This time a year ago Wigan Athletic were in the doldrums. Fans were getting frustrated and there was some strong talk passing around the electronic and social media. Latics were at rock bottom and really looked like they were going to go down. People were targeting certain players, suggesting they were not good enough for the Premier League. Among those was the captain, Gary Caldwell. By the end of the season Wigan Athletic were 7 points above the relegation zone and Gary Caldwell was voted fans player of the year. Last season Caldwell’s form was the barometer for the performance of the team. Put simply, when Caldwell played well, so did Latics.
In May 2009 Gary Caldwell was voted the Scottish League Football Writer’s Player of the Year. The Daily Mail quoted the 27 year old Caldwell as saying ‘I think I can still improve. I feel as fit as I’ve ever felt. They do say that, nearer to 30, as a centre-back the experience you’ve gained over the years can help you…..I feel I’ve got better every year and that’s what you have to do.’ Caldwell reached 30 in April of this year. His performances during that month were outstanding and helped Wigan keep their place in the Premier League.
Caldwell signed for Wigan on a four and a half year contract in January 2010. During that time his performances have ranged from the excellent to the other extreme that might be called calamitous. He is the kind of player who polarizes fans. Like him or loathe him, he is not one to be ignored. In his early days at Celtic, after arriving on a free transfer from Hibernian, he was given a hard time by a section of the Celtic crowd who said he was not “Celtic class”. He won the nickname of “Heid” and the fans would sing a song about him. It took him time to win them over. A TalkCeltic.net forum in May 2009 asked fans if they thought Caldwell was Celtic class. The responses reveal how much he won over the majority of them.
Gary Caldwell has proved that he has the determination to succeed, despite the criticism he has received at various times in his career. He is the kind of player who will put his body in the firing line. This has meant he has made some amazing blocks of goalbound shots, but then the flipside can be when the ball deflects off him and puts his goalkeeper and fellow defenders off guard. His distribution from the back is as good as that of any central defender in the Premier League. Together with Antolin Alcaraz and Maynor Figueroa they provided the defensive platform that Wigan needed to stay afloat last season. That mutual understanding between the three central defenders was of paramount importance.
Caldwell has had injury problems this year and has not been at his best. Wigan need him fit and performing to maximum capacity if they are to avoid the relegation dogfight. He is the captain who can provide the inspiration and drive to lift his team. With the return of an experienced central defensive trio we will see a major improvement in Wigan Athletic’s performances. Gary Caldwell holds the key to Wigan moving towards mid-table or sinking down into the oblivion.