What did IEC achieve at Wigan Athletic?

The IEC announcement of the sale of Wigan Athletic to Next Leader Fund L.P. was certainly carefully worded. However, it provided a chilling overview of the task facing the new ownership.

The IEC purchase of the club from the Whelan family was finalised in November 2018, but a little over a year later they gave notice of their intention to sell-up.

IEC had provided a vision of Latics becoming a club which would make itself sustainable by the development of home-grown talent through the academy system. Although they were not going to throw huge amounts of money around in a frantic rush, they nevertheless hoped to get the club back into the Premier League over a period of years, providing prudent financial backing.

The investments made by IEC in improving the academy facilities signaled a rise to Category 2 status, providing the U18 and U23 teams a healthier environment against more challenging opposition. IEC supported a wage bill that was modest by Championship standards, but far outweighed the revenue coming in. Moreover, last summer they provided money for the transfer market for Latics to sign players whose combined market value would surely appreciate. Four were in their early to mid-twenties: Antonee Robinson (22), Tom Pearce (22), Joe Williams (23), Jamal Lowe (25). Kieffer Moore was 27. Robinson, Pearce and Williams had played at Championship level before. Lowe and Moore had not played above League 1 and would need time to adjust to playing in the higher division. IEC’s investments in those players appeared well-judged at the time.

In order to do the above IEC say they invested over £44m in total in Wigan Athletic.

A wealth of information on the process by which IEC dealt with the sale of the club, its assets and debts can be found in the Investor Relations section of the IEC website. However, the documents are by no means easy reading for the layman.

It appears that IEC sold their shares to Next Leader for £17.5m. According to the document entitled Completion of Major and Connected Transactions of May 29, 2020 a “loan” of £24.36m provided by IEC to the club was repaid to them:

“In accordance with the Sale and Purchase Agreement, upon Completion, the Company (as the lender) and the Club (as the borrower) entered into the Loan Agreement in an aggregate principal amount of GBP24.36 million (equivalent to approximately HK$232.08 million),and the Deed of Guarantee was also entered into by the Purchaser in favour of the Company along with the Loan Agreement. Details and background of the Loan Agreement and Deed of Guarantee are set out in the Circular. Immediately subsequent to the entering into of the Loan Agreement, the Pre-Existing Loan in the amount GBP24.36 million (equivalent to approximately HK$232.08 million) has been repaid to the Company, and as a result, the Club is no longer indebted to the Company.”

The period of ownership of Wigan Athletic by IEC was some 19 months, during which the club has been in the Championship division. In November 2018 when IEC took over Latics were struggling on the field of play. That continued until a 2-1 away win at Leeds in April 2019 sparked a revival that saw them escape the relegation zone. However, accounts published in June 2019 showed that the club had made a net loss of £9.2m, their eighth consecutive loss for the season.

Given the effect of Covid-19 on EFL clubs, lowered average attendances at the DW Stadium and an imbalance in transfer revenues we can expect the losses for the current season to be well above those incurred in 2018-19.

Having bought the club and its debts Next Leader will face a mountain of a task getting the finances of the club in good order.

Were IEC over-optimistic in expecting more on the field of play during their period of ownership? Given the budget that Paul Cook was presented compared with those of rival clubs last season’s placing of 18th in the Championship was by no means a failure. Perhaps IEC, like many fans, were more hopeful of an improved placing this season, given the net investments made in the transfer market last summer? This has been a disappointing season, although the rally in the last six games before the EFL suspended its fixtures provide a ray of hope.

The priority for the club now that the season is about to restart is to avoid relegation. If this were to happen the market values of “prized asset” players would plummet. An added complication is that with the financial hardships that clubs will be facing market transfer values can be expected to decrease over these coming months.

Next Leader must cash in on its main transfer assets to cut down the cumbersome debt that the club has accumulated. If the club plays in the Championship next season it must set its staffing budget at a sustainable level, well below the £19m mark it currently has. The injection of young players from the U23 squad would be a viable option. The likelihood would be that Latics would struggle to avoid relegation under such circumstances, but other clubs will also struggle in the impending financial crisis.

The very existence of the club will be under threat. We can only hope that Next Leader can stay the course and judiciously steer the club back on an even keel. Can that IEC dream of the club sustaining itself through the fruits of its academy and sound investments become a reality?

An initially challenging period is coming for Wigan Athletic

Au Yeung Wai Kay was understating the challenges that he and co-owner Stanley Choi will be facing. Leader Fund L.P. have a mountain to climb over the coming months with the coronavirus pandemic having a huge effect on football club finances.

Comments from Andy Pilley, Fleetwood Town owner, provide a chilling overview of what might happen to English football in general:

“We run the real risk of losing many famous football clubs. It could destroy the integrity of the competitions we love as football supporters. Ultimately the crisis may threaten the very existence of our football clubs if sufficient action is not taken. My concern is that we might have double figures of clubs that go to the wall.”

Huddersfield Town chairman Phil Hodgkinson spelled out the revenue shortfalls that clubs will be facing:

We are in the middle of a pandemic. The Government have confirmed categorically that there will be no crowds at sporting events until such a time where there is a vaccine; that’s looking like it could be 2021. What that means for football, at every level, is that there will be no match day revenue, no income coming through. It’s very unlikely that there will be much through sponsors, advertising, season ticket sales, corporate hospitality, everything. Football will be without income other than broadcast income.”

For the moment Latics must focus themselves on retaining a place in the Championship. All 24 clubs in the division have significant numbers of players whose contracts expire at the end of this month. At Wigan this includes Chey Dunkley, Joe Garner, Michael Jacobs, Lewis MacLeod, Anthony Pilkington and Gary Roberts. The loans of Leon Balogun, Alex Dobre, Keiron Dowell, Jan Mlakar and Dujon Sterling also expire on June 30.

Charlton manager Lee Bowyer last week announced that his key striker Lyle Taylor and full back Chris Solly do not want to play when the season resumes on June 20. Their contracts will be expiring and they do not want to risk injury preventing their moves to other clubs. Birmingham City’s David Davis is currently on loan at Charlton but does not wish to return for the brief period before his loan expires.

The EFL will allow short-term extensions of contacts until the season is completed, but clubs have until June 23 to either offer a new contract or release the player. If a player is not offered a new contract for the 2020-21 season he can be recruited by another club from June 24. That period between June 24 and June 30 could be crucial for clubs seeking promotion or trying to avoid relegation.

With such an uncertain scenario, planning for the 2020-21 season is going to be extremely difficult for football clubs. The pundits have already been saying that large numbers of out of contract footballers will become unemployed as clubs have to severely tighten their financial belts. Some will say that it will be a wake-up call to Championship clubs who have ludicrously lived so far beyond their means for so long. Latics remain one of the better-run clubs but even their revenue does not come close to their outgoings.

Matchday revenues for the current season for Wigan Athletic are unlikely to reach much more than £2m. With a wage bill of some £19m the club has been largely depending on broadcasting revenues and the financial support of the owners to stay afloat. Broadcasting brought in £7.7m in the 2018-19 season, when the club made an operating loss of £9.2m.

In order to slash costs Latics will have to drastically reduce their wage bill. It is unlikely that out of contract players will be offered new contracts unless they are on much-lowered terms or the player has a potentially high resale value. Moreover, we might see a fire sale akin to that executed by Dave Whelan in January 2015 when an expensively assembled squad looked headed towards relegation.

The breakdown of Antonee Robinson’s transfer to AC Milan in March was a bitter blow financially to Latics. The season’s balance sheet will be in negative territory. Over the summer the major assets will most likely be sold off.

The prize asset is Joe Gelhardt and Latics will hope a bidding war between competitive clubs in the Premier League will raise prime income, somewhere between £5m-£10m. However, with figures around £50m being toted for Jude Bellingham at Birmingham City, Latics might regret the minimal game time Gelhardt has been given. Will he be put in the shop window by becoming a more regular starter in the nine matches that remain?

In the long term Latics seem to be on firmer ground. The signing of the 15-year-old prodigy Alfie Divine on professional forms is another masterstroke from a well-oiled Latics academy system.

For more on Devine from the Liverpool Echo click here.

There is a wealth of talent coming from the area and Gregor Rioch’s staff continue to pick up young players of high quality.

In order to survive financially at this level over the long term Latics need to capitalise on an excellent youth setup. The system and staffing at those levels is already in place and delivering outstanding results. The next step is to ensure progression for these youngsters to the upper tiers. Devine is only 15 but has already played for the U23 team.

If Paul Cook can once more save Wigan Athletic from relegation from the Championship the season can be regarded as a relative success, given the budget he was given. Cook has talked so much about shielding Joe Gelhardt from pressure, giving him the right conditioning. There has been much debate as to his treatment of the talented young player. Only time will tell if the manager was right or wrong.

But all of this raises the question of whether Cook is the man to deliver the IEC strategy of developing home-grown talent as a means of survival and growth in the long-term. The academy system is as good as it is going to get for a club at this level. But is Cook the manager who will give young players the right amount of exposure? Gelhardt is an outstanding young talent but has only made 3 starts all season in a team short of creativity and goal-scoring threat.

Many things will change over summer at Latics, as will be the case in other clubs. The bottom line for us is that the club survives the crisis imposed on English football by the Coronavirus. But  we cannot expect owners to constantly pump money into an ever-empty pot.

IEC provided a valid blueprint for Latics’ future. We can only hope that ”Leader Fund” can help deliver, by providing the financial backing and appointing the staff they need to create the dream.

 

Social media reacts to an awful goalless draw with Luton

Wigan Athletic 0 Luton Town 0

In the 89th minute with the score 0-0 Michael Jacobs put in a right footed centre from the left wing. It went way out of play, epitomising the final touches in Latics’ approach work.

Neither team played much football and a draw was a fair result. It will hurt Luton far more than Wigan, given their position. In the end Latics settled for a draw against the bottom-placed team, unwilling to push players forward to get a victory that could have put them clear of the relegation zone, at least temporarily.

Latics have a mediocre record against teams near them in the table, so it was not great surprise that this did not result in a Wigan win. Before the game started Latics had a record of W1 D2 L3 against teams below them in the table.

It was an awful game, with football the loser. Gone was the flowing football we have seen in recent games. Predictably, given past performance, it was largely long-ball from Latics, which put little pressure on Luton’s defence. Their centre backs had a comfortable time as they and Croatian goalkeeper, Simon Sluga, gobbled up the hopeful crosses that Latics put into the box.

This was an acid test for Paul Cook. Once again, his team selection, substitutions and tactics pointed to a “not to lose” approach. It was so depressing after the invigorating performances that preceded it.

Playing not to lose can be justifiable when playing against teams of higher technical level and achievement. Against the bottom-placed team it was not appropriate.

Our thanks go to the Cockney Latic Forum, the Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum and Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen. Thanks go to all whose contributions are identified below.

FrancosLoveChild on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

That was as gutless as it can get. Horrible to watch. Players don’t seem to have the character to step up in 6 pointers. Players need to learn how to man up in pressure games. Only positive we didn’t lose and have not conceded in just over 360 minutes of football.

Hindleymonwafc on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

Back to Lowe and Massey floating around with zero effect…. I really do blame the manager for this no energy, no pressing, sit back for the draw outlook. Overhit crosses and sh.t corners it was atrocious to watch. Only Morsy and the defence came out of that well.

Jocklatic on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

It felt like normal service at home had resumed…..very little threat on goal, carrying a few passengers, a distinctive lack of fight & desire given that this was a 6 pointer. We seemed to go into our shell despite the confidence that should be in abundance after our recent performances. Such a shame cos Luton have to be one of the worst sides I’ve seen at the DW this season & given what 3 points would have done for us is a big loss.

Jrfatfan on the Cockney LaticForum said:

Really disappointed with Luton, thought they would have come and give it a go. Probably worse we’ve played for 7-8 games, our final ball was awful from both flanks. Let’s put it down as a bad day at the office, probably best way to look at it.

I think Luton and Barnsley are doomed, its then one from about 8.

Made in Wigan on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

They often say the scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story. Today the scoreline told the whole story.

Whilst the performance was pretty much as I expected I thought we’d be narrowly be beaten so a draw was a bonus to a degree. I don’t buy that Luton did a job on us- they really needed to beat us and never looked like doing so. They were shite, so were we, but a point to maintain that gap is better for us.

As I thought beforehand we were too concentrated on not losing as opposed to having the desire to win, Typical Cook in a 6 pointer so whilst I’m not surprised I’m not too disappointed either. Balogun and Morsy played well but other than those two there wasn’t much to be enthusiastic about. Take a point and move on.

The_Pon on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

Absolutely bloody awful game. I’d really struggle to think of anything to put in highlights.

Luton are the worst team I’ve seen. Literally no quality whatsoever… How we can beat Reading by three and best Leeds and WBA away, then not beat them is totally baffling. By what I saw today, they are a League Two calibre side. Not that we are stellar, but we should be beating dross like that at a canter.

That said, it’s kind of what I expected. We’ve played well in recent games, and the only thing we do consistently is be inconsistent, so we were more than due a poor showing. Just glad the opposition this time was so bad they couldn’t take advantage.

Grumpy on the Cockney LaticForum said:

Cook got out thought by Jones in that one and we are now back in the sh..t, it looked to me like he’s after 10 draws before today to get us over the line.

Exiled tic on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

Not a good match at all but I am a lot happier than the Luton fans who could not understand why they seemed to be happy with a draw and wasted time all the match! Hull and Charlton seem to be on a steep downward spiral. Really think we will be more than alright come seasons end!!

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Will Wigan Athletic’s upsurge in results continue?

Sam Morsy’s well-taken blast into the West Bromwich net has given Wigan Athletic a massive boost. Three wins in the space of a week have propelled them up the Championship table. They now stand in 19th place, two points above the relegation zone. A win against lowly Luton Town on Saturday could see them climb further out of trouble, but there are fans who question whether that will happen despite the recent upturn in performances and results.

Paul Cook must certainly take credit for the upsurge in results. The seeds of the revival were sown following an abject defeat at Kenilworth Road in early December. Following a winless November, it had looked that Latics could get an uplift by picking up three points against a bottom-placed Luton side.

But students of Cook’s Wigan were already citing mediocre results over the previous 16 months against teams in the lower rungs of the table. It was hardly a surprise to them when Luton scored two late goals to secure their win. Once again, we had seen Wigan Athletic players in an away game looking both clueless and legless in the closing minutes. There was only one team trying to play football in this game: it wasn’t Wigan. Fightball/longball once again failed under Cook’s tutelage.

Cook made seven changes for the next game against league leaders West Bromwich Albion. With Chey Dunkley suspended and Charlie Mulgrew injured Cedric Kipre was brought in with Kal Naismith reverting to the centre of defence and Josh Windass was played at centre forward. Naismith’s passing out of defence was a feature of that game, and the long ball approach hardly reared its ugly head in the absence of a combative target man upfront. Kipre  made a succedssful return to the centre of defence.  Latics had to settle for a draw largely due to a goalkeeping error, but they had been the better team throughout.

Although results remained disappointing in the rest of December the performances were much better. Passing the ball out from the back had become more normal, even if the long ball had not disappeared entirely.

Following the memorable victory at the Hawthorns on Saturday captain Sam Morsy commented:

“People will say there has been a change but all season – I know you can’t – but if you take the last five or ten minutes from some of the games, we would be right up the league. It is not a dramatic or drastic change that we have made…. It has been fine margins and we can’t look back, this isn’t drastic change, we have played well for the majority of the season, but if you don’t win games then things get looked at, the reality is that we have done well and not got the points but this week has been a great week.”

What Morsy did not mention was that the transition from longball/hoofball to a more possession-based approach. The long ball remains a feature of Cook’s football philosophy, but it is being counterbalanced by an emphasis on retaining possession. As a result, the players no longer visibly wilt in the closing minutes after constantly having to chase the opposition to regain possession which has been squandered. Moreover, the change in emphasis has given the players more opportunity to express themselves and so many of them look better as a result.

Morsy himself has looked a far better player over the past couple of months. He has not only cut out the unnecessary yellow cards that had been so prevalent but is playing a much more constructive role going forward. His surging runs from deep in midfield have helped open opposition defences and he is showing much more ambition in his passing.

Following a run of games at centre forward Josh Windass left for a loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday in January. With Windass’ departure some of us wondered if it would signal a return to a long ball with Joe Garner and Kieffer Moore on the receiving end. But it was not to be the case, with Moore looking a much better player as a result. With Latics defenders constantly looking to launch long balls in his general direction he was struggling in his first season in the Championship. But over the past couple of months he has received better service, scoring goals, holding the ball up with strength and intelligence.

Cook’s action of putting Naismith and Kipre together in the centre of defence in December was perhaps one of desperation at the time. Naismith had performed admirably in that position in the landmark 2-1 win at Leeds in April 2019, but he had hardly been considered as a centre back since then. Kipre’s performances earlier in the season had been disappointing and the promise he had shown since his arrival from Motherwell in the summer of 2018 seemed to have evaporated. However, playing together the two players really gelled: the passing out of the ball from the centre of defence became much improved and their reading of the game was as good as any we had seen from central defenders all season.

In the last five games loan signing Leon Balogun has played with Kipre in the centre of defence. Despite a patchy career record where he never found himself an automatic starter in the Bundesliga, with Fortuna Dusseldorf and Mainz, the 31-year-old has looked so impressive, with some fans even calling him the Wigan Van Dijk. Kipre has continued to blossom with his new central defensive partner and has been excellent of late.

Since that low point at Luton there has been a gradual improvement in performance, if not always in results. The centre of defence has become increasingly more solid, the midfield more involved in linking up play between defence and attack. The centre forward is getting better service and Latics are pushing more men forward into the opposition penalty box. Moreover, the “rub of the green” has been more in Wigan’s favour, after being against them for so long.

The tide really does seem to have turned and some fans are already talking about a final placing in mid-table. Others question whether the revival will continue under a manager who has struggled at this level. They accept that Cook will be at the club until summer at least, but question whether he has learned from his mistakes. The hoofball may have largely disappeared and the players are showing better game management when holding on to leads, but there are other aspects upon which they remain to be convinced.

Under Cook’s tenure as manager Latics have had poor results against clubs close to them in the standings. The League 1 title winning team of 2018-19 had a less than stellar record against promotion rivals and last season’s team performed poorly against teams near the bottom of the table. The manager’s critics will say that he has gone into such games with too much caution, allowing the opposition too much respect.

This season’s team also has a less than impressive record in that respect. Their record against clubs currently below them in the table reads W1 D2 L3. It is for these reasons that there are fans who are not convinced that an in-form Latics will put Luton to the sword of Saturday.

The Luton game is an acid test and could be a turning point in Cook’s tenure as Latics manager. A win would relieve relegation fears but anything less than that would suggest that the manager had still not addressed the issue of poor results against relegation rivals.

Stats courtesy of Soccerstats.com

The wingers need to deliver if Latics are to avoid relegation

Les Campbell front extreme left, Harry Lyon centre, Allan Brown second right, Walter Stanley front extreme right

In the mid 1960’s Allan Brown’s Wigan Athletic team played a really entertaining brand of football. The excellent wingers, Les Campbell and Walter Stanley, would put over a stream of tantalizing crosses for the twin strikers to feed on. No wonder that Latics scored 121 goals in the 1964-65 season, when they won the Cheshire County League. Centre forward Harry Lyon led the scoring with 67 goals in all competitions.

How would a player like Lyon do these days in the era of the inverted winger? Lyon was a superb header of the ball, who could shoot with both feet. Sometimes one seemed to know that a goal was coming as soon as a cross was launched from the wing.

Playing on the widest position on the pitch, wingers must have near perfect ball control and the ability to make plays in tight spaces without playing the ball out of play. The winger spends much of his time running down balls played ahead of him, racing by fullbacks with the ball at his feet and tracking back down the wing to defend.

A good winger will also have a consistent and threatening cross. After passing a fullback, the winger needs a quick and accurate trigger foot to feed the strikers. Many of the great wingers have been great dribblers, but there are effective wingers who are not necessarily world class dribblers but have lightning speed. Others are somehow able to squeeze out crosses in the tightest of spaces without beating their man.

Given  the above it appears logical to play a winger on his ‘natural foot’.  Having the strong foot closest to the sideline provides more control and enables the delivery of dangerous outswinging crosses. Strikers with a physical presence, who are strong in the air and know where to position themselves for crosses are best served by natural wingers.

The role of the winger has changed in recent years, and gone are the days when all the winger had to do was make runs up and down the lines as they try to outmanoeuvre the full-back and cross into the penalty area.

An inverted winger (inside-out winger) shows more diagonal movement than a natural winger. A left-footed player will occupy a position on the right flank and a right-footer will play off the left. The tactic that has become commonplace in football over the past decade or so.

With the centres of defences so heavily policed, players Gareth Bale and Arjen Robben on the right and Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez on the left have been so effective. The frequent attack pattern of an inverted winger is cutting inside from the wing, which can be completed by shooting with the strong foot or an accurate through ball played at an angle of ninety degrees. Scrappy, poaching strikers content to drop back and pick up loose balls in the box can thrive playing alongside inverted wingers.

hold back and pick up loose balls in the box can thrive playing alongside inverted wingers.

In Paul Cook’s first season as manager at Wigan wingers played key roles in both attack and defence. With natural wingers Gavin Massey or Ryan Colclough on the right and inverted winger Michael Jacobs on the left Latics had a real cutting edge. Jacobs went on to score 13 goals, Colclough and Massey each notching 5 in that 2017-18 season in League 1.

Colclough left at the summer of 2018 and Jacobs and Massey both had injury problems in the course of the 2018-19 season. But Jacobs went on to score 4 goals in 22 appearances in the Championship, Massey notching 5 from 17.

It has been sad to see the wingers struggle this season. Massey was injured when the season started and found his place occupied by new signing Jamal Lowe. Since his return he has not been able to reach the levels he attained previously. Being played so often on the left wing, where he looks like a fish out of water, has hardly helped.

Jacobs has once again been bugged by injuries and has looked a pale shadow of what we have seen before. His critics will say that he is a League 1 player who is not up to it at Championship level. However, under Gary Caldwell and Warren Joyce in the Championship in 2016-17 he was one of the first names on the team sheet, going on to make 46 appearances.

Lowe has certainly enjoyed the backing of the manager. Despite his indifferent form he has made 33 appearances up to this point. Lowe arrived with some hype, having scored 15 goals for Portsmouth last season. His critics consider him too lightweight in possession and he has not yet made the transition to the second tier.

Anthony Pilkington has proved himself in the Premier League and his quality is there for all to see. But fitness is a major issue for the player. Pilkington was signed after making just one start in the 2017-18 Championship season for Cardiff.  He has made only 13 starts in the Championship since joining Latics in the summer of 2018. Pilkington is rare among modern wingers in that he is genuinely two footed and can look as effective on the left as the right.

Kal Naismith originally joined Latics as a left winger but his versatility has seen him being used as a left back and centre back. It is in the latter position that he has impressed most and was becoming one of the most consistent performers until the Preston game when things did not go well for him, among others. With the inclusion of Leon Balogun at Cardiff and the impending return of Chey Dunkley from suspension it appears that Naismith’s chances of resuming his blossoming partnership in the centre of defence with Cedric Kipre are numbered. Will Cook return him to his original left wing role?

Kieffer Moore’s signing last summer was met with general approval by Latics fans last summer, although there some who questioned whether the manager’s intention was to sign a player who would further enable him to continue with his long ball tactics. Moore has had a torrid time with the lack of service from the wings hardly helping. Moore is the kind of old-fashioned centre forward who would have thrived in the era of natural wingers. But his tally of one headed goal in 23 appearances indicates the quality of crosses he has received. With the wingers frequently moving diagonally it has often been the full backs who have made the crosses into the box.Moreover too much of Moore’s effort has been wasted in chasing long balls some thirty yards from the opposition goal with his back to it.

The wingers should be playing key roles in not only creating chances but scoring too.

Last season wingers scored 13 league goals for Latics, at an average of one every 3.5 games. So far this season wingers have scored 5 league goals in 33 games, an average of one every 6.6 games.

Cook needs wingers who are fully fit, played in their best positions and in-form. Given the indifferent form of so many of them there is a case for giving Bournemouth loan player Alex Dobre an opportunity.