I think I have options but players have to realise that I can only give them so many chances because we’re a top club in the Championship and, with the personnel we have, it can’t take you ten games to find your form.”
Quotes from football managers can be misinterpreted or taken out of context. Uwe Rosler has come out with some gems in recent weeks that have had people thinking. What is he really trying to say? How does it fit in with how the team has been playing? What goes on in his head when he is picking a team?
Latics fans learned that Rosler’s team selections can be perplexing during his early days at the club. Having a reputation as a serial rotator the German continued in the same vein last season. From his first game in charge in December to the end of season playoffs he used 29 players. Faced with extreme fixture congestion a degree of team rotation was certainly necessary. In fact his predecessor, Owen Coyle, also felt the necessity to rotate his squad. But with Rosler it was not so much the rotation that fans questioned, but the way in which it was being done. Sometimes there would be wholesale changes resulting in lineups lacking in cohesion.
At times it might be easier to predict the winner of the Grand National than guess a Rosler starting lineup. Are his choices linked to a tactical approach or are they influenced by the players’ attitudes and their levels of commitment in training?
So far this season Rosler has used nineteen players in eleven league games. However, nine players have started in almost 90% of those matches. Put simply Rosler has stuck by a basic core of players, with others used sparingly as starters or substitutes. Is Rosler sending a warning to that nuclear core of players that if they don’t perform they will be replaced? Or is he referring to the new players who have taken time to settle in? Has he shown favouritism towards them at the expense of those recruited by previous managers?
The critics will say that Rosler has his favourites and his management style involves a “My way or the highway approach”. Grant Holt has clearly never met the manager’s approval and has now been sent away on another loan spell. Moreover Roger Espinoza, Fraser Fyvie, Lee Nicholls and Thomas Rogne have disappeared off the radar. Not so long ago Rosler was talking about sending players out on loan, with the inference that it could include those who had played in a recent development team fixture. They were Espinoza, Fyvie and Marc-Antoine Fortune. Since all three are in the final year of their contracts his remarks seemed to signal to those players that their time at the club was coming to an end. However, Fortune now finds himself back in favour with the manager.
Fortune is a player who has his critics, rightly so given his woeful goalscoring record. However, even they would acknowledge his ability to be effective in the target man role. Fortune is strong and hard to knock off the ball. Apart from his goalscoring he has fitted well into the Rosler machine. The big French Guianian would have surely realized his place would be threatened with the arrival of Oriel Riera and Andy Delort. In fact Rosler recently stated: “Marc-Antoine Fortune was told by me at the beginning of the season that the new strikers would be preferred at the beginning to get their chance.”
Fortune was on the bench for the season opener against Reading, with Riera leading the attack. He started in the next game, the League Cup debacle at Burton Albion. Riera was to go on to start in four consecutive league games. His form was hardly electrifying, but he scored a well taken winner against Blackpool and played reasonably well in the 4-0 home defeat of Birmingham. However, the arrival of Andy Delort meant that he was surprisingly relegated to the bench. Delort was to start in three consecutive games without really impressing. However, the names of neither Delort nor Riera appeared in the starting lineup at Bournemouth. Fans were flabbergasted when Fortune was named ahead of them both. Delort returned in the next match at home to Ipswich, only for Fortune to come back for the 2-2 draw at Wolves last Saturday.
Rosler has been full of praise for Fortune, following his fine performance at Molineux, which included a well taken goal. “Marco has been an exceptional pro. He’s never let himself down or us down. He’s continued to work hard and kept himself in good shape mentally and physically. In the situation we’re in we need more Championship experience and Marco gives us that, he knows the Championship in and out. He has the physicality to cope with that and he takes the pressure off our new players because they need to adapt a little bit more.”
Rosler’s supporters will say that he is wise to bring in Fortune to allow Delort and Riera more time to adapt. Moving to a new country is a challenge in its own right, let alone being thrust into the physicality of Championship football.
However, critics would say that Rosler left Riera out of the lineup at exactly the wrong time, after he had started to show that he was adjusting to the pace of English football. Moreover Delort was immediately thrust into the deep end, rather than having a settling in period and a gradual introduction into the team. Both Delort and Riera came to the club following successful seasons with their clubs as central strikers who scored more than their fair share of goals. However, the poor service from midfield up to this point would have made it difficult for any Latics striker to get goals. Neither player could be accused of wasting valuable opportunities – the necessary level of service just has not been there.
Midfield was a strong point for Latics last season. However, the departures of Jordi Gomez and James McArthur and the long term injuries to Chris McCann and Ben Watson have hit Latics hard. Rosler clearly had to build a new midfield. In Latics’ three games of the season McArthur made up the midfield trio together with Don Cowie and Emyr Huws.
When McArthur left for Crystal Palace, Rosler had the option of bringing in Espinoza, Fyvie or youngster Tim Chow who had impressed in pre-season. However, it was William Kvist, newly signed just before the transfer window closed who was to claim McArthur’s spot in the next match at Blackburn. Fitness levels of Latics’ squad at the time were low and once again they caved in during the second half. However, having recently played a couple of games for Denmark, Kvist’s fitness level was possibly better than some. Moreover Kvist played for Fulham in the second part of last season, so his adaption was not as difficult as that of Delort and Riera.
Allegations that Rosler has shown favouritism to players he has recruited are hard to substantiate. He had little choice than to bring in new central strikers, midfield players and left backs. In fact, Rosler has signed ten players in his tenure at the club, but only four made the starting lineup for the Wolves match. Don Cowie has played in every league game so far, and Emyr Huws and Andrew Taylor in all but one. The experienced Kvist has already staked a claim to a regular place. Of the remainder Martyn Waghorn has started in only two games, as has Adam Forshaw. James Tavernier has been limited to appearances off the bench and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair has not featured at all.
Rosler has brought in a mixture of youth and experience. Delort, Forshaw, Huws, Tavernier, Taylor-Sinclair and Waghorn are in their early twenties and all are excellent prospects for the future. In Cowie, Kvist, Riera and Taylor he has players with proven experience. However, as new players come in others can be expected to depart. Espinoza and Fyvie may well be sent out on loan. Latics could well be open to bids for Ali Al-Habsi in the January transfer window. In the meantime Nicholls could be sent out on short term loan.
Having a new midfield has hampered Latics’ possibilities of getting off to a good start this season. However, the overriding factor that has contributed to only two wins in eleven league games has been a lack of fitness. Latics have so often wilted in the second half, losing the initiative against teams that could not be able to compete with them in terms of quality. The run of bad results has led to a crisis of confidence among the squad that has affected all players, new and old.
On top of that Rosler’s team selections have been surprising to say the least. However. the overdue return of Leon Barnett will help provide more defensive solidity. Fitness levels have improved and both Adam Forshaw and Shaun Maloney will be available to provide the kind of service that Delort and Riera have so desperately lacked.
As fans we do not know what is going on behind the scenes at a football club. If we did maybe we could better understand the reasons for some of Uwe Rosler’s more puzzling decisions.