What was Ryan Nyambe really saying when he made that comment after signing a one-year contract for Wigan Athletic?
Wigan Athletic’s recruitment over this summer has contrasted so much with that of a year ago. At the beginning of last summer, the squad had been threadbare and so many new players had to be brought in. Most of them are still with the club and form the backbone of a squad charged with the task of consolidation in the Championship. Perhaps the most outstanding signing was a 24-year-old Jack Whatmough, with 136 appearances under his belt on a free from Portsmouth. Whatmough went on to be voted Player of the Year.
Recruitment this summer has been a slow process, much to the frustration of the fans. But after weeks of waiting fans were positive about the first new senior squad acquisition over the summer. It was reminiscent of the signing of Whatmough: a young player with lots of prior experience, a free agent. Nyambe is only 24 years old but already has 150 Championship appearances under his belt, together with 29 in League 1.
But there are questions over Nyambe’s signing. Why was he signed on a one-year deal? Moreover, reports from Blackburn fans suggest that the player excels in a defensive role but is not so proficient on the attacking side. Given Leam Richardson’s expectation for full backs to push forward is Nyambe the right kind of player to bring in?
However, although Nyambe’s preferred position is right back he has also played in the centre of defence and at left back.
The 5ft 10 in tall Welshman played off target man centre forward Ross Stewart when on loan at Sunderland last season, scoring 10 goals in 15 League 1 starts and 10 appearances off the bench. He had a previous loan spell with Burton Albion in 2019-20 making 10 league starts and 2 appearances as a substitute, scoring 2 goals. Although his specialist position is as a striker he can play in wide positions. But how will Broadhead primarily be used in Wigan’s system?
Nyambe and Broadhead are welcome additions. But with the squad still in need of reinforcement fans are hoping that more new players will be coming in sooner rather than later, having seen what has happened in the past.
In their last season in the Championship, 2019-20, they signed multiple players around the start of the season, with more arriving later during August. Prior to the first game against Cardiff City on August 3 they had picked up four new players in July with Jamal Lowe and Dujon Sterling signing on August 1. Kieffer Moore signed on August 5, Tom Pearce on August 8 and Charlie Mulgrew a day later. The starting line up in the last game of August against Barnsley included five players who had not played against Cardiff.
Paul Cook’s team got off to a poor start in 2019-20 winning just one and drawing two of their first seven league games. With so many changes in playing staff it was going to take the team a long time to gel.
However, it is an entirely different situation this time around. The massive recruitment drive of last summer was aimed at not only putting together a squad good enough to get the club out of League 1, but to provide a nucleus that would serve in the Championship. A handful of new signings, several of whom will be loanees, are expected to come in to complement a settled squad.
Leam Richardson’s team has made by no means a bad start to the season. A cautious 0-0 draw at home to Preston was followed by a courageous performance in drawing 1-1 at title favourites Norwich. As expected, Richardson stuck with his trusted senior pros and his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, building on the momentum of last season’s successes.
James McClean summed it up in a post-match interview “We have a mindset in that dressing room where we know what quality we have and we are not going into every game to survive or settle for a draw. We are going out to win every game because we know the quality we have. The lads will fight to the death for each other and that shows, we have a positive mindset every time we step onto the pitch.”
Keeping up that morale among the squad is crucial to Latics’ consolidation as a Championship club. That high morale is surely down to Richardson and his staff. Last season it was maintained throughout despite the manager’s loyalty to certain players at the expense of others. Many managers will regularly rotate the starting line-ups, not hesitating to make substitutions if things are not going to plan. It is quite the opposite with Richardson, but perhaps through personal charisma, he has managed to minimise any disgruntlement of players regularly left out of the starting eleven.
Bringing in “the right kind” of new players will be key to Wigan’s fortunes this season. It is not only the attitudes of incoming players and the way they react to the status quo, but it is also how they will fit into what Nyambe referred to as a “unique style of play”. The current team is physically strong and resilient. It typically involves playing with a big target man up front, with the full backs pushing well forward. At its best it produces results. At its worst it can revert to a route one approach.
The physicality of Richardson’s team served them well in League 1 but needs moderation in a higher division. Even in League 1 there were teams whose players went to ground easily against Wigan’s muscular approach. This is likely to happen much more in a division sandwiched between the combative League 1 and the Premier League where skilful players are protected from over-physical challenges by strict – some would say overstrict – refereeing.
Last season Richardson varied his formation, switching between 4-2-3-1 and what can loosely be described as 3-4-3. The latter formation not only helped provide tactical variation but allowed some players flexibility in their roles. In 3-4-3 Callum Lang was not so confined to the right wing, but able to move into the space around the central striker. It might well prove to be his best role. It can also be adapted to playing twin strikers: Josh Magennis and Stephen Humphries were employed during Lang’s absence through injury. Has Broadhead has been signed largely to play in that front three? Will he be played in a wide position in 4-2-3-1?
The injury to Jack Whatmough in the Preston game gave Jason Kerr the chance to play his first league game as a centre half in a back four. He was outstanding at Norwich, arguably Latics’ Man of the Match. In his previous games he had been used only on the right-hand side of a back three, a position he had excelled in at St Johnstone.
Richardson prefers a left footer in the left of central defence. Despite having no prior experience in the second tier and now 31 years old, Curtis Tilt has performed well in the first two games in that position. Tilt’s positional sense, physicality and heading ability could play an important part. It was rumoured that Latics wanted Kell Watts back on loan to compete for that left central position, but injury has put paid to that possibility. Should no additions be made to the squad Richardson will have to employ a right footer, perhaps Kerr or Nyambe, in that position.
Bristol City visit the DW Stadium on Saturday on the back of defeats to Hull City and Sunderland. In the financial year ending 2021 they made a loss of £38.4m. To avoid falling foul of the EFL’s Profit and Sustainability rules they have been trimming their budget, releasing high earners and seeking transfer revenue. Their owner, Steve Lansdown, is seeking outside investment for the club, having put a huge amount of money into it over two decades. In June he once again wrote off £15m of club debt by converting it into shares. Over the previous two years he had written off a sum of £81m in the same manner. The club remains £79m in debt. City are not the only Championship club that has massively overspent to get into the Premier League. It has been such a common occurrence.
The weekend encounter will most likely involve ex-Latics favourites Kal Naismith and Joe Williams. One wonders if Richardson will accommodate a returning Jack Whatmough and show faith in Jason Kerr by switching to a back three. It will be a fascinating encounter between two clubs in very differing situations. Perhaps Latics will have more new signings announced by then?