The term “jettison” dates back to the early days of aviation, when goods were cast overboard to lighten the load and make an aeroplane more stable.
Jettisoning goods comes at a cost, but stability is necessary for survival.
The imminent departure of both James Tavernier and Martyn Waghorn from Wigan Athletic will be no surprise. They will be following in the paths of former teammates Scott Carson, Andy Delort, Rob Kiernan, James McClean, and Oriol Riera. All jettisoned in the quest to bring the wage bill down to a level more appropriate to a club that is to play in League 1.
Of the seven mentioned above only McClean fetched a transfer fee of note. The combined sales of Delort and Riera probably brought in around 20% of the revenues used to initially sign them. The rumours that Tavernier and Waghorn are to be sold for a joint fee of only £300,000 have come as a bit if a shock to fans, but could well be based on the truth.
Wigan Athletic had 18 senior squad players under contract to 2016 or beyond when last season concluded. Assuming the sale of Tavernier and Waghorn will go ahead they will have jettisoned seven of the eighteen. In return eight new players have been recruited – Donervon Daniels, Craig Davies, Will Grigg, Craig Morgan, Sanmi Odelusi, Richard O’Donnell, David Perkins and Max Power.
Certainly the departure of the seven has provided a means of making way for new players coming in. But it is not the number of players under contract that is the crucial issue at the moment, but more the need to get the highest wage earners off the books. Eleven players remain from last season, some are younger players on more manageable salaries, but the majority will be receiving Championship-level wages.
Over the coming weeks we can expect the departures of the likes of Leon Barnett, Chris McCann, James Perch and Andrew Taylor. All are marketable, being experienced Championship players who have Premier League experience. Significantly neither Barnett not McCann has enjoyed much playing time so far in the pre-season.
Don Cowie and Emyr Huws are injured. It looks like Grant Holt’s return to competitive football will be no earlier than October, as he recovers from a serious ACL injury. The three can be expected to stay, at least until January.
Billy Mckay’s spectacular strike against Altrincham brought positive comments from Gary Caldwell which implied that the Northern Ireland international might stay after all. It looked like David Ball was going to sign, but the player has now gone off for a trial at Barnsley. Maybe it is not only Mckay’s superbly taken goal, but also the situation with Ball, that has swayed Caldwell. However, Caldwell’s talk might well be window dressing, with Dundee United keen to acquire Mckay’s services. Given the woeful lack of opportunity the player has been given since his arrival from Inverness in January, who could blame him for wanting to return to the rich pastures of the SPL where he previously thrived?
What we are witnessing at the moment is a major reengineering of a playing staff and a wage structure. Many fans will argue that Latics have let go players of genuine quality who can do a good job at Championship level or higher. Moreover they have let them go for a pittance in terms of potential transfer value.
There remained a possibility of retaining some of those players, taking the risk in absorbing their “high” salaries, in a bid to get promotion back to the Championship at the first attempt. It was indeed a viable option, but fate has decreed that other higher earners will remain because of injuries. In the case of Huws it could be a blessing in disguise providing the player can rid himself of a possibly career-threatening ankle problem. Given Holt’s age, his serious injury and the abuse he has taken from fans, one wonders if he can make any impact on the season. However, Holt is a resilient character and can never be counted out.
Although the restructuring is largely based on financial parameters there also remains an element of “clearing out the dead wood” from a squad that hugely underachieved last season. Moreover a wholesale clear-out gives the new manager the opportunity to largely work with his own men.
Caldwell has already imposed his stamp on the style of football the team is playing, which could already be described as “Martinez-esque”. However, Caldwell has already used different formations in pre-season, 4-3-3, 3-4-3 and 3-5-2. It provides the kind of flexibility that was not the norm under Martinez, although Uwe Rosler used it to effect. By varying his tactical approach from game to game, Caldwell will make it difficult for the opposition to stifle a Latics side that will not have the pure style of the Martinez era, but will seek a blend between style and effectiveness. Like Rosler the Scot will also employ the option of changing the formation as the game progresses.
Up to this point Caldwell and his recruitment team have scoured the market for bargains, making a major financial outlay in the reported £1m paid for Will Grigg. That is likely to largely remain the pattern for the acquisition of further players, although there probably remains another £2m in the coffers from outgoing transfers that can be used to make a couple more big signings.
Reports suggest that Sam Clucas of Chesterfield remains on Caldwell’s radar and he is likely to cost in excess of £1m. Moreover Caldwell will almost certainly need a new right back and Swindon’s Nathan Byrne, 23, could fit the bill, at a price. In the meantime he will look at signing more free agents, such as the 32 year old Kevin McNaughton, ex-Cardiff City, and a full back who can also play in midfield. Rumours have also linked Latics with the ex-Everton 21 year old holding midfielder John Lundstram and 26 year old winger Paul Anderson from Ipswich.
The jettisoning will continue, with at least three more of last year’s squad likely to leave. In the meantime Caldwell will continue to meld together his much changed squad, liberally sprinkled with bargain basement signings. With less than three weeks to go before the start of the season he faces a considerable challenge in inculcating his style of football into players who will be largely unfamiliar to it.