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.