Garry Cook and the next chapter for Wigan Athletic

“I was both honoured and delighted to be asked to be part of the team developing the next chapter for Wigan Athletic. Returning to the UK and football was a careful decision and had to include supporting a chairman with a high level of ambition and enthusiasm to build the club for future success.”

Garry Cook’s arrival at Wigan was a bolt out of the blue. From 2008-2011 he was CEO of Manchester City, helping transform them into a major power in European football. He may have left City under controversial circumstances, but his prior accomplishments at the club were impressive.  On his departure the chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak stated that:

On every level, the club is unrecognisable from the organisation which he inherited and our staff and supporter services, community outreach and commercial activity have seen unparalleled growth under his direction with yet more projects to be realised on the horizon.”

Cook had worked for Nike in the USA from 1996-2008, becoming head of the “Brand Jordan” project alongside basketball mega-star Michael Jordan. On joining Manchester City in May 2008 he was given an annual salary in the region of £1.5 m. In September 2012 Cook was appointed Executive Vice President and Managing Director of Europe, Middle East and Africa for the mixed martial arts organisation, UFC. He rose to the position of Chief Global Brand Officer. He left UFC in October 2016 following a series of staffing cuts.

Cook is a highly experienced executive, used to working on a large scale, with equally large budgets. Put simply, why would he get involved with Latics?

According to the club site Cook is to be a non-executive director, assisting part-time, “helping the Board of Directors with strategic planning and long term objectives”. But what does that really mean? When Cook refers to “developing the next chapter for Wigan Athletic”, what is he referring to?

Even to the impartial observer, Cook’s appointment would appear to be a win-win for Wigan Athletic. Given a seeming reluctance to pay top whack to people involved in the running of the club, it is unlikely that Cook will receive the level of remuneration to which he has been accustomed, even allowing for the fact that it is a part-time position. However, following a six year absence from English football Cook might well want to get his foot back in the door, foresaking his normal monetary expectations. But what can we expect from Cook?

If Cook is given a fair crack of the whip – “if” being the operative word – we can expect some changes in the strategic direction of a club that has had too many ups and downs since that eventful day in May 2013. The turnover of managers in the past four years has been disturbing. That of players even more so.

Last season Wigan Athletic had the biggest turnover of players of any club in English football’s four divisions, mirroring what has happened too often in  recent years. Over those years the choice of managers has been haphazard, the more successful ones being sacked so little time after doing so well. Others have been appointed that the discerning fan could see were ill-suited from Day 1. Player recruitment has been an area of great concern. Too much money has been spent on players who have not made the grade, sometimes not entirely their fault. Long term contracts have been offered to players past their best, seemingly up-and-coming signings have so often disappeared from view. In a business sense the dealings in the transfer market, including money paid to agents, have left much to be desired.

Given this backdrop, Cook’s input would surely be valuable. Cook was heavily involved in player recruitment at City, albeit on an elevated plane, but he also had a major input on infrastructure and the commercial side. Even when Latics were in the Premier League commercial revenues  were low compared with other clubs in the division. They remain so. In terms of infrastructure, the development of an academy, potentially capable of providing players for the senior squad, remains a work in progress. The club’s purchase of the Charnock Richard golf course was upstaged by the Whelan family’s  acquisition of the ex-Bolton Wanderers training facility at Euxton. The club owns neither its main training ground nor it stadium.

When Dave Whelan took over the club in 1995 his vision of Wigan Athletic being in the Premier League was to provide direction for the club in the years that followed. Following the FA Cup win and relegation there has been no overriding direction. Put simply, the club needs to come to terms as to what it is and what it could be. A clearly defined, well -articulated vision for the future could provide the driving force for improvement in the operations of the club.

Garry Cook clearly has a lot of nous to bring to the table of the Wigan Athletic Board of Directors. However, it should be noted that Cook was appointed  at City by Thaksin Shinawatra and was instrumental in bringing in Sheikh Mansour’s money to buy the club, in poor financial shape at the time, for a figure around £150 m.

Latics supporters continue to speculate on the influence that Cook will have on the club. Is he there to provide the kinds of ideas that can move the club forward, developing  a strategic plan? Or is he there to make the club more marketable, then find suitable future investors? Is it a signal that the Whelan dynasty is nearing its end?

In the meantime we can but ponder on what the next chapter for Wigan Athletic enabled by Cook might be.

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A look at the stats for Wigan Athletic manager candidates

Odds according to skybet.com

“Our immediate priority is to identify and appoint a first-team manager or head coach. That recruitment process is already well underway, and we will focus on ensuring that we appoint a manager who fulfils the criteria we have set in terms of the type of person we wish to employ and someone who has the ambition, drive and intelligence to enhance and help develop the structure we have created over the last few years. It’s important to appoint someone who will create a culture for success, which is something we have failed to do this season.”

The words of David Sharpe published in Wigan Today this Monday.

Sharpe is clearly following a different route than he or his grandfather, Dave Whelan, have taken over recent years. He has been looking at a host of potential employees, hoping that he will make the right decision. The stats show that Wigan Athletic have had seven managers in the last five seasons. Too many rash decisions have rocked the club back on its heels. The end result has been turmoil, with a massive turnover in players as new managers have come and gone.

But the process of selecting the “right” manager is a slow, deliberate process. In the meantime the club is without someone at the helm as players contracts come to an end. It seems inevitable in football that when a new manager comes in he wants to bring in his own backroom and coaching staff and his own new players.

However, according to Sharpe’s recent comments we will not be seeing the kind of turnover of players that we have seen in recent summers:

Unlike in 2015, when we had to significantly rebuild the squad, the basis of a very strong group of players is already in place. We may see some movement in the transfer market, and we want players who are prepared to achieve success in League One next season. But compared to previous transfer windows, we will not have the same level of movement. Stability is important, and we will stress that to any new manager.”

Names of potential managers for Latics have been constantly bandied around the social media and message boards. Moreover supporters have claimed that some of those candidates have been spotted at the DW Stadium. But Sharpe is holding his cards close to his chest, possibly waiting for the playoffs to be completed before coming to any decision.

The bookmakers’ odds change rapidly. Previous favourites disappear down the list and new names appear. Moreover it depends on which bookmaker you choose to consult.

For the purposes of this article we will take a statistical look at the top seven candidates according to the current odds offered by SkyBet.

It was the American writer, Mark Twain, who attributed that famous comment on statistics to ex-British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli: “There are lies, damned lies and statistics”.

However, in this modern football age stats are enjoying an increasing use. Here, for better or worse,  are the WDL stats for the candidates (supplied by Wikipedia):

Paul Cook

Odds: 5/4

Age:  50

Born: Kirkby

Current club: Portsmouth

Managerial statistics:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nathan Jones

Odds: 2/1

Age: 43

Born: Rhondda

Current club:  Luton Town

Managerial statistics:

 

 

 

Alan Stubbs

Odds: 7/1

Age: 45

Born: Kirkby

Previous club: Rotherham United

Managerial statistics:

 

 

 

 

Michael Appleton

 Odds: 8/1

Age: 41

Born: Salford

Current club: Oxford United

Managerial statistics:

 

 

 

 

 

Darrell Clarke

 Odds: 10/1

Age: 39

Born: Mansfield

Current club: Bristol Rovers

Managerial statistics:

 

 

 

 

Uwe Rosler

 Odds: 12/1

Age: 48

Born: Altenburg, East Germany

Current club: Fleetwood

Managerial statistics:

 

 

 

 

 

Gary Caldwell

 Odds: 14/1

Age: 35

Born: Stirling

Current club: Chesterfield

Managerial statistics:

 

 
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The financial side of keeping a nucleus for League 1

“Que sera sera…..whatever will be will be….we’re going to Shrewsbury….que sera sera

So sang a group of Wigan Athletic supporters. It certainly took the wind out of the sails of the “going down” taunts of home fans at the Madejski Stadium last Saturday.

Shrewsbury is certainly a pleasant place to visit. Its football team has competed in each of the three EFL divisions. Their New Meadow stadium holds 9,375. Shrewsbury Town met Manchester United in the FA Cup in February 2016. They lost 3-0, which is not surprising given the fact that the Shrews had a wage bill of £2.5 m compared with £210 m of United.

In fact the Shrewsbury wage bill is typical of many clubs in League 1. According to an interesting article on the Daily Mail site, the average salary of a League 1 footballer in 2014-15 was £69,500. It compared with £324,200 in the Championship. The ratio of the average salaries is 1 to 4.7.

There are strong arguments to suggest that the league positions of clubs in the Championship division correlate to their wage bills. In their first season back in the Championship Wigan Athletic finished in a playoff place. The wage bill was around £30 m. Clubs in mid-table would typically have wage bills averaging £20 m.

Latics’ reputed wage bill for the current season is around £17 m. Assuming they were to trim next year’s wage bill according to, say, that previous ratio of average salaries between the two divisions, it would give a figure of around £3.6 m. In 2015-16, still buoyed by parachute payments, Latics had a wage bill of around £6 m in League 1, reportedly second highest after that of Sheffield United.

So at what level will David Sharpe pitch the wage bill for the coming season? As in the Championship there is some degree of correlation between wage bills and success on the playing field in League 1. If the club is to break even financially next season what kind of wage bill would be realistic? Moreover will the club be able to slash its wage bill as successfully as it did in the summer of 2015, when faced with a drop down to the third tier?

In 2015-16 Latics finished top of League 1 with an average attendance of 9,467. Shrewsbury Town finished in 14th place with an average of 5,407. The average attendance for the division was 7,163. Wigan’s cheapest adult season ticket cost  £250 while Shrewsbury’s was £285.

David Sharpe took a bold step in reducing season ticket prices for the club’s return to the Championship. Renewals were pitched at £179, with a price of £199 for new purchasers. The levels were uneconomic compared with those of competitor clubs, but Sharpe was clearly hoping to not only hold on to the core support, but to attract others. With just one match to go in the Championship season Wigan’s average home attendance is 11,560 up by more than 2,000 from the previous season in League 1. However, the bigger clubs in the Championship have brought sizeably larger away support than had those in League 1.

Rumour suggests that the club will maintain the levels of season tickets prices for the coming season. If this is so the £179 price would be almost 40% less than the figure of £295 to be offered by Shrewsbury Town for the coming  season. Moreover should Latics not be as successful as they were last time in League 1 attendances will surely fall. The match day revenue differentials between Wigan and Shrewsbury could merge closer.

Put simply potential match revenues for Wigan Athletic will in no way suffice to give them a competitive advantage over most of their rivals. Some would say that under Gary Caldwell Latics had bought their way out of League 1, having a wage bill twice that of most of their rivals. That was made possible by the parachute payments they were receiving at the time. However, now that the parachute era has come to an end, how can Latics get a financial advantage over most of their competitors in League 1?

One solution is to sell off assets. The second is for the ownership to provide the necessary funding.

The saleable assets Latics have are their players. The club’s main asset, Yanic Wildschut, was sold in January for a hefty premium. Early in the season Will Grigg would have been another major asset: he was scoring goals and looking comfortable in the higher division. It was sad to see how the player later found himself either warming the bench, playing as a lone centre forward with a derisory lack of support, or being played out of position. A player who could have probably drawn a transfer fee in excess of £5 m is now not such an attraction on the transfer market. Better to keep Grigg who has a superb record of goalscoring in League 1.

Nick Powell will surely be on his way. After months out through injury he roared back with spectacular performances as a super sub. In doing so, Powell put himself in the shop window. Dan Burn is another player who has caught the eye and will surely be of interest to Championship clubs. Burn was already an experienced Championship level player when arriving on a free transfer from Fulham. He has since developed a level of self-confidence  previously lacking. Between the two, Latics could possibly raise around £5 m on the market.

Omar Bogle was the most exciting of the January signings. Having scored a lot of goals for Grimsby he arrived brimming with confidence and style. But after a promising start Bogle was to wilt under  a horrible burden put on him by Joyce: that of being the lone striker in a 4-5-1 formation. Injury too was to hold him back. Like Grigg, his potential transfer value has plummeted. But the likelihood is that either Grigg or Bogle will be sold, albeit at a discounted price.

Max Power was almost sold to Birmingham City in January. Although he did not have the season he would have liked, Power remains one of the more saleable assets. Sam Morsy too is a player who could be sought by Championship clubs.

Last weekend Jonathan Jackson stated that “There will be some changes in the squad, but we want to keep the core there.”

Goalkeeper Matt Gilks and ex-captain Craig Morgan will be two of those core members who continue. Gilks was only signed in January on an 18 month contract and Morgan recently signed a two year extension to his contract. The long-term injured players – Donervon Daniels, Reece James, Andy Kellett and Shaun MacDonald – will also be staying. Alex Gilbey is another who has not been able to play in recent games after coming back from long-term injury. Latics will be hoping at least some of those players will be available for the beginning of next season.

It is difficult to predict who else will stay to provide a core for the coming season. The club is going to have to slash its wage bill some 60-70% to be financially viable. Put simply more than half of the players currently under contract are likely to depart over summer, many on free transfers. Others will be sent off on loan.

The players currently under contract for the coming season are:

Goalkeepers: Matt Gilks, Dan Lavercombe

Full Backs – Luke Burke, Reece James.

Centre backs: Dan Burn, Jake Buxton, Donervon Daniels, Jack Hendry, Craig Morgan.

Midfielders: Jack Byrne, Alex Gilbey, Andy Kellett, Josh Laurent, Shaun MacDonald, Sam Morsy, Max Power, Danny Whitehead.

Forwards: Nathan Byrne, Omar Bogle, Ryan Colclough, Will Grigg, Michael Jacobs, Mikael Mandron, Sanmi Odelusi, Nick Powell, Kaiyne Woolery.

The amount of turnover at the end of the 2015 season was remarkable, with 31 incomings and 44 outgoings, including loan players.

Latics currently have seven whose contracts are due to expire – Jordan Flores, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Billy Mckay, Gabriel Obertan, David Perkins, Andrew Taylor and Stephen Warnock. There are another eight players whose loans are coming to an end.

In 2015 Gary Caldwell had already been installed as manager to oversee the massive turnover that took place over the summer.

At this stage we do not know who the next manager is going to be and there have been mutterings about taking the time to choose the right man for the job.

But given a mountain of a task ahead we might well see an appointment made sooner rather than later.
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A Director of Football for Wigan Athletic?

Mark Warburton was Brentford’s director of football when Uwe Rosler was manager.

 

“We want to be a modern football club, and we see that sometimes when managers leave a lot of the structure leaves with them. That is no use. You put a lot of time, a lot of investment and a lot of resource into developing that side of the business and you can’t have that changing every time a manager changes.The director of football gives you that continuity. They oversee the overall football department, all aspects of it, including the academy, performance and preparation, analysis and everything as well as the first team. It means that if a manager or a coach does leave, you are only replacing that one person and the club’s philosophy continues unbroken if you have that director of football in there.”

The words of a member of the Latics hierarchy? Jonathan Jackson or David Sharpe maybe?

The statement summed up what has been happening at Wigan over the past four years. The calamitous appointments of Owen Coyle, Malky Mackay and Warren Joyce destroyed what their predecessors had set up, leaving the club’s philosophy in tatters. Both Coyle and Joyce made not only wholesale changes in the playing staff, but their style of football was diametrically opposed to that of the previous managers. In both cases possession-based football was replaced by a physical approach embracing the long ball.

Ex-manager Uwe Rosler has been quoted recently as suggesting that Wigan Athletic need a period of stability. He was referring largely to Latics having had three managers this season and the instability it has caused. But it brought to mind another aspect of instability: that of player turnover. Alan Nixon’s “A mental amount of movement” tweet in January sticks in the mind. The Sun journalist had mentioned Latics’ interest in 5-6 new players. But by the end of the transfer window no less than 12 new faces had been brought in.

Few could disagree with Rosler’s comment. There is a clear need for continuity and stability at the club. Too many managers and players have come and gone. In the 2015-16 season there were 31 incomings and 44 outgoings of senior squad players at Wigan Athletic. The stats for the current season show 26 coming in and 29 leaving.

Strangely enough Rosler himself contributed to the lack of continuity and stability by bringing in a swathe of new players in the summer of 2014, despite the fact that his previous squad had reached the semi-finals of both the FA Cup and the Championship playoffs, due to his fine efforts. Sadly the majority of the new players could not make their mark and the manager was surely undermined by senior players from previous administrations. His departure in November 2014 was to lead to the appointment of Malky Mackay, a January fire sale and an avoidable relegation.

In his previous position at Brentford, Rosler had worked in tandem with Mark Warburton, who was Director of Football. Our Brentford sources tell us that it was Warburton who was largely responsible for the recruitment of players. One wonders what might have happened at Wigan if a Director of Football had been in charge to deal with recruitment with Rosler giving his input. It was sad to see a manager who had done so much to bring Wigan Athletic back into prominence the previous season being dismissed in a matter of months.

Although it might appear that the context was that of Wigan Athletic the preliminary comment came not from Wigan, but from Glasgow. The speaker was Rangers’ managing director Stewart Robertson talking to Sky Sports just a couple of months ago.

Although in continental Europe many clubs have sports directors, akin to the general manager role in American sport, the role of director of football in England has yet to be clearly defined. Essentially the director of football acts as an intermediary between that the board and the manager, but clubs have tailored job descriptions according to their own requirements. An experienced and competent director of football can advise both the manager and the board. The role seems to inevitably involve tensions between the director of football and the manager, especially in the area of player recruitment.

At this stage we are not advocating the appointment of a director of football at Wigan Athletic, but the concept merits due consideration. Stewart Robertson’s comments might have been made about Rangers, but they ring true to us supporters of Wigan Athletic.

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Latics go down with spirit, but do they need more shooting practice?

Pre-match shooting practice in progress for Latics at the Madejski Stadium.

It was their best performance for weeks. Latics had looked the better team for the majority of the game against a side destined for the playoffs. For once Wigan Athletic had pushed players forward, making a genuine effort to get a goal after falling behind after another  “sloppy” goal  had gifted Reading the lead after just five minutes. But it was just not to be. Despite the spirited rally from the away side no goals would come.

The Madejski Stadium is a fine venue situated on the outskirts of the town, surrounded by futuristic industrial and high tech estates and park areas. The view from the away supporters was as good as any that one would normally get, made even better by the wide choice of seating available. It was no surprise that Latics fans had not arrived in numbers. We all knew that a win for either Birmingham or Blackburn would seal relegation even in the unlikely event that Latics were to beat Reading.

The pre-match entertainment at our end was to become a harbinger of doom. A portable goal had been put up to our right of the actual goalposts. Wigan Athletic’s attacking players were to come along, one at a time, to see if they could beat the keeper. Sadly the keeper was hardly troubled, so many shots being wayward or miscued. Only Max Power seemed to be able to hit the ball properly, but since he has not hit the back of the net all season in league football, it hardly filled us with hope. If the quality of finishing in the warm-up were to be translated into the match itself we would be lucky to see any goals from our side. Sadly that proved to be the case.

Graham Barrow had once again fielded a lineup with four central midfielders. Gabriel Obertan and Sam Morsy were not even on the bench, but Nick Powell started at centre forward.

Yann Kermorgant had outjumped a Latics defender to head home after just 5 minutes, then 12 minutes later Shaun MacDonald was badly injured following a tackle by George Evans, who might have been lucky to escape with a yellow card. The game was held up for some ten minutes before MacDonald was stretchered off with a double leg fracture. Barrow brought on another central midfielder, Max Power, as substitute.

Given the circumstances Latics could easily have crumbled, but much to their credit they took the game to the home side, with Powell looking lively. The best move of the match came in the 35th minute. It involved Ryan Tunnicliffe running down the left wing with genuine pace before curling the ball to Powell using the outside of his right foot. Powell did well to get in a diving header that Ali Al-Habsi saved. It was a pleasure to see such dynamism after a season of pedestrian football.

Reece Burke was the next to leave the field injured just before half time, with Callum Connolly the replacement.

The second half began with Barrow already having used two substitutes and with Powell a near certainty to come off at some point. The caretaker manager’s hands were tied to a large degree. Nevertheless Latics continued to press, showing a fluidity that we have not seen for some time. For once the centre forward had some support as players pushed forward. Dan Burn made numerous forays into the Reading half, looking full of enthusiasm and drive. There was much more of that evident in David Perkins too, albeit near the end of a difficult season for him.

Powell was to go close several times as he caused the home defence problems, but neither he nor his teammates could put the ball in the back of the Reading net. He was replaced by Omar Bogle on 79 minutes, but to no avail.

The stats show Latics having 20 goal attempts, with 3 on target. Reading had 10 attempts, with 2 on target. For once there had been enough running off the ball, creating opportunities on goal. Sadly, just as in the pre-match shooting practice, the precision finish was lacking.

After the game Graham Barrow commented that: “The lads have been great for me but clearly it hasn’t been enough to keep us up. There are things we’ll have to look at internally, which haven’t been right, and that’s fact. We are where we are, the table tells no lies.”

Jonathan Jackson not surprisingly told us after the match that there will be “some” changes in the squad, but also added that “we want to keep the core there”. When asked about the appointment of a new manager he told us “we know the type of manager we are looking for”.

We can only speculate whether Graham Barrow might be the type of manager that Jackson and David Sharpe seek. He certainly deserves credit for a fine display yesterday at Reading, despite the adverse result.

Despite Jackson’s possible understatement of “some changes” we can expect another major clear out of players over the coming weeks. The aim will be to build a new squad not only capable of getting the club out of League 1, but one which has enough depth to cope in the Championship.

The question to be asked is how much funding will the Whelan family be willing to put in to make it possible?

 

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