Some say that results in pre-season matches are not important. But then again, a 2-1 loss at Rochdale was hard for Wigan Athletic supporters to swallow, let alone a 4-1 drubbing in Dusseldorf yesterday.
Latics’ worst ever pre-season performance will surely be that of five decades ago, when fourth division Southport smashed non-league Wigan 10-2. My father told me at the time that friendly matches can produce strange results and do not really have much bearing on the season to follow. Strangely enough the same two teams met again four days later at Springfield Park and Latics went on to win 3-0. In the event it turned out to be a mediocre season for Latics, who finished in mid-table in the Cheshire League. That 10-2 scoreline proved to be an indicator of defensive weakness as Latics were to concede 82 goals in 42 league matches.
Following the 2-1 win over Besiktas, thanks largely to Ali Al-Habsi’s brilliance, we seemed to be looking forward to a good season ahead. Granted there were concerns over the departures of two of Latics’ most creative players – Jordi Gomez and Jean Beausejour – but Uwe Rosler had been moving shrewdly in the transfer market and was building up a stronger squad. Most fans have now accepted that Dave Whelan is not going to wave his cheque book around in the way he did to get Latics into the Premier League last time. Austerity has not yet set in, but stringent financial management is the order of the day at the club.
Rosler is used to working under tight budgets, through his experience with his previous clubs. He will bring in a mixture of youth and experience. The experienced Andrew Taylor and Don Cowie have played in the Premier League and been part of a Championship division winning team. James Tavernier and AaronTaylor-Sinclair are clearly the kind of youngsters who have the potential to develop into quality players. The 19 year old loanee, Emyr Huws , is an exciting young player who can play in the creative midfield role that Gomez used to enjoy. A good central striker at an affordable price is something that hardly exists in modern day English football, but Rosler has done well to bring in Oriel Riera from Osasuna. Riera scored 13 goals in La Liga last season for a team that was relegated, making an interesting comparison with Arouna Kone who scored 15 for Levante before arriving at Wigan.
In order to sign another central striker Rosler will need to raise funds by selling off one of his assets. Stories of Latics courting another goalkeeper might seem far-fetched, but both Ali Al-Habsi and Scott Carson are likely to be transfer targets for other clubs. A possible scenario is for one of them to be sold, with the exciting, but inexperienced, Lee Nicholls once more sent out on loan.
Rosler’s squad is not yet complete. We can expect more incomings and possibly outgoings over the coming weeks. But when the squad is finally completed will there be sufficient quality there to mount a serious challenge for promotion?
After playing for ten clubs in six countries in over a decade, Jean Beausejour has gone home to Chile. He will play in Santiago for Colo-Colo, the country’s historically most successful club. When Roberto Martinez signed him from Birmingham City in January 2012, Latics were struggling. Moreover fans were disappointed with Martinez’ lack of activity in that January transfer window. However, the arrival of a specialist left wing back blew fresh air into Latics’ play, helping them to produce the best quality of football and the best results in their history over the next three months. He was the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle that Martinez was putting together. A team player, he was solid in defence. When Latics had the ball he was always available, hugging the touchline, stretching the opposition defence. He rarely lost the ball and had a few tricks up his sleeve with quick footwork. Beausejour is probably the best crosser of a ball who ever played for Latics, although some more senior supporters might also cite Walter Stanley whose sublime crosses helped Harry Lyon become a household name in Wigan.
Last season was not a good one for the Chilean, except for a memorable goal in the World Cup finals. Beausejour was frequently played at left back, rather than his natural wing back position. Like Gomez, he is another player who never got the recognition that he probably deserved from sections of the DW crowd.
During that late season rally in 2011-2012 and the FA Cup run in 2012-13, Latics beat the top teams in the country on merit, through playing quality football. The stats show that in winning the FA Cup final they committed only 5 fouls, compared with their opponents 11. Is it possible that they will ever be able to raise their football to that level ever again?
Since then lots of quality players have left the club. However, Emmerson Boyce, Shaun Maloney and James McArthur still remain. They are the pillars upon which Rosler will build this season’s team. Boyce is getting no younger, but at centre back he still has years ahead of him. The fitness of the two Scots will be of paramount importance and Rosler is nurturing them very carefully through the pre-season physical conditioning programme. Moreover the skilful Ben Watson and Chris McCann are making good progress in their recuperation from major injuries.
On the tactical front Rosler continues to demand the high tempo, high pressing style that he espouses. They did it for half an hour at Dusseldorf, but once again could not keep it going. It remains to be seen whether Rosler will ever enjoy that level of intensity he seeks from the players at his disposal.
In the meantime Rosler will scour the loan market to complete his squad. Maybe even that additional central striker will be a loan player? A return for Nick Powell continues to be touted by the media.
The name of Grant Holt continues to pop up in the social media and fan forums, the comments usually being derogatory. If no other club is willing to take the player off the club’s hands will Rosler be able to turn him into an asset? Would Holt be able to fit into Rosler’s style of play if he could regain full fitness?
Holt has proved in the past that he can deliver the goods by scoring key goals that win matches, but last season was one he will want to forget. During the reign of Owen Coyle he was used in a similar way that Bolton used Kevin Davies for so many years, a human battering ram posing a physical threat to the defence. That probably did Holt no favours and moreover it led to defenders constantly launching long balls in his direction. Given Rosler’s preferred style of play Holt would not be a regular starter, even if fully fit. However, he could have a role to play as an impact substitute.
Providing his ventures in the transfer market go well over the coming weeks, Rosler will have a squad good enough to challenge for promotion. Enough quality players remain, but the moot point is whether they can they stay fit.