Dave Whelan preferred rolling contracts for managers. It was therefore no surprise when his grandson and successor, David Sharpe gave one to Gary Caldwell in early April stating that:
‘That shows how much I believe in Gary. It’s definitely not just for the next five games, he’s got a free hit at it really. If he keeps us up it’s a miracle and if we go down it’s expected by everybody in this room but Gary will back himself to keep us up. This is a long-term thing and we’re looking forward to the future with him that gets us back to our identity on and off the pitch and brings the positive times back to this football club.’
But what is a rolling contract? The Financial Times defines it as:
“A contract that continues until an agreed period of notice (amount of time before you are told that you no longer have a job), rather than until a particular date.”
Caldwell’s “rolling contract” can hardly make him feel secure, but the rookie manager exudes a level of confidence and self-belief that suggests he can deal with his situation, even if it was the downfall of his recent predecessors. It appears that previous managers were given pay-offs to sweeten the bitter pill of being dismissed, but given his contractual situation Caldwell cannot automatically expect that.
Caldwell’s optimism about the future of his newly formed team and his belief in a style of play is reminiscent of his ex-boss Roberto Martinez. He is not only eloquent but bold in enunciating his philosophy of football. For a 32 year old manager in his first job he is impressive.
Caldwell’s players are not on rolling contracts. They at least have the security of fixed term contracts. But Caldwell and his recruitment team have been careful with the contracts they have handed out. The over thirties David Perkins, Kevin McNaughton and Jussi Jaaskellainen, were given one year contracts, the youngsters receiving more long term versions.
The club has therefore already covered itself for the worst case scenario of not achieving promotion within these final two years with parachute payments. Were Latics to still be in League One two years from now their salaries budget would be likely to be no more than £3m, compared with around £10m at the present. Further evidence to suggest it is being run on sound, businesslike principles. Far from the norm of so many football clubs in England.
Like any new manager Caldwell has his critics. There are those who never liked him as a player and still don’t as a manager. There are others who don’t like the return to what they consider the tiki-taka approach of Martinez. Some say that Latics are run by a naïve young duo, Caldwell and Sharpe, and question their credibility. Is Caldwell expecting too much from players used to a more direct style of play at their previous clubs to adapt to “tiki taca”? It is results that matter more than anything else at football clubs and Caldwell has won only four of thirteen matches under his charge.
However, the majority of Wigan Athletic supporters stand clearly behind Caldwell. He has restored belief after a period of devastation at the club. Some will question some of his tactical decisions early on in his reign, his preference for three at the back rather than four, his reluctance to employ a twin strike force away from home. But most will forgive the inconsistency that has dogged the opening games, having seen glimpses of what might be.
At this point Latics are in a mid-table position with a record of W3 D1 L3. However, the W2 D1 L0 home record contrasts sharply with the away stats of W1 D0 L3. Latics have not conceded a league goal at home and there is already talk of the DW Stadium becoming a fortress, not to be scaled by visiting teams. Given the woeful home performances of last season, fans can now at least start to look forward to watching their team at the DW. The performance against Scunthorpe was spectacular, and even if those against Doncaster and Crewe were more mundane, they showed that the team can roll up its sleeves and stop the other team from scoring.
Caldwell and his staff have done a remarkable job in recruiting no less than twenty new players, with only the vestiges of those from those of the Rosler era remaining. His immediate target is to inculcate a winning mentality into a club which had lost its way over the previous twelve months. Those new players are not tainted by the lack of self-belief that plagued so many of the squad last season. However, fans will be hoping that the club will enable the new players to settle in much better than those brought in by Rosler last season. It is too early to say if the players Caldwell has brought in are good enough to achieve promotion, but the sheer scale of the reengineering of the playing staff remains impressive.
Not surprisingly a squad of strangers is taking time to gel on the pitch, even if the dressing room might now be a happier place to be. Moreover Caldwell has a young squad, from which some inconsistency in performance is to be expected. Were the majority of those younger players to make the grade this season, helping the club win promotion, they would surely form the backbone of the team for years to come. But nurturing young players within the parameters of promotion bid is asking a lot.
Caldwell’s belief in style of play is not only commendable, but also helps the players to work towards common ends. He is certainly asking a lot from players who have come from clubs where football was played in a different way to come to Wigan and adapt to his style of play. However, he clearly has the belief that they can do it.
Caldwell might have been expected to stick to a consistent formation in each game, giving the players time to adjust to it, to gel. But that has not been the case, the players so often having to switch to different tactical formations. Last Saturday’s substitution of two players after just 40 minutes of play was a shock to many of us and it looked like a young manager making changes too early in the game, leaving himself short of alternatives in the second half. One of the changes was due to injury, but the other was made to enable the team to change to a different shape. It had worked the previous week at Chesterfield so Caldwell boldly tried it again, even if a seasoned manager would have waited at least another twenty minutes to do so.
Caldwell is clearly looking long term, not only in expecting his players to embrace his philosophy of football, but also requiring them to be capable of rapid adjustment to tactical changes.
With a rolling contract Caldwell has minimal job security. However, he continues to have high expectations and has the belief that the players can achieve his targets. Like any football managers he has his detractors, but he has an infectious enthusiasm for the game and a love for the club.
A mid-table position is by no means bad at this stage, while the players continue to gel as a team. The question is how long it will take. Will it happen quickly enough for promotion to be a reality in the current season?