Who is the hero and who is the villain of the season?
Managers come and go. Roberto Martinez has done a wonderful job against the odds. So did Steve Bruce and Paul Jewell before him.
The common thread is the backing they have had from Dave Whelan. The owner is a rarity in English football – a chairman who played in the top flight. We Wiganers can be direct and blunt times – Whelan is no exception. But then again, some of the things he has said needed saying.
Dave Whelan is the hero. Despite relegation he is already saying that the aim he has left in life is to get Wigan Athletic back in the Premier League. He is the inspiration behind the club.
The villain is pure bad luck. Wigan Athletic have played some terrific football this year, but have had no luck. The injuries they have had would have put any club under threat. They prevented Martinez putting out any kind of settled side all season. They say luck averages out, but it didn’t for Wigan this season.
The defining moment/turning point of the season
The home loss to Swansea was a devastating blow. Once again injuries forced Martinez to put in a stop-gap defence and it resulted in giving three goals away. It was sandwiched between a hard fought win at West Bromwich and the FA Cup Final.
Having to play at Arsenal three days after an FA Cup Final would be too much for most teams. That a stretched Wigan squad put up a great show for 60 minutes or so against a rested Arsenal team was remarkable, but the odds were loaded against them. The result put them out of the elite league.
Was the club’s potential fulfilled this term?
The season started with optimism, following a wonderful run at the end of the previous season. After all, when you can beat Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool in a short space of time, then you should surely be looking at more than survival in the coming season.
It was not to be. The season was punctuated with horrendous defensive errors, which so often gave Wigan defeat from the jaws of victory. The lack of mutual understanding in the forever-changing defensive line was certainly a factor, but some of the errors were fundamental and led the club to be relegated.
Roberto Martinez continued to be positive throughout a season in which the results were just not coming. That was his greatest strength – enough to inspire his club into an FA Cup Final victory.
It is easy to criticise a manager whose club have been relegated. Critics will cite awful defending and a lack of penetration in attack. Too many passes that went sideways or backwards. Martinez fans – the majority – would admit that was the case, but would point to the classy football the team produced, even in the darkest moments. The quality of their football in the cup final matched that of Manchester City, a remarkable achievement that raised global awareness of a small club.
Goal of the season
The importance of Ben Watson’s last minute cup final winner dwarfs anything that preceded it.
My son and fellow writer, Ned Brown, described it in graphic detail:
“When you watch it again on television, it is hard to tell that Ben Watson’s FA Cup winning header actually happened in slow motion. But from my bright red Wembley seat about 15 yards away, I can assure you that the world stopped for a magical 10 seconds as the ball sat up, suspended in mid-air, spinning. Then the world moved forward again, in freeze-frame snapshots. Joe Hart’s acrobatic leap and disbelieving eyes. Arouna Koné’s realization.”
What needs to change?
Dave Whelan announced today that Roberto Martinez has been given permission to discuss a vacant managerial position. Strangely enough, winning the FA Cup might well have been influential in him making the decision. What more of note could he ever achieve at the club?
There will be a mass exodus of players. However, there is no need to panic. Martinez has put in infrastructure and the club has started to look long-term. The development of a strong youth academy remains paramount to the club’s continuity in top level football.
Wigan Athletic have spent eight years in the Premier League, have reached the League Cup final, have won the FA Cup. They are a club to be reckoned with.