The January transfer window was approaching and Wigan Athletic had just lost their fifth game out of the seven they had played under their latest manager. Their line up in that match against Sheffield Wednesday was studded with ex-Premier League players. They were playing a mid-table team with the lowest goals-for record in the division. Sadly it was not to be and Latics went down 1-0. Callum McManaman’s sending off after 68 minutes surely being a contributory factor. The New Year of 2015 saw Latics second from bottom of the Championship with just 20 points from 24 games played.
There are clear parallels between the current New Year period in 2017 and that of a couple of years prior. Latics are once again second from bottom and their new manager yesterday suffered his seventh defeat in nine games in charge. Rumours are already floating around the social media of another fire sale of players, as happened in 2015. But surely the club has learned from recent history? Is another fire sale the answer to turning around the team’s fortunes?
But the fundamentals of the situation of a couple of years ago and that of now differ. In January 2015, the club did it as a means of drastically slashing its wage bill. Malky Mackay was the hapless manager who had to oversee it and patch up his squad, largely with young loanees and free agents on short term contracts. There was surprisingly little uproar from the fans at the time, with the likes of cup final heroes Shaun Maloney, Callum McManaman and Ben Watson being dispatched at bargain prices. People had been so disillusioned by a perceived lack of effort from the players that many did not question that a big shake up was required.
The rumours of the next departures are already floating around the social media. Nathan Byrne to Charlton, Sam Morsy to Barnsley on a permanent deal, Will Grigg to any club willing to pay £2m for him, Adam Le Fondre’s loan from Cardiff to be cut short, currently linked with Scunthorpe. We will doubtless see many more rumours flying around the message boards in the coming weeks. Some will have substance, some not. Once again many fans will welcome a shake-up, with so many players in the current squad being labelled as League 1 players, not of Championship standard.
A current poll on Vital Wigan indicates that 56% of fans believe that Warren Joyce can turn things around if given time. A significant proportion cast the blame for the club’s current predicament on Gary Caldwell and his recruitment team. Others cite Joyce’s inexperience as a manager and the woeful tactics and team selections we have seen over the past couple of months. But how much longer will David Sharpe be willing to wait if Joyce cannot deliver over the coming weeks? Sharpe will hopefully have learned from two years ago when he left it too late in the season to rid the club of Malky Mackay.
Rumours suggest that Joyce is trying to sign 34 year old Dean Whitehead, an experienced higher leagues player, although his better days are behind him. The big question is whether Sharpe will back Joyce with the funds needed to bring in quality reinforcements, a task complicated by the fact that Latics are currently on track back to League 1. Given the recent pronouncements of Jonathan Jackson on the club’s finances it seems more likely that Latics will sell off their prime assets – certainly Will Grigg and possibly Yanic Wildschut – and bring in loannees and experienced players of the ilk of Whitehead on short term contracts. With the prospect of a return to League 1 looming, Jackson and Sharpe will be unwilling to speculate on big money and long term contracts to tempt quality players to come in.
The fire sale of two years ago led to relegation. Repeating such actions this month will surely lead along the same path.
There are dangerous times ahead in the coming weeks.