A Peterborough fan’s view of Leonardo da Silva

 

Wigan Athletic yesterday announced the signing of the 19 year-old midfielder/winger Leo Da Silva from Peterborough United for an undisclosed fee. The 5 ft 6 in tall player has signed a four-year contract.

Although the Posh owner refers to a seven figure fee, the Wigan Post reports that it was not so high.

On signing Da Silva, Wigan manager Paul Cook was enthused stating that:

“Leo has been one of the best young players in the EFL over the past couple of seasons, this is a really strong addition to our squad. I am looking forward to working with Leo and believe he will embrace the challenge of Championship football here at Wigan Athletic. Everyone has to remember Leo is just 19 and has his best years ahead of him but he certainly has the foundations to become a top level player.”

Leonardo Da Silva Lopes was born in Lisbon and moved to England at the age of 12. He joined the Posh as a 14 year-old, making his first team debut at 16 starting in a home game against Crawley Town in April 2015. He made another start the following week in the last game of the 2014-15 season at Oldham. The following season he made 4 league starts, with 4 appearances as a substitute. However, in 2016-17 Da Silva became more established, making 32 league starts, 6 appearances off the bench, scoring 2 goals. Last season he made 28 league starts with 11 substitute appearances. Although still only 19, he made over 100 appearances in all competitions at Peterborough. He has also been called into the Portugal under-21 squad.

To learn more about Da Silva’s time at Peterborough we contacted a couple of Posh fans through Twitter:

Nathan Brown (@NathanBrown_95) commented that:

His strengths were his speed, pace, athleticism, his versatility as well. His weaknesses would be confidence, his reliance on trickery.. his upper body strength.

He wasn’t popular with many fans and that’s hampered his development at the club, but of the fans who did like him, we felt he had potential and just needed proper coaching and a confidence boost, an arm around the shoulder really.

James Bloodworth (@Jamesb17_)  gave an overview:

 I’m going to assume that the vast majority of Wigan fans reading don’t know a great deal about your shiny new million pound signing, beyond the fact he’s come from a bit of a naff 3rd division club and has a big reputation. If you want a basic outline of what you’ve got on your hands in terms of playing style, I’d say if I was building a 5 a side team from last season’s squad, LDSL would be my first pick. However, if I was choosing a full XI the youngster would be near the bottom…

 Don’t get me wrong, he has an excellent dribbling ability; some tricks and flicks he has in his locker are beyond the average league 1 player’s imagination, let alone their skill set. A terrific engine too: he’d probably cope just as well at the local athletics club doing 10,000m as he will do at The DW. But that, unfortunately is where the positives end. If Leo has a grade A in trickery, he has an F in footballing intelligence. His spatial awareness is poor, and his knack of making the wrong decisions or executing the right ones poorly didn’t help endear himself to the Posh faithful. Neither did his overly laid back style. Nor his below average final ball. All of this accumulated to Leo’s final stats for us: 108 games, 6 goals. For an attacking midfielder, that is poor. What is even more concerning is that in spite of playing over 50 games in the season just gone, Lopes scored 0 goals and got one assist. He did not contribute in a positive way at all.

 I do have sympathy for the 19 year old, who was spotted playing in the Peterborough and District Junior league five years ago. We first heard of a ‘special talent coming through the youth ranks’ in 2014. A free scoring attacking midfielder with an eye for a spectacular goal. What’s not to like?

 Throughout his first two seasons, he was slowly inducted into the first team squad. 3 managers came and went in that time, and none of them gave Leo more than a token appearance here and there. Then, in the summer of 2016, Posh legend Grant McCann took the reins, and Lopes was thrust into the limelight. From the reserves to first eleven virtually overnight, Leo was no longer a kid that we wanted to do well, he was a first teamer who had to do well. Lopes was a virtual ever present throughout the latter stages of that calendar year, and it became clear it was all too much too soon. He needed a break, his career had accelerated far too quickly and it was clear he was not ready for such responsibility. Unfortunately, Peterborough United have become a club forced to sell to survive, and in the age of Dele Alli and Ademola Lookman moving from League 1 to the Premier League, Lopes was seen as our golden ticket. He continued to play, regardless of his countless poor performances, as we could not afford to let an asset go unsold.

 But he did. Despite *ahem* ‘interest’ from Tottenham and Arsenal, Lopes started 17/18 at London Road. Curiously though, as a wingback. Grant McCann’s tactical shift saw Lopes shoehorned into the side, and he struggled. His weak defensive skills were exploited, and before long, he was playing as a “number 10”. Then a winger. Then a defensive midfielder. I do have sympathy, as McCann’s poor management- which resulted in his contract being shredded in February- has hindered Lopes. His neat touches and engine are still his only assets, when he should have improved other fundamental skills to make him a genuine attacking weapon.

 As has been alluded to, Lopes became somewhat of a political pawn. He was that much of a mainstay in the team when it was clear he didn’t belong there, that some speculated he was being played on instruction from the boardroom. A frustration that should have been aimed at McCann and the hierarchy ended up being centred on Leo, and the weight of expectation from the club and lack of patience from the fanbase hindered him. The bottom line though has to be, Lopes was not good enough for us last year, and was being played in the hope somebody bought him. Some fans thought he is good enough to reach the Premier League. Others were rather harsh in saying that LDSL would look out of his depth in a pub side. I’m in the middle: he’s currently operating at League 2/ Conference level,and should really have had a loan spell before he became such a polarising figure.

 

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A Portsmouth fan’s view of Kal Naismith

 

Wigan Athletic have announced that Kal Naismith will be signing a three year contract, commencing July 1. The 6 ft 1 in Naismith had decided to leave Portsmouth at the end of a three year deal. Although usually employed as a winger he can also play in the number 10 role or at centre forward.

The 26-year-old Kallum Naismith was born in Glasgow and is a product of the Rangers youth system, representing Scotland at U-16 and U-17 levels. In September 2010, at the age of 18, he and fellow ‘Gers player Kyle Hutton were abducted and robbed in Edinburgh, but fortunately suffered no injuries.

Naismith was sent to Cowdenbeath for the first half of the 2011-12 season and made his debut in senior football in early September 2011 in a 3-2 home win over East Fife. A couple of weeks later he scored both goals in a 2-1 home win against Albion Rovers. Naismith left Cowdenbeath in January 2012 after making 9 appearances, moving up a level  to Scottish Division 1 on loan at Partick Thistle. He made 4 starts and 4 appearances off the bench for the Jags by the end of the season.

Following that season away on loan, Naismith returned to Rangers who were then in Scottish Division 3. He made his senior debut in July 2012 in a League Cup victory over Brechin City. Naismith went on to make 4 starts with 13 substitute appearances in the 2012-13 season, scoring one goal.

After leaving Rangers in the summer of 2013 by mutual consent, Naismith went on trial at League 2 Accrington Stanley, subsequently signing for them. In mid-October 2104 he suffered the tragic loss of his childhood sweetheart who died of a long-term illness. He went on to make 54 league starts, with 19 appearances off the bench, scoring 14 goals in two seasons at the Crown Ground.

In May 2015 Naismith joined previous manager, Paul Cook, at Portsmouth for an undisclosed fee. On signing he commented that “It’s brilliant to be here. I was at a massive club before in Rangers and this place has a similar feel to it. Just walking around gives me a buzz and I can’t wait to move down here properly and get started. I knew that the gaffer liked me, so I always had the move at the back of my mind when he took charge.”

On September 1, 2015, Naismith made his Pompey debut as a substitute in a Football League Trophy defeat at Exeter. During a three year stay at Fratton Park he made 51 league starts, with 31 substitute appearances, scoring 18 goals.

To learn more about Naismith’s time at Portsmouth we contacted Jim Bonner (@FrattonFaithful) of the Fratton Faithful fan site.

Here’s over to Jim:

Whilst it was no surprise Naismith joined Wigan, most Portsmouth fans believe it’s a step too far for him as he was Pompey’s most disappointing player last season.

 Kal is capable of taking a quality set-piece and can deliver some excellent crosses into the box when he is on form. However, despite being given plenty of opportunities to prove himself last season, he scored a paltry two league goals (one against your team and the other an absolute gift from Plymouth) and doesn’t have the pace to beat players on the wing. Championship defenders should also be too clever to be fooled by his tricks and should be able to predict what he is going to do. 

Pompey fans will always thank Kal for the huge role he played in the League Two title winning season and if Wigan fans want to see this as a positive signing, then Paul Cook may be able to get the best out of him as he did in the second half of the 2016/2017 season when he ended up as Pompey’s top scorer. 

 But he struggled to make any sort of impact whatsoever in the third tier and there’s simply no evidence to suggest he will cut it in the second, especially if he plays as a centre forward which clearly isn’t his best position as he is most likely to do some damage on the wings.

 Kal’s greatest contribution to our season was his stint in goal against Doncaster. He produced a superb instinctive save at the end of that game to ensure we didn’t lose.

Naismith may have the potential to get better but it’s unlikely and my prediction is that he will be sent on loan to Accrington Stanley or Coventry come January.

 

 

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Five talking points from the month of May at Wigan Athletic


“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that. A lot of football success is in the mind. You must believe you are the best and then make sure that you are. If you are first you are first. If you are second you are nothing.”

 Bill Shankly’s quote maintains its powerful message. He was not everybody’s favourite and his teams played a pragmatic brand of football, but he was a great motivator and he laid the foundations for Liverpool’s successes in the 1970s  and 1980s.

Paul Cook demonstrated in the 2017-18 season that he too is a powerful motivator. The passion and commitment of his League 1 title-winning team is a testament to that. The ecstasy of the players and the traveling support alike, at winning the League 1 title with a narrow victory at Doncaster, showed what it meant.

As Shankly said: a lot of football success is in the mind. Can Cook can put success in the minds of his players next season? But then again, what kind of squad will the manager command in 2018-19? Can Latics consolidate in the second tier following the mistakes of 2016-17?

Let’s take a look at five talking points with regard to events during this month:

It was a relief to hear that Paul Cook has signed a new four-year contract.

We, on this site, welcomed Cook’s appointment in an article of May 2016.

We remain convinced that he is the right man to lead the club forward. It could be said that with the quality of squad at his disposal, with a playing staff budget around three times the norm in the division, promotion was an expectation. But it was not so much the promotion, but the positive style of play that impressed, with more goals scored than in any season in Latics’ 40 years in league football.

Cook has never managed a club above the third tier and next season will be more of a challenge for him. Moreover, the financial circumstances will be totally reversed. Instead of having one of the biggest staffing budgets in the division, Latics will have one of the smallest.

However, the length of Cook’s new contract suggests that the club will stick with him if the going gets rough in the transition to the Championship. Two relegations in four years happened largely because managers were sacked prematurely and replaced by others whose approaches were not only inept, but who favoured “fightball” rather than football. These lessons of the past need to be heeded.

The takeover is about to happen: at last

There was talk of the takeover by the IEG as early as December, then again in February. But now it really does seem imminent. Reading between the lines of recent documentation it appears that the IEG will provide some level of funding for the playing staff over the summer. That is backed up by media reports that Latics have offered £500,000 for left back Dan Potts of Luton Town.

To gain promotion back to the Championship Wigan had to take a substantial financial loss over the season. With a salary bill of some £10m and revenues less than half of that, David Sharpe supported his manager by retaining a backbone of ex-Championship players on salaries well above League 1 norms. Some have said that promotion was a pre-requisite for the takeover. We can assume that the losses incurred have been priced in to the sum to be paid to the Whelan family by IEG.

IEG will surely be aware that it is going to cost them money just to keep Latics in the Championship. Brentford are a club with similar revenue capabilities to Wigan. Since buying the major shareholding in Brentford in 2012, it is estimated that Matthew Benham has put £100m into the club. Benham hopes for the club to be self-sustainable, but with low attendances and commercial revenues it is a challenge. The aim is for a streamlined recruitment policy to provide a steady stream of revenue with through incoming transfer fees.

Player recruitment at Wigan has been hit-and-miss over recent years, with so many “up and coming” players not making the grade and being dispatched away on loan. However, recruitment last summer was more effective, with seven senior squad players picked up for free and loan players playing key roles over the course of the season. The sale of Omar Bogle in summer raised around £700,000 but undisclosed fees were paid for Devante Cole, James Vaughan and Jamie Walker in the January window.

IEG have indicated that two individuals from the current hierarchy at the club will be staying on in the transition. David Sharpe previously stated that he was hoping to stay on, but nothing has been confirmed at this stage. Garry Cook had been brought in to sell the club and may be departing shortly. The continuance of Chief Executive, Jonathan Jackson, also remains to be confirmed.

The retained list was no surprise

Following the sad news of the departure of Luke Burke from the club, we found out that another four were not being offered new contracts. Donervon Daniels (24) and Reece James (23) were first team regulars in the promotion season of 2015-16, but long-term injuries prevented them appearing in the Championship. Daniels was sent on loan to Rochdale in summer, being recalled in January, but went on to make only one appearance by May. James came back from injury and was playing possibly the best football we had seen from him before he was left out in early March. He did not reappear, although fit. Andy Kellett (24) had had his fair share of injury niggles before being sent on loan to Chesterfield for the season. Sam Stubbs (19) had shown lots of promise in the pre-season, but was sent on loan to Crewe, where he made 3 starts, then to AFC Fylde where he made 6.

At the same time as reporting who had not been offered new contracts, the club announced that five players would be given offers. Of those, Jamie Jones (29) has already signed an extension and it was today announced that David Perkins (36) has been signed by Rochdale. Gary Roberts (34), made 6 league starts and 21 substitute appearances last season. Noel Hunt (35) did not make a league start but made 7 appearances off the bench. Alex Bruce (33) made 4 starts and 2 substitute appearances in the league.

In most football clubs it would raise a red flag to see five players below the age of 25 not offered contract extensions while the same number of players approaching or well over the age of 30, none of whom were first choice starters, being given an opportunity to stay. However, it has been a peculiarity in the tenure of Cook as Latics manager.

But Cook’s admirers will say that the manager built a strong young team, many of whom can serve the club for years to come. More senior players were confined to bench-warming at best but played an important role as squad members.

Knowing the way Cook had deployed his forces during the season it was therefore no surprise to see such a retained list.

We can expect more turnover this summer

It is rumoured that Paul Cook wants 5 or 6 new players for his squad. But his immediate challenge will be to deal with a scenario whereby so many senior players have contracts that end in June 2019. They include regulars Dan Burn, Nathan Byrne, Gavin Massey, Nick Powell and Max Power, together with Ryan Colclough, Jordan Flores, Josh Laurent, Craig Morgan and James Vaughan.

Cook will doubtless want to keep his key players through offering them contract extensions. Much will depend on the willingness of the club ownership to meet increased salary demands and commit to longer contracts. Should the contract extensions not be agreed we can expect those players with significant market value to be departing over the summer. Moreover, we can expect movement from some of the “fringe” players.

Loan players had a significant role over the course of last season and we can expect more to come. Lee Evans was excellent before his departure to Sheffield United in January, but Christian Walton and Callum Elder went on to establish themselves as regular starters. Whether the latter two return to Wigan on permanent contracts depends on the demands made by their parent clubs.

The bottom-line for Cook will be to keep the backbone of his squad together but bringing in new players who genuinely are “up and coming” or who have experience in the top two tiers of English football.

Will a home-grown player come into the reckoning this coming season?

Newspaper reports that Everton were interested in the 19-year-old Callum Lang caused ripples among Latics fans. Lang was a star for Latics at youth level and, after a slow start, managed to make an impact on a season-long loan in a struggling Morecambe team. He is a talented young player who can play as a target man or in the hole just behind the central striker. In League 2 he made 14 starts with 16 substitute appearances, scoring 10 goals.

The departures of both Luke Burke and Sam Stubbs once again highlighted the failure of the club in helping talented youngsters to step up to the plate at senior level. Providing Latics can hold on to Lang, will he have a chance of establishing himself in the senior squad?

Cook already has three central strikers in his senior squad in Devante Cole, Will Grigg and James Vaughan. Potential opportunities for Lang in that position would appear slim.

The future of the academy is something that IEG will need to look at. There has been so much promise over the years, but so many of those young players have fallen by the wayside. Will we ever see another career trajectory like that of Leighton Baines?

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Luke Burke’s departure and its significance

He put a brave face on it, but Luke Burke must have been gutted to be told that he was no longer wanted at Wigan Athletic. Burke was a shining light a couple of years ago, playing Championship football for Latics at the tender age of 18.

In August 2016 he made his debut, starting in the opening game of the season at Bristol City and he looked an accomplished player. Burke had been captain of Latics’ most successful-ever youth team the season before, having played for the development squad when just 16.

But things did not happen as one would have hoped. As the season progressed Burke fell out of the limelight and, in February, Warren Joyce sent him out on a two-month loan to Barrow. That was followed by being loaned to AFC Fylde for the 2017-18 season.

Burke certainly looked to have potential, but his career has taken a step backwards. That 2016-17 season was a difficult one at the club, with the dismissal of Gary Caldwell and the appointment of the inept Warren Joyce. Not an ideal time to focus on nurturing young players. But then again, when is a good time to give youth a chance in modern-day football?

Wigan Athletic give the Michael Millett Award each year in honour of a former youth player who was tragically killed in a car crash in 1995. It recognises the outstanding player in the under-18 team. Callum Lang won it in 2016-17. Lang is a well-built, fast, intelligent central striker who spent the 2017-18 season on loan at Morecambe, where he made a significant impact. The 19-year-old made 30 appearances, scoring 10 goals for the struggling League 2 side. He would seem to have a bright future ahead.

But let’s hope Lang can go further than others who have won that award in recent years. Prior to Luke Burke, Louis Robles won it in 2014-15, Matty Hamilton in 2013-14, Joey Johnson in 2012-13 and Ryan Meadows in 2011-12. None of them made a first team appearance in a competitive game at Wigan and their careers have hardly taken off. But Tim Chow (2010-11) and Lee Nicholls (2019-10) did get first team experience at Wigan and although never regular starters have gone on to play regularly at Ross County and MK Dons respectively.

Looking at the club website there are two players in the senior squad who have come up through the ranks. One is Callum Lang, the other is Jordan Flores. The latter is now 22, having been involved in a serious car crash whilst on loan at Chesterfield. Flores is surely a talent, with that sweet left foot and intelligent movement. What has been lacking in the past has been the physical aspect. The coming season would appear to be make-or-break for the Aspull lad.

The shining example of youth development at Latics over recent years is Leighton Baines. As a 17-year-old in 2002 he made his senior debut with Paul Jewell’s to-be third tier champions a League Cup win against West Bromwich Albion. He went on to make 12 appearances that season, 6 in cup competitions, 6 in the Second Division. Baines went on to an illustrious career, with both Latics and Everton, making 30 appearances for England.

When Luke Burke made his debut at Bristol some long-standing supporters were likening him to Baines. Somehow it did not happen for Burke as it did for Baines. Baines was carefully nurtured by Jewell, given his chance early on, then brought on gradually until he became a top player. Perhaps Burke never really had the kind of potential shown by Baines, but football is so much in the head and in the backing that a player can get from management and good coaching. Or maybe sometimes things are not meant to be?

Burke is still young enough to prove that Latics were wrong in rejecting him. Will he go on to the kind of a career that those previous Michael Millett Award winners have been unable to achieve? We wish him well.

In the meantime we can but ponder on the future of the academy at Wigan Athletic. Some things needs to change if homegrown youth is going to get a real chance at the club.

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Latics almost washed out at the Memorial Ground

Result: Bristol Rovers 1 Wigan Athletic 1

The Sunday Times named Bristol the best place to live in Britain in 2017. Indeed, a trip to the south of the city in the August sunshine of 2016 was quite pleasant, despite Gary Caldwell’s team going down in the 90th minute. Latics will be back to Ashton Gate next season, this time with memories of a difficult night in the north of Bristol at the rustic Memorial Ground.

The Memorial Ground was named in honour of rugby union players who died in the First World War. It hosted rugby from 1921 until Bristol RUFC moved to Ashton Gate in 2014. Bristol Rovers moved there in 1996 and, despite efforts to build a purpose-built stadium elsewhere, remain rooted at the old stadium. Arriving there last night in torrential rain I asked a steward how to find my seat, being told that it was under the canopy around the corner. The term “temporary stand” did not fully depict that canopy.

It was a difficult night for spectators and Wigan Athletic players alike. Rovers adapted extremely well to the terrible conditions and posed an attacking threat from the onset. Latics had their fair share of the ball in the first half, but there was no penetration to their attacks and James Vaughan was a truly “lone” striker. There had been talk among Latics fans prior to the game about players being out on the town at the weekend, celebrating the promotion sealed at Fleetwood. Indeed, many of us wondered if the team would be at its best, given what had happened. Those fears proved to have some foundation.

Paul Cook had let us know beforehand that he would be making changes in his line-up, that Michael Jacobs would be back after being rested at the weekend. “Crackers” did return in place of Ryan Colclough, with James Vaughan replacing Will Grigg, but Cook once more resisted a more significant  freshening-up of the team. For most of the game a “washed out” Latics were outplayed by a Rovers team who moved the ball round well in the appalling conditions, the Memorial Ground pitch somehow holding up despite the quantities of water pouring down on it.

Rovers opened the scoring in the 28th minute as Liam Sercombe’s low shot beat Christian Walton. It was not the first time we had seen the big keeper beaten by a shot like that, but to his great credit the young Cornishman went on to be Wigan’s Man of the Match, making a series of excellent saves to keep his side in the game. The 6 ft 5 in Walton will surely need to keep working on getting down to low shots, but the rest of his all-round play has been excellent throughout the season.

So often when Latics have not been firing on all cylinders the lack of impact of the wingers has been particularly noticeable. Last night neither Jacobs not Massey were able to get past their markers, with the latter being called off after 67 minutes for Colclough. The simultaneous introduction of Will Grigg for Vaughan was no surprise. Many of us were hoping for a change in tactical shape, but it remained 4-2-3-1.

With Rovers continuing to threaten, Latics somehow managed not to concede another goal and on the 76th minute mark Cook finally bit the bullet and brought on Devante Cole for an ineffective Gary Roberts. The introduction of a second striker made an immediate difference, energising the Wigan attack. Cole was soon to put the ball in the back of the net, controversially being called offside by the linesman. But Colclough’s long-range drive was fluffed by home keeper Slocombe after 80 minutes and Latics went on to claim a point, although Rovers hit the post in the closing minutes.

Cook’s next challenge will be to get his players mentally and physically ready to face a Wimbledon team on Saturday that will be keen to pick up at least a point, being placed just above the relegation zone. Nick Powell was very much missed last night, but rumours suggest he is out for the rest of the season. Cook will have to decide whether to continue with the 34-year-old Roberts in the number 10 position, to bring in Jamie Walker, or change his tactical formation.

I have not seen a Wigan win in my two recent visits to Bristol. Perhaps at the more luxurious Ashton Gate next season? Meanwhile Rovers’ Jordanian owner Wael Al-Qadi will continue to look at refurbishing the Memorial Stadium as well as building a new training ground at Almondsbury.

After many years in the doldrums, Bristol Rovers are looking to move ahead. In the meantime, Wigan Athletic fans will have to wait and see whether the club will be taken over by a consortium willing to invest the kind of money needed to survive on a regular basis in the Championship. Should the anticipated takeover by IEG not happen over the coming weeks we can bet that Messrs Sharpe and Jackson will be anxious to secure the continuance of Cook, who has shown before that he can work wonders on a small budget.