“We’re probably looking at bringing in four or five new players”
So said Gary Caldwell at the end of May.
The manager has since brought in Adam Bogdan, Jake Buxton, Dan Burn, Alex Gilbey, Kyle Knoyle and Nick Powell, in addition to signing Stephen Warnock on a permanent contract. He also has Emyr Huws and Andrew Taylor back from season-long loans.
Yesterday Caldwell was quoted as saying that:
“I think you can see we still need certain players to come into certain positions”. Hopefully before next Saturday we can add not just one but a few new faces to the group.”
So why has the manager changed his mind about how many new players he needs? Is he saying it to rouse those players who have failed to impress during the close season? Or does he feel that there are not enough players in his squad up to challenging the best in the Championship? Given the club’s short-term financial situation is he going to be able to be able to offer the salaries necessary to recruit players of such quality?
The pre-season has been less than impressive. There are worrying parallels between it and that of two years ago under Uwe Rosler. In the latter case too many players came out of the pre-season injured and others were palpably unfit to play a full ninety minutes of Championship football. There have been a number of injuries in this pre-season too, although managers tend to err on the side of caution by leaving out players who have niggling injuries who would otherwise have played if it were a league game.
In the past we had come to expect managers to play their first choice players as close as possible to a full 90 minutes in the final game of the pre-season. But last summer Caldwell used 20 players in the game at Blackburn, with only Craig Morgan, David Perkins and Max Power playing the full 90. For the Fleetwood game last Friday he used only 15 players, with 7 playing the whole game.
Latics announced the players’ squad numbers today. The name of Andrew Taylor did not appear in the list of 25 senior squad players. The squad includes four goalkeepers, one of whom will be leaving, on loan or by permanent transfer, within the coming weeks. The most likely is Lee Nicholls and rumour suggests that MK Dons will bid for him. Speculation surrounds the future of Emyr Huws, who has once again has picked up an ankle injury, making him unavailable for the last three warm up matches. Latics are reputed to be looking to offload the player for a fee of around £2m, with Leeds United being the latest suitors. Jason Pearce is almost certainly on his way, probably to Charlton.
Should those four players depart, Latics will be down to a squad of 21, hence making room for at least three new players. Given the excellent form of the 18 year old Luke Burke in the pre-season, Caldwell could take up the option of bringing him up to the senior squad. .
Caldwell has pinpointed the need to bring in players in “certain positions”. One of those will be at right back, following Kyle Knoyle’s long term injury. Another will be in midfield, given Huws’ expected departure. Latics have been linked with Sheffield United full back, John Brayford, although the Yorkshire club would expect a sizeable fee. Rumours persist that they are seeking the services of Leon Osman, born locally, who made over 350 appearances for Everton over 16 seasons. The midfielder is 35 years old and is accustomed to a Premier League salary. However, a one year contract might well be in the offing.
There are reports that Caldwell is also chasing Millwall centre forward Lee Gregory, who was a major force in the London club reaching the League 1 playoff final last season. The 6 ft 2 in ex-Halifax Town player is pacey and scored 27 goals last season. However, strikers don’t come cheap and Millwall will ask for a fee of around £1.5 m.
But if Latics were to sign Gregory how would it affect Will Grigg? Caldwell is loath to play with twin strikers and some fans see the hunt for Gregory as the prelude to the departure of Grigg for a hefty transfer fee. Interestingly Craig Davies’ squad number has been changed from number 10 to number 21. It may be of minor significance, but could it signify a new player coming in to take the number 10 shirt? Moreover is Davies’ stay at Wigan nearing a close? Would Caldwell be looking at Grigg and Gregory alternating in the central striker position?
The signings of players of the quality of Brayford, Osman and Gregory would add to the squad. David Sharpe is certainly not averse to putting up money for key transfers, but will want to keep tabs on what will be happening to the wage bill one year from now when parachute payments cease. Given that proviso the arrivals of the three players would be a distinct possibility.
Caldwell has certainly changed his mind over the quality of the squad that won League 1. He now recognises the need to reinforce it more profoundly than he was thinking at the end of May. He needs a squad strong enough to establish itself in the Championship, with a mid-table position by the end of the season being a likely goal.
There are likely to be at least three new faces coming in, but there could be more, depending on outgoings.
It is going to be an interesting week.