Rosler is the man to take Latics forward

Rosler4

What a difference results make. A couple of weeks ago Uwe Rosler was the flavour of the month and had almost universal support from the Latics faithful. But now after three disappointing performances dissent is becoming rife.

This is not unusual at a football club in England or any other part of the world. The manager is only as good as the team’s next performance and his time in the job is finite. If the results do not improve, he goes, as was the case with Owen Coyle at Wigan last year. But there are exceptions.

The long-term reigns of such as Ferguson and Wenger and their triumphs are well documented. You can add to that the likes of the unsung Dario Gradi and the miracles he worked at humble Crewe.  All three had enough support from their chairmen to be undeterred by the naysayers and snipers who would undermine most managers at football clubs.

So it was with Roberto Martinez at Wigan. Martinez had to shield all kinds of criticism from a hostile minority who were uncomfortable with him as manager. The criticism came forth in his early days as in charge and continued for four years. It was based on the team’s style of play, but if the results had been better would there have been so much dissatisfaction?

Martinez was courageous and strong in his beliefs about the way football should be played. He never let the naysayers sway him, although it must have been tough for him. He had taken over at a time of austerity within the club after Steve Bruce had done a fine job at stabilizing Latics’ position in the Premier League, but at a financial cost. His achievement in winning the FA Cup will be hard for any future Latics manager to emulate.

It was Dave Whelan’s spoken and unspoken support that gave Martinez the backing to go ahead and continue to do what he considered right. Martinez not only won the cup, but kept Latics in the elite league until a cruel injury situation proved his undoing and led to him moving on from the club.

Dave Whelan has made Wigan Athletic into a dream come true. Who could have dreamed twenty years ago that Latics would have a superb stadium and compete with teams that were household names? Whelan’s success has been through appointing the right man at the right time and giving him support. Without Paul Jewell, Steve Bruce and Roberto Martinez where would Latics be now?

But then again, Whelan also appointed Chris Hutchings and Owen Coyle, both of whom he dispatched when he realized he had made the wrong decision.

So what of Rosler? Will he get the support from Whelan that Jewell and Martinez enjoyed?

Rosler maintains the support of the majority of fans who are not fazed by indifferent early season results. He did a remarkable job last season, lifting a team that was drifting down towards the lower layers of the league table. To go into extra time in an FA Cup Semi Final and reach a playoff spot would have beggared belief months before.

Like Martinez, Rosler has a clear view how football should be played. If he had been appointed to take over from the Spaniard the changeover might have been easier to handle. In appointing Coyle, Whelan damaged much of the legacy left by Martinez in one fell swoop. Football at Wigan took a nosedive and it still has not fully recovered.

At the risk of repeating myself from a previous article, it took Martinez some two and a half seasons to get his players to fully respond to his ideas. Fans will remember those wins over Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United for years to come, as they will Ben Watson’s header at Wembley. But it is not just the results, but the style in which Latics gained those victories.

Injuries in the pre-season have severely hampered Rosler’s plans. Critics will say the players were “overtrained”, leading to niggling injuries for too many. But only time will tell if Chris Haslam’s routines pay dividends over the coming weeks, with Latics physically outperforming the opposition.

The loss of free agents Jean Beausejour and Jordi Gomez over summer was a body blow for the German. Both were able to provide a certain poise that has been lacking since their departure. The lack of creativity in midfield is a cause for concern, although a fit Shaun Maloney would go a long way to solving those problems. It remains to be seen whether the Adam Forshaw saga will be resolved, but the Brentford player would also add creativity if Rosler could get him.

Rosler continues to scour the market for central strikers to add a third to his squad. Marc-Antoine Fortune remains an option in attack despite his poor goalscoring record. Oriel Riera just could not get into the game in the first half at Charlton, where there was a disconnect between midfield and the big forwards. One hopes he will not go the way of Mauro Boselli who was starved of service with Charles N’Zogbia on the right flank and Hugo Rodallega on the left, both of whom were going to go for goal themselves, rather than supply the central striker. Boselli’s demise is a chilling reminder of what can happen to central strikers at Wigan.

Rosler’s new signings will take time to settle in. Andrew Taylor was troubled by injury in pre-season and is clearly not at his best. Don Cowie made a useful contribution at Charlton and with time he will become an important player. Despite having a good technique, Cowie keeps things simple, harrying the opposition, tacking, intercepting, and making sure his passes reach his teammates. Emyr Huws has already made a positive impression. Strong in the tackle, with a cultured left foot, he is playing in the Chris McCann position. The young full backs, James Tavernier and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair will be gradually eased in, more often used as wing backs where the defensive duties are less onerous.

Rosler will continue to demand that his players embrace his high tempo, high pressing game. It has been unrealistic to expect a team that has been palpably unfit up to this point to perform at that level of intensity. The end result has too often been hoofing the ball out of defence, although football returned to their play at The Valley.  The team was clearly playing under orders to play the ball out of defence and build up through midfield. With two new players in the middle of the park it is going to take time to develop the mutual understanding that will make the midfield tick like a well-oiled machine. Cutting out the hoofing is the important step.

Only two teams in the division – Bournemouth and Millwall – have won both of their opening league games. There are four teams who are pointless. Latics have not made the worst start, but expectations are high and they have disappointed so far. But there are another 44 matches to go.

Like any manager Rosler will be judged on results. With the signing of another creative midfielder and another central striker he will have a squad that will be the envy of most other clubs in the division. As the squad gets fitter and his key players raise their levels of performance the results will surely come.

For the moment Rosler needs the continued support of the fans and the owner. Latics are lucky to have such a talented and bright manager.

Despite the poor start, promotion remains a distinct possibility. Uwe Rosler is the man to lead Latics back into the Premier League.

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Are Latics a one half team?

Fitness

It reared its ugly head again. It is nothing new, but Latics fans had surely hoped that it had gone away. Unfortunately it is still there and it is something Uwe Rosler has met, not just at Wigan, but at Brentford before.

The pattern goes like this. Latics are sharp and competitive in the first half, playing better football than their opponents and deservedly going in front. In the second half it is a different scenario. Latics look lethargic. Playing hoof ball out of defence does not help because the opposition retain the ball and it seems a matter of time until they score.

It started during Owen Coyle’s reign last year. When Latics got tired in the second half we said they were not fit. What kind of training regime was Coyle running after all?

By the time the derby game with Bolton came around Latics had a new manager. It was Rosler’s first league match in charge. Latics got off to a storming start scoring two goals in the first half hour. But Bolton came back strongly in the second half, leveling the score. Callum McManaman then got a third for Latics, who hung on for victory.

After the match fans accepted that the players were just not up to the level of fitness that Rosler sought. It was clearly Coyle’s fault and we would have to wait until next season to see the players get the kind of fitness level Rosler required for his high pressing, high tempo football.

That same pattern recurred frequently in the games that were to follow during the second half of last season. Many times Latics hung in there, backs to the wall, holding on defensively to their lead. Even the best of teams will go on to the defensive after taking a lead, inviting the opposition to push forward and leave holes at the back that can be exploited. But Rosler’s Latics have rarely looked comfortable in such a situation. Rather than calmly organize themselves back in their own half, ready to launch counterattacks they are prone to simply hoof the ball away.

The cynics will say that Rosler prefers Scott Carson over Ali Al Habsi because he can kick the ball further. Both are top goalkeepers and opinion is divided as to which of the two is better. Fans will say Al Habsi is a better penalty saver, but his kicking is poor. Carson has a very powerful kick, but it is rare that he makes a long throw to set off an attack. During Coyle’s time Carson repeatedly sent long kicks on to the opposition’s central defenders’ heads. He has continued to do it under Rosler and one can only assume he has the German’s approval for doing so.

Who would want to be a lone centre forward with the ball being hoofed in their general direction so often? It could have even contributed to Grant Holt’s demise. Put simply, if the central striker spends most of his energy chasing hopeful punts it detracts from his role as a goalscorer. To score goals you need a degree of mental and physical sharpness, but if you are using most of your energy chasing lost causes your sharpness will be blunted.

Is Rosler’s team any fitter than that of his predecessor, Coyle? Defenders are more likely to hoof the ball when there is nobody moving to receive it. A fully functioning central midfield will be ready to receive the ball from defence to build up attacks. Moreover they will get into the box to support that lone centre forward.

It is early days to talk about fitness levels. On Saturday Rosler chose a lineup that was strong on paper, but several players had had minimal preparation through the pre-season games. That James McArthur could go the full match and still find the energy to get in the box and score a last-gasp equalizer, given so little playing time in pre-season, is impressive. He was joined in midfield by Don Cowie and Emyr Huws, who had almost as little playing time. Moreover it was a midfield trio that had never played together before. Add to that the appearance of Shaun Maloney off the bench in the second half, with zero pre-season playing time.

Last season the two teams who were to gain automatic promotion, Leicester City and Burnley, drew their first games of the season, both playing at home. There are another 45 league games remaining. That said, there are things that Rosler needs to look at minimizing the use of the hoof. Measured long passing is one thing, but the hoof has become an ugly and ineffective part of Latics’ play under the German.

Ex-Latics goalkeeper and now Reading manager, Nigel Adkins,  clearly did his homework for Saturday and he was unlucky not to come away with a win. Reading are not a side known for their passing football, but the stats show that in a game truncated by 33 fouls, Reading made 379 passes, Wigan 281. Rosler will often change the shape of his teams when things are not going well, but in this case he did not react. Ivan Ramis was sat on the bench and bringing him on, with a switch to 3-5-2 when Reading were in the ascendency, might have made a difference.

When Rosler chose his midfield he would surely have given consideration to Fraser Fyvie, who played more minutes in the pre-season than any other player. Sadly Fyvie did not even come off the bench, despite the fact that Latics were losing the midfield battle. However, Rosler will certainly persevere with Don Cowie and Emyr Huws, who are possible replacements for Ben Watson and Chris McCann, until they are fit to return. The German might well have used Roger Espinoza if it were not for injury. Shaun Maloney needs several more games under his belt before he will be effective. Sometimes we can expect too much from him.

Rosler has built up a good squad, with a couple more additions likely. The scary part of it is not who might come in, but who might leave.

Rosler remains in his honeymoon period at the club, with strong approval ratings from the fans. However, that will soon be over unless he addresses the hoof. Wiganers expect their team to try to play good football. The jury is out in this case.

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Do Latics really need Adam Forshaw?

Forshaw

Rarely can a football club get as inflamed as Brentford have done these past few days. Wigan Athletic have made bids for Adam Forshaw that Brentford just don’t seem to appreciate.

“Warburton fumes as Brentford reject second ‘unacceptable’ bid from Wigan for Forshaw” was the headline in the London 24 newspaper a couple of days ago. So what is it about Latics’ bid for the ex-Everton youth player that has touched a raw nerve at the west London club?

Forshaw is clearly a key player for the Bees in their attempts to hold their own in a higher division. A 22 year old midfield player with a degree of elegance and skill, he was named League 1 Player of the Season. With Chris McCann and Ben Watson recovering from major injuries it is going to take a matter of months before they will be fit enough to challenge for a first team place again. Moreover Shaun Maloney did not play one minute in the pre-season matches. Rosler clearly likes to have a balance of experienced and young players in his squad and would see Forshaw as a good long-term investment for the club, given his age.

Manager Mark Warburton is quoted as saying “A bid is only a bid when it’s realistic. When it comes in and unsettles a player – that’s unacceptable. There’s been a second bid which is totally unacceptable.” He left Forshaw out of a pre-season friendly at the weekend against Crystal Palace because “the bid was unsettling for the player” and “he needed to go away for a couple of days to get his head straight.”

Wigan Athletic fans know all about their top players being courted by bigger clubs who do not hide their interest in the player they seek. It does not seem so long ago that Latics were receiving derisory bids for Victor Moses, but they hung in there until Chelsea eventually came in with a more realistic figure. A similar case happened with Charles N’Zogbia, who was certainly unsettled by interest from other clubs, but eventually stayed for another year and helped keep the club in the Premier League.

In effect all clubs outside the elite handful that dominate the Premier League are selling clubs. It is unsettling for a player when a bigger club takes interest in him because he wants to improve himself professionally and big clubs pay bigger salaries.

Being Player of the Year in League 1 is a great achievement for Forshaw, but there is no guarantee that he can perform to the same level in the Championship or the Premier League. Latics will be loath to pay out a big transfer fee for a player that is of yet unproven in their tier. Reports suggest that Everton will receive a sizeable chunk of the transfer fee if Forshaw does leave, having built an agreement into the deal they made with Brentford. It is rumoured that Brentford want £6m for the player, but Wigan’s first bid was £1.5m. Somewhere between the two figures would apppear realistic, but it is doubtful that Latics would stretch that far for a midfield player, given the need to strengthen other areas in the squad.

Clearly much of the Brentford venom has been aimed at Dave Whelan. He was the one who snatched Uwe Rosler from them at a time when they were on a high, with the announcement of a new stadium coming through. This time it is the Wigan chairman again, who in their eyes is trying to poach away their brightest young player without adequate compensation. Whether it is Whelan, Rosler, Jonathan Jackson or whoever else at the club who has been making the bids is academic. In the real world opening bids tend to start on the low side and gradually build up until a consensus is reached. Whelan might be a tough negotiator, but other labels currently being attached to him are clearly unfair.

But then again, do Latics really need Forshaw?

Much depends on the injury situation. Rosler tends to play with three box-to-box midfielders. Don Cowie has been brought in from Cardiff and can be expected to adopt the role previously held by Ben Watson, as an anchorman sitting in front of the back four. James McArthur is an automatic choice. In pre-season Rosler played new signing James Tavernier in midfield and his shooting, his quality crossing of the ball and ability at set pieces makes him an attractive proposition in the long term. However, Tavernier arrived at the club as a full back and only time will tell if he will develop into a quality midfielder. Should Tavernier not become a regular in midfield, Roger Espinoza is the obvious candidate for that third position. Rosler also has a revived Fraser Fyvie, loan signing Emyr Huws and under 21 player Tim Chow as possibilities in midfield.

The media has also reported Latics’ interest in Chelsea’s George Saville, who was on loan at Brentford last season. Were they to sign both Saville and Forshaw it would be interesting to see how Brentford reacted. Many Latics fans consider that Warburton over reacted to the bid for Forshaw, when it is not unusual for a manager to go back to his previous club for a player. They will also cite Whelan’s oft stated view that should any player want to move on to higher things from Wigan, he would not stand in his way, providing the price were right.

Two questions remain. Would Latics be willing to pay £3m-£4m for an extra midfield player and one who has not proved himself at Championship level? Is Rosler seeking more midfield cover because one of his current squad might be leaving?

If there is a number one priority for adding to the squad it surely lies in the acquisition of another central striker. Would those funds be better used in that area rather than spending it on Forshaw?

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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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Where will Uwe do his summer shopping?

shopping“We will be investing in our playing and coaching staff, and I think it’s important to keep working on changing the culture at the football club.”

So said Uwe Rosler to the Wigan Evening Post this week.

When Roberto Martinez took over as manager of Wigan Athletic in June 2009, he quickly got to work on changing the culture of the club. He started by bringing in Graeme Jones as his assistant manager, to be followed by coaching and backroom staff from his previous club, Swansea. Within four days of his appointment Martinez signed Jordi Gomez, who had been on loan at Swansea, from Espanyol. He was to bring in Jason Scotland from his old club a month later.

Is Rosler set to follow the same pattern?

When the German was appointed in December, many of us expected him to bring in a swath of coaching and backroom staff from Brentford. Within a month he brought in Chris Haslam from his old club as Head of Performance. Alan Kernahan and Peter Farrell – assistant manager and first team coach – had left Brentford within a week of Rosler’s departure and it seemed a matter of time before they were installed at Wigan. It did not happen.

At the time the rationale among fans on social media was that Haslam had been brought in because of concerns in the fitness levels of Latics’ players. The non-arrival of Rosler’s trusted lieutenants was put down to either budget issues or Dave Whelan’s loyalty towards staff previously appointed.

Who would bet against either Kernahan or Farrell or both arriving over summer, given Rosler’s recent statement? Moreover will Rosler follow Martinez’s lead by signing players from his previous club?

When Martinez was appointed it was clear that he was going to employ the same playing style that had served him well during his time at Swansea. That was going to involve a paradigm shift for players who had played under the pragmatic Steve Bruce. However, Martinez had brought in playing and coaching staff to help catalyse the shift. Gomez had been the ‘player of the season’ for Swansea, making 44 starts and scoring 14 goals. Scotland had started in 48 matches, scoring 24 goals. Both fitted into the playing style that Martinez wanted and appeared to be good signings at the time.

Not long after the end of Martinez’s first season Scotland was gone. The Trinidadian just could not put the ball in the back of the net. Gomez struggled to establish himself and made more appearances off the bench than as a starter. The step up to the Premier League from the Championship appeared to have been too much for them.

However, Martinez continued to have faith in Gomez and the player persevered for three more years with his manager, despite hostility from elements of the crowd, but never establishing himself as a regular starter. But given his previous success in the Championship, Gomez appeared to be a key player for Owen Coyle at the beginning of the season. However, the Scot did not get the best out of Gomez, sometimes following Martinez’s habit of playing him wide on the right. However, the arrival of Rosler was to enable Gomez to play the football he was always capable of at Championship level, resulting in him being voted ‘player of the season’.

Following Rosler’s departure, Mark Warburton has done a great job at Brentford and they will be joining Latics in the Championship next season. Among the outstanding performers in their promotion season have been two 22 year olds – defender Harlee Dean and ex-Everton youth midfielder Adam Forshaw. Centre forward Clayton Donaldson is out of contract and could be subject to interest from Rosler. The 6’1” Bradford born player has scored 46 goals in 135 appearances for the Bees. However, he is 30 years old. Another fine performer for them has been George Saville, a 20 year old on loan from Chelsea, who can play in midfield and left back. The Italian Marcello Trotta, a 21 year old on loan from Fulham, has also been a key player in attack.

It remains to be seen whether Rosler will raid his former club for players. He told Wigan Today “I have a very good squad of players already available to me, but we have to tweak here and there.

Rosler maintains that Latics do not need to sell any players but qualifies the position by stating that “Clearly every player at every football club has his price, but our players are under contract. I don’t think certain clubs would be able to afford them – unless we got the kind of offer we got for James McCarthy, which obviously any club would have to consider.”

Rosler’s statement echoes those made by Martinez during his time at Wigan, a reflection on Whelan’s willingness to let players leave if the price is right.

Despite the public statements it is likely that Rosler will sell some players over summer in order to raise funds to bring in new ones who would fit into his playing style. A left back and a couple of decent strikers will be foremost in Rosler’s shopping list. The latter are most likely to come at a cost, hence the need to raise funds.

As usual at this time of the year all kinds of speculation is floating around the social media. One day we get headlines telling us that Nick Powell is going to Leicester or Swansea, then later we hear that he will stay at Wigan. It’s crazy time.

Rosler has suggested he might have two signings lined up by the end of the week. Maybe those signings will give us inkling as to what is to follow?

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