Just a couple of weeks ago most Wigan Athletic supporters were hoping and praying that the “New Era” duo of Gary Caldwell and David Sharpe would find a way to make Yanic Wildschut a Latics player. The Dutchman had made an impact comparable to that of Amr Zaki in the Steve Bruce era or even Keith Gillespie a long time before that. But unlike the other two who were also on loan, Yanic Wildschut signed a contract with Wigan Athletic some 12 days ago.
Caldwell and Sharpe made a major investment on the part of the club to invest in Wildschut. The best case scenario is that the player will play a major role in Latics’ promotion push and that his transfer value will soon rise above the fee reputed to be £600,000 rising towards £1m with add-ons. The worst case scenario is that the duo bowed to fan pressure to sign a player who does not fit into Caldwell’s tactical system.
Since his permanent signing Wildschut has not made the starting lineup. He came on as substitute for Haris Vuckic on 62 minutes with Latics already 2-0 up against Sheffield United, but the game eventually finished 3-3. Then he came on for Jordy Hiwula after 80 minutes against Chesterfield. So why is one of the most expensive and the most spectacular players in the squad not making the starting lineup?
Yanic Wildschut is still only 24, with the potential to become a top player in any of Europe’s leagues. He is lightning fast, has tremendous power in his right foot and has a left foot that his fellow countryman and big money signing, Memphis Depay, does not seem to possess. But he has been the frustration of so many of his previous managers who have not been able to help him become the finished article.
Wildshut started his career in the Ajax Amsterdam academy but moved on to second division FC Zwolle before joining first division VVV Venlo, where he made 68 appearances, scoring 11 goals over two years. He left for Heerenveen when Venlo got relegated. But halfway through his first season he was sent off on loan to Ado Den Haag. From there he went to Middlesbrough for a fee reputed to be around £300,000.
Wildschut has been a frustration for so many managers. A throwback to the past when wingers were primarily attackers, with less defensive duties. Defence is not his forte. But could a player run with his kind of intensity if weakened by the defensive duties?
He certainly did not fit into Aitor Karanka’s plans at Middlesbrough. Mourinho’s ex-assistant expects wingers to tackle back and help their full backs. He has made Albert Adomah a more complete player in that respect, as did Mourinho with Joe Cole.
But Karanka has not been negative with the media about Wildschut. He recently commented that:
“I don’t have any doubt that he is a Championship player and why not a Premier League player? He has everything but sometimes it was difficult for him to play here. I don’t have any doubts though that he is a really good player and when he matures he is going to be a really good player because he is talented, he is strong, he is fast, so he is going to be successful.”
So how can Caldwell get the best out of Wildschut? Is he going to be the super-sub who causes devastation when the opposition tires? Or will he be a regular starter offering a consistent input, both offensively and defensively?
Much will depend on the formation that Caldwell puts out. Wildschut’s preferred position is on the left wing. But how can that fit into Caldwell’s preferred 3-4-3? In recent games the 3-4-3 has really been a 3-4-2-1, with a lone centre forward and two “number 10s” playing behind him. The system has worked well with Michael Jacobs and Haris Vuckic flourishing in their forward/midfield roles.
But in Roberto Martinez’s time he operated 3-4-3 with Callum McManaman in a fairly orthodox right wing role, despite having an Emmerson Boyce at right wing back. Before that Victor Moses enjoyed a similar, if more mobile, role.
Wildschut’s preferred position is on the left wing, from where he can cut in and shoot with his right foot. He can also operate as an orthodox right winger. But could Wildschut play in other positions?
Some fans have advocated playing him as a central striker. Given his ferocious shooting that does not sound such a bad idea, but would his electric pace be wasted playing as a target man so often with his back towards the goal?
Others advocate giving him a free role in attacking midfield where he can use his pace to run at defences.
On completing Wildschut’s permanent transfer to Wigan Caldwell told the club’s official site that “On his day, he has already shown us what he can do and how devastating he can be. He’s not the finished article yet, he will be the first to admit that, but his potential is huge and we are delighted that it is here in Wigan that we can both work together for the long-term.”
Can Caldwell unlock that potential in the big Dutchman and help him become the finished article? Other managers have tried before without great success. Caldwell must first define exactly how Wildschut fits into his tactical planning, with the possibility of using the player in a variety of roles.
If Caldwell can get it right in the more immediate future it could well propel Latics back into the Championship division.