An underwhelming transfer window for Wigan Athletic

Has this been the worst-ever transfer window for Latics?

The net result:

OUT

  • Charlie Mulgrew – chose to go back to Blackburn.
  • Josh Windass – on loan to Sheffield Wednesday.
  • the unwanted and largely untried Devante Cole signed for Doncaster Rovers.

IN (on loan):

  • Alex Dobre – 21 year-old Romanian winger from Bournemouth. 36 appearances (2 goals) on loan at Bury, Rochdale and Yeovil over past three seasons.
  • Jan Mlakar – 21 year-old Slovenian centre forward from Brighton. 6 Championship appearances on loan for QPR last season, no goals. Previously at Fiorentina, Venezia and Maribor.
  • Leon Balogun – 31 year-old Nigerian central defender from Brighton. 8 Premier League appearances last season. A total of 85 appearances in the Bundesliga for Hannover, Werder Bremen, Fortuna Dusseldorf and Mainz.

Comments:

  1. The Jedi move collapse was a shame for everyone. The fee will go down and dramatically so if Latics are relegated as seems likely given the fact the team is weaker than when the window began, and now Robinson is unsettled.
  2. Josh Windass out — who was one of the few rays of hopes in recent times when Cook started playing him (though sadly, it appears he was only played in order to shift him off the wage bill). A frustrating player but in the right hands could go on to be good at this level. He has a contract at Wigan until summer 2021. Is it a loan-to-buy deal with Wednesday?
  3. Mlakar – hasn’t scored for any single club except Maribor, which suggests he hasn’t adapted well culturally on or off the pitch in either Italy or England. Is he a desperation last minute addition?
  4. Dobre – scored one goal in 21 appearances for Yeovil in League Two. Lowe scored a bunch for Pompey in League One and has struggled. So… hopes are not high.
  5. Balogun looks the most positive on paper — experience and pedigree, at least. But no small detail: hasn’t really played football for two years.

Latics would surely have counted on the Jedi money and had some signings lined up. But they weren’t willing to spend the money when it fell through, in particular, given the perilous league position which is very much down to the manager’s poor performance at Championship level.

The new ownership is running this club as a business, unlike most Chinese owners, and if you do the math and statistical analysis, the crazy January spending most clubs do is bananas and loans are a good way to go.

However, if you do go the loan route you need a manager with credibility and Cook is hardly that. If you are Klopp or Guardiola, Ancelotti or Rodgers, do you send your talented young player who is finding their way to Cook? No — you send them to Cocu or Lampard or someone with a connection to the club or a defined style of play that will evolve rather than devolve them.

Now the optimistic look:  

Kal Naismith and Cedric Kipre look good at centre back. Midfield is doing better. Lowe’s confidence should take a boost and he’s had half a season in the Championship, is clearly talented, and should improve. Kieffer Moore is also looking much better. Joe Gelhardt got his full debut out the way and perhaps he will be a sensation in this final stretch. The fixture list, particularly at home, is favourable.

The owners have backed the club with investments in the stadium and academy, spending over £8m in the summer transfer window, putting in up to £1m per month to cover running costs. They have a blueprint based upon prudent investment in player recruitment and the development of homegrown talent.

Despite the woes of the senior side the youth and U23 teams continue to shine, with great promise.

 

 

 

High turnover but what’s changed? A perspective on Wigan’s latest window

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Management hates it, the media loves it, fans have little choice but to be glued to it in hope and trepidation. Transfer deadline day is bigger business every year that goes by. It’s one of the ways – the lack of a winter break being the other obvious one – in which the British game likes to make things that bit more complicated (and profitable) than the rest of the world.

For clubs that swapped managers during the first half of the season, the January transfer window has become an opportunity for the new regime to stamp its authority on the squad. Ship out players that don’t fit the tactical model; replace them with players that do; balance the books by shedding big earners and reinvesting in problem positions. It’s a pattern that has become all too familiar at Wigan, with last year’s success in League 1 the notable exception.

There are a couple problems with this approach. First, you have less time in January than in the summer, not only to recruit good players and find a home for high-earning misfits, but just as importantly to provide incomings the tactical and personal adaptation period they need to succeed. On top of that, you have to navigate an inflated market to negotiate fair prices for players, which can be particularly challenging if you appear desperate, as one does in a relegation fight, for example.

Another unpleasant feature of the January transfer window well known to Latics, particularly in the Premier League days, is the risk of losing your most successful players. It tends to be instigated by agents or players themselves, and to materialize in the dying hours of the window, preventing the club from finding an adequate replacement. Sometimes, these decisions become of huge financial importance to the club, and their approval is beyond the manager’s control.

Add to this Wigan’s very limited spending power compared to its Championship competitors – and you realize what a big ask we as fans are making of the manager. It’s worth pausing to put oneself in Warren Joyce’s shoes. There are plenty of arguments claiming the manager should only be judged after a window. I’d take them a step further to suggest that’s still nowhere near enough time. The new players haven’t had a pre-season with him; many will need to adjust to playing at a higher level; all will have to adapt to new surroundings and teammates; and Joyce himself will need to adapt his tactics, having lost his most valuable player.

The counter argument, of course, is that Joyce brought some of these challenges upon himself. Too much turnover is bad for any organization, specially in a short period of time, and the high number of ins and outs will breed instability. Was it really necessary to bring in so many people, so many loanees in particular? Right when the team was gaining some consistency and producing results on the pitch? Plenty to debate. In the meantime, here are some ups and down on another busy window:

Good News: The whopping fee received for Yanic Wildschut (£7.5 million according to Sky,£7 million elsewhere.) It’s hard to take, given his status as Latics’ best attacking threat, with pace and strength to burn, and room to improve. But his finishing was often frustrating, he was inconsistent, and very much rough around the edges. If he had to go, credit is due the club for gaining such a huge profit on their investment.

Bad News: Yanic again. Being gone so late in the window. It’s hard to ignore that Wigan have scored three goals fewer than Rotherham, and yet just sold their most effective attacker.

Good News: In Gabriel Obertan, the club have found as close to a direct replacement as could be expected. We’ll be left to imagine what Joyce’s team might have looked like with two pacey wingers on the pitch. But at least Obertan’s defining attributes are similar to Wildschut’s: pace and strength, some trickery, abundant potential yet inconsistent finishing. He should be entering his peak years, has something to prove, and lots of experience at a higher level. Joyce knows him, he’s apparently a good professional, and they have said encouraging things about each other. The term of contract is short, therefore financial risk is too. All in all, a gamble worth taking.

Bad news: The squad feels unbalanced and bloated. There are a lot of midfielders, but few wingers or attacking playmakers given Nick Powell’s absence. With Obertan almost certain to start, it’s likely Michael Jacobs (in desperate need of a goal) on the other wing, with Colclough, Weir and Browne all unproven backups. Meanwhile, in the centre of midfield, Joyce has Power, Morsy, Perkins, MacDonald, Gilbey, Tunnicliffe, Hanson, Byrne, and Laurent to keep happy. Perhaps some of these players will be used in different positions (Hanson as defensive cover, etc.), but it’s a bloated, uneven squad that Joyce may have a hard time keeping happy.

Good News: Welcome Omar Bogle! He may need time to adapt. But the club beat out competitors to get him, and on paper, he has everything he needs to succeed at Championship level. A lot of hope is resting on his inexperienced shoulders, but if his teammates can provide him service, there is reason to believe. The option of a little-and-large Grigg and Bogle parternship is also intriguing. He’s left-footed, too.

Bad News: Banking on lower division signings is playing with fire. If Grigg is to become injured, Latics are left with Bogle, and Mikael Mandron to lead the line. Both have potential, but their success has come in League 2 and the Conference, respectively. They are completely unproven at this level, and playing with new teammates.

Good News: Alex Bruce appears an astute short-term signing, with potential for a longer stay. Dan Burn and Jake Buxton have developed a useful partnership in recent games, but Bruce is a dependable and experienced head to provide backup, who should also be good to have around the place.

Bad News: He hasn’t played all season due to an Achilles injury.

Good News: Keeping Sam Morsy and Max Power. Much of the attention has been on keeping Morsy, who has performed very well since his return. Power may not have started strongly, but has been steadily improving and remains a player of undoubted potential. Had rumours of his departure materialised, Latics would have lost an opportunity to reap the rewards of blooding him at this level. Good things should come of establishing Power and Morsy as a partnership.

Bad News: Too many loanees. In order to secure loan signings, managers often have to pledge a certain number of game time to the players’ parent clubs. Given the maximum of five loan signings per match-day squad, it looks an impossibility Latics’ recent loan signings will all get their wish to show what they can do. Jakob Haugaard may find himself sacrificed given the arrival of Matt Gilks. Callum Connolly is certain to play. That leaves Jamie Hanson, Marcus Browne, James Weir, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Bruce and Haugaard to vie for the other berths. Presumably, borrowing players and not giving them a game reduces the chances of players being borrowed from the same clubs in the future. Given many of these players are expected to be fringe players anyway, might Latics have been better off without a few of them?

Good News: Joyce appears to have both a short-term, and long-term plan. Signings like Gilks, Bruce and Obertan point to survival needs, while the signings of Jack Byrne, Mandron, and Josh Laurent show a continued desire to invest in youth and capitalize on Joyce’s wealth of experience in the area of player development. Byrne, in particular, was highly rated at City and appears a good long-term signing.

Verdict

Despite the high turnover, it doesn’t appear likely there will be immediate, dramatic changes to the starting lineup – Obertan in for Wildschut, perhaps the goalkeeper, and a new striking option in Bogle off the bench. This should prove a blessing, given the progress made in recent weeks. But it also calls into question the need for such a high number of incomings and outgoings. Joyce would do well to resist the urge of upsetting the players who have recently given him good commitment and results.

As supporters, patience is going to be important. Demanding instant impact from players adapting to a higher level is unfair, as is demanding instant adjustment from a team that became dependent on Wildschut to create for it. But if the new signings can add to the promising form shown of late and provide cover for injuries, we can be cautiously optimistic that, with a new crew of Joyce-loyal players and relative stability in the starting XI, we’re better off than before the window.

Full squad can be seen here

Ned’s season preview

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In anticipation of the opening league game of the season we were approached by  www.undertheprem.co.uk to respond to some questions from them. The following article will shortly appear on their site.

HOW DID YOU FEEL THE 14/15 SEASON WENT FOR YOUR TEAM?

From my perspective, last season was the worst in Wigan Athletic history. Everything went wrong. From Uwe Rosler’s initially promising transfer dealings, to the appalling appointment of Malky Mackay, Dave Whelan’s subsequent defence of it, to the loss of identity on and off the pitch, and ultimately, relegation.

The atmosphere at the club was as dark as it has ever been, with a dressing room that had seen greater turnover in a year than any other in the country. For a period of time, it felt as though the club had lost its direction and the strong ethos that had guided it so successfully for so many years prior.

The darkness was finally lifted, however, when Gary Caldwell was installed as manager with a handful of games to go. Though he couldn’t steer us to safety, his impact was immediate – we saw a welcome return to the footballing values, both on and off the pitch, of his former manager and mentor, Roberto Martinez.

HAVE YOU BEEN IMPRESSED WITH THE ADDITIONS MADE DURING THE SUMMER BREAK?

It’s hard to assess them at this stage – there are so many of them. On paper, and in theory, yes. Will Grigg is exactly the type of striker we have been unable to secure for years, a tricky all-rounder with a proven goalscoring record in the league we’re in, and experience playing in a lone role.

Craig Morgan appears an excellent signing in the defensive department, with important leadership skills and experience to build an organized unit around. Michael Jacobs will hopefully provide the much needed flair to unlock defenses, while Max Power looks a cultured player. Reece James from Manchester United sounds well-suited to the tactical systems likely to be employed by Gary Caldwell, seamlessly switching back and forth from traditional full-back to wing-back roles. Richard O’Donnell should be a reliable keeper and is accomplished in this division.

ARE THERE ANY AREAS YOU FEEL STILL NEED STRENGTHENING?

I feel we need another flair player or two, be that a winger or a second forward capable of playing in the hole behind Grigg. Another dribbler. At the moment we look a bit reliant on Jacobs producing a moment of magic. Craig Davies, the most likely to partner Grigg up front, has a bad injury record, and Billy McKay hasn’t quite come off yet at Wigan – I’d also be on the lookout for another striker, perhaps on loan until Grant Holt makes his comeback.

ARE THERE ANY FIXTURES THAT YOU’RE PARTICULARLY LOOKING FORWARD TO?

Coventry City, today. While we need to be patient with what is essentially a brand new squad and rookie manager, I think most of us Latics fans just can’t wait to get the new season under way and banish the demons of yesteryear. There is a real feeling of goodwill and optimism around the club – a fresh start for everyone – and we just want to start enjoying watching and supporting our team again.

WHICH OPPOSITION TEAM DO YOU HAVE HIGH HOPES FOR THIS SEASON?

Sheffield United sound like the team to watch after their near miss last year. Even more so after signing ex-Latic Conor Sammon! He may have only scored one goal for us in thirty-ish appearances, but it was a good ‘un! Sparked the comeback against West Ham which kept us up for another glorious season of Premier League play. He should be quality at League 1 level.

WHICH PLAYERS AMONG YOUR SQUAD SHOULD WE BE LOOKING OUT FOR THIS TERM?

The obvious ones are Will Grigg and Michael Jacobs – proven performers in this division with goals and flair respectively. But I’m personally really hoping one of our loanees from Everton, Francisco Junior, takes advantage of the fresh start we’re giving him and fulfills some of his huge potential in midfield. Roberto wouldn’t have sent him to us if he didn’t think he had something to offer.

One massive question mark is Grant Holt. His signing two years ago has been an unmitigated disaster, with injuries, loan spells, differences of opinion, and managerial changes combining to keep from making any impact other than draining the club’s coffers on his big wages. But if, and this is a big if – he can make a full recovery to a serious knee injury at age 34 – he could be something of a wild card in this division and mend a strained relationship with the club’s fans. It’ll be fascinating to see.

WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’LL END UP AT THE END OF THE SEASON?

A slow start to the season as the team beds in. Mid-table by Christmas and playoffs all things told.

Playing for Malky

Will Mackay's appointment  prove to be worth the baggage that came with it?

Will Mackay’s appointment prove to be worth the baggage that came with it?

Despite the emotional and divisive effect Mackay’s candidacy and then appointment had amongst club’s supporters, there seemed to be a general feeling among backers and protesters, and even the media, that his arrival would probably still give the team the “new manager” boost on the pitch.

What is surprising to me is that although there has been plenty written about dressing room trouble, which we knew plenty about well before Mackay’s arrival, few have written or spoken about how much further damage his appointment might have inflicted it in a young, multicultural squad. (No matter what forced public statements of support the captains GC/EB gave at the time). If one of the biggest problems under Uwe was dressing room unity, he was surely the most ill-suited appointment possible, given how divisive his own public debacle was and continues to be.

Many of the stronger voices of dissent on #wafc forums and social media were those of younger supporters, some foreign. Your average footballer might not be the most involved with social or political issues, and yes, the language on the training ground and “in football” is far from “politically correct” and therefore it is unlikely many of the players were shocked at the content of Mackay’s texts. But their generation is far more likely than previous ones to want no part in what his texts, and his appointment, represent.

Many of the more experienced influential players – Al-Habsi, Maloney, Boyce, Watson, Espinoza, Ramis – were brought in at a time when the club had a very strong ethos of family values and doing things the right way. It was a source of pride, was my sense, for players and supporters alike.

I’ll always be grateful to Whelan for all that he has done, and personally hope he acts to put things right. But this mistake looks costly on just about every front other than the actual money spent, which was probably DW’s priority. Mackay is hardly Mourinho. Just not worth the risk. Someone else could have gotten us out of the bottom three. And even if still Mackay does, and there is plenty of time for him to do so, would it really be worth the baggage?

Holgersson will come good, says Red Bulls supporter

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As part of our continuing effort to keep Latics supporters informed about new recruits, we have invited a New York Red Bulls supporter to guest write an article about new centre-half Markus Holgersson.

Holgerrson’s signing, subject to international clearance, was confirmed by the club today. His initial contract will be until the end of the current season.

Hello Wigan supporters, my name is Dan Ryazansky. I have run MetroFanatic.com, the premier website for the MetroStars (now Red Bulls) of Major League Soccer since 2001.

It’s hard to think of a player whose lot with Red Bulls supporters changed as much as Markus Holgersson’s. He arrived in 2012 at the tail end of the team’s Scandinavian invasion: a group of players acquired by Norwegian Sporting Director Erik Soler and Swedish manager Hans Backe. A rather tepid show in preseason led to many question Holgersson’s inclusion in the starting lineup.

Yet there he was, from the get-go, starting in central defense and quickly becoming a liability. Too slow. Too awkward. Not able to keep up with MLS’s physical attackers. And — worst of all — poor clearances and defensive lapses that led to scoring opportunities and, alas, goals.

And then, with Thierry Henry absent due to injury, Backe gave Holgersson the captain’s armband. Was it a case of Swedish nepotism, the supporters thought?

But something happened to Holgersson. Thrust with new responsibility, the much-maligned defender started to improve. His ability to read the game trumped his slowness of feet. He became excellent in one-on-one situations. The mistakes started to disappear as well. Even the goalscoring came, as he became a threat on set pieces.

Then, the offseason came. With Soler and Backe fired, many thought that Holgersson would be gone as well. Not so; new head coach Mike Petke kept him on, but the Swede did manage to lose his starting job in preseason. He won it back after the first two matches and didn’t relinquish it afterwards, playing almost every minute the rest of the way. By the end of the season, he was the team’s most consistent defender. When called upon, he even played some at right back.

Unfortunately, Holgersson’s high salary (by MLS standards) made it very hard for the team to keep him. When his departure was announced, the same supporters that called for his head expressed concerns over his departure.

So, in summary: a solid central defender who should be able to hold his own on the Championship level. Might have difficulties adjusting early, but will be able to adjust. Good at reading the game. Can start the attack from the back. Can play right back if needed, but not an efficient crosser of the ball. Thrives when given responsibility. Passionate. Will be missed.

Best of luck for him at Wigan!

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