The Dream refuses to die – but who will play?

Martinez

When Wigan Athletic won the FA Cup it really was a dream come true. Who could ever have imagined that they would be within close distance of making it come true again just eleven months later?

Just like last year Latics had a difficult time disposing of a team a division below them in the early rounds. Last season it was Bournemouth, this time around it was MK Dons. Martinez’s team had an amazing 3-0 win at Everton in the sixth round, while Rosler’s side also shocked the pundits with a 2-1 win at Manchester City.

However, Martinez’s team were to meet Millwall in the semi-final. Arsenal present a different proposition.

Whatever happens at Wembley tomorrow this team has done the club proud. They have got to the semi-final on merit following three successive victories over Premier League teams.

Latics had gone into the match at the Etihad following a series of good results, having won 4-1 at promotion-chasing Nottingham Forest in the previous game. Nevertheless they were facing a City team that had won 12 of its 13 home games in the Premier League and had already thrashed Latics 5-0 in the League cup.

As with the FA Cup Final last year against the same club, Latics’ manager got his tactics spot-on. Rosler’s team plays a more pragmatic style of football than that of Martinez. From the start they went at City, their high pressing game stemming the flow of the Citizens’ play. When Latics’ went 2-0 up not long after half time they dug in to conserve the result. City were to get a controversial goal that should have been disallowed for offside, but they were to pummel Wigan’s defence. With grim determination and a tiny bit of luck on their side Latics held on to get their victory.

At the Etihad, Rosler played a conservative 3-5-2 system, with Marc-Antoine Fortune and Callum McManaman upfront. However, the midfielders – Jordi Gomez in particular – pushed forward in the first half. He had surprised us by playing Chris McCann in the left of the backline trio. Leon Barnett was to take over that role after half time, due to the unfortunate injury to the Irishman.

Rosler will almost certainly adopt a similar approach tomorrow. Arsenal tend to pack their midfield with a lot of players and Wigan will need strength in numbers there to compete. James McArthur and Jordi Gomez will play in central midfield with James Perch and Jean Beausejour playing wide. However, it is that third central midfield position that will be up for grabs.

Jack Collison has the most experience, but played a full game in midweek plus most of the second half last Saturday. Would his knee stand up to him taking a starting role tomorrow? Josh McEachran played there at the Etihad, but has not figured much recently and was taken off at half time on Tuesday. However, this is an entirely different kind of match to the league encounter against Millwall and might well suit the young Chelsea loanee.

The lineup could well be that which began the second half at the Etihad, with the exception of Jean Beausejour for Stephen Crainey at left wing back : Carson ; Boyce, Ramis, Barnett; Perch, McArthur, Gomez, McEachran, Beausejour; McManaman, Fortune.

The 29 year old Michael Oliver has been named as referee for the encounter. Coincidentally he officiated last year’s semi-final against Millwall. One of the features of Rosler’s regime has been in the discipline shown by his players, with no red cards received. They will need to show that same kind of resolve tomorrow against a skilful Arsenal team whose supporters will be in the large majority at the Stadium, ready to pressurize the young referee.

The fourth placed team in the Premier League is playing against the fifth placed team from the division below, which has already played 55 matches this season. So once again the odds are heavily stacked against the Latics. However, only a fool would count them out.

The dream is still alive.

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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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Rosler’s loan signings can make the difference

transfer window

An unknown third choice goalkeeper from Spain, an end of contract midfielder from Kansas City and a 32 year old unwanted by Hamburg. Such were the loan signings made by Wigan Athletic a year ago.

The feeling at the time among Latics supporters was of being “underwhelmed”. Was this the best that Roberto Martinez could do? Why wasn’t Dave Whelan opening his wallet and bringing in players that could really make a difference?

In the event Joel Robles, Roger Espinoza and Paul Scharner did make a difference. It was not enough to save Latics from relegation, but all three were to go on and play in the lineup that won the FA Cup for the club.

That same underwhelming feeling has surfaced again.

Who on earth was Tyias Browning? Why would Latics want to sign a crock from Cardiff, who had not started in a league game this season? Why go for a player from Chelsea who had already been on loan at three other clubs? But most confounding of all – why would Latics take a player who had never made it in a team from their own Championship division?

Nicky Maynard was sought by Roberto Martinez while at Bristol City. In the event he went to West Ham who sold him on to Cardiff City for a fee around £2.75m in August 2012. Unfortunately he tore his anterior cruciate knee ligament in only his third game at the Welsh club, which was to keep him out of action until May 2013.

The 27 year old central striker is a Cheshire lad who came up through the Crewe Alexandra academy. His most successful year as a goal scorer was in 2009-10 when he scored 20 goals in 40 starts for Bristol City in the Championship division.  Maynard has struggled since the injury, his appearances for Cardiff this year being two starts in the League Cup and eight times off the bench in the Premier League.

Maynard is clearly a player of some pedigree and a proven goal scorer at Championship level. If he can regain an optimum level of fitness he will be a threat to Championship defences. Maynard is likely to alternate with Marc-Antoine Fortune for the centre forward spot, although there will be times when Rosler will play them together.

Latics fans saw what Josh McEachran can do yesterday when his superbly judged pass put Fortune through for an 89th minute goal yesterday. He made his Chelsea debut as a 17 year old. Still only 20 he has played for Swansea, Middlesbrough and Watford on loan. McEachran can play as a holding midfielder but his best position is in the hole between the midfield and the central striker.

McEachran is not fully fit at this stage, but he has so much quality that he can add the cutting edge that has been lacking in Latics’ play in recent weeks.

Rosler’s signing of Martyn Waghorn has been questioned by many Latics supporters who were hoping the club would sign a player with a proven history as a goal scorer.  They are unimpressed that Leicester City are willing to let him go out on loan although they are challenging for automatic promotion to the Premier League. Moreover Waghorn will be a free agent in summer when his contract runs out.

However, Waghorn is still only 24 years old and can play in any of the three front positions. He played for England at both under 19 and under 21 levels.  Leicester paid a fee of around £3m when he arrived from Sunderland in a permanent deal in August 2010. He had been voted young player of the year at Leicester the previous season when he had been on loan with them. See his goals during that season here.

Waghorn has had his ups and downs and played for five clubs before coming to Wigan. However, he had a successful spell on loan at Millwall this season, making 12 appearances and scoring 3 goals. Millwall boss Steve Lomas wanted to sign Waghorn permanently, but it was not to work out.

Waghorn will be keen to impress at Wigan and show that his success at Millwall is not a flash in the pan. He has a good left foot and is no mean penalty taker.

The 19 year old Tyias Browning was signed on a one month loan from Everton on January 10th. A day later he made a strong impression after coming on as a second half substitute in the 3-0 win against Bournemouth. A week later he was to concede a penalty in the disappointing 3-0 defeat at Doncaster. Browning is clearly one for the future, but the value of having a young player join the club for such a short loan period is open to question.

Following the last-gasp victory over Charlton yesterday Latics remain within reach of a play-off place.  Only one player – Nouha Dicko – left permanently during the transfer window. Grant Holt has gone on loan to Aston Villa, but Ivan Ramis will be staying at least until the end of the season following his failure to pass medicals at Cardiff and Crystal Palace. It could be a blessing in disguise for Latics.

A fit Ramis would make a big difference to the promotion push. Not one of that skilful trio – Jean Beausejour, Jordi Gomez and Ben Watson – left during the transfer window, although their contracts terminate in summer.

All in all, Latics have a better squad now than they had before the January window began. Moreover if loan players like Maynard, McEachran and Waghorn were to reach their optimum levels they could swing the balance and get Wigan into that play-off place.

Like Martinez last year, Rosler seems to have made ‘underwhelming’ loan signings in the transfer window.

But then again maybe they are better than they seem at first glance.

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Wednesday will receive a Wigan Athletic in transition

It has not been a smooth transition for Wigan Athletic since Roberto Martinez, his coaching staff and swathes of players left over the summer.

But supporters are at least more optimistic about the future, given the arrival of Uwe Rösler and other appointments that might well prove key to the club’s continued development.

Only a few weeks ago the club seemed to be taking one step forward and two steps back. Losing to Brighton, Zulte Waregem and Derby in the space of eight days was hard to swallow. The team just was not going anywhere. The lack of ambition in their play was a sad sight, let alone the long ball tactics that were reminiscent of Bolton under Allardyce and Megson. Surely that was not the real Wigan Athletic?

Supporters know the club is going through another transition, but there is a lot more optimism now. Like Martinez – but unlike Coyle – Rösler has come in with a clear game plan, even if it could take time for the players to consistently put it into effect.

A lot has been happening this week. Brentford have announced the departure of assistant manager Alan Kernaghan and first team coach Peter Farrell. Nothing yet from Wigan side, but their arrival must be imminent.

One wonders what will happen with current first team coach Graham Barrow, who has a terrific record of service at the club. Barrow’s son James was brought in by Coyle as conditioning coach and he is taking a lot of flak from supporters about the lack of physical fitness of the squad, although to be fair he might have been overruled by Coyle.

Gregor Rioch’s arrival coincided with that of Rösler, so he did not come in as heralded as he might have been otherwise. Rioch has been appointed to run the Latics Academy, following an outstanding record in developing young players at Coventry City. His father Bruce was manager of Latics for a brief spell in the 2000-2001 season.

The simultaneous arrival of both Rösler and Rioch might well prove a landmark in the history of Wigan Athletic. Supporters can already see that long-term vision back at the club that was obscured by the mistake of hiring Coyle on a one year contract.

Latics even signed a player this week.

Patrick Antelmi was a teenage prodigy in Australia, well documented on YouTube. He has been playing for Latics’ development squad this season after spells at several English clubs over the past five years, the main ones being Portsmouth and Leeds. He is still only 19 and given the difficulty of finding quality strikers he appears to be well worth giving a chance.

Click here to see a YouTube video interview through ‘Aussies Abroad’ during his time at Leeds last year. So often kids can look outstanding in their early teens but don’t make it. However, Antelmi clearly has a wonderful technique, a great left foot and has already scored goals for the development squad.

The outcome of tomorrow’s match at Hillsborough is difficult to predict. Sheffield Wednesday are in the bottom three and Latics have won away games against the teams below them, Barnsley and Yeovil.

However, not only will it be Latics’ third match in a week, but they are also adjusting to a new style of play. The high pressing that Rösler expects is physically demanding for players who have not managed to keep up such a pace up till now. The question is whether the lineup Rosler puts out will be able to do what he wants most of the time.

Jordi Gomez, excellent in the Maribor game, is due for a recall. So too is Roger Espinoza, whose style appears right for the football Rösler is looking for. Other than that it is hard to predict the lineup the German will put out.

Rösler will hope to come out with a good result tomorrow, given a difficult trip to Reading at the weekend.

However, were the good result not to materialize the fans would not be overly upset.

There is now optimism for the future that had severely dissipated under the Coyle regime.

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Evolution over revolution as Wigan welcomes Uwe Rosler

2013-rosler

Despite an awful run of form resulting in the club’s lowest league position in the better part of a decade, the formal unveiling of new boss Uwe Rosler at the DW Stadium earlier today appears to have injected a welcome breath of positivity at Wigan Athletic.

Flanked by chief executive Jonathan Jackson and club chairman Dave Whelan, the German hit all the right notes during an insightful half hour press conference. His approach serious and considered, Rosler did much to suggest he will embrace the groundwork set in place at the club by Roberto Martinez, while tweaking the finer details in playing style to suit his own brand of football.

He referenced a high-tempo passing and pressing game employing a 4-3-3 formation, similar in some ways to the Spaniard’s preferred system, but different in others — hinting that there would be an emphasis on pace and energy, and a commitment to pushing bodies forward in attack. Although we will have to wait and see exactly how these changes manifest themselves, the comparison between the Martinez and Rosler blueprints does not sound far off the transition Swansea underwent from Brendan Rodgers tikki-takka to Michael Laudrup’s skill-based but more direct approach.

Whelan once again commented on the hiring process, reiterating the goal of a Premier League return as soon as possible, and backing his new man to be a huge success at Wigan. When asked about specifically about Callum McManaman and James McLean, Rosler described them each as exciting, fast and direct players that would fit his system, while reserving a diplomatic word about room for improvement in McLean’s final pass. He also opined that the change in management and style, plus the fixture congestion with the club taking part in the Europa League group stages, posed huge challenges to the club earlier this season.

There was a quiet resolve and confidence about Rosler’s delivery that is already generating optimism amongst supporters on social media outlets. The hope is that he will be able to swiftly convey it to his new players and that such desire will manifest itself on the pitch in coming weeks. His description of the opportunity as a “dream” to join “such a big club” will likely please many but also felt genuine, while his long-term views and discussion of player development suggest he is in it for the long haul.

More immediately, he made it clear that next weekend’s Championship fixture against Bolton will be the priority, but that the midweek trip to Maribor was a winnable contest. It should also provide him a good chance to get to know some of the personalities in the squad as the Latics embark on their final Europa League group stage adventure as a squad.

Interestingly, the new manager spoke about having developed a relationship with Martinez since Rob Kiernan joined Brentford on loan in 2012, but confirmed that he had not consulted the Spaniard before taking the position over the weekend. In a curious twist of fate, Martinez himself was today in Wigan being honoured at Wigan’s “walk of stars” for his achievement in winning the FA Cup last season. Chairman Whelan, also being honoured at the event, was several minutes late to the press conference as a result.

All of which may have been pure coincidence, but you do get the sense that this was an appointment made with Martinez in mind. Whelan was displeased by Coyle’s rejection of the style his predecessor had spent three years implementing from the youth teams all the way up through the first team. With this appointment, the chairman has made clear his hope for a period of evolution rather than revolution at Wigan Athletic.

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