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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Will Powell be back for the playoffs?

nick-powell-wigan

Wigan Athletic have a paltry goalscoring record this season, notching just 81 goals in 60 matches. But among the goals they have scored there have been some absolute crackers. Jean Beausejour’s rocket shot at Derby, Jordi Gomez’s free kicks, Roger Espinoza’s 35 yard blinder against MK Dons.

But in terms of sheer self-confidence and artistry Nick Powell’s second goal in the Europa League home game against Maribor stands out. It is the kind of thing that one might expect to happen at places like the Nou Camp or the Bernabeu, but it was certainly a joy to see it at the DW.

Powell was the hero for Latics that night. His first goal had come after 22 minutes from a simple header into an empty net after the Slovenian goalkeeper had made a hash of a punch. Ben Watson scored with a header from Jean Beausejour’s cross some 12 minutes later. But Maribor clawed their way back into the game as Latics went flat, scoring after 61 minutes. Powell’s deciding goal came in the 91st minute when he somehow found the energy that most of his teammates did not have to slalom through the visitor’s defence and score with aplomb.

That was in early October and Powell’s stock was high. His name was being touted around the media as the one who could go back to Old Trafford and lift his parent club out of their lethargy.

Owen Coyle was clearly delighted to sign Powell on loan last August, saying “I said to David (Whelan) when I was bringing him in, for me it was a win-win-win situation.We would win out of it because we got a terrific player, Nick Powell would win because I’ve given him a platform to showcase his talents and Manchester United will get back a more-developed player with more experience and a player who can challenge; as we’ve done before with the Sturridges and the Wilsheres.There’s no doubt from me he can have a huge career.”

During the time Coyle was at Wigan it looked like his assessment of Powell’s potential might be right. The 19 year old was to get rich experience in Europe, starting in five of the six Europa League games and coming on for the last half hour in the other in Kazan. His first appearance for Latics was coming on as a substitute in the 2-0 defeat at Leicester on September 14th. Five days later he started in the unfamiliar centre forward position in the 0-0 draw with Zulte Waregem in Bruges. With experienced central strikers Grant Holt and Marc-Antoine Fortune struggling with injuries, Powell soon established himself in that position.

Alex Ferguson had signed him from Crewe in July 2012. Powell had been a boy wonder with the Railwaymen, making his debut at the age of 16. He was to get lots of media attention scoring a spectacular goal for Crewe in the 2012 League 2 playoff final, but he had already agreed on a move to Old Trafford before then.

The iconic Dario Gradi, Director of Football at Crewe, explained what Ferguson saw in Powell: “He is athletic, he’s a good size, he’s good physically and he’s bright, he knows where people are around him. His clever with his play, he’s not just twinkle toes. Nick’s got a brain and a desire and Alex spotted it on the strength of one outing.”

Powell had become a key player in Coyle’s squad. Given the number of games Latics were facing Coyle was operating a rotation policy but Powell seemed to be the one Latics forward who could go the full 90 minutes on a regular basis. It prompted fans to wonder about the fitness levels of his team mates. At the time of the Scot leaving the club in December, Powell had made 14 starts, 3 appearances as a substitute and scored 6 goals.

In both of Graham Barrow’s games in charge, Powell started, but was substituted early in the second half. He was pulled off after 65 minutes in Uwe Rosler’s first game, the 2-1 defeat at Maribor. However, in the next match he came back to play the full ninety against Bolton, scoring with a bicycle kick in Latics’ 3-2 win.

He scored a goal in the 2-1 win at Reading in the next match, but was taken off at half time. Around that time in late December media speculation over Powell’s future was going haywire. The main theme was that Manchester United were going to recall him from his loan spell. Another version was that he was either going to go on loan to another Premier League club for the rest of the season or another club was to sign him. The names of Everton and Swansea were often quoted.

In the event, Powell was to stay at Wigan until the end of the season. His next goals came after coming on in the 60th minute in the FA Cup tie at MK Dons when Latics were in trouble. His two well- taken goals helped them reach the fourth round.

Injury caused Powell to miss the month of February and he returned to the field on March 12th coming on in the 54th minute in the 1-0 home win over Sheffield Wednesday. Since then Powell has only completed two games, including a goal in the 3-3 home draw with Yeovil. His other goal was an 88th minute equalizer at Bolton, after coming on at the 70 minute mark. The last game he completed was the 1-0 defeat at QPR on March 25th.

Since Uwe Rosler’s arrival, Powell has made 12 starts, 10 appearances off the bench and scored 6 goals. The stats paint a different story than in the first half of the season under Coyle.

Nick Powell had an impressive start to his loan spell under Owen Coyle. Although Ferguson and Manchester United signed him as a midfield player,  Coyle thrust him into a central striking role. During Coyle’s tenure he looked the part.

The young player exudes a certain kind of arrogance in his body language on the field of play. Some have compared him to Berbatov, but under Coyle, Powell was willing to graft and defend in a way that would not typify the Bulgarian. Powell won the hearts of many Latics fans through not only his excellent technique and confident play, but also through the physical effort he put out for his team.

Somewhere along the line, Powell lost his way. He just has not been the same kind of player in the second part of the season. Have injuries and illness played a part? Has the extreme media attention got too much for him, above all not knowing where he will be next year? Or is it just that he is a young player, not long turned 20, who lacks consistency? The conspiracy theorists will say that there is a rift between Powell and Rosler.

What fans have seen over the past weeks is a Powell who has not shown the same kind of physical commitment that we saw earlier in the season. Moreover the swagger that the young player was showing in his body language earlier in the season was seen as a sign of self-belief, but  is now being interpreted by some as a “couldn’t care less” attitude. However, some would say that Powell has not been well used by Rosler, too often pushed out to the wings where he is less effective. At times under Coyle, he enjoyed a free role.

Nick Powell is a fine young player, who has represented his country at all youth levels 16-21. He has recently been nominated Crewe’s best player of all time. He is a class act and will almost certainly represent his country at senior level.

If Powell can make the playoffs – in a positive frame of mind and a good state of health and fitness – it might conceivably make the difference between another year in the Championship division or a return to the Premier League for Wigan Athletic.

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Rosler building on Coyle’s legacy

Is it a false dawn? Or are the dark days well and truly behind us now?

Has Uwe Rosler really cleared the rubble left behind by his predecessor? Will the German become a long-standing Premier League manager with Wigan Athletic?

A mood of optimism is sweeping through the Wigan Athletic fold as Rosler has become the man to lead the club back into the Promised Land. The frustrations of the Owen Coyle era are being left behind and now, once more, we have a man with a plan.

One wonders if Owen Coyle ever received any thanks for the work he did at Wigan. In fact he might well go down as the least popular manager Latics have ever had. Being an ex-Bolton boss was clearly never in his favour. Neither was suffering relegation with the Horwich club.

However, the league season started for him in near perfect fashion with a 4-0 win at Barnsley. With Coyle at the helm people were getting excited about a swift return to the Premier League.

The Scot had a nigh impossible task to fulfil. He had to rebuild a squad devastated by the consequences of relegation. He was expected not only to get Latics back into the Premier League in one season, but also to put up a good show in the Europa League.  Moreover Latics were now the FA Cup winners – surely good enough to put the sword the kinds of teams they would meet in the Championship.

In the early days of Coyle’s reign, results were mixed. Latics were struggling to win their league games, although they made a decent start to their European campaign.  Many fans were critical of the manager’s lack of tactical nous and his long-ball approach. Others, seeing him as an improvement on Roberto Martinez, were more supportive. They wanted a more direct approach and not the tiki-taka of the previous four years. Coyle had brought in a lot of new players and there were rumours of rifts between them and those from the Martinez era.

One can only speculate as to where Latics would be now if Bernard Malanda had not scored a spectacular late winner for Zulte Waregem at the DW in late November. It was possibly the defining moment for Latics’ season, the loss of morale contributing to a subsequent home defeat by Derby and Coyle’s departure.

Rosler has since stepped in and lifted the team up to the play-off zone. His dealings in the January loan and transfer window seemed underwhelming to many fans at the time, but are looking good now.  Significantly Rosler brought in younger players, to a squad which had an average age of just below 28.  He now has a blend of players signed by Martinez, signed by Coyle and signed by himself.  Players who did not perform at potential under Coyle are now starting to shine under Rosler.

Unlike Coyle, Rosler does not have to get Latics into the Premier League this season to keep his job. Despite an excellent run of results it is highly unlikely that Latics can reach an automatic promotion spot. The best they can hope for is to win the play-offs, not an easy matter in the pressure cauldron that prevails at the end of the regular season.  Moreover the play-offs are often won by the team that peaks at the right time. Are Latics peaking too early or can they maintain this level of performance?

Should Rosler succeed in winning promotion does he have players of genuine Premier League class in his squad? How many have actually played there before?

Emmerson Boyce started in 216 matches in the Premier League, over seven seasons at Wigan and one at Crystal Palace. The next most experienced Premier League starters are Scott Carson (185) and Ali Al-Habsi (111). Gary Caldwell has clocked in 100; Ben Watson has 89 and Jordi Gomez 61. They are followed by Jean Beausejour (48), James McArthur (45), James McClean (44), Shaun Maloney (42), James Perch (41), Marc Antoine Fortune (35), Stephen Crainey (31), Leon Barnett (29), Ivan Ramis (16), Callum McManaman (8), Chris McCann (7), Roger Espinoza (6) and Martyn Waghorn (2).

Three of the four most experienced Premier League campaigners – Boyce, Al-Habsi and Caldwell – are well into their thirties. Carson is 28 years old. It is ironic that the three that follow in terms of experience – Watson, Gomez and Beausejour – are out of contract at the end of the season.

The last time Latics got promoted Paul Jewell had to bring in the likes of Henri Camara, Arjan De Zeeuw, Stephane Henchoz, Damien Francis and Mike Pollitt at the start of the season, with  more to follow later. However, Rosler has a bigger squad than Jewell had and might not need to bring in so many new players.

Were Rosler to achieve promotion this year he would have two experienced Premier League goalkeepers in Al-Habsi and Carson.  The possibility of Boyce playing on for at least one more season cannot be ruled out, although Caldwell’s injury problems might prevent his return. However, Rosler could call on the experience of the likes of Perch, Barnett and Ramis in defence.  Were the three out of contract players to re-sign he would have an experienced midfield available.

Rosler’s mode of operation is clearly different to that of his predecessors. Bringing in young players on loan gives him the opportunity to closely assess possible permanent signings in the future. Over the years Latics have sometimes speculated big money by their standards on players who have not proved successful.  Rosler’s approach is more patient, preferring to work with players to maximize their potential.  He is unlikely to splash out big money.

Rosler is topping the opinion polls with Wigan fans in contrast to his predecessor, Coyle. Whether he can continue to maintain the current level of momentum remains to be seen. If he cannot his ratings will fall.

Whatever else may be said about Coyle there can be little doubt that he did a good job in recruiting so many quality players in such a short amount of time.  So much criticism has been made of his signing of the misfiring Grant Holt but players such as Carson, Perch, Barnett, McCann and McClean could well be at the club for years to come.

Rosler has built upon the foundations left by Martinez and Coyle, but has added a further tier through his own signings. He now has a well balanced and capable squad capable of beating any team in the Championship division.  The bookmakers are now starting to lower their odds against Wigan Athletic getting back to the Premier League this season.

It does not look like a false dawn.

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Jordi to start at Huddersfield?

Thanks to the Sun for the photo

Thanks to the Sun for the photo

Jordi Gomez is a footballer whose playing style can drive people to the extremes of both ecstasy and despair. Never before has a Wigan Athletic player polarized public opinion in the way he does.

Following his sumptuous free kick against Charlton his name has been bandied about the social media and fan forums. That last gasp goal really was something special, as were his celebrations following it. For once the neutrals who have reserved their judgement on the 28 year old Catalan are starting to openly praise him as Latics’ most skilful player.

What a turnaround for the man whose exit from the pitch was so loudly cheered in the home match against Rubin Kazan. Suddenly fans are realizing that Gomez’s contract expires at the end of the season. There are rumours of him going to the Major League soccer in the United States. Is it a case of realizing a player’s worth when it is too late?

Many of us thought that this might be Gomez’s best season at Wigan. He excelled in Swansea’s team when he played in the Championship before in 2008-09, getting 12 goals and 5 assists in 38 starts. The Championship just seems the best place for him to perform.

The speed and anticipation of Premier League midfields and defences made it difficult for him to stamp his mark on matches. He made a total of 61 starts in the Premier League with 35 appearances off the bench, scoring 10 goals. However, he made only 3 assists. Contrast that to the player’s performances in cup ties last year (FA and League cups) where in 9 starts and one appearance as a substitute he scored 5 goals and made 4 assists. The assist he made for Callum McManaman in the FA Cup Semi Final is the one that Latics fans will remember for years to come.

The arrival of Owen Coyle and his ‘’direct” approach to football was not to bring the best out of Gomez. Neither does he command a regular place in the team under Uwe Rosler. Up to this point he has started in 10 Championship matches, with 7 appearances off the bench, scoring four goals and making one assist.

Following that match winning goal last weekend there are many fans who feel Gomez should start in today’s game at Huddersfield. Although there are those who would argue that the player is more effective as an impact substitute, a “supersub”.

In order to play Gomez today Rosler would have to consider breaking up his preferred midfield trio of James McArthur, Chris McCann and Ben Watson. His other option would be to play with one wide player and play Gomez in a more advanced role.

In an interview this week Rosler said that he was actually planning to start Gomez in the Charlton game, but changed his mind at the last minute, expecting the game to be scrappy.

It will be interesting to see if Gomez starts today. If he does he can expect a much warmer welcome from the traveling Latics fans than he could have expected a couple of months ago.

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