The spectacular fireworks that followed Latics 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds provided a fitting finale for the first phase of Owen Coyle’s revolution at Wigan. It is only around five weeks since the effervescent Scotsman took over at the club, but a lot has happened in that time.
To be honest, Coyle’s appointment to the Wigan Athletic job did not initially go down well with the majority of supporters. It seemed that Dave Whelan was doing things on the cheap, bringing in a manager whose team had got relegated from the Premier League. To make things worse he had worked with the auld enemy up the road at the Reebok Stadium.
It is remarkable what Coyle has already done in such a short space of time. He must have been working 24/7. His dealings in the transfer market up to this point have been very astute.
Coyle paid a reputed £700,000 to Bursaspor for an ex-England goalkeeper – who is only 27 – in Scott Carson. James Perch – 26, who promises to be a key central defender – was acquired from Newcastle for only £750,000. The biggest sum went to Norwich for 32 year old Grant Holt – £2m – but the big centre forward has a fantastic goalscoring record throughout his career and it could prove to be money very well spent.
Coyle has also picked up a swath of good quality players on free transfers – Stephen Crainey, Thomas Rogne, Chris McCann, Marc-Antoine Fortune.
Pre-season tours don’t usually end in fireworks and in reality only one of the three teams that Latics faced was capable of challenging them. Both the Riverhounds and the Dayton Dutch Lions play in the newly formed USL Professional Division – the third tier of American football – and the gulf between them and Latics was clear to see.
The more difficult game was at Columbus. The Columbus Crew have competed in the MLS since it started in 1996 and their Crew Stadium was the first “soccer specific” ground built by an MLS club. Crew typically average around 14,500 for MLS matches and the greater metropolitan area of Columbus has a population of over 2 million. The team are currently in midtable in the Eastern Conference of the MLS. Latics’ performance to come away with a win against a team of that level in the full swing of their season was gratifying.
There is still a long road ahead for the Coyle revolution. The trip to the USA was little more than a training exercise, although it did provide good PR for a club that now has a global branding. Wigan had arrived in the US as not only the team that won the FA Cup, but the one that won it in style. Although playing at half pace in the three matches one could see that the general pattern of Latics’ play has stayed intact. From time to time we saw a few hoofs upfield from new additions to the squad, but by and large we saw that silky approach that was the hallmark of the Martinez era.
Coyle is wise not to make major changes to the team’s playing style at this stage. As the season progresses Coyle will adapt it, in the same way that Michael Laudrup did at Swansea last season. The Swans stuck to their fundamentals of possession football, but became more flexible and pragmatic.
The next phase of Coyle’s revolution will be to bring in more quality players to boost the defence and attack. The sooner he can do that, the better. The newcomers will not have had the same opportunity to bond with the squad as did those who went to the USA. However, the starting lineup for that first league game at Barnsley is probably already in Coyle’s head, give or take a right back or central defender.
The video coverage of the matches in the US made good viewing. Wiganers will get the chance to see the new squad with their own eyes tomorrow night when Latics play Atromitos at Leigh Sports Village. Last year the team from Athens faced Newcastle in the Europa League, drawing 1-1 at home and losing 1-0 away. The match will help provide an indication of what to expect in the Europa League this season.
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Owen Coyle has already won over many doubters by his astute moves in the transfer market, his positive approach and his commitment to his work. He has made a really good start to his Wigan Athletic career.