The January transfer window was approaching and Wigan Athletic had just lost their fifth game out of seven under their latest manager. They were second from bottom of the Championship with 20 points from 24 games, but just three points behind the pack above the relegation zone.
That was in the 2014-15 season and the manager was Malky Mackay. A couple of seasons later they were in another precarious position in early January with 19 points from 25 games, six points behind that pack. Warren Joyce had been appointed manager on November 2, 2016. He was dismissed on March 13, 2017 after achieving 6 wins in 24 matches.
In both instances the club had appointed new managers in November following a run of poor results. They made sweeping changes in their playing staffs during the month of January, but the results did not improve, and relegation was not going to be avoided.
Kolo Toure too was also appointed in the month of November and faces an uphill task as did Mackay and Joyce.
The “fire sale” of January 2015 was a means of drastically slashing the wage bill. There was surprisingly little uproar from the fans at the time, with cup final heroes 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 fans were not over-concerned about the outgoings of January 2017, many players in the squad being labelled as League 1 players, not of Championship standard.
Changes of manager during the course of a season is always a gamble. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The newcomer typically wants to bring in his own men, supposedly to fit into the style of football he prefers, but also to rid himself of players loyal to his predecessor who are not fully supportive.
A run of three 4-1 defeats has been a hammer blow following what we had seen in Toure’s first two games. A composed display at Millwall brought in a well-deserved point. Latics were not expected to get a good result against a high-flying Sheffield United side, built upon a budget dwarfing that of Wigan. But after going two goals behind after 56 minutes Latics began to show the kind of “bravery on the ball” that Toure was seeking. “Hopeful long balls” from defence were minimised and the quality of their football was of a level that we had not seen for a long time. However, the visitors’ first half goal was gifted by woeful marking from a set piece. Sadly, the marking got worse in the following three games which resulted in resounding defeats.
Toure continues to work on a transformation in style and approach that would have ideally been worked on in pre-season. However, his more immediate priority is to tighten up his defence, stopping those “soft” goals being conceded. Although he may have a clear vision of what type of football he wants his team to play, he must also be pragmatic. Expansive, aesthetically pleasing football might be a delight to watch, but with his team under threat of relegation he must put an emphasis on solid defence. This does not imply a return to the hoofball we saw too often over the past year, which would concede possession and invite the opposition to put more pressure on the Wigan defence. But the transition from long ball/hoofball to building up moves from the back must be phased in.
Toure has made it clear that he is looking towards bringing in new players who can fit into the style he wants to implement. However, before bringing in new players he must shed some from his current squad to balance the books. There are almost certainly players in the squad who are uncomfortable with the demands of the new manager and will ask to be released this month. However, the departure of Graeme Shinnie on loan to Aberdeen was a surprise. Of all the midfielders in the squad Shinnie looked like the one who would fit best into Toure’s scheme. However, the Scot clearly did not feature in the manager’s plans. Shinnie’s departure coincided with strong rumours that Latics are interested in Conor Wickham, recently released from Forest Green Rovers by mutual consent. Wickham is a big target man, 32 years old, who has a less than impressive career strike record. Is this simply a rumour??
There will certainly be incomings and outgoings over the month of January. However, history at the club has shown that too much change can be counterproductive. The fire sale of January 2015 was followed by further upheaval in January 2017: neither led to an improvement in the playing staff or performances.
Toure recently stated that:
“If we want to sign players, then they need to improve us and make us much better than we are at the minute.”
Let’s hope the manager and the recruitment team can do a better job than was done in 2015 and 2017. Failure to do so will most likely mean that Kolo Toure will be following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Malky Mackay and Warren Joyce.