If you believe what some of the media tell you, Wigan Athletic have gone from being so many peoples’ second favourite football team to their least favourite. All in the space of a couple of weeks.
The furore surrounding Malky Mackay’s appointment and the roasting of Dave Whelan by the national media has changed the view of the club in the eyes of the public.
Without going into the moral rights and wrongs of the broader issues, it is clear that Whelan could have avoided this happening from the start.
Why did he choose Mackay over other candidates with good track records whose recruitment would not have caused such waves? Did Whelan have an inkling of the repercussions that Mackay’s appointment would cause?
If he had anticipated what might follow he must have believed that Mackay stood head and shoulders above the other candidates – that he was the right man to get Latics back to the Premier League. However, the fact that Whelan put a clause in Mackay’s contract “protecting the club” against possible FA action suggests that he had more than an inkling of what was going to happen and made a calculated gamble in the Scot’s appointment.
So what is it about Mackay that made Whelan take the risk to appoint him? Providing FA sanctions do not prevent him continuing at the club, can Mackay lead Latics back to the Promised Land?
Born in Bellshill, some ten miles from the Glasgow city centre, Mackay passed through the youth ranks at Queens Park where he made 70 first team appearances over a three year period. At the age of 21 the powerful young centre half joined Celtic. However, during a five year stay he struggled to command a regular place at Parkhead. In September 1998 he joined Norwich City for £350,000 and he went on to make 212 appearances for the Canaries over a period of six years.
Mackay went on to a one year stint at West Ham, followed by three years at Watford. In his first season playing for the Hornets he achieved the remarkable distinction of being promoted to the Premier League for the third time in three years.
Midway through his first season as a Premier League player in 2006-07, Mackay was appointed first team coach at Vicarage Road. He took over as caretaker manager in November 2008, following the departure of Aidy Boothroyd. But it proved to be only for five games with Brendan Rodgers being brought in from Chelsea.
However, Rodgers’ reign proved to be short-lived and Mackay was to take over in the summer of 2009. His first season was a struggle. With just five games to go, Watford were in 21st position, but an end of season rally saw them finish in 16th place. Several players on higher salaries left the club over the summer of 2010 and Mackay eventually steered the Hornets into 14th place in the 2010-11 season.
In June 2011 Mackay joined Cardiff City, where he was to enjoy a successful first season. The Welsh club reached the League Cup final, only to be beaten 3-2 by Liverpool on penalties. They reached the Championship playoffs, only to be beaten by West Ham.
The 2012-13 season saw Cardiff win the Championship and Mackay receive the League Managers Association ‘Championship Manager of the Year’ award. However, Mackay and Cardiff owner, Vincent Tan, clearly did not see eye to eye. Being unhappy about Mackay’s transfer dealings over the summer, and with concerns about poor results and the style of play, Tan sacked Mackay in December 2013. The national press has kept us well aware of what happened between Tan and Mackay since then.
Mackay has certainly had his ups and downs in football. As a player he was released by two clubs after he had helped them get promotion to the Premier League. As a manager at Watford he had to deal with the departure of key players for financial reasons and fight against relegation. In his first two seasons at Cardiff he enjoyed considerable success, even if the style of play was not the most exciting to watch. Mackay knows the Championship division as well as any manager could.
Over the coming weeks we can expect Mackay to focus on making Latics a team that is hard to beat. As an ex-centre half he will demand a tight defence. To get goals he is not likely to flood the opposition penalty area with attackers, but will rely on set pieces and on his “flair players” delivering the goods.
With Latics currently second from bottom, Mackay has a task on his hands. However, he knows that he has enough quality in the squad to challenge the best in the division. Latics will surely rise out of the relegation zone, but it is more a question of how quickly they can do it. Promotion this year is not out of the question, but is a long way off at the moment.
Mackay will take things a step at a time and if promotion does not happen this season, he will be planning towards the next. He will surely be aware of the “player power” that helped dislodge his two predecessors at Wigan. He will look at downsizing the squad in the January transfer window and there could be some surprise names exiting the club.
Once again Wigan Athletic are at a turning point. Dave Whelan will be hoping he made the right move in appointing Malky Mackay.
Only time will tell if that is to be the case.