“Marco is a quality player and we were very impressed by just how well he did for us last season. People say he didn’t have a fantastic scoring record. But look at the goals from midfield after he came in. The goals the other boys scored because the way he played was phenomenal. Marco had a great ethic about him in his training as well as his playing. He was a privilege to work with.”
So said Peter Grant when Marc-Antoine Fortune signed for Celtic in July 2009. Grant had moved to a coaching position at Celtic after a spell at West Bromwich Albion, where he had previously worked with the French Guianan.
Celtic had paid Nancy a fee of £3.8m for “MAF”, after he had impressed in a loan spell with West Bromwich in the second half of the 2008-09 season. MAF had become a fan favourite at the Hawthorns and after 18 appearances and 5 goals he was voted ‘’Player of the Season”.
Sadly times have changed for MAF. A mere mention of his name among Wigan Athletic supporters will cause controversy.
The player appears shot-shy, unwilling or unable to make the probing runs off the ball that are expected of a striker. But despite a record of 7 goals in 70 appearances (including 43 starts), MAF continues to figure prominently in Malky Mackay’s plans. It causes a considerable amount of consternation among the majority of fans. Put simply, how can a player with such a striking record regularly make the starting lineup?
However, MAF does have his supporters who will say that he is a real team player, with his strong hold-up play and willingness to chase. Moreover on occasions when he has been substituted during the course of a game, Latics’ play has got worse, not better. The team so often seems to play better when he is on the pitch.
At 33 and nearing the end of his contract, will there be a possibility of him staying at Wigan? He has never been a prolific goalscorer, but there have been spells at clubs where his record has been well within the acceptable range. Is he at the end of his career now or can he still show that he can score goals more often?
That move to Celtic had been potentially the high point of MAF’s career, but despite scoring 10 goals in 32 appearances for the Glasgow club, he could not live up to his price tag and new manager Neil Lennon shipped him off to West Bromwich a year later.
MAF was not able to relieve his previous highs in his second spell with the midlands club, but nevertheless stayed with them for three more years. He was to score 10 goals in 62 appearances.
When Owen Coyle took over as Wigan Athletic manager in the summer of 2013 he had a major rebuilding job to do with a squad that had been decimated following relegation from the Premier League. Coyle had been given a year to get the club back into the Premier League. His recruitment plan was to largely focus on seeking experienced professionals who had played in the Premier League.
In his signing of Grant Holt and MAF it looked like he had found a good blend of strikers. Holt was the bustling, goalscoring centre forward, with MAF the foil, through his unselfish and hardworking support. Sadly the partnership never really got together , with Holt dispatched off on loan in January.
Their lack of success had drawn criticism from many fans of Coyle’s signing of two 32 year olds on long term contracts. With the departure of Holt on loan the focus fell more and more on MAF. Under Coyle he had made 19 appearances, which included only 8 starts. His solitary goal had come ironically from a superb crossfield pass from Grant Holt at Yeovil. However, he was to find favour with new manager Uwe Rosler under whom he made 15 starts and 15 appearances off the bench, scoring 4 goals.
When Oriol Riera and Andy Delort were signed early on in the current season, and with Martyn Waghorn’s proven goalscoring record, it had looked like MAF would fall well down the pecking order. But he has come bouncing back. Riera and Delort are gone, Waghorn is marginalised and new signing Billy Mckay finds himself warming the bench. MAF has weathered the storm, working under three managers at Wigan, all of whom have shown faith in his abilities.
So far this season MAF has made 22 starts, with 5 appearances off the bench. He has scored 2 goals and made no assists. The last time he scored a goal at the DW Stadium was in February 2014.
Despite the value MAF might add through his hold-up play and commitment can Malky Mackay continue to justify his inclusion in a team desperately short on goals?
Has Mackay considered playing MAF wide on the right, where he can play an effective role but not labour under the burden of scoring goals?
The controversy appears set to linger on until the end of a bitterly disappointing season.