Bowing out gracefully

 

“Dave Whelan: Racism row forced me to quit.”

So said the Daily Express headline yesterday. Sadly another example of gutter journalism, of which we have seen far too much over recent months in the national press.

That newspaper, along with others, was once more ready to condemn a man who has done so much for English football over the years.

They neglected to mention his record as a chairman over the past two decades:

  • Bought the club in February 1995. Finished in 14th place in Division 3. Average attendance for 1994-95 season was 1,748.
  • Summer 1995 – arrival of The Three Amigos – Diaz, Martinez and Seba.
  • Division 3 champions in 1996-97.
  • Plans for new stadium announced in 1997.
  • Beat Millwall 1-0 at Wembley to win Auto Windscreens Shield in 1999.
  • JJB stadium inaugurated in August 1999 with a friendly against Manchester United.
  • Division 2 champions 2002-03.
  • Won promotion to the Premier League in 2004-05.
  • Reached League Cup final in 2005-06, finishing 10th in Premier League, average attendance 20,609.
  • Eight seasons in the Premier League from 2005-2013. .
  • Second half of 2011-12 season rally with first win against Manchester United and away victories at Liverpool and Arsenal –all won on merit.
  • FA Cup Semi-Finals  in consecutive seasons 2012-2014.
  • FA Cup winners in May 2013.
  • Community Shield appearance in August 2013.
  • Group stages of the Europa League with trips to Belgium, Russia and Slovenia in 2013-14 – also reaching FA Cup semi final and championship playoffs.

Listening to Whelan’s interview by the club brought tears to the eyes. He even brought up the matter of the broken leg a couple of times. It contrasts with that on Sky Sports where the interviewer was clearly intent on treading the beaten path of the racism saga.

However, during that Sky interview Whelan was able to blow away much of the recent uncertainty about the club’s future by saying:

“Contrary to some suggestions, there are no plans to sell the club, which will remain in family hands and I have every confidence that (grandson) David (Sharpe), along with chief executive Jonathan Jackson, will lead us forwards with wisdom.”

Following in the steps of a Wigan icon like Dave Whelan would be hard for anyone, let alone a 23 year old like Sharpe. However, the young man got himself off to a good start by handling his interview with Sky with considerable aplomb.

It is the end of an era.

Dave Whelan has gone out as gracefully as he could, given the pressure from the national media.

He leaves behind a remarkable legacy, the like of which was unimaginable two decades ago.

Whelan’s final fling

Whelan

Sometimes we lose sight of things that happened not so long ago.

“He is the man to lead us back into the Premier League.”

Looking at Dave Whelan’s comment when Malky Mackay was appointed brings perspective. The chairman was looking at salvaging a season that had gone awry under the leadership of Uwe Rosler. He had acted in a timely manner to keep the promotion dream alive. How could he have expected that fourteen games later Latics would stand second from bottom nine points from safety?

Whelan has spent almost £100 million on Wigan Athletic over the past two decades. Only the naïve could argue that Latics could have achieved what they did without his funding.

But Whelan did much more than that. His vision and leadership turned a struggling lower division club into an entity to be respected at national level. It was the driving force that is not so apparent now as it was before.

Wigan Athletic’s success has brought it a larger fan base than could have been imagined twenty years ago. Wigan was a rugby town – at least in terms of attendances – when he first took over, but he turned it around. The football club’s attendances over the past decade have consistently bettered those of their rugby counterparts.

Moreover support has not just grown inside the town, but the club has become known on a global basis. Eight years in the Premier League and reaching the League Cup Final helped, but winning the FA Cup was the icing on the cake.

However, through those successes, expectations heightened. Latics wisely courted the young supporters who would provide the backbone when their more senior equivalents would no longer be around. But the younger support was brought on Premier League football. They were not there when Latics visited the likes of Prescot Cables and Earlestown. They don’t expect the club to be struggling to stay in the Championship division.

Whelan pumped so much money into the club for so long. In recent years he has insisted on the club balancing its books and his Chief Executive Jonathan Jackson has played a major role in making that happen. Old timers will know of his father Stan, ex club President, who did so much for Latics in his time. It could be said that Stan Jackson’s greatest achievement was persuading Whelan to buy the club those years ago.

The traditionalists will say that a football club belongs to the fans. But the reality is that, at the highest level of English football, the fans take the back seat. There are no clubs who can challenge in elite circles without massive financial backing. Some clubs have become supporters’ trusts, but they too have face financial reality. The concept of fans owning a club is appealing in many ways, but the reality is that those clubs continue to struggle.

There is a large degree of uncertainly this moment in time at Wigan Athletic. People are waiting for leadership from Whelan. Where is the club heading now? Will he be selling up or handing the reins to his grandson?

Above all, what is his vision for the club’s future?

At 78 years of age, and after achieving more than could have possibly been imagined, does he have the energy for one final fling? The “racism saga” with the FA must surely have taken a lot of out him.

In the coming week he might well make the decision to relieve Malky Mackay of his duties. But what would follow if he did?

Maybe Whelan has had enough and is ready to pass on to someone else. That would be perfectly understandable.

However, if that is to be the case, can he please set some direction beforehand?

The direction would identify what kind of club Wigan Athletic should be in the future. Without big financial backing it would surely need to be a club that can be self-sufficient, holding its own but surviving economically on selling off its top talent.

Where is the club heading? Not only for League 1 but the non-fulfillment of the Academy scheme at Charnock Richard?

Dave Whelan has enabled amazing things to happen at Wigan Athletic, but it could well be that the time has come to pass the reins to someone else.

However, let’s hope that it will not be the immediate case.

Whelan’s final fling could well involve the dismissal of Mackay and the appointment of someone who could motivate and organize the players into saving this sad season for the club.

Anything more than that would be a bonus.

Can Malky’s new players gel in time?

embers

The flames of Malky’s fire sale have now subsided. Only the embers remain of the most successful era in Wigan Athletic history.

Is there method in this apparent madness in selling off the family silver? Does Mackay know what he is doing? In what direction is the club heading?

Malky Mackay may well be the least popular manager in Wigan Athletic’s history. But perhaps only someone with ratings so low would be willing to withstand the ire of the fans by selling off the club’s most talented players. Did Dave Whelan bring him in as the axe man, ready to chop away the dead wood, so that new and stronger roots could start up? Is that why he has seemed relatively unconcerned about the awful results during his tenure? Is he at Wigan for the long haul, come what may?

The club is at its lowest ebb for decades. There is no doubt that we will be seeing a new reality over the next couple of years. Gone are the glory days of entertaining the rich and famous clubs of English football. Moreover it looks like we can also forget about attacking football. Mackay’s teams have been built on defence and resilience, unattractive but effective. But even that would be an improvement on what we have seen these past months.

Over the transfer window Latics lost ten players, four of whom played in the FA Cup Final. Only one of those heroes now remains – the 35 year old Emmerson Boyce. Mackay was not fully able to stick with his plan of recruiting “hungry British players”. He did manage to get Leon Clarke, Billy McKay, Sheyi Ojo, Jason Pearce and Liam Ridgewell. But he also signed Cameroonian Gaetan Bong and Australian Chris Herd, with Korean Kim Bo-Kyung seemingly about to become the eighth new player.

One of the concerns under Uwe Rosler was that a squad of 30+ players was too big. Most of us expected a considerable slim down in squad size. In fact with Juan Carlos Garcia coming back from an unsuccessful loan period at CD Tenerife the squad has not shrunk much at all. Granted Latics have shed many of their highest wage earners, but the current squad certainly looks much lower on quality, if not in quantity.

Some fans would say that Uwe Rosler made appalling signings and put Latics into the situation they are in at the moment. Others would say that the players he signed had genuine potential, but they could not adapt quickly enough and never reached the levels expected. Then again, it could be argued that they were not well handled and that led to their demise.

Typical of football managers, Rosler wanted to bring in his own men. He went on to sign ten on permanent contracts. That made the squad large, with inevitable problems. His demise was precipitated by those players not gelling in the squad.

To be fair on Rosler, he had taken over players who had been recruited by managers whose preferred style of play was diametrically opposed. He did well last season to keep some kind of harmony between the ex-Premier League players of the Martinez era and the mish-mash of quality players and journeymen brought in by Owen Coyle. But bringing in his own men added an extra dimension of complication that eventually was to become insurmountable.

Now Mackay is trying to do the same.

However, unpopular though he might be, Mackay has had the blessing of the majority of fans in making major changes in the playing staff. Put simply, players on fat contracts just had not performed as they should. It has given him carte blanche to cull the legends of the Martinez era, something Coyle was unable to do.

The acid test remains for Mackay.

There are 18 matches remaining for Latics to salvage a season where promotion was once a realistic possibility. Relegation looms.

Fans will back Mackay in bringing in new men, “refreshing the squad”, in his vernacular. Given the woeful lack of commitment by the players over the course of the season, it has been looked on as necessary.

However, in the process he has lost most of the creative talent that was there. However, he could say that those players were not being effective and his new charges may be less talented, but can achieve more.

Frankly speaking, some of the players brought in by Mackay during this transfer window would not have been signed in previous eras. Expectations have been lowered.

However, he now faces the problem that Rosler had. That is “bedding in” of his new players. With only 18 games left that is a major issue.

 

Another woeful loss – freshening up required

freshenup

Depression reigns at Wigan. Dreams of getting back into the top flight are now a thing of the past. The harsh reality is that League 1 is getting scaringly close, following a woeful 1-0 home loss to Huddersfield Town.

Is Malky Mackay the right man to get Latics out of the relegation mire?

Mackay’s appointment caused more damage to Wigan Athletic’s reputation than anything else in their 83 year history. Moreover his record as a manager at Wigan, up to this point, beggars belief. Although it is still early days in Mackay’s tenure his win record up to this point is the worst of any Latics manager since they joined the Football League. At 10% his record falls below even such as Chris Hutchings,15%, and Kenny Swain, 24%. Thanks to Whittleblue for the win ratio stats he posted on the Vital Wigan Forum.

Mackay’s record before he arrived at Wigan led us to believe that he could turn the team around. Dave Whelan thought he was the man to lead Latics back to the Premier League. So what has gone wrong?

There are two diametrically opposed views that try to rationalise Wigan Athletic’s current predicament and put it into perspective. You could label them “Pro-Malky” and “Get Him Out”.

The “Pro-Malky” camp will say that Mackay has been lumbered with dead wood from the Rosler era. The bottom line of the argument is that the players just are not good enough and that is why Latics are in 23rd place in the Championship. The best thing that can happen is a total clear out, not just of players, but also of coaching staff. Malky can only succeed once he gets rid of the dead wood and brings in his own men.

The “Get Him Out” camp will say that he should never have been appointed, given the baggage he brought with him. How can a man who has been tarred (fairly or unfairly so) as a racist gain the respect of a multicultural dressing room? Given the prospect of an FA suspension hovering above him, do players see him as a temporary manager? But the camp’s strongest argument is a record of W1 D2 L7 since he arrived. What happened to the uplifting effect on results of a new manager?

The reality is that Latics are fast-tracking towards League 1. The pattern of negative displays and results has become ingrained. The players seem to have forgotten how to win. Mackay clearly sees an influx of new personnel as a means of changing the mentality in the squad.

In the meantime the fire sale continues. Having already lost Roger Espinoza, Shaun Maloney and Ben Watson, it seems only a matter of time until Callum McManaman leaves. Ivan Ramis would probably have been gone too if it were not for an ankle injury. Both Fraser Fyvie and Thomas Rogne seem to have disappeared off the radar.

Although most fans would acknowledge the need for freshening up the squad, there remains an underlying suspicion that Latics have already accepted relegation as a probability and are selling off their higher wage earners to prepare for League 1.

Sadly the club does not remain as attractive to prospective new players as it did a year ago, when the mood was buoyant and the FA Cup victory still resonating in people’s minds. What kind of player would want to go to a club lying second from bottom of the Championship and selling off its family silver?

Mackay clearly sees the centre of defence as an area of weakness. He has already brought in the combative Liam Ridgewell on a six week loan and rumours are that he is going to tie up a move for the “tough tackling” Jason Pearce from Leeds United.

In the meantime there is a strong lobby among fans for Mackay to be dismissed, while there is still time for another manager to come in and turn things round. However, in dismissing Mackay, Dave Whelan would lose even more face on top of that he has already lost. Moreover Whelan is serving the six week ban imposed on him by the FA.

Time is marching on and a bad situation among the playing staff has gone from bad to worse since the Scot’s arrival. The pro-Mackay followers will say that he needs more time, as he brings in new players to catalyse a new dynamic. His detractors are getting increasingly frustrated and some are hoping that FA action against the manager will come in strong and sooner rather than later.

Freshening up seems a necessity.

The question is whether it is just the playing squad or it is the manager and the coaching staff too that needs it.

 

No more living in the past

 

All good things must come to an end.

That is something that Wigan Athletic followers know all too well. It is only some twenty months since that euphoric experience at Wembley. But it seems like light years away now.

But life goes on. What happened to the players who were in that famous lineup and where are Wigan Athletic heading now?

That wonderful FA Cup final winning team is now all but gone, only 20 months after that wonderfully heady day at Wembley. It was always a matter of time, but circumstances have accelerated the process.

The news of Ben Watson’s impending departure to Watford was a shock for most of us. In our heart of hearts we knew that Shaun Maloney would soon be on his way and it is no surprise to see the club trying to cash in on Callum McManaman, but the Watson case was a bolt out of the blue.

There has been talk about building a Ben Watson statue outside the DW Stadium. One assumes it would show him hanging in mid-air as the ball leaves his head to go into Joe Hart’s net. But the statue would represent much more than a great header from the admirable Watson.  The header helped them deservedly win that cup and it was the pinnacle of Wigan Athletic’s success. In all likelihood it will never happen again.

The team that beat Manchester City at Wembley is etched into the memory of Latics fans. The names of each player roll off the tongue with ease. But how many will still be at the club at the end of this season?

Not many one would say. It did not take long for Roberto Martinez to take Antolin Alcaraz, Arouna Kone, James McCarthy and Joel Robles. Add to that the retirement of the charismatic Paul Scharner. However, at the start of last season the majority of the FA Cup winning side were still at the club, together with others who missed the final through injury.

At the end of last season we saw the departure of the free agents. Jordi Gomez went to Sunderland, and the underrated Jean Beausejour, who missed the Cup final through injury, went back to Chile. What was to prove the hammer blow for Uwe Rosler was to lose the admirable James McArthur to Crystal Palace.

Since Malky Mackay has arrived we have seen Emmerson Boyce descend to the bench. Roger Espinoza has gone back to the United States, where it looks like Shaun Maloney is also heading. The exciting, if frustrating, Callum McManaman is clearly on his way too, albeit with a cash fillip for Mackay.

That famous team has been dismantled. So too have many of the expectations associated with them. In fact expectations have fallen so low that avoiding relegation from the Championship would be largely viewed as positive.

Like it or lump it, the Mackay era is upon us. The Scot has not had an easy time, given the pressure on him from the FA and the media. His record at Wigan so far beggars belief, a woeful tally.

But Mackay is now going to have something that neither Owen Coyle not Uwe Rosler ever had. That is a lower expectation from fans and dealing with the egos of players who were FA Cup winners.

Latics are no longer going to live in the past.

The question is how long will it take for Mackay to turn it around?