Last summer Aston Villa wanted Roberto Martinez to be their manager. He would have had the opportunity to move to one of England’s oldest and proudest clubs, with the kinds of resources he would never have had at Wigan. It was remarkable in the cynical world of the Premier League that a manager would turn down such an opportunity and continue with a club that constantly struggles to survive at this level. Yes Roberto Martinez is a very special person and he continues to show the intensity of belief in his players and his club that belittles those who knock him. Wigan Athletic might get the kinds of results over these coming weeks to avoid the trap door of relegation. Or they might not. Whatever the outcome they will continue to have direction and purpose as long as Martinez is in charge.
Where would Aston Villa have been had Martinez been appointed? Surely not in 15th place playing more ‘fightball’ than football. With the squad of players they have one would expect them to be heading towards the top eight, playing the kind of attractive football that Martinez would have instilled in them. Instead we see the dull approach so typical of McLeish’s teams. As an ex central defender McLeish bases his philosophy on solid defence. It is no surprise that the skilful Charles N’Zogbia has not flourished playing under McLeish. He made a bad decision in joining Villa under the Scot’s tenure.
Some cynics would say that it is a pity Martinez did not go to Villa, given that Wigan currently lie bottom of the table. However, only two points separate the bottom five teams and a win today would lift Wigan off the bottom, which would provide a significant psychological boost for the players. Although not favoured by the bookmakers’ odds Latics can succeed in finishing the season with more points than Bolton, Blackburn, QPR or Wolves. It is certainly possible, given their fixtures. Martinez deserves commending for building up a decent squad of footballers despite the financial restraints he has to work under. If the unmentionable were to happen and Wigan were to get relegated they have a squad of players good enough to bring them back up, even if some of the more prized assets were to move on. It is the long term planning and foresight from Martinez that makes him one of the game’s finest young managers.
So how will this game pan out? The good news for Latics is that they have a clean bill of health for all of their squad, a rarity at this point in the season. The fine win at Bolton was followed by a useful trip to Oman with another positive result. The memory that sticks in my mind from the Bolton game is that of Wigan having bodies in the opposition penalty area when attacking. James McArthur got his winning goal through sheer hard graft, running from a deep position to support his attack. It is something that had been lacking throughout the previous course of the season. Let’s hope we see it again today.
Let’s keep the faith and give Roberto Martinez and his team the kind of support they need. Villa will be a tough nut to crack – they are quite capable doing the kind of demolition job done by Sunderland at the DW a few weeks ago – but they are certainly beatable. Let’s hope for some decent refereeing and that little bit of luck that has not been on our side too often this season. Go for it Wigan!