Just over a year ago, on New Year’s Eve, Wigan Athletic drew 2-2 at Stoke. The point they gained kept them in 18th place in the Premier League. They had 15 points from 19 games. Jordi Gomez and Ronnie Stam had been in good form and Latics had survived an horrendous run of fixtures with their pride relatively intact. Despite their low league position there was just one new signing in the January transfer window and they went on to lose all four league games in January, plus an ignominious defeat in the FA Cup at Swindon of League 2. Fortunately their new signing, Jean Beausejour, was to later prove himself to be a key player in the fight to avoid relegation.
This season things are going a little better. Wigan already have 15 points from 16 games, but face a home tie with Arsenal and away games at Norwich, Everton and Aston Villa before the 2012 calendar year ends. Interestingly enough, Roberto Martinez speaks of strengthening his squad during the January transfer window. Free agent, Roger Espinoza, is already lined up and he promises to add a touch of steel to midfield – a second Hendry Thomas maybe? The American/Honduran is coming from a Kansas City side that topped the standings in the Eastern Conference of the MLS. Like other players coming from leagues that are not as competitive as the Premier League it will probably take him some time to adapt to the technical and athletic demands that will be placed upon him. One for the future probably.
We heard this week that ex-Swansea midfield player, Ferrie Bodde, is being given a trial at Wigan. Bodde has had an horrendous past four years with serious knee injuries, being released by Swansea in summer after completing his contract. Bodde has never played in the Premier League. He has played only four first team games at Swansea since 2008.
Given the financial constraints that Roberto Martinez works under he is unlikely to be able to add any “ready-made” Premier League players to his squad in the transfer window. During Steve Bruce’s era at Wigan he was able to call on a backbone of highly experienced Premier League players – Emile Heskey, Mario Melchiot and Michael Brown, for example. The salaries paid to such players would not be sanctioned under the current financial regime at the club. Martinez is therefore more likely to be scouting around places like Scotland, Spain and Latin America for any January signings. La Liga is likely to be one of Martinez’ main markets since it is one of Europe’s strongest leagues and bargains can be found. Both Arouna Kone and Ivan Ramis have adapted quickly to the Premier League after coming from Levante and Mallorca, although one feels that the best is yet to come from them.
Speaking of Kone, his absence for the African Nations Cup in January is a concern. His country, Ivory Coast, have a difficult group, being drawn with Algeria, Togo and Tunisia. If his team qualifies for the knockout phase it will mean Kone being absent well into the month of February. Kone has become an important player for Wigan, with his ability to hold on to the ball and intelligent passing. His natural replacement would be Mauro Boselli, but he has been left out in the cold so often this season. Once again on Saturday, Martinez chose to bring him off the bench with only a handful of minutes remaining. There is a possibility that Martinez will give Boselli an extended run during Kone’s absence, but one cannot rule out his departure from Wigan in January. More likely that Martinez is looking for another central striker in the January transfer window.
So a midfield player is definitely lined up and there is a need for another striker. What other positions will Martinez be looking to supplement during the transfer window? The current squad remains the best Wigan have ever had, with competition for places in all positions. The position of most concern is that of goalkeeper. If Ali Al Habsi were to get injured then the choice would be between the 40 year old Mike Pollitt and youngster Lee Nicholls. Martinez might well be on the lookout for another goalkeeper who could provide the same kind of competition to Al-Habsi that players in other positions at the club are facing.
Let’s hope that January 2013 will be a successful month for Wigan Athletic, both in their league and cup performances and in their recruitment of new players. If any of the new signings in January makes the kind of difference that Beausejour made, then Latics will be in a much better position to avoid getting drawn into the relegation mire. Whatever happens on the playing side there surely has to be an an improvement on the results and performances of January 2012.