverpool an era of success had ended and the club was adjusting to a new reality. Dave Whelan had backed Uwe Rosler in the transfer market in a bid to get back to the Premier League, but it was to backfire with the German losing his job in November. Boyce was to work under his seventh manager in his ninth year at the club.

Malky Mackay was brought in by Whelan to get Latics back into the promotion race, but the reverse happened. Boyce no longer commanded a regular starting berth in the team and by the end of January, having seen the vestiges of the Martinez legacy depart, the writing was surely on the wall for him. The club was seriously downsizing just in case the unthinkable happened and Latics were to find themselves in League 1 next season. To not do so could jeopardise its financial future. Moreover so many players had not been playing to their potential, just not appearing to show the commitment on the field that fans expected. Sadly the downsizing left the squad short on quality and Mackay just could not turn things around.

After nine years Emmerson Boyce had become the epitome of what the club’s successful era was all about. In parallel he and the club had punched above their weight, competing on a field that was not level, against the elite of English football. His resilience and willingness to improve professionally made him a role model for his colleagues. Off the field he was a great ambassador for the club and his work with Street Soccer USA and Joseph’s Goal was notable.

As Wigan Athletic supporters we will all have our favourite and most memorable Boyce moments. I can remember being behind Mark Schwarzer’s goal at Fulham, with Latics fans singing ‘I’m a Believer’ at the tops of their voices, when he hit an absolute gem of a shot into the corner of the big keeper’s net. His block of what appeared to be a certain goal by Edin Dzeko in that sixth round cup win was unbelievable and will compete with any such incidents in world football. The post-match celebrations at Wembley and Boyce holding the FA Cup with Gary Caldwell beggared belief. But my favourite was when he carried Joseph Kendrick on to the pitch at Wembley. It was an unforgettable moment in a sport that can be as cynical as any.

As Kenny Dalglish said “…..you always have to aim as high as you can, while at the same time being totally realistic.”

This is what David Sharpe, Gary Caldwell and other senior managers at the club are currently dealing with. The club has to downsize to a wage bill around a third of what it was in that first season back in the Championship. Sharpe and Caldwell have provided a breath of fresh air to a club that was meandering with a lack of leadership and direction. They have a hard road ahead of them, but the support of the majority of the fans. The waters are going to be choppy over the next couple of months as things are reengineered.

There have been fans who have advocated finding a place for Emmerson Boyce, not only as a player, but also as a coach or an ambassador for the club. However, in the current economic climate that the club was facing, adding additional backroom or administrative staff was unlikely to happen. Sadly the club will most likely have to downsize its non-playing staff too, cutting back towards bare bones.

However, Dalglish had also pointed out that “This club used to be so unified; everybody was pushing in the same direction. As long as I’m sitting here, there will be no divisions. Everybody will be treated with the utmost respect in the position they hold in the football club.”

This is something that Sharpe, Caldwell and company will surely work on. Over the past couple of years too many players have been frozen out, with seemingly no future at the club, but still on the books. Others have come in and found it hard to settle and play to their potential.

There are so many supporters who are sad to see Emmerson Boyce not continue to be on the club’s playing staff. Some would say that he should have been offered a contract extension for another year on a salary commensurate with League 1 status. Others would opine that Boyce will be 36 in September, his best days behind him. Better to invest the more limited finances in younger players for the future.

Both views have credence. However, the way in which Boyce has been treated appears to reflect those broader human resource management issues within the club.

A pay-per-play arrangement is hardly ideal for a footballer coming up to 36 years of age, though the club can justify it given its changed economic situation. Boyce labelled the pay-as-you-play offer as “disappointing”, but went further by saying that the deal itself was “laughable”. His wife, Lucy, tweeted:

A degree of respect would be expected #9Years Unlike the disregard. It came too late & when it did it was a youth equivalent.”

But even if the size of the deal was seemingly derisive for him, Boyce went on to say that “After nine years I would have preferred someone to have sat down and told me they weren’t offering me a deal. That’s the most disappointing thing as far as I’m concerned. “

Some fans were disappointed with Boyce in that he had talked with the media about how he felt about the contract offer. Moreover his wife was active on the subject on Twitter. Why would a player who has appeared such a role model behave in that way? Some even said that he was using the media to put pressure on the club to give him a better offer. After all what right did he have to complain after picking up £1 million-plus salaries from the club over the years?

Others sided with the player. There had to be something seriously wrong with the scale of the offer he received. Why was the club offering its most highly respected player and captain a deal on youth equivalent terms? What happened with the communication?

The anguished exit of Emmerson Boyce leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

However, life goes on at the club and fans will continue to support the youthful duo of Sharpe and Caldwell. They have a difficult job to do to turn things around, but they remain optimistic about the road ahead.

Let’s hope they can learn from past mistakes made by the club and make sure they do not recur.

 

A Walsall fan’s view of Richard O’Donnell

Richard-ODonnell

“Delighted to have agreed a deal to join @LaticsOfficial for next season. Can’t wait to start and help get them back where they should be….”

So said new Latics acquisition Richard O’Donnell on Twitter today.

O’Donnell is a 6 ft 2 in goalkeeper, born in Sheffield, who will sign Wigan Athletic as a free agent from League 1 club Walsall. He is 26 years old, a product of the Sheffield Wednesday academy.

As a young player from O’Donnell was sent on loan to seven clubs in the lower divisions and non-league from 2007-11. He made his Football League debut as a 19 year old for Oldham Athletic against Luton Town in March 2008. It was three years later to the month that he made his debut for Wednesday in a match at Southampton. After making 19 appearances for the Owls he was released in May 2012.

O’Donnell then signed a one year contract for League 2 side Chesterfield. Covering for the absence of regular goalkeeper Tommy Lee he made 14 starts, but lost his place on Lee’s return from injury. In January he was loaned out to Stockport County in the Conference where he made 20 starts. He returned to Chesterfield for the last game of the season in a 4-0 win over Exeter.

In summer of 2013 he joined Walsall where he was to establish himself as the first choice goalkeeper, making 90 appearances in his two seasons there. He kept 21 clean sheets last season.

In order to learn more about O’Donnell’s time at Walsall we reached out to the BescotBanter.net fan site (@BescotBanter). Our thanks to them for the fan’s view that follows:

Following the Saddlers’ acquisition of goalkeeping coach Neil Cutler, Richard joined the club in the summer of 2013 and quickly went on to establish himself as first-choice, bringing his brand of committed stopping to the side.

A player who is willing to put his body on the line, Richard made over fifty first team appearances during his debut season with the club and penned a new eighteen-month contract in January 2014.

Following his debut season Richard continued as first-choice goalkeeper and went on to make his one hundredth consecutive first-team appearance for the club as the Saddlers played host to Notts County on 3rd April.

Richard established himself as a clear fan favourite during his time with the club and went on to be named both the Fans and Players’ Player of the Season at the 2014/15 End of Season Awards.

O’Donnell also came close to single-handedly breaking a club record for most clean sheets in a season, which was held by former Trinidad and Tobago international Clayton Ince, who was unbeaten on twenty-two occasions during the 2006/07 campaign.

The record was ultimately collected by Craig MacGillivray, as he kept a clean sheet during his debut against Oldham Athletic.

 Following a lengthy spell of contract negotiations, which began in November 2014, Richard made the decision to leave the club and join Wigan Athletic on a three-year deal, the move seems to have come down to a length of contact issue, with the Saddlers either unable or unwilling to match the Latics’ three-year offering.

When the dust of his move settles Richard will go down as one of the best stoppers in the club’s recent history, and will always be welcome at Banks’s Stadium.

A Blackpool fan’s view of David Perkins

Yesterday Wigan Athletic announced the impending signing of David Perkins from Blackpool. Perkins is a 32 year old central midfield player who has just completed his second season with the Tangerines. The 5 ft 6 in Perkins is to sign a one year contract.

Perkins is from Heysham and began his career at Morecambe at the age of 18. He was to spend seven years with the Shrimps making 176 appearances in the Conference before joining League 2 Rochdale in 2007. He went on to make 58 appearances for Rochale before joining Colchester United for a six figure fee in July 2008.

In the 2009-10 season manager Aidy Boothroyd loaned Perkins out, first to Chesterfield where he made 13 appearances, then to Stockport County where he made 22. John Ward’s arrival as manager at Colchester in the summer of 2010 saw Perkins blossom and have an outstanding season, making 40 appearances and receiving the Player of the Season and Players Player of the Season awards.

After 79 appearances over three seasons at Colchester he moved to Barnsley as a free agent in the summer of 2011, rejoining his ex Rochdale manager Keith Hill. On a visit to Charlton in October 2012 he was dubbed ”Barnsley Boris” by the home fans, his blonde hair reminiscent of that of the Mayor of London. Perkins was to make 69 appearances in  two and a half years playing for Barnsley in the Championship. In January 2014 he joined Blackpool on a free transfer. He made 64 appearances before being released this month.

In order to learn more about Perkins’ time at Blackpool we reached out to Phil at the AVFTT Blackpool fan site. AVFTT started out as a fanzine in 1996 and transferred to the Web in 2000. It has been going in various forms for the last 15 years and is now part of the FansNetwork group of websites.

The fan view below is also to be found on the avftt.co.uk site:

“He could do a job in League One” – probably the worst compliment anyone could pay a player who’s been plying his trade in the Championship for the last two seasons! However, that seems to have been the general consenus about David Perkins who was released by Blackpool officially yesterday and has been ‘snapped up’ by Wigan Athletic today.

When he first arrived at Bloomfield Road, many remembered him as the combative midfielder who had often been a thorn in the side when we’d played his former club Barnsley and whilst there wasn’t much around him when he arrived, it’s fair to say that in his time under Barry Ferguson he was one of the few players who could hold his head high at the end of the season. Therefore, much was expected of Perkins last season – few would say he delivered.

Maybe the biggest indictment on Perkins only full season in a tangerine shirt was that he only missed one game all season and yet only saw us win 4 games. In fact in his 64 games in a tangerine shirt he only enjoyed 7 victories – ironically one of which was against Wigan. At 5’6″, and through not fault of his own, many a game was spent chuckling as our keeper delivered a high ball in to midfield and Perkins failed to get within a foot of it! If he was a confidence player, then his confidence was shot at Blackpool. Quite often he’d do the hard work winning possession in midfield, only to give the ball straight back to the opposition. You could never question his commitment but too many times he fell short in the talent department.

At least he was one of few ‘recognisable’ players in the Blackpool team last season who you didn’t have to squint at in order to see who he was and we’ll see on at least two occasions next season if it was just the curse of the tangerine shirt which turned him in to a very average Championship player or if he excels as a League One player at Wigan.

Sharpe’s honeymoon period is over

Sharpe

The honeymoon period for the new chairman is coming to an end as a storm rages over Emmerson Boyce’s contract.

 

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

David Sharpe should take heed of Machiavelli’s words.

A club that was tipped to win the Championship by the highly rated FourFourTwo magazine ended up being relegated. The mistakes of the past two seasons have dragged the club down and there is real danger of the slide continuing.

Is the youthful Sharpe capable of steadying things up and leading the club back to the Promised Land? What clues is Sharpe giving when one reads between the lines of his comments? Where are Latics really heading?

The young chairman is working on the creation of a new order at Wigan Athletic. The upheaval continues amid a climate of uncertainty. What kind of club will Latics be a year from now? What kinds of realistic expectations can fans have of the future?

Sharpe has certainly stepped into a difficult situation, but he continues to put on a brave face in his dealings with the media. Sharpe invariably paints an optimistic picture, whilst acknowledging that mistakes have been made in the past.

However, the initial gloss is now starting to wear off and fans are starting to read between the lines of what Sharpe has said. The sceptics will say that his comments are no more than window-dressing, that the Whelan family is no longer willing to put money into the club and that without it the club will languish in its “natural” position in the lower tiers of English football.

Fans who have been shell-shocked by the events of the past season were dealt a further jolt yesterday with the news of Emmerson Boyce’s impending departure.

 “Our ambition is to regain our Championship status as quickly as possible and we would like Emmerson to be a part of the team this coming season because we feel he could continue to help us . However, the reality of our current situation is that we are in League One and we have to maintain a wage structure in line with our status.”

The Boyce issue was always going to be a tricky one for Sharpe. After nine years at the club the player had become a legend, with massive fan support. According to Boyce the deal he was offered was “laughable”. Sharpe acknowledges that he would like Boyce to continue but clearly his view of a suitable deal differs greatly with the aspirations of the player.

However, by taking a tough stand in the case of out of contract players, Sharpe has set a precedent for the future. The deals he offered to Gaetan Bong and Kim Bo-Kyung were also not acceptable to the players, who will be moving on.

The Boyce scenario is not going down well with the majority of fans who hold the player in such high esteem, but the figures involved in the offer are unlikely to be publicly revealed. Without them it is difficult to take the side of either club or player. However, even if Boyce were to be offered a regular contract it would be on a salary commensurate with League 1, not with one of the Championship or the Premier League to which he had been accustomed. Moreover Boyce will be 36 in September, probably the reason why the club was offering a pay-as-you-play deal. The player made only 26 league starts compared with 50 the previous season.

We await the news regarding a contract renewal for Jermaine Pennant. The winger made an impression through three spectacular goals from free kicks, although he never managed to complete in full 90 minutes in a match since joining in January. Moreover he does not have the pace to pass his full back. However, Pennant does have experience, class and technique. But given the salaries he has earned in the past will he be tempted by an offer commensurate to that of a League 1 club?

Last Friday Sharpe talked about the return of Andy Delort, Rob Kiernan, Oriol Riera and James Tavernier from loan spells:

“They’ll all be in for the start of pre-season on June 25, and they’ll all be big players for us next season.”

The sceptics were quick to dismiss Sharpe’s statement as mere posturing, that most of the four would be gone by the end of August. They were backed up by the Daily Mail reporting on that same day that Cardiff City and Reading were in a battle to sign Kiernan for £100,000.

The retained list published on Monday confirmed that:

“ …..the four remain contracted to Wigan Athletic beyond June 2015, and unless that situation changes, will be returning to pre-season training with the rest of the squad on June 25.”

It was quite a turnaround within the space of three days. Dreams of a Delort-Riera partnership are now appearing less than realistic.

It was also confirmed that Latics have 18 players contracted beyond June 2015, excepting the seriously ill Juan Carlos Garcia. However, as in the case of the four players sent out on loan, the club communique once again includes that proviso “and unless that situation changes” . Contracts will also be offered to the young players Jordan Flores (19 years old), Tim Chow (21), Matty Hamilton (19) and Ryan Jennings (19).

In April Sharpe had stated that Latics were going to need at least ten new players for next season. But a couple of days ago he raised that figure:

“There could be, in the end, up to 15 players we bring in, and that means every day is a challenge.”

Clearly he is expecting more players to leave than he was a month ago.

Should Latics have a squad of 24 senior players, with 15 players of them new, only 9 will remain from last season. Whatever the mathematics it is clear that Sharpe expects at least half of the players with contracts beyond June 2015 to depart.

Sharpe continues to reiterate that the recruitment team of himself, Gary Caldwell, Jonathan Jackson, Graham Barrow and Matt Jackson are meeting on close to a daily basis to look at future acquisitions. He states that:

“There’s probably a list of five or six players in each position who we’re looking at. But the deal’s got to be right for the player and the football club.”

He refers to the wage structure. For the deal to be right for the player and the club, the recruitment team is clearly focusing on players whose salary aspirations would fall within the new wage structure. Typically they would be from clubs in the lower reaches of the Championship, from League 1 or League 2 clubs, or Scotland.

Sharpe also expresses his preference for “young, hungry players between the ages of 24-27, ones who have done it before, who know what it’s like to win promotion, who are willing to learn and put in the hours, and buy into Gary’s brand of football.”

Bringing in 15 new players is a mountain of a task, but media reports suggest that deals are already in motion. They include midfielders John McGinn, 20 years old, from St Mirren and the 21 year old Max Power from Tranmere. It is also rumoured that they have made a £500,000 bid for 24 year old Chesterfield left winger Sam Clucas. The media also reports interest in the rugged 30 year old Rangers central midfield player Ian Black, the 25 year old Bristol City striker Jay Emmanuel Thomas, the 31 year old Australian striker/attacking midfield player Scott McDonald from Celtic and the 31 year old goalkeeper Andy Lonergan from Bolton.

The honeymoon period for David Sharpe has come to its end. Should Boyce depart from the club, as it seems he will, Sharpe will be unpopular with supporters who will feel he could have done more to keep the player at the club. Some have mentioned a possibility of a player/coach position, as was offered to Caldwell. However, at least one media report last summer suggested that Caldwell’s new contract had been on a salary 50% lower than before.

However, Sharpe is already showing the kind of toughness that is going to be required to get the club back on track. Moreover, up to this point, he has shielded rookie manager Caldwell from the brunt of criticism and backed him in reversing the decision regarding Tim Chow’s contract.

The club faces a further period of upheaval, but the hope is that Sharpe and his team can put together an infrastructure that will serve the club for years to come.

Given the current focus on the comings and goings of the playing staff it is not surprising that the matter of the Charnock Richard facility has taken the back burner. Will the club be going ahead with the original plans, even if it is in League 1?

Sharpe’s honeymoon period is over, but he is taking charge of introducing a new order of things at Wigan Athletic. It will be a rough ride for the young chairman.

The question remains whether his new order will be sufficient to elevate Latics back into the higher divisions or whether it will merely provide the sustainability for the club to exist in the lower divisions of the Football League.

 

A Delort and Riera partnership

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“They’ll all be in for the start of pre-season on June 25, and they’ll all be big players for us next season.”

David Sharpe’s announcement has provided a fresh boost for Wigan Athletic’s bid to regain their Championship slot.

The return of Andy Delort, Rob Kiernan, Oriol Riera and James Tavernier from loan spells is surely a declaration of intent from the young chairman. Moreover if the club is as active in the transfer market as media rumours suggest, the squad for the coming season is going to be as strong as any in League 1.

Bringing back the loanees has its financial implications, but Sharpe is clearly willing to stick his neck out in the bid for promotion. At a time when the club is at the point of jettisoning its higher earners, Sharpe is clearly gambling on Delort and Riera delivering the goods. Strikers are an expensive commodity on the transfer market and rather than splash big money out on a player from another club, Sharpe is using the players he already has. Moreover Grant Holt, Billy Mckay and Martyn Waghorn remain on the books.

So many players suffered in the depressive climate of the relegation season recently concluded. That included Kiernan and Tavernier. Neither could reach his previous levels of performance and they were shunted off on loan in the January transfer window by the hapless Malky Mackay.

Kiernan remains highly regarded by Birmingham City manager Gary Rowett following a series of good displays. After leaving Wigan in January he had to wait until February 21st to make his first start against Brighton, playing in midfield, but from then on became a regular in the centre of defence. Kiernan had been promoted to Wigan’s first team in the second half of the 2013-14 season by Uwe Rosler, for whom he had played on loan at Brentford the year before. He performed well, particularly when playing in a back line of three, showing good positional sense, skilful in his distribution.

Tavernier too suffered in that spell at Wigan. He had arrived with good credentials from Rotherham where he was a favourite of the fans. His ability to strike on goal and make crosses with pinpoint accuracy was already evident in the pre-season. Sadly he could not produce his true form in the seven games he started at Wigan. He just did not seem to have the pace or quickness of thought to play as a full back in an orthodox back four. However, being employed as a wing back, Tavernier was to make a lasting impression in Bristol City’s League 1 title winning team. His spectacular goal from 45 yards against Colchester might look a freak, but given Tavernier’s technique and ambitious approach, it could well have been intentional.

 

Riera was shipped back to Spain in January after a frustrating time at Wigan. He had taken time to adjust to the physicality of the Championship and was hardly helped by the lack of service from a dysfunctional midfield.  However, a well taken goal against Blackpool surely boosted his confidence and he looked more comfortable in the 4-0 win over Birmingham City that followed. But Riera was surprisingly left as an unused substitute on the bench in the next game at Birmingham, in favour of a newly arrived Andy Delort. Riera was never given a run of starts after that and his confidence dwindled.

It was therefore no surprise when he joined Deportivo La Coruna. Since his arrival at the Galician club he has been a regular starter at centre forward and has scored four goals. His last one, a 60th minute header at Malaga, salvaged an important point for a side fighting to avoid relegation from La Liga.

 

Delort too will look at his time at Wigan with regret. Thrust into a lone centre forward role he looked like a duck out of water. A player who had scored 24 goals the previous season in Ligue 2 looked sure to make his mark in the Championship, but Delort had been used to playing with a twin striker at Tours. Rosler was to stick by his formula of playing with one central striker, as did Mackay when he first arrived.  Delort was sent back to a Tours side that was struggling against relegation. He has not been able to reproduce his prolific goalscoring of the previous season. Delort has scored two goals in thirteen starts.

During the time that Delort and Riera spent at Wigan many fans had hoped to see them play in tandem as twin strikers. But it never happened. However, there is now a prospect of seeing that Latin partnership for Latics in League 1.

Given their unhappy stays at Wigan, neither player will be over keen to return. Moreover stories of members of Latics’ coaching staff writing the two of them off have become more and more credible. Tim Chow too had been written off, being told that he would not receive another contract, only for Caldwell to intervene and bring the young player back into the fold.

Given the united front shown by Sharpe and Caldwell up to this point, we can assume that the manager is supportive of the return of the four players. It looks like Caldwell’s preferred formation will be 3-5-2, which would suit them. Tavernier is a natural wing back with great attacking potential. Kiernan would slot into a back line of three capable of passing the ball out of defence. Moreover Delort and Riera could make a formidable partnership up front.

Much will depend on the ability of Caldwell, and the coaches, to bring the best out of the four players. Latics paid around £5.5million for Delort, Riera and Tavernier. A good season from them could help the club back into the Championship, in addition to increasing their values on the transfer market, which will have nosedived over the past eight months.

Wigan Athletic are keen to put the nightmare 2014-15 season behind them. The slate needs to be wiped clean for those who suffered the contagion that swept through the squad. It is a fresh start and the four players still have much to offer.