What next for Roger?

espinoza

A top performer for his country in the Brazil World Cup, he scores outstanding goals, makes assists and was part of a famous FA Cup winning lineup. He works like a Trojan on the field, is dedicated to the cause and has infectious enthusiasm. Those attributes make him a favourite with the fans at his club.

But the 27 year old Roger Espinoza has clearly never been a favourite with his managers since arriving at Wigan in December 2012 from Sporting Kansas City, where a fan described his play as a mixture of cruching tackling and combative running. With one more year of his contract remaining will he be auctioned off to another club, or will Uwe Rosler finally give him the extent that he has never been given before?

The love story between Wigan Athletic and Honduras seems to be coming to an end. Espinoza was the fourth Honduran to join Latics, following on from Maynor Figueroa, Wilson Palacios and Hendry Thomas. A fifth – the ‘forgotten man’ Juan Carlos Garcia – arrived last summer, but was shunned by both Owen Coyle and Uwe Rosler throughout the season. Garcia came on as a 62nd minute substitute in the recent friendly at Rochdale. But he was not included in the squad that went to Germany last week and joined Grant Holt in the under 21 team that played at Blackburn on Saturday. With the signings of two new left backs it appears that Garcia’s days at Wigan are numbered.

Although he was born in Honduras, Espinoza is an American citizen. He moved to Denver at the age of 12. He made his name playing for the Ohio State University team that reached the final of the College Cup, scoring an early goal but his team went on to lose 2-1 to Wake Forest. From university he joined Sporting Kansas City in 2008, gaining his US citizenship that same year.  Espinoza was given the opportunity to opt for the US national team, but chose to play for the country of his birth.

Being bilingual Espinoza has been a valuable asset within the squad, providing the link between the Spanish and English speakers. When he first joined Latics he had had practically no break from football as the MLS season had not long finished. Moreover he had a hectic summer representing the Honduran team in the London Olympics, where he got himself instant fame with a goal in the match against Brazil.

Espinoza was to make 16 appearances for Latics in the second part of that 2012-13 season, a significant number for a player with no previous experience in the Premier League. He made a significant contribution to the FA Cup triumph, playing in the wins against Macclesfield and Huddersfield.  In the absence of Figueroa through injury Espinoza was pressed into service as a wing back in the FA Cup Final and performed well.

Given his relatively quick adaptation to English football it looked like Espinoza was going to be a regular name on Wigan’s team sheet. However, the arrival of Owen Coyle was to change that. Espinoza’s appearances were to be few and short, more often than not coming off the bench. On occasions when he made the starting lineup he was invariably substituted early in the second half.

An abiding memory for me is the visit to Charlton in late October. In the 70th minute, Coyle had both Espinoza and Marc-Antoine Fortune warming up on the sidelines. Coyle was soon to point the finger to beckon at least one of them on. Espinoza’s body language said “Who me?” probably assuming it was the big forward who was to go on. The Honduran did go on, with Fortune following four minutes later.

The arrival of Uwe Rosler in December did not seem to help Espinoza’s claim for a regular spot. Despite not being a regular he put in a trio of ‘Man of the Match’  performances in January but was to go for hernia surgery in mid-March, surprisingly returning to play a little over a month later. Had it been the hernia problem that had limited his outings under both Coyle and Rosler?

Espinoza’s critics will say that he plays like a headless chicken, reckless in his tackling and lacking in skill. His fans will utterly refute that. They will admit that he plays at a frenetic pace, but in addition to being a ball-winner he puts in incisive passes and crosses and scores goals. Sometimes his eagerness to win the ball back can leave holes for the opposition to exploit. If he were more disciplined he would be a better option in many ways, but then again taking that impetuosity away from him would nullify his style of play. The question is whether Espinoza can learn to discipline himself sufficiently to fit into the system that Rosler uses.

Espinoza can play in any position across midfield and at wing back. For Honduras he has been playing in left midfield. His best position is probably as a box-to-box player in the left centre of midfield.

At 27, Espinoza is nearing his peak. Providing he stays at the club and stays fit he can have an important role to play in Latics’ promotion push. His best is yet to come.

 

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Is Latics’ squad lacking in quality?

 

Some say that results in pre-season matches are not important. But then again, a 2-1 loss at Rochdale was hard for Wigan Athletic supporters to swallow, let alone a 4-1 drubbing in Dusseldorf yesterday.

Latics’ worst ever pre-season performance will surely be that of five decades ago, when fourth division Southport smashed non-league Wigan 10-2. My father told me at the time that friendly matches can produce strange results and do not really have much bearing on the season to follow. Strangely enough the same two teams met again four days later at Springfield Park and Latics went on to win 3-0. In the event it turned out to be a mediocre season for Latics, who finished in mid-table in the Cheshire League. That 10-2 scoreline proved to be an indicator of defensive weakness as Latics were to concede 82 goals in 42 league matches.

Following the 2-1 win over Besiktas, thanks largely to Ali Al-Habsi’s brilliance, we seemed to be looking forward to a good season ahead. Granted there were concerns over the departures of two of Latics’ most creative players – Jordi Gomez and Jean Beausejour – but Uwe Rosler had been moving shrewdly in the transfer market and was building up a stronger squad. Most fans have now accepted that Dave Whelan is not going to wave his cheque book around in the way he did to get Latics into the Premier League last time. Austerity has not yet set in, but stringent financial management is the order of the day at the club.

Rosler is used to working under tight budgets, through his experience with his previous clubs. He will bring in a mixture of youth and experience. The experienced Andrew Taylor and Don Cowie have played in the Premier League and been part of a Championship division winning team. James Tavernier and AaronTaylor-Sinclair are clearly the kind of youngsters who have the potential to develop into quality players. The 19 year old loanee, Emyr Huws , is an exciting young player who can play in the creative midfield role that Gomez used to enjoy. A good central striker at an affordable price is something that hardly exists in modern day English football, but Rosler has done well to bring in Oriel Riera from Osasuna. Riera scored 13 goals in La Liga last season for a team that was relegated, making an interesting comparison with Arouna Kone who scored 15 for Levante before arriving at Wigan.

In order to sign another central striker Rosler will need to raise funds by selling off one of his assets. Stories of Latics courting another goalkeeper might seem far-fetched, but both Ali Al-Habsi and Scott Carson are likely to be transfer targets for other clubs. A possible scenario is for one of them to be sold, with the exciting, but inexperienced, Lee Nicholls once more sent out on loan.

Rosler’s squad is not yet complete. We can expect more incomings and possibly outgoings over the coming weeks. But when the squad is finally completed will there be sufficient quality there to mount a serious challenge for promotion?

After playing for ten clubs in six countries in over a decade, Jean Beausejour has gone home to Chile. He will play in Santiago for Colo-Colo, the country’s historically most successful club. When Roberto Martinez signed him from Birmingham City in January 2012, Latics were struggling. Moreover fans were disappointed with Martinez’ lack of activity in that January transfer window. However, the arrival of a specialist left wing back blew fresh air into Latics’ play, helping them to produce the best quality of football and the best results in their history over the next three months. He was the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle that Martinez was putting together. A team player, he was solid in defence. When Latics had the ball he was always available, hugging the touchline, stretching the opposition defence. He rarely lost the ball and had a few tricks up his sleeve with quick footwork. Beausejour is probably the best crosser of a ball who ever played for Latics, although some more senior supporters might also cite Walter Stanley whose sublime crosses helped Harry Lyon become a household name in Wigan.

Last season was not a good one for the Chilean, except for a memorable goal in the World Cup finals. Beausejour was frequently played at left back, rather than his natural wing back position. Like Gomez, he is another player who never got the recognition that he probably deserved from sections of the DW crowd.

During that late season rally in 2011-2012 and the FA Cup run in 2012-13, Latics beat the top teams in the country on merit, through playing quality football. The stats show that in winning the FA Cup final they committed only 5 fouls, compared with their opponents 11. Is it possible that they will ever be able to raise their football to that level ever again?

Since then lots of quality players have left the club. However, Emmerson Boyce, Shaun Maloney and James McArthur still remain. They are the pillars upon which Rosler will build this season’s team. Boyce is getting no younger, but at centre back he still has years ahead of him. The fitness of the two Scots will be of paramount importance and Rosler is nurturing them very carefully through the pre-season physical conditioning programme. Moreover the skilful Ben Watson and Chris McCann are making good progress in their recuperation from major injuries.

On the tactical front Rosler continues to demand the high tempo, high pressing style that he espouses. They did it for half an hour at Dusseldorf, but once again could not keep it going. It remains to be seen whether Rosler will ever enjoy that level of intensity he seeks from the players at his disposal.

In the meantime Rosler will scour the loan market to complete his squad. Maybe even that additional central striker will be a loan player? A return for Nick Powell continues to be touted by the media.

The name of Grant Holt continues to pop up in the social media and fan forums, the comments usually being derogatory. If no other club is willing to take the player off the club’s hands will Rosler be able to turn him into an asset? Would Holt be able to fit into Rosler’s style of play if he could regain full fitness?

Holt has proved in the past that he can deliver the goods by scoring key goals that win matches, but last season was one he will want to forget. During the reign of Owen Coyle he was used in a similar way that Bolton used Kevin Davies for so many years, a human battering ram posing a physical threat to the defence. That probably did Holt no favours and moreover it led to defenders constantly launching long balls in his direction. Given Rosler’s preferred style of play Holt would not be a regular starter, even if fully fit. However, he could have a role to play as an impact substitute.

Providing his ventures in the transfer market go well over the coming weeks, Rosler will have a squad good enough to challenge for promotion. Enough quality players remain, but the moot point is whether they can they stay fit.

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A calmness in the centre of defence

 

He is a centre back who stays cool under pressure, waiting for the right moment to intervene. He exudes a calmness that helps to gel the back line of defence. If it were not for the cruciate knee injury he probably would not be at Wigan.

The classy Ivan Ramis is the one most Latics fans would think of when reading that description. Probably the best centre back in the Championship division, the Spaniard’s career was hit by a cruciate knee injury at Fulham in January 2013.

Ramis had been signed by Roberto Martinez in summer of 2012 to shore up a centre of defence that was leaking goals. He had a wealth of previous experience in La Liga with Real Mallorca and looked every inch a Premier League player until that injury set back. Many Latics fans still ponder – what if Ramis and Antolin Alcaraz had both stayed fit? Surely with such a capable central defensive pairing they would not have conceded so many of the ‘soft’ goals that led to relegation.

After such a long injury layoff Ramis struggled for fitness on his return last season. He was picking up the telltale kind of niggling injuries that often happen after being out of action for so long. Uwe Rosler had to use him sparingly as the games came in thick and fast in a hectic end of season. Ramis played in the last league match at Blackburn but picked up an injury and had to go off at half time. The injury was to prevent him participating in the playoff games with QPR. Once again one can only ponder as to whether the London team would have got their two soft goals if the Spaniard had been playing.

It is possible that the 29 year old Ramis will leave the club over the coming weeks. He is one of the highest earners at the club and there are question marks about his physical ability to play week in, week out. In January he almost went to both Crystal Palace and Cardiff City, but both clubs backed out after he received medical examinations.

As far as Latics’ promotion chances this season are concerned the regular presence of the big Spaniard could be critical. Not only is his defending of high quality, but his passing out of defence is a joy to watch and he is a danger to the opposition on set pieces. Should Latics achieve promotion they are going to need players of Ramis’ quality. Many of us will be hoping that he will not be not successful in finding a new club and his injury problems are a thing of the past.

Although Ramis would be the first name to roll off the tongue when thinking of that calmness in defence and problems with injuries, there is another who could fit that description. Thomas Rogne’s career has been cruelly blighted by injury but he is still only 24 years old and can play a major role for Latics this season.

The towering Norwegian international suffered the cruciate injury when he was just 18. He was playing for Oslo club, Stabaek, in a pre-season game in Spain against Russian side, Krylia Sovetov, when it happened. The injury forced him to miss the whole season, but he was to return and play in the Champions and Europa Leagues for the Norwegian club. Rogne joined Celtic in January 2010 and made 50 appearances for the Parkhead club. However, as noted in our fan view post of July 2013 he was to receive a series of niggling injuries during his time in Scotland.

At 6’4” Rogne is commanding in the air. Moreover he maintains a calm presence when under pressure. Distribution is not his strongest point and this is something he needs to work on. The player himself will surely be praying for an injury-free season and be hoping that Latics’ physical fitness team can help him overcome his previous problems. Should he manage to stay fit he will mount a strong challenge for a regular spot in the centre of defence.

Last season Ivan Ramis made 18 appearances for Wigan and Thomas Rogne made 16. Providing both stay at the club and steer clear of injuries they could form a key defensive partnership for Latics’ promotion push.

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Gary Caldwell – Icon or Calamity?

Caldwell

The news that Gary Caldwell has signed another contract for Wigan Athletic has been greeted with mixed reviews by fans on the social media and forums.

For the majority Caldwell is an icon who has gained their respect through his sheer positivity and dedication to the club and some even see him as a future Latics manager. For a vocal minority he is ‘Calamity Caldwell’, whose spectacular mistakes have outweighed the good things he has done, as they see it.

Caldwell’s new contract as a player/coach is only for a year, but it provides Uwe Rosler with further cover in the centre of defence, where competition for places will be intense. Rosler already has Leon Barnett, Emmerson Boyce, Rob Kiernan and Thomas Rogne at his disposal plus Ivan Ramis, if he remains at he club. However, Rosler often operated a back line of three central defenders last season, so although Caldwell is unlikely to be a regular starter he will be an important member of the squad.

When Caldwell’s contract finished this summer there were many who thought he would never play for the club again. How much longer could he defy the odds and continue to play following two sessions of major hip surgery less than three years apart? It was a surprise to many that Caldwell back in action at the end of last season, following eight months out of action following his hip surgery.  His return had been delayed by receiving calf and Achilles injuries after getting back into training.

Caldwell was to reappear as an 86th minute substitute for the injured Ivan Ramis in the FA Cup semi final against Arsenal. Given his lack of match fitness he did remarkably well in those closing minutes of regular time, plus the 30 minutes of extra time. The penalty shootout that was to follow was going to be a tough one for Latics with so few recognized penalty takers remaining on the pitch. Caldwell stepped up to take the first, but his effort was saved and brave Latics were to lose the shootout. Once again public opinion was divided for and against the Scot, but most fans admired the way in which he stepped up to take the responsibility for that first kick, even though it did not prove successful.

Caldwell played further games against Birmingham and Blackburn before the Championship playoff semi final confrontations against QPR. The Scot acquitted himself well in the home draw and continued to do so until the 73rd  minute in the return match at Loftus Road. With Latics 1-0 up he lunged into a tackle just inside the box and Junior Hoilett went down for a fateful penalty which was to swing the game in favour of the home team and kill Wigan’s dream of a return to the Premier League.

Caldwell freely admits that his career at Wigan has had its ups and downs. However, he has spent four and a half years with Latics:  a longer stay than at any of his previous clubs. He said recently that “I’m proud to have been part of a great club, a real family club and one I feel a real part of. I’ve had a lot of highs and a lot of lows, but I feel like I’m part of the club and I really enjoy being here.” Rosler clearly rates Caldwell highly as a positive force within the club and his involvement in coaching is something that could prove mutually beneficial for both the club  and the player.

Ups and downs Caldwell has certainly had, not only at Wigan, but throughout his career. He is the kind of player who will put his body in the firing line. This has meant he has made some amazing blocks of goalbound shots, but then the flipside can be when the ball deflects off him and puts his goalkeeper and fellow defenders off guard.

In May 2009 Caldwell was voted the Scottish League Football Writer’s Player of the Year. The Daily Mail quoted the 27 year old Caldwell as saying ‘I think I can still improve. I feel as fit as I’ve ever felt. They do say that, nearer to 30, as a centre-back the experience you’ve gained over the years can help you…..I feel I’ve got better every year and that’s what you have to do.’ Caldwell was to reach 30 in April of the 2011-12 season, when Latics had a string of amazing results against the elite clubs of the Premier League. His performances during that month were outstanding and helped Wigan keep their place in the Premier League. His goal at Liverpool is one that will stick in fans’ memories for years to come.

Caldwell had signed for Wigan on a four and a half year contract in January 2010. During that time his performances  have ranged from the excellent to the other extreme that might be called calamitous. He is the kind of player who polarizes fans. In his early days at Celtic, after arriving on a free transfer from Hibernian, he was given a hard time by a section of the Parkhead crowd who said he was not “Celtic class”. He won the nickname of “Heid” and the fans would sing a song about him. It took him time to win them over. A TalkCeltic.net forum in May 2009 asked fans if they thought Caldwell was Celtic class. The responses reveal how much he won over the majority of them.

In December 2011 Wigan Athletic were in the doldrums. Fans were getting frustrated and there was some strong talk passing around the fan forums and social media. Latics were at rock bottom and really looked like they were going to go down. People were targeting certain players, suggesting they were not good enough for the Premier League. Among those was the captain, Gary Caldwell. By the end of the season Wigan Athletic were 7 points above the relegation zone and Caldwell was voted fans player of the year.  Caldwell’s form was the barometer for the performance of the team. Put simply, when Caldwell played well, so did Latics.

Gary Caldwell has proved that he has the determination to succeed, despite the criticism he has received at various times in his career. It remains to be seen whether his body can cope with the demands of  a season playing in the physical Championship division. However, Rosler clearly believes he can continue to be a member of his playing squad and if Caldwell makes a success of his coaching role then he might well be involved with the club for years to come.

Like him or loathe him, he is not one to be ignored. Moreover he has an ability to persevere and win over critics.

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Don Cowie – a Cardiff City fan’s view

 

 

Cowie

With a shortage of midfield players available for the start of the season Uwe Rosler has moved wisely and snapped up Don Cowie from Cardiff City. Cowie’s contract had expired and Cardiff had made a new offer, but Cowie chose to join Latics.

On signing Cowie, Rosler remarked that “Don also played over 20 games last season in the Premier League; he’s 31 but he’s an extremely professional person and I’ve known about him for quite some time. From his training regime to the way he lives and breathes football he has the attributes to allow him to play football until his late 30’s. I think he knows the position, he has the ability to play a high-pressing game and an attacking forward game and I think he will add experience, reliability, a technical ability where all our players have to be so I look forward to working with him.

The 31 year old Cowie was born in Inverness and made his debut for Ross County as a 17 year old after coming through their youth system. Cowie was to go on to become captain for the Dingwall club, making 160 appearances, before joining Inverness Caledonian Thistle in 2007. He adjusted quickly to the higher level of the SPL and was top scorer and Player of the Year in his first season at Inverness.

After two seasons at Inverness, Cowie signed for Watford in July 2009, under the management of Malky Mackay. He made 88 appearances for the Hornets, scoring 9 goals. When Mackay moved on to Cardiff he signed Cowie (and Andrew Taylor) for the Welsh club. From 2011-14 Cowie made 82 appearances for Cardiff, scoring 6 goals. Like Taylor, Cowie played in the League Cup final for the Bluebirds in 2012, when they were beaten on penalties by Liverpool. Cowie has been capped 10 times by Scotland.

In order to learn more about Taylor’s time at Cardiff we have one more reached out to Benjamin James of the View from the Ninian fan site.

Here’s over to Benjamin.

Don Cowie was often seen as Malky’s son at Cardiff; no matter how well he was playing, he always got a game. But I think that is unfair to Don Cowie. He came in on a free and was absolutely committed to Cardiff from day one.

A player who can play all along the midfield, his biggest asset is his fitness. He genuinely doesn’t stop running and leaves everything on the pitch. He does pitch in with assists and the odd goal but his work rate is phenomenal. When we got the prem, I didn’t expect him to feature much but he played a big role in some of our biggest wins; particularly in the home win over Man City.

I’m sad to see him go. Never one to shirk or hide away and has a great cross on him. Thought he would be a big player for us next year but, instead, he will be a big player for Wigan instead.


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