Another defeat to a mediocre team, say the cynics. They say that Latics don’t really want promotion this year – they are not ready. Give it another year and Rosler will have his own players playing in the style he seeks. Better to build up a nucleus of players who can serve us for years to come.
The 1-0 defeat at Huddersfield has opened up old wounds. Uwe Rosler’s honeymoon period at the club is nearing its end. Around 1,500 supporters made the trip across the Pennines yesterday in foul weather, but many must have come back disgruntled. The German’s team selection was puzzling. Most people had expected him to play the wing duo of Callum McManaman and James McClean, but it was to be Martyn Waghorn and Jean Beausejour. Moreover with the wind behind them in the first half Latics did not utilize it to the same degree that Huddersfield were to in the second half.
But this was only Latics’ second league defeat in ten games since Rosler arrived, during which they have amassed 18 points. If they continue at that rate until the end of the season they will equal the 72 attained by Crystal Palace last year to reach sixth place and to go on to win the play-offs. In the two years prior to that the sixth place gathered 75 points. Wigan currently have 40 points from 28 matches. Rosler has mentioned the need to average 2 points per game. Were Latics to be able to do that until the end of the season it would leave them with 76 points.
There are fans who do not want Wigan Athletic to go up this season or next. They have seen Latics struggle to survive in the ‘Greed League’, year after year, against the odds. Seeing your team lose 9-1 and 8-0 can be depressing, as can having to sell your best players to keep financially afloat. The more senior of those fans might even remember the non-league days and the excitement of getting into the Football League in 1978. They have seen the club come so far but no longer yearn for higher things. Some talk of Latics having a slot in the lower divisions, playing against more humble opposition, but at least on an even keel.
But then again Wigan Athletic have a firm fan base of younger people who had known nothing but Premier League football until relegation last May. They want to see teams like Arsenal and Manchester United come to Wigan with their superstar players. The sooner Latics get back into the Premier League the better for most young fans.
When a new manager comes in he tends to bring in his own players. Rosler brought in four loan signings and another on a short term contract over the January transfer window. It looks like Tyias Browning, signed on a one month loan, is going back to Everton. Rosler will be hoping to get ex-Rochdale player Craig Dawson from West Bromwich Albion, as another loan signing over the coming week, which would be much to the chagrin of Bolton fans. Dawson clearly made a very positive impression when playing at the Reebok last season. Rosler has not been afraid to give new loanees Nicky Maynard, Josh McEachran and Martyn Waghorn playing time. He could not include new signing Markus Holgersson in the squad for yesterday’s match because of illness.
There are fans who are less than impressed with Rosler’s signings and foresee the departure of more Martinez men in summer. They are not convinced that Rosler is making a serious push for promotion, not having brought in a high profile central striker during the transfer window. Latics just cannot convert enough chances into goals. Maynard is still trying to get back to fitness after a serious knee injury. Waghorn is being released by rivals Leicester when his contract expires in summer. Neither seems to fit the bill. These fans foresee losing technically gifted players from the Martinez era and them being replaced by players of inferior technique, with little or no Premier League experience. Many of the players brought in by Owen Coyle are not good enough for the Premier League, but will be staying.
Rosler fans say he is looking for players with the right attitude who will fit into his style of play. Too many of the Martinez men did not have the right attitude and the struggles they went through in the Premier League left them with a losers mentality. Rosler is initially signing players on loan, but with a view towards signing them permanently if they fit the part. Too many times over the years the club paid big money for players who were not to succeed. The high tempo style that Rosler has in mind is very appealing. Seeing Brentford currently topping League 1 is a testament to the firm foundation the German left behind there.
Rosler is clearly hedging his bets. When he arrived at Wigan the club was in the lower part of the league table with a record of W6 D4 L8. They are now sitting in mid-table, having won more matches than they have lost. Like Coyle he has had to deal with fixture congestion and has regularly rotated his squad. He is not afraid to try different tactical formations and require the players to adjust accordingly. More than anything else he has eschewed the long-ball tactics of his predecessor and brought the concept of good football back to Wigan.
Rosler will be hoping that Latics can gradually ease their way into a play-off spot, knowing that time is tight and it is going to be difficult for his new players to settle in to the club and his style of play in a short period. If he does succeed in winning promotion this season he will be in a position to persuade players whose contracts are at an end, to stay on at the club with Premier League salaries. Moreover he can consider offering permanent contracts to loanees who have impressed.
If promotion does not happen this season Rosler will have nevertheless instilled a style of play upon those who remain after a considerable summer exodus. Prized assets will be sold off, but with Dave Whelan’s support, the funds will be reinvested into bargain buys.
Rosler is certainly looking at a return to the Premier League for Wigan Athletic. The question is whether it will be this season or the next.