“I have one ambition left in my life and that is to get Wigan back in the Premier League.”
So said Dave Whelan just over a week ago.
It seems like the FA Cup win has put a new lease of life into the Wigan owner, 76 years old. At times Latics supporters have pondered on Whelan’s ability to keep motivated, given all that he has achieved for the club and his advancing years. How much longer can he keep it going?
Wigan Athletic without Dave Whelan does not bear thinking about at this moment in time. The good news is that he is committed for the short term at least.
Although Latics are going to lose around half of their current squad there will be enough quality players remaining to provide a strong backbone for a promotion push.
Funds gained by selling prize assets – such as James McCarthy, Arouna Kone and Callum McManaman – are likely to be ploughed back into the acquisition of new players. Young players who have been carefully nurtured – the likes of Fraser Fyvie, Roman Golobart, Lee Nicholls, Eduard Campabadal, Jordan Mustoe, Daniel Redmond, Nouha Dicko – are going to be pressing for first team action next season.
Despite relegation and the impending departure of so many players there remains a mood of optimism at the club. But then for a third consecutive summer there is uncertainty over the future of manager, Robert Martinez.
In most clubs the manager would lose his job for his team being relegated. Martinez has certainly had his critics during his four year stint as manager. However, the support he got at the victory celebrations on Monday showed how highly he is held in regard by so many fans. Not only did he keep Wigan above the relegation zone for three years on a budget that was “shoestring” in comparison with the competition, but he also built an infrastructure that will serve the club for years to come.
Who could blame Roberto Martinez if he decided to move on? Every manager needs a challenge and the Spaniard has certainly had lots of those already at Wigan. But now the parameters have changed. What would he have to realistically aim for if he were to continue?
Current media reports present a picture of the main focus of discussions between chairman and manager being on youth development and training facilities. Martinez rightly wants the chairman to commit to advancement in those key areas before deciding if he, in turn, will commit to the club for a further period of time.
Whether Martinez stays or goes, Latics have need more quality young players coming through the ranks. Even as a Premier League club, Wigan Athletic’s under 21 and under 18 teams have been playing in the second division of the Professional Development League this year, with clubs from the Championship division. That the under 21 team reached a mid table position is no indictment on the coaching or management at that level. It is the lack of quality coming from youth level that is the concern. Although it can be argued that results are not so important in younger age ranges, it is no coincidence that the under 18 team has lost a lot more matches than it has won this season.
Roberto Martinez is right in his insistence on a good youth development programme. It has been wonderful to see Callum McManaman come through the ranks with such impact. Before him it was Leighton Baines. But if the club is to be sustainable in the upper leagues in years to come it is going to need quality young players coming through teh system more frequently.
Lots of exciting work remains ahead for the formidable duo of Roberto Martinez and Dave Whelan. Next season begins with Wigan Athletic playing in the Community Shield at Wembley. Then the efforts will begin to put up a good show in the Europa League and to get promotion back to the Premier League.
We will find out early next week if Roberto Martinez is up for these new challenges. The vast majority of Wigan Athletic fans will be hoping that the Bob and Dave partnership will continue in the near future at least. They have done so much together, but there is still much more that needs to be done.