The 2014-15 season will be remembered as among the worst in Wigan Athletic’s history. Ironically Uwe Rosler had put together a squad that, on paper at least, was as good as any other in the Championship division.
How Latics could have suffered relegation with the talent they had at their disposal beggared belief. But the reality was that by the end of April, under their third manager of the season, the unthinkable happened and Latics were heading for League 1.
Why it happened remains open to debate. The authoritarianism of Rosler, the lack of acceptance of Malky Mackay by the players, divisions between factions recruited by different managers, plus a host of other theories came to the fore during the month of May. But there was a bottom line which all could agree on – last season’s players just did not seem to want to fight to make things better.
Fans wanted players who would be proud to wear the Wigan Athletic shirt, those who would battle against the odds, as so many had done in the club’s rise up the English footballing tree.
Given the seeming lack of commitment from last season’s players, fans were largely supportive of the club’s moves to dispatch so many of them to new clubs. Young chairman, David Sharpe, talked about bringing in the “right kind of player”, someone who was “hungry” and would fight for the cause. But at the same time there were fans who wondered how successful the club’s recruitment team would be in securing the services of such players. Moreover would those players have the quality needed to get the club out of League 1?
Caldwell’s first signing was announced near the end of May. It was a 32 year old on a free transfer from Blackpool, on a one year contract. Latics were going to be his eighth club. Moreover feedback from Blackpool fans was not exactly positive. Why would Caldwell want to sign a player with David Perkins’ track record?
However, some fans remembered Perkins performing well against Latics in the past and others thought that the contract was only for a year, so what was the harm giving the player the chance?
At the time Caldwell had commented “It’s a no brainer for me. I’ve always been impressed with his energy and willingness to give 100 per cent, and we feel he can contribute greatly this season. He is a very combative player, always willing to work hard and I’m delighted to add him to the squad. We’ve been looking at him for a while, I’m sure he can do a good job for us.”
However, despite his comments, Caldwell’s first signing of the summer appeared somewhat underwhelming. Was it a sign of things to come? Would the next signings to be made follow a similar pattern? Free transfers and players appearing to be past their sell-by dates?
But despite initial impressions, Perkins has been the best of Caldwell’s twenty-plus signings up to this point. From the outset Perkins has set the tone, showing the type of commitment so sadly lacking last season. At 33 now, he seems to have more energy than players ten years younger. During a game he never stops running.
But there is more to Perkins’ game than to hassle the opposition. He certainly does that, but it is to his great credit that he has almost seamlessly fitted into the style of football Caldwell espouses. Despite his workhorse image, Perkins has a good left foot and is comfortable with possession football.
The first signing of the summer was to become the first name on Caldwell’s team sheet. Perkins has made 19 starts, more than any other player. Moreover he goes the full 90+ minutes, not one to be substituted. But how good a player is Perkins?
Wigan Athletic fans have always loved a player like Perkins who will run himself into the ground for the cause. His performances speak for themselves. But there are critics who question the player’s ability. There are those who question the performances of a side where Perkins can stand out largely through his commitment. Many would doubt that a team of eleven Perkins(es) would achieve promotion.
For me, there are three moments that encapsulate the huge contribution the Lancashire-born player has made up to this point.
At the end of September, Latics were 2-1 down at home to Millwall going into time added on. Perkins put a lovely pass inside the full back for Tim Chow to provide the cross that was to lead to Will Grigg’s equaliser.
In early October Latics faced high-flying Walsall, but having committed so many forward for a corner in the first half Wigan found themselves short-handed. Tom Bradshaw raced in on goal from a counterattack. But Perkins somehow got back and miraculously blocked the Walsall striker’s shot, saving a near certain goal.
Then last Saturday Latics were 2-0 ahead at Rochdale, in the closing stages. Somehow Perkins was up there supporting the attack. He has never been much of a goalscorer. Moreover at that stage of the game he must have been near-exhausted, given what he had already put into the game. Nevertheless he put in a blockbuster of a shot but was unfortunate to find the goalkeeper at the right place at the right time. The exertion of the shot, following his immense physical contribution to the game, seemed to knock him back. But he is not one to be deterred and finished the game out.
Given Perkins’ huge contribution, a couple of weeks ago Caldwell announced an extension of the player’s contract for another year, stating that:
“Everyone can see what he gives us on the pitch, he’s the sort of player that every team needs and typical of the man, there are no airs and graces, he just gets on with his job day-in, day-out and gives us great consistency. We’re delighted he’ll be here for another season because his experience and energy has been an invaluable asset to the team.”
Perkins himself is clearly enjoying his football at Wigan. On signing his new contract he reflected on his performances time at Wigan compared with his previous clubs:
“I couldn’t be prouder to play for the club, all of the players and staff have been great since I arrived here. It’s one of the most enjoyable times of my career. I’m coming into work and actually enjoying it, over the last two or three years I’ve not enjoyed my football at all, and it became more of a job whereas now it’s my passion again and I look forward to every day at this club.”
It could be argued that David Perkins is Caldwell’s best signing up to this point. Perkins epitomises the “new era” type of player at Wigan Athletic. He is a key cog in a machine that will fight up to the last minute to get a result, a far cry from what we saw last season.
Perkins might not be the most talented player in the squad, but he should not be underrated. He fits well into Caldwell’s tactical system and that demands some level of skill. At 33 years of age he might well be playing the best football of his career.