“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”
David Sharpe should take heed of Machiavelli’s words.
A club that was tipped to win the Championship by the highly rated FourFourTwo magazine ended up being relegated. The mistakes of the past two seasons have dragged the club down and there is real danger of the slide continuing.
Is the youthful Sharpe capable of steadying things up and leading the club back to the Promised Land? What clues is Sharpe giving when one reads between the lines of his comments? Where are Latics really heading?
The young chairman is working on the creation of a new order at Wigan Athletic. The upheaval continues amid a climate of uncertainty. What kind of club will Latics be a year from now? What kinds of realistic expectations can fans have of the future?
Sharpe has certainly stepped into a difficult situation, but he continues to put on a brave face in his dealings with the media. Sharpe invariably paints an optimistic picture, whilst acknowledging that mistakes have been made in the past.
However, the initial gloss is now starting to wear off and fans are starting to read between the lines of what Sharpe has said. The sceptics will say that his comments are no more than window-dressing, that the Whelan family is no longer willing to put money into the club and that without it the club will languish in its “natural” position in the lower tiers of English football.
Fans who have been shell-shocked by the events of the past season were dealt a further jolt yesterday with the news of Emmerson Boyce’s impending departure.
“Our ambition is to regain our Championship status as quickly as possible and we would like Emmerson to be a part of the team this coming season because we feel he could continue to help us . However, the reality of our current situation is that we are in League One and we have to maintain a wage structure in line with our status.”
The Boyce issue was always going to be a tricky one for Sharpe. After nine years at the club the player had become a legend, with massive fan support. According to Boyce the deal he was offered was “laughable”. Sharpe acknowledges that he would like Boyce to continue but clearly his view of a suitable deal differs greatly with the aspirations of the player.
However, by taking a tough stand in the case of out of contract players, Sharpe has set a precedent for the future. The deals he offered to Gaetan Bong and Kim Bo-Kyung were also not acceptable to the players, who will be moving on.
The Boyce scenario is not going down well with the majority of fans who hold the player in such high esteem, but the figures involved in the offer are unlikely to be publicly revealed. Without them it is difficult to take the side of either club or player. However, even if Boyce were to be offered a regular contract it would be on a salary commensurate with League 1, not with one of the Championship or the Premier League to which he had been accustomed. Moreover Boyce will be 36 in September, probably the reason why the club was offering a pay-as-you-play deal. The player made only 26 league starts compared with 50 the previous season.
We await the news regarding a contract renewal for Jermaine Pennant. The winger made an impression through three spectacular goals from free kicks, although he never managed to complete in full 90 minutes in a match since joining in January. Moreover he does not have the pace to pass his full back. However, Pennant does have experience, class and technique. But given the salaries he has earned in the past will he be tempted by an offer commensurate to that of a League 1 club?
Last Friday Sharpe talked about the return of Andy Delort, Rob Kiernan, Oriol Riera and James Tavernier from loan spells:
“They’ll all be in for the start of pre-season on June 25, and they’ll all be big players for us next season.”
The sceptics were quick to dismiss Sharpe’s statement as mere posturing, that most of the four would be gone by the end of August. They were backed up by the Daily Mail reporting on that same day that Cardiff City and Reading were in a battle to sign Kiernan for £100,000.
The retained list published on Monday confirmed that:
“ …..the four remain contracted to Wigan Athletic beyond June 2015, and unless that situation changes, will be returning to pre-season training with the rest of the squad on June 25.”
It was quite a turnaround within the space of three days. Dreams of a Delort-Riera partnership are now appearing less than realistic.
It was also confirmed that Latics have 18 players contracted beyond June 2015, excepting the seriously ill Juan Carlos Garcia. However, as in the case of the four players sent out on loan, the club communique once again includes that proviso “and unless that situation changes” . Contracts will also be offered to the young players Jordan Flores (19 years old), Tim Chow (21), Matty Hamilton (19) and Ryan Jennings (19).
In April Sharpe had stated that Latics were going to need at least ten new players for next season. But a couple of days ago he raised that figure:
“There could be, in the end, up to 15 players we bring in, and that means every day is a challenge.”
Clearly he is expecting more players to leave than he was a month ago.
Should Latics have a squad of 24 senior players, with 15 players of them new, only 9 will remain from last season. Whatever the mathematics it is clear that Sharpe expects at least half of the players with contracts beyond June 2015 to depart.
Sharpe continues to reiterate that the recruitment team of himself, Gary Caldwell, Jonathan Jackson, Graham Barrow and Matt Jackson are meeting on close to a daily basis to look at future acquisitions. He states that:
“There’s probably a list of five or six players in each position who we’re looking at. But the deal’s got to be right for the player and the football club.”
He refers to the wage structure. For the deal to be right for the player and the club, the recruitment team is clearly focusing on players whose salary aspirations would fall within the new wage structure. Typically they would be from clubs in the lower reaches of the Championship, from League 1 or League 2 clubs, or Scotland.
Sharpe also expresses his preference for “young, hungry players between the ages of 24-27, ones who have done it before, who know what it’s like to win promotion, who are willing to learn and put in the hours, and buy into Gary’s brand of football.”
Bringing in 15 new players is a mountain of a task, but media reports suggest that deals are already in motion. They include midfielders John McGinn, 20 years old, from St Mirren and the 21 year old Max Power from Tranmere. It is also rumoured that they have made a £500,000 bid for 24 year old Chesterfield left winger Sam Clucas. The media also reports interest in the rugged 30 year old Rangers central midfield player Ian Black, the 25 year old Bristol City striker Jay Emmanuel Thomas, the 31 year old Australian striker/attacking midfield player Scott McDonald from Celtic and the 31 year old goalkeeper Andy Lonergan from Bolton.
The honeymoon period for David Sharpe has come to its end. Should Boyce depart from the club, as it seems he will, Sharpe will be unpopular with supporters who will feel he could have done more to keep the player at the club. Some have mentioned a possibility of a player/coach position, as was offered to Caldwell. However, at least one media report last summer suggested that Caldwell’s new contract had been on a salary 50% lower than before.
However, Sharpe is already showing the kind of toughness that is going to be required to get the club back on track. Moreover, up to this point, he has shielded rookie manager Caldwell from the brunt of criticism and backed him in reversing the decision regarding Tim Chow’s contract.
The club faces a further period of upheaval, but the hope is that Sharpe and his team can put together an infrastructure that will serve the club for years to come.
Given the current focus on the comings and goings of the playing staff it is not surprising that the matter of the Charnock Richard facility has taken the back burner. Will the club be going ahead with the original plans, even if it is in League 1?
Sharpe’s honeymoon period is over, but he is taking charge of introducing a new order of things at Wigan Athletic. It will be a rough ride for the young chairman.
The question remains whether his new order will be sufficient to elevate Latics back into the higher divisions or whether it will merely provide the sustainability for the club to exist in the lower divisions of the Football League.