A look at Latics’ eventful start to the season

Forshaw

With the Brentford game looming Billy theBee Grant @billythebee99 of the Beesotted fanzine asked us at Amigos to give his readers some background information about what has been happening with Latics. Here are our responses to his questions, to be found on the Beesotted site at http://bit.ly/1wc0nrC

BillytheBee catches up with JJ (@JJLos3Amigos) from father and son Wigan blog Los Three Amigos and discusses Uwe Rosler, Adam Forshaw, the Grant Holt beef, Wigan Pies and Kajagoogo.

So lets cut to the chase here … Wigan’s start to the season hasn’t been quite as expected hasn’t it?

The season has been like an uncomfortable rollercoaster ride for Wigan Athletic, with some ups but too many downs. The downs have been quite depressing, characterized by low tempo football with little creativity and defensive weaknesses.

In terms of performances there have been two “ups” – a resounding first half display in a 4-0 defeat of Birmingham City and a 0-0 draw against Nottingham Forest. The 1-0 win over a clueless Blackpool side could hardly be called an “up”. The performance against Forest was better than Latics have had in recent weeks.

It has been a rollercoaster ride for the fans above all. The disappointment of a draw and three losses in the first four games was tempered by two successive victories and promising activity in the transfer market. There was genuine optimism before the visit to Blackburn after the first international break, but that dissipated following three losses and a draw in the next four games.

But last season you lost in the playoff semi-final to QPR .. and reached the FA Cup semi-finals too. Are you just having a bit of ‘nearly made it hangover’?

The stats actually show that Latics have won only 6 in the last 26 matches, drawing 8 and losing 12. Moreover in their last 13 away games they have won one, drawn 3 and lost 9.

Rosler has talked about the FA Cup semi-final with Arsenal and the hangover the team has suffered ever since. To win away at Manchester City in the sixth round was a remarkable achievement. But Latics were 1-0 ahead until the 82nd minute at Wembley. To suffer that equalizer, but still make it through extra time after playing so many matches in a condensed period of time, was equally remarkable. But it clearly took a lot out of the players psychologically.

The promotion push stumbled at the playoffs. By then Latics had done the marathon, having already played 62 competitive games during the season.

Despite their tiredness they pushed Queens Park Rangers into extra time of the second match, although in reality they had all but lost their best chance of going through by being unable to find a way past Harry Redknapp’s parked bus at the DW Stadium. That match called for a moment of magic from the likes of Shaun Maloney, Callum McManaman or Nick Powell which didn’t happen.

There was little to choose between Latics and QPR last season, but it was the Londoners who went up. Lots of teams came to park their buses at the DW last season and it is likely to be the same scenario this year.

Nowadays the “Little Wigan” tag we used to have has gone and the “FA Cup Winners” label applies. Managers of opposing teams know what quality Latics have in the squad and many will try to park their buses, as they did last year.

But once Rosler has his top players fully fit and firing on all cylinders that quality will show. Parking the bus will not be enough for visiting teams.

Brentford fans were slightly disappointed to see Rosler go before he had ‘finished the job’. Luckily Warburton picked up the baton seamlessly and no real damage was done. However, less that 12 months later quite unbelievably there has been much talk of #RoslerOut from Wigan fans. Surely one should give any new manager a chance to really get his feet under the table. Don’t you think your mob are being slightly ridiculous?

Following the achievements over the past decade expectations are high. There is a whole generation of younger supporters who until last year, were brought up on Premier League football. A return to the top flight is a ‘must’ for many of them.

Some nine months on from the departure of Coyle the keyboard warriors who may have contributed to his demise are lively again. This time their disgruntlement is aimed at Uwe Rosler. It might be hard to believe after what Rosler has already achieved at the club, but some are starting to question if he is the right man for the job.

Rumours were being bandied around the fan forums and social media of Rosler losing the dressing room, although none have since been substantiated. However, the intervention of Dave Whelan openly supporting Rosler has helped calm things down. There still remains a fringe of fans who want Rosler out.

The tale of Whelan’s eventful visit to the dressing room in the early days of Paul Jewell’s reign is etched in the minds of Latics supporters. Jewell was going through a hard time as a young manager, dealing with too many players who were not supporting him.

The story goes that Whelan let the players know in no uncertain terms that the manager was staying and that they could leave if they were not happy with that. It was to ultimately lead to Jewell taking Latics from League 2 to the Premier League and the League Cup final.

Whelan’s intervention this time around might well have sent a similar message to the players. The result was clear to see – a team putting in a real Wigan Athletic performance. Rosler was buoyed by not only the chairman’s support, but by that of the crowd.

The display against Forest was laden with the kind of physical endeavour that propelled Latics into the playoffs and cup semi-final some six months ago. It had been sadly lacking in previous games. Rumours about a divided dressing room and unprofessional behaviour from certain players were blown away by the chanting of “Uwe, Uwe” by the crowd at the end of the game.

Do you feel that Rosler has now seen there is a big difference between managing Brentford where there are less egos in the dressing room, and Wigan – where players are on big money .. and with many ex-premiership players to try and keep happy???

Whelan has backed Rosler by allowing him to assemble a large squad, with lots of quality. He has a strong backbone of players with oodles of Premier League experience. To maintain a squad like that costs money, with Latics having to offer commensurate salaries for those experienced players.

Interestingly James McClean took a significant salary cut when he joined Latics, but keeping players like him happy is clearly a challenge for Rosler. Perhaps the current squad is too big and Rosler is facing challenges in keeping those happy who don’t make the matchday squad.

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. Moreover it meant that all players in the squad had a chance of getting on the pitch.

This in turn produced keen competition for places and raised the morale of those who might not have been involved. But 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.

Latics fans learned that Rosler’s team selections can be perplexing during his early days at the club. 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?

Critics say that Rosler has his favourites and his management style involves a “My way or the highway approach”. Fans have questioned his willingness to give all squad players a fair crack of the whip.

So what’s this beef with Grant Holt all about?

The case of Grant Holt has been extreme.

One of Rosler’s first moves when he arrived was to leave Holt out of the squad that travelled to Slovenia to play Maribor. Then in January the player was sent on loan to Aston Villa until the end of the season. When he came back he was consigned to training with the development squad and he was not given a squad number. Moreover his face was conspicuously absent from the squad photograph taken for club’s official site.

Holt has subsequently moved on to a short term loan at Huddersfield, where he seems to be regaining the form he was not able to show at Wigan.

How have your signings been? There was always a big question mark as to who was actually making the signings at Brentford. Manager Mark Warburton, who was the Sporting Director at the time, has very good links with academies around Europe and was thought to be the person to put forward many of the Brentford signings .. with all new players having to be ratified by both Rosler and owner Matthew Benham. Does Rosler have a team around him who he works together with to find and suggest new players to sign?

When the German was appointed in December, most of us expected him to bring in a swath of coaching and backroom staff from Brentford. Within a month he brought in Chris Haslam from his old club as Head of Performance – possibly because of concerns in the fitness levels of Latics’ players.

Alan Kernahan and Peter Farrell had left Brentford within a week of Rosler’s departure and it seemed a matter of time before they were installed at Wigan. It did not happen.The non-arrival of Rosler’s trusted lieutenants was put down to either budget issues or Dave Whelan’s loyalty towards staff previously appointed.

Veteran first team coach Graham Barrow was to continue and John Doolan (who left for Hibs in the summer) was brought up from coaching at youth level to help out with the senior squad.

Rosler has done well in his recruitment of players to be fair, bringing 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.

Rosler’s recruitment contrasts with that of his predecessor, Coyle.

The Scot had a short-term approach, bringing in the kinds of seasoned professionals who could help secure promotion. Despite the pressure on him to get promotion this year, Rosler has stuck to his guns and shown a more long-term approach in signing that swath of younger players.

However, in Beausejour, Gomez and McArthur Latics have lost three key players with considerable technical ability.

Masters of the passing game.

There has been a considerable amount of debate among fans about the type of football Latics have been playing this season, which has alternated between the possession football typical of the Martinez era and the long ball of the Coyle reign.

It has been a difficult start to the season for Rosler. Not only has he had so many new players to settle in but also there have been serious fitness issues.

New players invariably need time to gel with their teammates, but the lack of a clearly defined style of play has made it even more difficult for them. Goals have been too often been given away by sloppy defending and goal opportunities have so often been wasted.

But more than anything else it is the lack of creativity that has stood out.

Rosler really went out on a limb signing Adam Forshaw. Im saying that not because I think Forshaw is a bad player who would let Rosler down .. he’s not .. he’s a great player. I say that because from what I can gather, your fans have been calling for a striker and not another midfielder.

When the hullabaloo started over the Adam Forshaw transfer there were fans who thought transfer funds available would be better spent on a central striker than a midfielder who had not proven himself beyond League 1. Latics had already signed Oriel Riera from Osasuna, whose settling into the team was hardly helped by woeful service from midfield.

The number one priority for the fans was another striker, even if there were concerns about the lack of creativity in midfield.

Despondency had crept in with the impending departure of that great Latics stalwart and FA Cup winner, James McArthur. It looked like Rosler was not going to get the extra striker he desperately needed with the Andy Delort situation continuing to be uncertain.

Moreover the Forshaw saga was dragging on. The creative midfielder was clearly within Rosler’s sights, but was it going to happen?

Then on the Monday we were to find out that Dave Whelan had splashed the cash after all. Leicester City had dropped out of the race to sign James McArthur, but Crystal Palace had moved in and made the acquisition.

By the transfer deadline we had confirmed the Delort and Forshaw transfers, plus the surprise signing of experienced midfield enforcer William Kvist from VfB Stuttgart.

The three signings signaled a statement of intent from Whelan and Rosler that they really wanted to finalise a squad capable of achieving promotion.

But there was another signing that was unexpected – that of young talent Emyr Huws from Manchester City on a permanent contract.

So where does Forshaw fit into your current side?

Rosler clearly has faith in Forshaw being able to provide a creative spark in midfield. He did it at Brentford and Rosler will be banking on him doing the same at Wigan. In recent matches Huws has provided some spark. But he is young and needs time.

However, if you were to ask a room full of Latics fans who is the best bet for a creative midfield role, the name of Shaun Maloney would surely be their typical response.

Without doubt the best football Wigan Athletic have ever played was in the final part of the 2012-13 season and in the FA Cup triumph in 2013-14. Sometimes Maloney would be played wide on the left. But he was most effective when playing an advanced midfield role in the “hole” behind the centre forward. If anybody made the side tick it was he.

Maloney proved himself as a top quality Premier League player. But questions remain, if at 31 years of age and after a major hip operation, he will ever get back to where he was. However, he comes off the back of two good performances for Scotland.

At his best and playing in his favourite position in the centre of midfield, he can be an outstanding performer in the Championship.

The dilemma for Rosler will be in deciding if there is room for both Maloney and Forshaw in the same team. If so will Maloney be consigned to wide position?

He’s made a few cameo appearances for you so far. I guess that he is still working on his fitness. How has he been?

Forshaw made his Wigan debut in the last ten minutes against Blackburn, but it was his first competitive football since May.

He made his first start against Ipswich. He looked out of touch in the first half, but rallied in the second when he switched to a more central role. In the closing minutes he put through a couple of exquisitely timed passes to split a stubborn Ipswich rearguard. He looked the part in those closing minutes.

Forshaw made his second start in the next match – a 2-0 defeat at Bournemouth. He did not come off the bench in the Forest game that followed, but came on in the 57th minute in the 2-2 draw at Wolves before the international break.

Forshaw has shown some promise. But like several other players at the club, match fitness has been the issue.

Your parachute money surely runs out very soon. Surely if you don’t get back into the Premier League, you will be in a financial pickle

Last season Latics were due to receive £23m in parachute payments from the Premier League. With an historic Europa League campaign coming up the club decided to largely invest the parachute payments into maintaining a large squad. It is believed that the club had previously written into players’ contracts that their salaries would drop if they were to be relegated from the Premier League.

Moreover a number of players left the club. Several at the ends of their contracts. Others for significant transfer fees.

Latics actually performed relatively well last season in using their parachute payments to assemble a squad good enough to reach 5th place in the Championship. In the previous season the clubs who came down from the Premier League – Blackburn, Bolton and Wolves – finished in 17th, 7th and 23rd positions, despite parachute payments of £16m.

With the parachute payment and funds gained from the Europa League campaign, together with prudent financial management, it is likely that Wigan Athletic at least broke even financially last season.

The challenge is whether they can secure promotion back to the Premier League against clubs who are spending millions on new players.

Last season both Leicester City and Queens Park Rangers flouted FFP rules in gaining promotion. The London team is reported to have had a budget of £70m last year, losing £23m over the season. Fulham’s investment of £11m on Ross McCormack was staggering, especially for a player who has never played in the Premier League.

Wigan expects to open a new training facility at Charnock Richard by August 2016. This will then allow us to attract players of all ages and also develop future professionals. Were that to become a reality they would then need to apply for Category 1 status.

The main priority for Latics this season is promotion to the Premier League. However, in terms of long term sustainability the club needs to produce young players who can graduate to senior level. The Academy project is an indication that Latics are trying to secure long-term viability as a club in the upper echelons of English football.

So who should Brentford be looking out for on the pitch??

Callum McManaman is the man in form this season. Let’s see if Brentford resort to the kind of foul tactics against him that other teams have done so often.

And here’s our “Made in Wigan” section …

Bolton Wanderers or Wigan Rugby League?

Are you showing a red rag to a bull? Latics fans are not too distressed at seeing Bolton at the foot of the table. After decades of being treated with condescension by the followers of the egg-chasing game, Latics are in the ascendency in the town. Just look out for the blue, not the red.

Richard Ashcroft from The Verve or Limahl from Kajagoogo?

Both brilliant, but how about Starsailor ?

Roberto Martinez or Andy Liddell?

Both spent six years playing for Latics. Icons from different eras as players, not to mention Roberto’s achievements as a manager.

Chris Kirkland or Nigel Adkins?

Kirkland spent 6 years at Latics, producing so many heroic performances despite constant struggles with injury.

Adkins was Latics’ goalkeeper pre-Whelan, from 1986-93. Will he ever return to them as manager?

Wigan Casino or The Hacienda

Don’t ask a Wiganer a question like that! The Casino was from an earlier era but both were something very special.

Georgie Fame or George Formby Jnr

Both legends in Wigan, even if Georgie was from Leigh.

Kay Burley, Sky News or Ruth Liptrott, Channel 5 News

The more Wiganers on the news the better!

Head to head, Wigan are smashing it winning 18 games to the Bees’ 6 with 7 games drawn. Do you think the Bees will make inroads interning that record around??

A win for Latics by at least a two goal margin.

Do you think you can still get promoted?

Given the bad start to the season it is unlikely that Latics can reach an automatic promotion spot. But with the squad that Rosler has put together promotion through the playoffs remains a distinct possibility.

Blackpool are the obvious certs for relegation, but despite their owner they are a fine old club. Let’s hope they can stay up.

Where do you recommend away fans hang out out pre-match?

The Anvil, in the town centre just behind the Parish Church,is an excellent real ale pub. The Raven, just up the street from the station, is an old style Wigan pub well worth a visit. Don’t forget to try the pies while in the town centre.

 

BillytheBee
@billythebee99

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