Dreaming big


Ally MacLeod

Ally MacLeod

“You can mark down 25 June 1978 as the day Scottish football conquers the world.”

It was Ally MacLeod’s most famous quote. The date was that of the World Cup Final in Buenos Aires.

MacLeod was nothing if not optimistic. After successful stints at Ayr United and Aberdeen he was appointed Scotland manager in May 1977. He introduced himself to the squad by saying “My name is Ally MacLeod and I am a winner.” Within a few months he had beaten England at Wembley and he was to lead Scotland to qualification to the Argentina World Cup.

The more rational of Scotland supporters had their doubts whether MacLeod’s team could win the World Cup. But MacLeod had a kind of buoyant enthusiasm that lifted people along with him. He really believed his team could bring back the trophy. True it was the most gifted Scotland squad in living memory, which included the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen, Joe Jordan, Graeme Souness and Archie Gemmill.

Spirits were high before Scotland left for Argentina. Comedian Andy Cameron’s rendition of “Ally’s Tartan Army” reached number 6 in the UK singles chart and 25,000 people turned up at Hampden Park to see the squad parade around in an open-top  bus. Prestwick airport was packed with well-wishers as they went to catch their plane. When asked what MacLeod would do after the World Cup, his answer was “Retain it”.

Sadly MacLeod’s motivational powers were to prove not enough to help Scotland succeed. They lost their first match 3-1 to Peru, then drew 1-1 with Iran. Needing a victory by three clear goals against Holland they ahead 3-1 before the Dutch pulled a goal back. It finished 3-2 and Scotland were knocked out in the group stages on goal difference. Needless to say, MacLeod’s popularity rating immediately plummeted. He lasted one more game in charge before he resigned.

Despite the final outcome MacLeod certainly lifted the spirits of the Scottish public and is remembered with affection by many.

“When I get the key players in I believe we’ll have a side you will be proud of that will be champions in May.”

Gary Caldwell exudes positivity and a determination to succeed. He wisely qualified his ambitious statement at the recent Fan Forum with the proviso of “when I get the key players in”.

David Sharpe certainly set the parameters by saying things like:

“I don’t just want to win this league. I want to smash it and get 100 points.”

“I guarantee we will have a goalscorer who scores us 20 goals next season,”

Some fans are already saying that the young chairman is setting himself up to have egg on his face. But then again weren’t similar comments made about his grandfather when he said that Latics would be a Premier League club within ten years? Sharpe certainly cannot be accused of lacking ambition for the club, even if he can tend to stick his neck out too far at times.

Having a young rookie chairman and a young rookie manager can be viewed as both a recipe for disaster and as a new broom coming in to herald a new era.

Given two relegations in two years a more experienced chairman/manager partnership would be more likely to look for consolidation in that first season in League 1. A mid-table finish would halt the slide, with building a promotion side being viewed as something to be achieved over two seasons. Rather than talk about “Smashing League 1” it would be more like “There are good teams in League 1 and we aim to be amongst them.”

However brash Caldwell and Sharpe might have been so far in their public statements to there can be no doubting the uplifting effect they have had on the club’s support.

Wigan Athletic fans have had the most miserable past twelve months, during which there have been three managers and performances on the pitch that have beggared belief. The club seemed to be drifting, without clear direction. Perhaps the most shocking of all was in January when the club started to plan “just in case” relegation happened. The net result was thirteen players leaving and the resultant squad lacking in quality.

David Sharpe took over as chairman in March, but the hapless Malky Mackay continued as manager despite an horrendous record of results. While Mackay was manager relegation was getting closer and closer. When Sharpe finally removed Mackay there were only five matches left and Caldwell could not work miracles with a weak squad.

However, it was clear from Caldwell’s very first match in change that good football was returning to Wigan, if not the results, in what remained of the season.

Caldwell will play possession football, but looking at his signings so far, one can see a combative edge will be present. The players signed up to this point have been bargain basement. However, there is already a sense that Caldwell’s vision will come to fruition. Latics have a considerable advantage over their competitors in the division through the parachute payments, highlighted by Sharpe’s assertion that their budget will be will be “five times higher than anyone else’s”. They are therefore able to offer salaries well above par for the division, attracting end of contract players looking for a better deal.

The news that Latics have made a bid of £1m for Nadir Ciftci of Dundee United is no surprise in its magnitude. Sharpe had already stated that “I was brought up on Ellington and Roberts scoring every week. To have that you have to pay good money and I’m prepared to do that”.

Latics will face competition from Celtic in securing Ciftci. The fact that they are in League 1 and Celtic are champions of the Scottish League is going to make it difficult to persuade the young Turkish player to come to Wigan. Can Latics offer a salary well beyond that of Celtic to induce the player to come? One doubts that.

Transfer money will largely be spent on strikers, although there is a clear need for a creative midfielder who can provide the strike force with the right ammunition. Nicky Law of Rangers has been mentioned and he is a possibility.

When Paul Jewell was at Latics he made the famous comment to the effect of “I can’t get anyone to come here”. Latics were the new kids on the block at the time and nobody knew how long they would be able to stay in the top echelons. Players were cautious about joining the club in those days. But times have changed. Together with Sheffield United, Latics are the “big clubs “of League 1. They can more than compete with the other clubs in the division for players. However, competing against clubs like Celtic and those in the Championship is going to be difficult, a “big sell “for Caldwell and his recruitment team.

Both Sharpe and Caldwell are to be commended for their optimism and lifting the spirits of the fans. They have set themselves high targets. But there is a lesson to be learned from the past.

Owen Coyle was appointed in the summer of 2013 with the brief of getting Latics back into the Premier League in a year. It proved too big a challenge. Working under the pressure of such an expectation would not have been easy for either him or his players. Sharpe and Caldwell and the new Latics squad will face a similar risk.

Only time will tell if the young duo can deliver what they promise. Like the Scotland supporters in 1978, the Wigan Athletic fans’ spirits have been lifted. We can only hope that Sharpe and Caldwell will have more luck than MacLeod had in Argentina.

Ally MacLeod sadly passed away in 2004, but there are still Scots who remember him with affection as the man who really believed in his country and the ability of its footballers.

It takes courage to stick your neck out and you might well fail. But then again you can lift others through your belief and you can succeed.

Sharpe and Caldwell are certainly not afraid to stick their necks out. Let’s hope things go better for them than MacLeod.


A Blackpool fan’s view of Donervon Daniels


It was announced today that Latics have signed 21 year old Donervon Daniels from West Bromwich Albion.

The 6 ft 1 in defender comes from the Caribbean Island of Montserrat, famous for the volcano that erupted in 1995, engulfing the capital, Plymouth, forcing two thirds of the population to flee. Together with Anthony Griffith, who plays for Carlisle, they are the two Montserratian internationals playing in the Football League.

Daniels joined West Bromwich as a 16 year old from Reading. He progressed through the youth ranks and became captain of their under-21 side, winning their Young Player of the Year award in 2012. In November 2012 he was loaned to Tranmere Rovers, where he stayed until the end of the season, making 13 appearances. In November 2013 he went to Gillingham for a short term loan for six weeks, playing 3 games.

In the first half of last season Daniels played on loan for Blackpool, forming a favourable impression when playing against Latics. He made 19 appearances. In January he went on loan to Aberdeen, scoring on his debut against Dundee United. He went on to make 9 appearances for the Dons.

It is reported that Latics beat several other clubs to the signing of Daniels, who could prove to be a key player with the kind of football approach that Gary Caldwell seeks.

In order to find out more about his time at Blackpool we reached out to the AVFTT fan site http://fansonline.net/blackpool/.

Our thanks to them for what follows:

Donervon Daniels came on loan to Blackpool at a tricky time with the club going through a horrendous transition and manager Jose Riga locking horns with Chairman Karl Oyston.

 However, the youngster from West Brom did well and could operate at right back or centre half and was one of the few stand out players for Blackpool. He scored one goal against Huddersfield and in defence was a strong, robust character who always looked like he had the potential to become a decent player.

 However his game was riddled with errors and at least once or twice a game he’d commit himself or make a wrong decision which lead to opposition goals. He just wasn’t quite the finished article and, if anything, deteriorated when Lee Clark arrived at the club to replace Riga.

 He was infamously involved in Blackpool being fined after his youth loan expired and towards the end of his time with the club we had so many loan players he was being dropped because he couldn’t play them all. Sadly his exit came about when he posed with Jacob Murphy on Instagram with a sign saying ‘We are going to lose .. again’ and that was effectively the end of his Blackpool career.

 May find his level at League One and is a decent acquisition for Wigan.


A Coventry fan’s view of Sanmi Odelusi


According the Sun newspaper Latics are about to sign 22 year old  Sanmi Odelusi  from Bolton Wanderers for £50,000 on a three year contract. Odelusi is a 5 ft 11 12 in tall winger.

Oluwasanmi Babafemi Oluwaseu Odelusi was born in Nigeria but brought up in Dagenham. After being part of the youth setups at Reading and QPR he joined Bolton in 2009. Odelusi was to make nine appearances for Bolton, scoring two goals. In February 2014 he joined MK Dons on loan, where he started in six matches and made four appearances off the bench in a three month stay. For the second half of last season he played on loan at Coventry, making four starts and ten appearances as a substitute, scoring three goals.

If the newspaper reports are correct then Latics will be taking a gamble in signing a player on a long term contract who has had such little first team experience. But Odelusi clearly has talent. The question is whether he can establish himself and add consisitency to his game.

In order to learn more about Odelusi’s time at Coventry we got in touch with the Covsupport News Service at at http://www.coventrycity-mad.co.uk/

Here’s over to them:

Sanmi Odelusi, was very much in and out during his loan at Coventry City.   He could not have asked for a better debut after joining the Sky Blues on loan in January from Bolton, showing some class to finish smartly in the 38th minute of a 2-2 draw with Rochdale.    

But from then on, he was soon out injured with a hamstring injury and struggled to command a regular place in the side.  

Odelusi showed that he has good ball control and a neat touch along with a good finish especially in the win at Chesterfield and the defeat to Port Vale but could not convince Tony Mowbray, who took over from Steven Pressley as Coventry City manager that he was worth anything more than a place on the bench.  

A decent lad, if he can keep his fitness then he could thrive at Wigan.

Click here to read another Coventry fan view on Odelusi, written for a Bolton fan site last month.

A Tranmere fan’s view of Max Power


It appears that Max Power is to sign for Wigan Athletic over the next few days. Power is a free agent, but Tranmere Rovers will be due to receive compensation from Latics because of his age. He appears to be a fine young prospect and could provide some genuine creative spark in Latics’ midfield.

The 5 ft 11 in tall  Power has made 108 appearances, scoring 12 goals, for Tranmere despite still only being only 21 years old. Born in Birkenhead, Power joined his local team at the age of eight, captaining the team at all playing levels at the club, turning down an offer to play at Liverpool along the way. He was awarded a professional contract at the age of 17, making his first team debut as an 18 year old in August 2011.

Sadly Rovers were relegated in April, after a 94 year stay in the Football League. Power was unfortunate enough to have given away a penalty in the vital last match at Plymouth, which the home side converted. However, he was to make amends by firing home an effort from the edge of the box, although the home team were to eventually triumph by 3-2.

In order to find out more about Power’s  time at Tranmere we got in touch with Deadly Submarine of the Total Tranmere site (totaltranmere.co.uk). Our thanks to him for his insight on this exciting young player.

A youth product at Tranmere and a lifelong supporter of the Club, Max Power, the guy with the most talked about name in football seems to have always suited a role alongside a playmaker type midfielder rather than being the guy to rely on to run a midfield game himself.
Capable of some great finishes and with a huge passion for the game (certainly when playing for his boyhood team), Power is a player still learning the game and learning from mistakes – a fact supported by two incidents last year where he tried to be clever and chip in a couple of penalties rather than just hit the target – something he will no doubt learn from.  He also likes to look for a killer ball which is always good to see even if not always executed.

The nicest guy you could ever meet off the pitch (I have had many personal encounters with Max from his youth days right up to his time in the first team), if he carries on where he left off at Rovers, Latics fans will certainly be getting a passionate and committed player who in he right team and with the right players around him would do a job in League One although he may initially be a substitute for Wigan in my opinion.
Back-to-back relegations in the last two of his three or so senior seasons is no reflection on Max alone that’s for sure!

Rebuilding on free transfers


Caldwell will be checking out the availability of good players at the ends of their contracts.

Caldwell will be checking out the availability of good players at the ends of their contracts.

On this same day two years ago, Wigan Athletic were suffering from the pain of relegation from the Premier League. Six players from the senior squad had already found other clubs after being freed from their contracts. Speculation was mounting about the futures of others whose contracts had run down and when the big clubs would come in and snatch prized assets still remaining.

Owen Coyle had been appointed manager just ten days before with the brief of getting Latics back into the Premier League. Given the prospect of more players leaving, plus the necessity for a large squad because of Europa league involvement, Coyle clearly had a lot of recruiting to do. However, he was to resist going for big money transfers, instead relying on picking up players at the ends of their contracts or those available at discount prices.

On June 27th he made his first signing, Chris McCann from Burnley. The next day he picked up Stephen Crainey from Blackpool, then three days later Thomas Rogne from Celtic. All were on free transfers. During the month of July he was to pick up two more free transfers in Marc-Antoine Fortune and Juan Carlos Garcia, paying transfer fees for Scott Carson, Grant Holt and James Perch. With the new season approaching he paid transfer fees for Leon Barnett and James McClean. However, the total transfer fees paid by Coyle were modest compared with the incoming funds from the sales of James McCarthy and Arouna Kone.

By the start of the season Coyle had signed ten players, five on free transfers and five more for relatively modest transfer fees. In early September he was to sign Nick Powell and Ryan Shotton on loan.

Gary Caldwell too is currently facing a challenge putting together a squad that can challenge for promotion, albeit from League 1. Following a similar timeline to that of Coyle in his early days, he has  signed three players, all on free transfers. He has also been linked to signing players whose contracts have terminated, but whose clubs will be due some compensation as a consequence of their youth. John McGinn (20) of St Mirren and Max Power (21) of Tranmere Rovers , despite their youth, are experienced midfield players. They could prove to be valuable long term acquisitions, should Caldwell manage to acquire their services.

Caldwell has already managed to bring in probably around £2m in transfer fees through the outgoings of Scott Carson, Rob Kiernan and James McClean. He will gain more in his coffers as soon as James Perch is sold off. Reports suggest that he made bids for Sam Clucas of Chesterfield, but the competition from other clubs has driven the player’s value up beyond that Latics should pay. For the moment he will concentrate on finding clubs for the highest wage earners, meanwhile scouring the market for young, up-and-coming talent.  The likelihood is that he will be stuck with a significant number of players that he would have liked to move on, simply because no other club is willing to offer them the kinds of deals they seek.

Coyle has been criticized for his signings, particularly those of Holt and Fortune, who were both 32 at the time. Although he did not pay a huge transfer fee for Holt, offering him a three year contact became an issue. On the other hand, it was remarkable that given the limited time he had available, he put together a squad good enough to challenge for promotion.

Coyle’s problem was always going to be one of melding together two disparate groups, the ex-Martinez players from the Premier League, together with his mish-mash of ex-top  flight players and proven players from lower divisions.  But more than anything else with Coyle it was the lack of a defined style of play that crippled his teams. Too often the long ball would prevail, anathema to the Martinez disciples. It was to prove his undoing.

Caldwell has already clearly enunciated the style of play he expects. Players may be coming in from other clubs where the long ball has been the norm, but they will be required to play in the style the manager requires. Clubs have already shown that they can get out of League 1 playing good football, even if the majority rely on more traditional methods.

Up to this point one could say that Latics’ signings so far have been somewhat underwhelming, but these are early days. Like Coyle, Caldwell will pay fees for potentially key players, providing he can stay within his budget.

Not only does Caldwell face a challenge in signing a sufficient number of the “right kinds” of players, but he faces a bigger challenge in helping them gel into a functional unit. The training camps over the next month or so are likely to see a changing spectrum of different faces as players come and go. With so many players to move on, and so many to bring in, it is unlikely that the camps will be able to provide the “gelling” that they are primarily aimed to produce. Caldwell will have to deal with players who want to move on, but cannot, and their effect on morale. Not an easy prospect.

Given the sheer number of players that Caldwell is going to need to bring in and his budgetary constraints it is likely that more free transfer men will be brought in. However, one recalls the fine form of Chris McCann until he fractured his kneecap in the FA Cup win at the Etihad. Good players sometimes let their contracts run down in the hope of finding something more lucrative, as did Antolin Alcaraz, Franco Di Santo and Maynor Figueroa a couple of years ago.

It appears that Max Power is now on the verge of signing and Oriol Riera is staying with Deportivo. Press reports from Spain about the Riera transfer saga have been plentiful, but the figure for the fee has varied according to the source. The bottom line is that Latics will take a significant loss in terms of transfer fee originally paid and that to be gained in the coming days. Significantly Andy Delort did not show up for training, suggesting he is heading for new pastures, once again at a major financial deficit.

As July approaches the transfer activity is going to hot up. The sooner he can get all his squad in place, the better it will be for Caldwell. Players coming from other clubs will have to adapt to the style of football the Scot will dictate and the process will take time, as will the process of gelling as a team.

The advantage is that this time around the players will know what is expected of them, as they fit into a well-defined style of play.

One can only reflect on where Latics would be now if that had happened just a couple of years earlier.