Caldwell’s Christmas Shopping List


Time is marching on and the January transfer window is creeping up on us.

Gary Caldwell has worked wonders so far in the transfer market, his dealings having kept Latics balance sheet out of the red. Moreover he has put together a squad strong enough to reach a playoff position by early November, despite their underperformance in the FA and League Cups.

Gaining promotion must be Caldwell’s main priority, despite the debacle at Bury on Saturday.  It was interesting to see that three of the four teams above Latics in the League 1 table – Gillingham, Burton Albion and Coventry City also suffered ignominious defeats in the FA Cup this past weekend.

Caldwell will go into the January market with limited funds available for transfers and will be constrained by the club’s salary policy. That will rule out higher profile signings Once again Caldwell will be looking out for bargain buys whose salary demands are realistic.

Latics currently stand in 5th place in League 1, only five points from the top two teams, Gillingham and Burton Albion. If they can continue in this vein they will be in a good position to mount a realistic promotion challenge. Moreover Caldwell has the chance to bring in new blood to cover the squad’s weaker areas through the transfer window.

By January the futures of short-term loanees Francisco Junior, Donald Love, Sean Murray and Yanic Wildschut will have been determined. Despite his talent Murray has yet to shine at Wigan and unless he can really force his way back into the team with some outstanding performances it looks like he will be returning to Watford. However, there are ten league fixtures on hand until Murray’s loan period is due to end in mid-January. Time remains for Murray to make an impression.

Junior remains inconsistent and his fitness a concern. At his best he can influence the course of a game, his positional and passing abilities adding an extra dimension to Latics’ play. But he has failed to establish himself as a regular starter and has been frequently substituted when he has started. Junior continues to adapt to the physicality of life in League 1. He can rush into rash challenges and can be outmuscled by bigger opponents. So many fans will be hoping Junior will stay. At his best he can look a class above League 1, but he has yet to fully convince Caldwell, and if even if he does there is the matter of dealing with Everton over his future.

Love is only 20 years old and is one for the future. He has the attributes to become a good full back, but like many young players at big clubs, his long-term chances at Manchester United are limited. Caldwell paid United around £1m for Reece James. Would he and David Sharpe be willing to fork out another significant transfer fee to land another Old Trafford youngster who has potential, but has little experience outside the youth and development squad levels?

Although his recent performances might have been less convincing Wildschut has made a great impression since arriving at Wigan on a two month loan from Middlesbrough. The Dutchman has had a frustrating career, seeming to promise so much but so often lacking vision in his delivery. However, his pace is electric and he has the physical presence to not easily be knocked off the ball. The other League 1 managers may seek to nullify his influence by assigning multiple markers but this will serve to create space for other Wigan players. The questions to be asked are whether Wildschut’s early form was a flash in the pan and whether Middlesbrough would be willing to release him. Caldwell will be keen to keep the player whose sheer pace and directness can cause panic in opposition defences.

So what are the areas that need strengthening?

Grant Holt’s departure on a short term loan to Wolves leaves Caldwell with just two target men to play up front, Craig Davies and Will Grigg. Should Holt’s time at Wolves not be extended Latics will look towards offloading his salary on another Championship side until his contract terminates in summer. Should Holt not return we can expect Caldwell to look for another front man in the January window.

Much will depend on decisions yet to be taken on the players who have come in on loan. However, there remains the possibility that Latics will continue their efforts in shedding players on Championship level salaries.

Chris McCann continues to command a place in the starting lineup and his ability to play in the back three or midfield allows Caldwell the possibility of changing his team’s shape during a game without making substitutions. The manager clearly likes to play McCann in the back three, where his distribution from the back adds an extra dimension. However, critics will say that the Irishman is not a natural defender and is not assertive enough within his own penalty area. Many would prefer to see Jason Pearce return to that position on the left in the back line trio. However, Pearce is another who signed a contract while Latics were in the Championship. Moreover he has not even featured on the bench recently. Leon Barnett is now back on the bench after regaining his place for a while.

The situation with loan players and those on higher salaries will surely be the subject of much review by Caldwell and his coaching staff over the next couple of months. However, Caldwell might want to consider bringing in a couple of players in the central defence and holding midfield who can add an extra touch of steel.

Given the style of play based on aerial bombardment favoured by so many League 1 teams a big, rugged central defender who is strong in the air would give Caldwell extra options. Someone of the ilk of Harry Maguire would seem to fit the bill. Moreover a combative holding midfielder who can be brought on when the going gets tough would also aid Latics’ cause. Perhaps someone who can perform the same kind of role that Graham Kavanagh fulfilled in Paul Jewell’s Championship promotion team?

January might well be another busy time for incomings and outgoings at Wigan Athletic.


Economics and Grant Holt’s departure

Grant Holt has signed for Wolves on a short term loan deal.

Grant Holt has signed for Wolves on a short term loan.

A couple of weeks ago an article hit a couple of web sites that Wigan Athletic were looking at signing another striker in January. The player was interesting other clubs, including some from the Championship, but Latics were thought to be in pole position to sign him.

But why would Latics want to sign another forward with Craig Davies and Grant Holt coming back into the reckoning? Moreover Shaq Coulthirst and Haris Vuckic were getting closer to fitness and Gary Caldwell already had Will Grigg, Jordy Hiwula, Michael Jacobs, Sanmi Odelusi and Yanic Wildschut available for his front line.

Grant Holt’s departure for Wolves yesterday was no surprise, even if its timing might have been. He was one of five players on Championship-level salaries still remaining at the club. Emyr Huws, Billy Mckay and Andrew Taylor had already been sent out on season-long loans, together with Lee Nicholls until mid-December.

Between the end of last season and the beginning of this one, the club did a remarkable job in moving so many players from the previous regimes, allowing “hungry” new players to come in. At the end of last season loanees returned to their clubs and none of the seven players at the ends of their contracts were to stay. Nine players were sold, many for give-away prices.

Holt’s departure means that 13 players who would have been on Championship salaries are not currently at the club. Rough estimates place Wigan’s playing staff wage bill at around a third of what is was in the first season back in the Championship division. However, three players still remain on salaries that are possibly double what many of the newer signings are earning.

Caldwell has done a wonderful job in transforming the squad despite being under financial constraints. The 21 “new” players in his squad have largely shown that they can adapt to the style of football he seeks and the team has a genuine chance of promotion back to the Championship.

However, the financial reality is that Latics have suffered a very significant loss in earnings in being relegated from the Championship to League 1. There are still further adjustments to be made.

There are five players in the squad who are on short term loans which will expire before mid-January. Moreover the January transfer window presents an opportunity for players remaining on Championship-level salaries to move on. This includes Holt, whose loan to Wolves expires on January 2nd.

The timing of Holt’s departure is by no means ideal for Caldwell. He now has only two players – Grigg and Davies – naturally suited to the centre forward position. Given Davies’ vulnerability to injury it looks likely that Caldwell will seek another central striker either through the loan market or as a permanent signing in the January window. Hence those rumours of Wigan’s interest in the 23 year old and 6 ft 2 in tall Vadaine Oliver of York City might not be far off the mark.

Should Holt manage to stay fit and show some form at Wolves there are possibilities of him not returning to Wigan. His contract is up at the end of the season and even if he does not stay at Wolves there may be other Championship clubs interested in a striker of his experience.

Two of the three players remaining on Championship salaries have had significant injury problems over the past months. However, Chris McCann has shown that he has overcome his injury and has been in fine form. But Don Cowie has only recently returned and has made just one substitute appearance. Earlier in the season there were rumours linking the third of those – Leon Barnett – to Preston North End. However, with injuries to key central defenders Caldwell would have been loath to let him go at that time. Barnett had a nightmare 2014-15 season, but his form has certainly improved over the past weeks. All three players have contracts which expire at the end of the season and might be interested in moving on in January were a good offer to come through.

January could well be another busy time for Caldwell. In the meantime Coulthirst’s loan from Tottenham expires tomorrow. Donald Love has another month to go on his loan from Manchester United. The loans of Francisco Junior, Shaun Murray and Yanic Wildschut expire in January.

Just as it seemed Caldwell had a settled squad and things were starting to click, Holt’s departure came out of the blue. The likely reality is that the squad will not be finally settled until the end of January at the earliest.

A defence for promotion


“I want to smash the division with 100 points”.

They could have been the words of Dave Whelan prior to the opening of the 2002-03 season. But they weren’t.  The comment, or something close to it,  was made by his grandson thirteen years later.

Wigan Athletic did smash the third tier – then known as the Second Division – in that 2002-03 season. They only lost four league games all season and finished with 100 points.

Although they played a 4-4-2 formation with attacking intent it was their superb defensive record that was their real strength. They conceded only 25 goals in 46 league matches.  Goalkeeper John Filan started in all 46 league matches. Central defenders Matt Jackson and Jason De Vos started in 45 and 43 respectively. Moreover right back Nicky Eaden made 37 league starts. That experienced and capable quartet was to provide the consistent defensive stability that their team needed to mount its promotion push.

“I guarantee you a 20 goal per season striker”.

The 2002-03 team did not have one, in the league at least, where Andy Liddell scored 16 and Nathan Ellington 15. But if cup games are included then Ellington’s total rises above the 20 mark.

We are already a third of the way through the 2015-16 season in League 1 and Latics have already lost three league games and conceded 18 goals. Although Will Grigg has already scored 6 goals and could well be the 20 goal striker that David Sharpe was seeking, even the young chairman would now surely admit that his 100 point prediction was a trifle over-optimistic. There is no way the current side is going to equal the achievement of its predecessor of 13 years ago. But that does not mean that they cannot achieve automatic promotion or even win the division.

The circumstances can hardly be more different. It had been Paul Jewell’s second season at Wigan following his previous three years in management at Bradford City and Sheffield Wednesday. Dave Whelan had given him the funds to lure experienced professionals who had played at higher levels to play in the third tier. Latics had never been higher than the third tier, but Jewell had managed to win the title by a 14 point margin. The club was very much “on the up” in those days.

Gary Caldwell took over with the club at low ebb. The rookie manager took charge for a handful of games in the Championship, but could not work miracles with the inadequate squad he had inherited and relegation happened. His remit then became huge. He was to almost completely rebuild the playing staff of the club, cut the wage bill drastically, bring back a style of football that typified “The Wigan Way” and to get promotion this season.

Although they are not on track to rival the record of the 2002-03 team, can Caldwell’s team nevertheless win promotion? Moreover if it does can Caldwell then emulate the achievements of Jewell by getting Latics to the Premier League?

Jewell’s second division title winning squad provided a strong base for the following two seasons in the second tier. Filan, Eaden and Jackson continued as defensive lynchpins, together with Ian Breckin who had been brought in later in the 2002-03 season. The young Leighton Baines was to establish himself as the first choice left back. Jimmy Bullard and Lee McCulloch were regulars in midfield and Gary Teale played on the right wing in most games. However, Jewell’s masterstroke was to sign Jason Roberts as a partner for the dynamic Ellington up front. The promotion winning team of 2004-05 once more had a backbone of players who seemed to play in almost every game. In fact no less than seven of them made 42 league starts or more.

With two 20 goals a season strikers in Ellington and Roberts,  Jewell’s 2004-05 team had scored more goals than the team that had “blown away” the third tier. But once again they had the best defensive record in the division, this time conceding just 35 goals.

The implications for Caldwell’s team are clear. Decide on your best back line and stick with it as much as you can. Defensive cohesion results through having a consistent backline. Moreover cultivate players who can do a good job for the club long-term, those who can raise their play to another level if the club gets promoted.

Given his remit at the end of the 2014-15 season Caldwell has done a remarkable job. His teams are playing a brand of football in style his chairman would call “The Wigan Way” and despite a huge turnover in playing staff they are already in the playoff zone. However, if he is going to have a backbone of players who can play week in-week out as those of the Jewell era did then he is going to hope that injuries do not rear their ugly head.

Jewell used 20 players in his division-smashing 2002-03 league season. Caldwell has already used 27 in league games just a third of the way through the season. It is only in recent games that the injury list has reduced. Now that is squad is almost fully active he is in a wonderful position compared with any other manager in the division. Caldwell and his colleagues have put together a squad good enough to win automatic promotion, providing injuries do not prove excessive. Moreover he has young players in the squad who are already showing signs that they can operate in a higher level. He has not only built a squad to challenge for promotion, but one that could provide the backbone for competing at the Championship level should they get the chance.

A settled backline appears crucial to the promotion chances. But that remains a work in progress. Caldwell has brought in Jassi Jaaskelainen to dominate the penalty area in a way that Richard O’Donnell had not previously been able to do.  But one wonders if O’Donnell might have saved some of the shots that the big Finn has let in. Moreover Jason Pearce has been bogged by injury problems, but is now back in contention. Is Caldwell willing to sacrifice Chris McCann’s superb distribution from the back for Pearce’s more reliable defending? Donervon Daniels has done a fine job in the right wing back position, but will he be moved back into his favoured place in the back three? Will Donald Love stake his place as an automatic choice at right wing back?

Over the coming matches Caldwell will surely look at establishing a consistent backline. The manager remains under constant pressure from fans to play attacking football, but as an ex-central defender he will surely recognise the need for defensive stability.

Latics currently have the seventh best defensive record in League 1. Lessons from the past tell us that it needs to improve significantly if the side is going to win promotion.


Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

Seeking team synergy


Synergy is defined as the creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts. It is something that can help football teams achieve way beyond what people would expect.

In the 1980-81 season Aston Villa broke Liverpool’s stranglehold on English football by winning the First Division.  Villa had finished seventh in the previous season, fourteen points behind champions Liverpool, in the days when a win was worth two points. Nobody had expected Aston Villa to win it the next season.

What was truly remarkable, in an era of low quality pitches and refereeing that was much more lenient than that of modern day, was that Villa used only 14 players all season. No fewer than 7 players were ever-present in all 42 league matches.

It can be safely said that in this case the whole was equal to more than the sum of its parts. It was far from a team of superstars, but that team synergy made them a formidable unit. Through playing together on a continuous basis over a long period of time, with a minimum of disruptions due to injury, the understanding between the players was the key to their success.

Gary Caldwell’s current team does not have synergy. In fact the whole is probably less than the sum of its parts.  The players have not yet consistently gelled together as a unit.

Caldwell has already been unlucky with injuries, which have robbed him of key players. He has used 23 players in just 10 league games up to this point. Only four players – Michael Jacobs, Reece James, Richard O’Donnell and David Perkins – have been ever-present. Those players have formed the backbone of the team, but if it had not been for injuries which other players might too have been ever-present?

The hapless Malky Mackay made only two permanent signings for the club. Billy Mckay has now left for Dundee United after being constantly snubbed at Wigan. But in Jason Pearce, Mackay signed a player not only with a successful pedigree of Football League experience, but a leader through example. Pearce was to be one of the few shining lights in the darkness of the Malky era.

Craig Morgan was Caldwell’s third signing, following Perkins and O’Donnell. The ex-Rotherham captain came in with similar credentials to Pearce. When Morgan and Pearce were named as captain and vice-captain it appeared that Caldwell was going to have a central defensive pairing as strong as any in the division. However, up to this point the two have played together only once, against Crewe Alexandra on August 29th.

Will Grigg scored 23 goals for MK Dons last season and Latics paid £1m to sign him.He has scored three goals in six starts and two substitute appearances so far.  Grigg too can be expected to be part of the backbone of Caldwell’s team.

When the lineup was announced an hour prior to the Millwall game on Tuesday night eyebrows were raised. Fans who have been clamouring for twin strikers were disappointed to see just Jordy Hiwula’s name in the side. Grigg was on the bench due his elbow injury, although he did come on to save the game in the closing minutes. Caldwell had the chance to play Sanmi Odelusi together with Hiwula, but the player’s lack of form was almost certainly a factor in not including him in the starting lineup. Craig Davies was again absent because of a hamstring injury and Haris Vuckic with an ankle injury. Grant Holt and Shaq Coulthirst continue to recover from injury.

Should Caldwell wish to play twin strikers he will have the six players to choose from, providing they are all fit at the same time.  Davies is the obvious choice to partner Grigg, but given his prior injury record, it is unlikely that he will manage a long run of games on a continuous basis. Davies can not only score goals in his own right, but his physicality provides Grigg with more freedom. Caldwell will surely be hoping that Holt will be able to reach peak fitness and be available to play a similar sort of role to Davies. Coulthirst, Hiwula and Odelusi have something different to offer, including pace.

In midfield Caldwell has various options. Assuming Perkins and Jacobs remain automatic choices then Tim Chow, Jordan Flores, Francisco Junior, Chris McCann, Sean Murray and Max Power will compete for places. Moreover Don Cowie is on the road to recovery from injury. Andy Kellett has the ability to play left midfield or left wing back. Caldwell has an alternative to Jacobs in the advanced midfield role in the versatile Vuckic.  Or he can play them both in attacking midfield behind the central striker in a 3-4-2-1 system.

The right back/wing back position remains problematic for Caldwell following the return of Jonjoe Kelly to Everton and the injury to Kevin McNaughton. The loan signing of Dutch winger Yanic Wildschut from Middlesbrough was announced today. One wonders if the player can also play as a wing back. Playing midfielders or central defenders in that position is hardly ideal. Caldwell will surely be scouring the transfer market in January for a replacement for Kenny. For the moment, Latics’ play is likely to be skewed to the left where James and Jacobs form a strong partnership.

The starting lineup against Millwall included only four players over the age of 23. In terms of looking towards the future it is something very positive.  However, in order to get promotion Caldwell will surely need to give priority to his more experienced players who have already enjoyed success in the Football League.

O’Donnell has established himself as the number one choice in goal. Morgan and Pearce will surely be the first names on the team sheet for the centre of defence, together with either Leon Barnett or Donervan Daniels.  James will be one of the two wing backs.  A three pronged attack of Davies and Grigg playing as twin strikers, with Jacobs coming in from midfield, would threaten even the best of League 1 defences.

The squad is laden with midfield players and Caldwell has been constantly switching them around. McCann has experience, Junior oozes class, the younger players show promise. Caldwell will look for a balance in midfield, but he must have box-to-box players who can move the ball quickly and not shirk their defensive duties. Too often we have seen midfielders passing the ball sideways or backwards and not providing sufficient solid defensive cover.

Caldwell will be searching for team synergy. The first step is to have all his key players fit, something that has not been the case up to now. He needs them playing on a regular basis, utilizing the younger and less experienced players in short spells.

Fingers crossed that the injury situation improves and that Caldwell will have the luxury of choosing what he considers his strongest possible lineup on each matchday over the coming months. Were this team to have synergy it would surely propel Latics out of League 1.

Will injuries haunt Caldwell?

Roberto Martinez had bad luck with injuries in his final season at Wigan. Will Gary Caldwell prove more fortunate in his promotion push?

Roberto Martinez had bad luck with injuries in his final season at Wigan. Will Gary Caldwell prove more fortunate in his promotion push?

Antolin Alcaraz and Ivan Ramis are now playing for UD Las Palmas and Eibar in the Primera Division of La Liga. Both were fine centre backs in their time, strong in defence and comfortable on the ball.  In fact they were the kinds of players that Roberto Martinez liked to have in the centre of his defence.

Ramis was signed from Real Mallorca in the summer of 2012, to supplement the centre of defence of a team that had beaten the best in England in the final months of the previous season.  Alcaraz had starred in that run, playing in a backline of three with Gary Caldwell and Maynor Figueroa. Ramis had a fine record in La Liga and looked an excellent signing by Martinez. The squad that Martinez had built up was probably the strongest Wigan Athletic had had in their history. Our hopes were high as the season approached.

The Paraguayan and Spaniard played together in the centre of defence for the first three games of the season, a 2-0 home loss to Chelsea being followed by an away win by the same margin at Southampton and a resounding 4-1 League Cup victory at Nottingham Forest. But that was to be the last match in which they featured together. Alcaraz had picked up an injury and did not return to first team action until February. In his absence Ramis stablished himself as a regular, solid in defence, with excellent distribution.  Sadly Ramis’ season was to end in January when he picked up an anterior cruciate knee injury at Fulham.

Injuries to key players were to be the main factor in Wigan Athletic’s relegation from the Premier League that season. Indeed by the time the FA Cup Final came in May, Martinez was deprived of not only Ramis, but also of fellow central defenders Gary Caldwell and Maynor Figueroa and wing back Jean Beausejour. Midfielders Roger Espinoza and James McArthur were to be employed as wing backs, with a back three of Alcaraz, Emmerson Boyce and Paul Scharner. But, not surprisingly, the energy dissipated in that fabulous victory was to be lacking three days later when the 4-1 defeat at Arsenal sent Latics to the Championship.

Neither Alcaraz nor Ramis was able to reach their peak form again in the future. Martinez was to take Alcaraz with him to Everton, but the big Paraguayan was to struggle with injury and poor form, his release at the end of last season proving no surprise. Following a long period of recuperation Ramis had some good moments under Owen Coyle and Uwe Rosler, but niggling injuries were to constantly plague him. He was subsequently released by Malky Mackay in January 2015 to join Levante in La Liga.

Both UD Las Palmas and Eibar would have known of the two players’ injury issues prior to signing them this summer. Each signed a one year deal.  They are clearly calculated gambles by newly promoted clubs looking for experienced central defenders to do a short term job for them in a highly competitive league. Up to this point Alcaraz has played in all five league games for UD and Ramis in the first four for Eibar.

Gary Caldwell’s acquisition of Kevin McNaughton was also a calculated gamble. McNaughton has been a fine player in his time in the Premier League and Championship, but injury meant he only made 9 appearances for Bolton Wanderers last season. The 32 year old had fallen out of favour with Neil Lennon who had been critical of the player’s fitness. McNaughton’s his misery was compounded by a fractured fibula at the beginning of March in a match against Reading. It had been his first start since October. McNaughton is on a one year contract at Wigan.

Given the return to Everton of Jonjoe Kenny following a two month loan, Caldwell will be hoping that McNaughton will make a swift recovery from the hamstring injury that has kept him out since the Gillingham game a month ago. In the meantime he will either look for an out-of-contract or loan signing to provide further cover at right back/wing back, although midfielders Tim Chow and Max Power have experience in that position.

Caldwell took a bigger gamble in signing the 29 year old Craig Davies from Bolton on a two year contract. The big striker has had his fill of injury problems in his career, but none more than last season when he was restricted to just three starts from the turn of the year following a succession of hamstring problems.

After a series of excellent displays Davies missed the Fleetwood match with a hamstring injury. However, Caldwell explained to Wigan Today that:

“We knew his history when we signed him, and I have to say the fitness coaches and the physios have done magnificent with him. The actual injury he has now is on the other leg and is very minor for a hamstring injury. We’re looking after him very well and I’m sure he’ll be back stronger than ever.”

At his best, Davies is surely among the top central strikers in League 1. The question is whether he can overcome his hamstring problems and stay fit.

Other than McNaughton and Davies, Latics were also without Will Grigg, Francisco Junior, Craig Morgan and Haris Vuckic and for the Fleetwood game.

Grigg has torn ligaments in his elbow and missed the Fleetwood match after previously being away for international duty.  Morgan damaged his shoulder against Crewe on August 29th and Vuckic injured his ankle at Port Vale.

Junior has not played for a month due to a muscle injury, having been substituted at half time at Gillingham.

All of the six would surely challenge for a place in the starting line-up were they fit.

Injuries can make or break a club’s season, as Martinez found out in 2012-13.

It is to be hoped that Caldwell will have more good fortune in this regard than his ex-boss. Given their recent history Davies and McNaughton will have a challenge on their hands to regain their fitness and maintain it over the course the season. Caldwell and his coaches know that and will carefully monitor the two players’ fitness.

In the meantime Caldwell will be hoping that there will be no long term injuries to key players this season. Latics have had more than their fair share of those over recent years. Maybe the pendulum will turn in their favour this time around?

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.