English football’s close season lasts too long for me. World Cups, European Championships and Copa Americas can all make entertaining viewing, but there’s nothing like the buzz that you get when your own team is playing. Latics played their last game of the season on May 2nd at Brentford.The League 1 campaign starts more than three months later on August 8th.
These recent weeks have been hard to bear, skimming the internet for transfer gossip, much of which is pure speculation. Does someone actually make up some of those stories? I can’t wait for the new season to start.
The other day a friend asked me what I thought Latics’ chances were of getting promotion this year. I had to reply that I had not the slightest idea. It would have taken too long to explain to him about the implications of the SCMP and parachute payments, together with ditching almost all of the top wage earners on the playing staff. Plus how a rookie chairman and rookie manager were going to turn around a club that had been losing its direction. Given the circumstances was I being an eternal optimist in thinking that Latics could actually reach the lofty goals for the season set by David Sharpe and Gary Caldwell? Up to then they had signed just two players on free transfers. Was my optimism unrealistic?
But then on Thursday came that tweet from David Sharpe: a freshly grassed DW pitch and the promise of more good news later in the day. My mind started to race. Were Latics about to announce the signing of a dynamic up-and-coming young striker who could make all the difference? Or was it that they had signed left sided midfielder Sam Clucas from Chesterfield, a young player who had made a big mark on his club’s season. Moreover he qualified for Sharpe’s professed criterion of being between 23 and 27 years of age.
Then the news came through that Latics had made another free agent signing. The announcement of the procurement of 29 year old Craig Morgan from Rotherham was somewhat underwhelming. Morgan had previously played for four other clubs in the lower divisions prior to joining the Millers.
But his arrival was certainly welcomed by Caldwell:
‘He has great experience, having played internationally, but he also knows the division inside out. He is a quality defender, a real leader on the pitch who has been a captain, with a superb attitude and we are delighted to have him on board.’
Caldwell did not mention that Morgan has played 23 times for Wales.
Moreover the player had chosen to join League 1 Wigan despite receiving a similar financial offer from Rotherham. But he had also turned out an approach from Bolton Wanderers, who seemed far from happy that Morgan had gone to Wigan. One Bolton fan site posted a particularly vitriolic piece. In an open letter to the player the writer says: “We’re glad that your particular brand of mediocrity has found a home. We ourselves have spunked many thousands and millions of pounds on average footballers over the years, and we are all grateful for your decision to join Wigan causing us to avoid falling into the same trap yet again. It’s interesting to us that you chose Wigan. We know that you attended a medical at our Euxton training ground, and we know that you had your Bolton Wanderers contract drawn up and ready to sign on Thursday afternoon.”
Morgan himself commented “I had offers from teams in higher leagues, but I chose to come here because of the opportunity and potential here, I didn’t want to just mull around in the Championship. I want to be part of success with this club, I have done previously and I’ve enjoyed it so much that when Wigan came in for me I jumped at the chance because this club is the place I can see myself being successful at once again. The changeover of the Chairman and the manager last season seems to have given the club a fresh start for this new season.”
Sharpe was clearly pleased with the acquisition of Morgan. One wonders if his pleasure was derived as much from depriving the near neighbours of a player they sought, as much as landing an experienced and capable lower division central defender.
The practically simultaneous departure of Scott Carson to Derby County was no surprise, given the signing of Richard O’Donnell and the contract extension for Lee Nicholls. However, it does signify the beginning of the exodus of many of the other eighteen players still under contract from the Championship days. Caldwell and Sharpe will endeavour to shift on as many of the higher wage earners as they possibly can, replacing them with either experienced players on short term contracts or up-and-coming youngsters. Parachute payments last two more years. David Perkins, 32, has been given a one year contract, Craig Morgan two years, and the 26 year old Richard O’Donnell three years. It looks like Caldwell sees O’Donnell and the 22 year old Lee Nicholls as his goalkeepers for the years to come.
Put simply Latics need to shed a lot of players to make room for others to come in on contracts more in line with those of other League 1 sides. James McClean’s departure also seems imminent, whether it be the New York Red Bulls or a Championship side in England. McClean has been his usual forthright self when asked about his future with Latics. Like several of his colleagues he is unwilling to drop down to League 1, not ideal for the future prospects of an ex-Premier League player. At the same Latics will be happy to get his relatively large salary off the payroll, hoping to recoup some of the transfer fee they originally paid for him. The same will be the case for others such as Andy Delort, James Perch and Oriol Riera .
Latics’ players are due to report back for training on June 25th. It remains to be seen what proportion of those players will be with the club by late August. Although financial considerations are the main driving force for the imminent departure of so many players, the lack of performance by so many last season also comes into consideration. There will be some degree of backing from the fans for the clear-out of players that they felt did not compete as much as they might have while wearing a Wigan Athletic shirt.
Ideally Caldwell would be able to decide which of the players remaining from last year’s squad would be staying. However, the reality of finding other clubs for players on relatively lucrative contracts will tie his hands to some extent. If he is unable to move on players not in his plans he will face financial constraints which will restrict his possibilities for bringing in more dynamic new blood.
In the meantime we will await more signings who will by Sharpe’s preference be “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”.
Although he does not fit the age criterion Morgan has “done it before”, having played in a Rotherham team that won promotion.
However, although it would seem to be a good bet to sign players who have already been in promotion winning sides it does not necessarily correlate with success. Owen Coyle brought in the likes of Leon Barnett, Grant Holt, Marc-Antoine Fortune, Chris McCann and James Perch, all of whom had played in sides that won promotion out of the Championship. Uwe Rosler was to do the same with Don Cowie and Andrew Taylor.
It is those young, hungry players that Caldwell be primarily focused upon signing, although he will surround them with a core of experienced professionals. But more than anything else he will be looking to sign “the right kind of player”, one that will wear the Wigan Athletic with pride.