The turnover continues: will Latics have a 20-goal striker this season?

It was not Alan Nixon this time, but another journalist putting the cat among the pigeons on Twitter. Wilson Whitefield’s tweets certainly caught the imaginations of both Wigan Athletic and Queens Park Rangers fans.

Twitter comments can certainly be controversial. Sometimes their statements never come to fruition, but sometimes they can prove to be accurate. We await confirmation from the club regarding the veracity of Whitefield’s comments.

A couple of years ago Gary Caldwell signed a 20 goal per season striker in Will Grigg. Grigg had done it at both Walsall and MK Dons and he was to do it again at Wigan in 2015-16, spearheading Latics’ League 1 title triumph. Omar Bogle exceeded the 20-goal mark last season. He scored 22 goals in 44 league appearances for Grimsby Town and Latics.

The more optimistic of Wigan Athletic fans have been relishing the prospect of both Bogle and Grigg being at the club this season, together with the hugely talented Nick Powell who can play either at centre forward or in midfield. The presence of the three would surely provide the momentum to push Latics back into the Championship

But economic factors cannot be ignored and the realists will say that at least two, or possibly all three of them, will be gone over the coming weeks. Put simply, despite the PR and propaganda that emanates from the club and local press, the huge drop in revenue due to relegation and loss of parachute payments will cause continued turnover at the club.

Both Grigg and Michael Jacobs are in the final years of their contracts. Latics could conceivably offer them contract extensions, but that could prove tricky not knowing which division the club will be in a year from now. An alternative is to cash in on their value in the transfer market this summer or in the January transfer window. Another option is to allow them to run their contracts down and decide on whether to offer them extensions later in the season. Being a proven goal scoring centre forward Grigg will continue to attract a considerable transfer fee, despite his disappointing season at Championship level. The likelihood is that he will be leaving in the coming weeks.

Powell is reputably the highest paid of the current squad and that added to his injury record would prove a very expensive luxury for a club looking to cut its budget by 60-70%. His inspiring cameo appearances at the end of last season certainly whetted our appetites, but his departure seems almost inevitable, providing he is fit.

So, given a scenario where Bogle, Grigg and Powell all leave, can we expect a centre forward of such qualities to come in and propel the promotion push?

The media rumours continue to link manager Cook to ex-players of his at Portsmouth. It seems that the signing of 34-year-old free agent Noel Hunt appears imminent. Hunt has scored 8 goals in 70 appearances over the past four years for Portsmouth, Ipswich and Leeds United. The names of Eion Doyle, Gary Roberts and Michael Smith have also been mentioned, together with Whitefield’s tweet about Chaplin.

In the meantime the turnover appears to be continuing with not only the speculation on Bogle, but the message below from Max Power that was tweeted in the last hour.

Despite the utterings of keeping the nucleus of the squad together on Paul Cook’s arrival it appears that this will hardly be the case.

Advertisements

More upheaval for Latics over summer?

“The squad is in good shape: it doesn’t need major surgery.”

Journalists use headlines to grab our attention. Sometimes they give us a good idea of what the article is all about, sometimes less so. Some internet sites use information already made public on others, repackaging it under a different label or more compelling headline. After a while you get to know which sites do that and learn to steer clear and not be drawn in.

If you get most of your Latics news from the internet you will almost certainly be using a news aggregator. NewsNow is the one I most commonly employ to check out Latics facts, opinions and gossip. Every day they give a list of the most  popular clicks and the other day  I found one at the top of their list entitled “From a Wigan reject to a Serie A star – Rangers’ rebuild gets serious.”

It was by no means a bad article, published on a Rangers fan site, largely enthusing about the Scottish club’s signing of an experienced Portuguese defender.  But what had drawn me to the article was the “Wigan reject” tag. This came in the penultimate line with the phrase “From Rob Kiernan to Bruno Alves”. No further comment was made about the ex-Wigan player, but the inference was that Alves is a much better player. In the end I wondered why I had read it.

I noticed one this morning that persuaded me to immediately click on the link. It was near the top of the charts, entitled “Sharpe: Some players need to change their attitude.” I found it hard to believe that the chairman would openly and blatantly criticise his players in public. It just did not fit in with his profile. Did he really say that?

In fact, no quote as such appeared in the article, which was focused on possible changes in playing staff with a new manager coming in. Sharpe was quoted as saying: “You’ll see some movement, no doubt.  I think he wants to get the players back in for pre-season and I think within a couple of weeks he’ll know who he wants out and who he’d love to keep, so that’s his decision.If there’s any players not buying into him and his way of thinking I’m sure they’ll be quickly moved on.”

So it looks like Sharpe never did say that some players need to change their attitude, thank goodness. Wigan Athletic did have a bad season, but most of that was probably more related to mismanagement rather than to lack of effort from the players. But although I was relieved in one sense, reading through what the chairman was quoted as saying was perhaps equally disturbing. Is it a signal that there will be even more upheaval in the playing staff over summer?

A couple of  days earlier, on Paul Cook’s appointment,  Sharpe had been said:  “I think the club but also the squad was the attraction to Paul; it gives him the chance to be at the top end of League One and that will be his aim. The squad is in very good shape; it doesn’t need major surgery but he may want to do a few bits if a couple of players leave but the core of it is very good and that was a big attraction to him.

Reading between the lines of what Sharpe said, and on the basis of what has happened in the past, it appeared that he was largely willing to keep the squad intact. Two of the club’s most saleable assets – probably Will Grigg and Dan Burn – would be sold off to help balance the books in a season where revenues would not come close to paying a wage bill of players coming down on Championship salaries.

But Sharpe’s latest statements give cause for concern. When is the upheaval at Wigan Athletic going to stop?

The chart above shows that Latics used 41 players last season, indicating more turnover than any other club in the EFL. It mirrors what has been happening for far too long. Instability has eaten away at the foundations of Wigan Athletic Football Club.

Although Sharpe stated that he thought the squad had been attractive to Paul Cook, there is also the other side of the coin. That is of a new manager coming in and wanting to bring in his own players. Will we once again see wholesale changes as we saw in the summer of 2014 under Uwe Rosler, in January 2015 with Malky Mackay, in the summer of 2015 under Gary Caldwell and in January 2016 with Warren Joyce?

Let’s hope not. It is rumoured that the concept of a Director of Football was mooted at Wigan Athletic, but was rejected. One advantage of that position is having someone with an overview on potential turnover at the club. In the absence of such a person are we going to continue with the process of a new manager coming in and breaking up the squad he has inherited?

Gary Caldwell was, to a large degree, forced through economic necessity to release a whole flock of players on lucrative contracts in the summer of 2015. The line-up in the first match at Coventry had just one player – Chris McCann – from the previous season. It took months for the new players to gel and it was only in January that the results started to turn.

If anything, next season’s League 1 looks stronger than it was a couple of years ago. Blackburn Rovers will be buoyed by Venky’s money, Portsmouth maybe even more so if ex-Disney billionaire, Michael Eisner, takes over the club. With three up and four down each year the composition of League 1 varies significantly each season. The map for League 1 in the 2017-18 season reveals a number of clubs strong enough to challenge for promotion and the prospect of derby games against six other clubs in the North West.

Over recent weeks we have seen the departure of Graham Barrow, James Barrow and John Doolan from the coaching and conditioning staff. Only two the players whose contracts were expiring – Jordan Flores and David Perkins – have been offered extensions. Crowd favourite and captain, Stephen Warnock, has left. Garry Cook has come in at board level, Paul Cook and Leam Richardson as manager and assistant.

The question is whether the nucleus of the current squad will be retained over summer. Although Sharpe previously said the squad does not need major surgery has there been a change of mind with the arrival of a new manager?

When will the turnover of players at Wigan slow down?

Let’s hope it will be this summer.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

A Director of Football for Wigan Athletic?

Mark Warburton was Brentford’s director of football when Uwe Rosler was manager.

 

“We want to be a modern football club, and we see that sometimes when managers leave a lot of the structure leaves with them. That is no use. You put a lot of time, a lot of investment and a lot of resource into developing that side of the business and you can’t have that changing every time a manager changes.The director of football gives you that continuity. They oversee the overall football department, all aspects of it, including the academy, performance and preparation, analysis and everything as well as the first team. It means that if a manager or a coach does leave, you are only replacing that one person and the club’s philosophy continues unbroken if you have that director of football in there.”

The words of a member of the Latics hierarchy? Jonathan Jackson or David Sharpe maybe?

The statement summed up what has been happening at Wigan over the past four years. The calamitous appointments of Owen Coyle, Malky Mackay and Warren Joyce destroyed what their predecessors had set up, leaving the club’s philosophy in tatters. Both Coyle and Joyce made not only wholesale changes in the playing staff, but their style of football was diametrically opposed to that of the previous managers. In both cases possession-based football was replaced by a physical approach embracing the long ball.

Ex-manager Uwe Rosler has been quoted recently as suggesting that Wigan Athletic need a period of stability. He was referring largely to Latics having had three managers this season and the instability it has caused. But it brought to mind another aspect of instability: that of player turnover. Alan Nixon’s “A mental amount of movement” tweet in January sticks in the mind. The Sun journalist had mentioned Latics’ interest in 5-6 new players. But by the end of the transfer window no less than 12 new faces had been brought in.

Few could disagree with Rosler’s comment. There is a clear need for continuity and stability at the club. Too many managers and players have come and gone. In the 2015-16 season there were 31 incomings and 44 outgoings of senior squad players at Wigan Athletic. The stats for the current season show 26 coming in and 29 leaving.

Strangely enough Rosler himself contributed to the lack of continuity and stability by bringing in a swathe of new players in the summer of 2014, despite the fact that his previous squad had reached the semi-finals of both the FA Cup and the Championship playoffs, due to his fine efforts. Sadly the majority of the new players could not make their mark and the manager was surely undermined by senior players from previous administrations. His departure in November 2014 was to lead to the appointment of Malky Mackay, a January fire sale and an avoidable relegation.

In his previous position at Brentford, Rosler had worked in tandem with Mark Warburton, who was Director of Football. Our Brentford sources tell us that it was Warburton who was largely responsible for the recruitment of players. One wonders what might have happened at Wigan if a Director of Football had been in charge to deal with recruitment with Rosler giving his input. It was sad to see a manager who had done so much to bring Wigan Athletic back into prominence the previous season being dismissed in a matter of months.

Although it might appear that the context was that of Wigan Athletic the preliminary comment came not from Wigan, but from Glasgow. The speaker was Rangers’ managing director Stewart Robertson talking to Sky Sports just a couple of months ago.

Although in continental Europe many clubs have sports directors, akin to the general manager role in American sport, the role of director of football in England has yet to be clearly defined. Essentially the director of football acts as an intermediary between that the board and the manager, but clubs have tailored job descriptions according to their own requirements. An experienced and competent director of football can advise both the manager and the board. The role seems to inevitably involve tensions between the director of football and the manager, especially in the area of player recruitment.

At this stage we are not advocating the appointment of a director of football at Wigan Athletic, but the concept merits due consideration. Stewart Robertson’s comments might have been made about Rangers, but they ring true to us supporters of Wigan Athletic.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

Joyce has gone – time to BELIEVE again

Do we BELIEVE that Latics can get out of this predicament? Table thanks to Statto.com

David Sharpe did the right thing today by dismissing Warren Joyce and his close associate Andy Welsh. Some might say the chairman deserves praise for swallowing his pride and realising he did the wrong thing in November. But Sharpe is pragmatic enough to know that if he had kept Joyce in charge, Latics would surely have been doomed to relegation.

One of the fundamental building blocks in Wigan Athletic’s rise from the fourth tier to mingle for so long with the elite clubs of English football was sheer BELIEF. It was the belief of Dave Whelan in his managers – Paul Jewell, Steve Bruce and Roberto Martinez – that led to the club to an FA Cup, a League Cup Final and eight years in the Premier League. Whelan backed them, not only with his chequebook, but with his driving ambition to hold Wigan Athletic up there.

There were certainly sticky moments along the way, but there was always the hope that things would turn out alright in the end. They did apart from that fatal night at the Emirates, just three days after Ben Watson’s unforgettable goal had won them the Cup. But Whelan had chosen his managers wisely.

Jewell’s teams were built on solid defence, but always had flair players in attack. Whelan opted for continuity when Jewell left, giving the post to his assistant, Chris Hutchings. Sadly it did not work out and Hutchings was gone after barely three months in charge. Bruce came back to the club, Whelan backed him in the transfer market and he righted a foundering ship. His teams were based on a solid defence protected by a rugged midfield, but with a good smattering of flair players to provide balance.

Martinez was brought in to keep Latics in the Premier League on a much reduced budget. He went on to produce the best results in the club’s history, away wins at Arsenal and Liverpool, the club’s one and only victory at home to Manchester United, that epic victory on cup final day. Martinez was a great ambassador for the club, through his insistence that his teams compete against star-studded opposition by sticking to the principles of skilful possession football. The FA Cup victory against Manchester City was no fluke: Wigan had played the better football on the day, with not a hint of skulduggery.

Was Whelan just lucky with his appointments of Jewell, Bruce and Martinez or did he have a vision of what they would do? If he was lucky with those three, he certainly was not with his appointment of Owen Coyle. Neither was he in appointing Malky Mackay and his grandson made a similarly woeful appointment in Warren Joyce. None of those three names – Coyle, Mackay, Joyce – became synonymous with good football at Wigan Athletic. Indeed it was quite the reverse.

But Whelan did make a good appointment in Uwe Rosler, who picked up the mess left by Coyle and got Latics to the FA Cup Semi Final and the Championship playoffs. Sadly the going got rough in Rosler’s second season, but rather than showing faith in a manager who had achieved so much, Whelan showed him the door, bringing in the hapless Mackay. Sharpe did a similar thing with Gary Caldwell, who had only months before won the League 1 title. His replacement was the inept Joyce.

Sharpe has done the right thing for the moment. The odds are that Latics will not be able to avoid relegation, but without the shackles imposed by Joyce the players can make things happen. Few of us really and truly believed that Joyce was the right man for Wigan. To BELIEVE that Joyce could save the club from relegation was asking too much, given his obsession with the defensive side of the game and the hoofball we were witnessing.

Graham Barrow has been appointed caretaker manager again. Barrow is a survivor who has seen six managers come and go since rejoining the club in 2009. Barrow is not the kind of coach who will throw caution to the wind, but we can expect him to field line ups that are more balanced that we saw under Joyce. Due attention will be paid to the offence, as well as the defence.

With Barrow in charge we at least have a hope that we can BELIEVE our team can avoid the drop.

Courtesy of Statto.com

 

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

Can Joyce avoid relegation?

tablefeb2012In mid-February five years ago Wigan Athletic looked to be on a slide out of the Premier League. They had hit rock bottom in mid-January and just could not seem to climb out of the mire. A month later they were still bottom, with just two wins out of their previous ten league matches. However, a win at Bolton and a draw at home to Everton in the last two matches had provided some hope. The fans had started to “Believe” and rallied behind their manager and team.

It was to take another month for Latics to climb off the bottom, following a 1-1 home draw with West Bromwich Albion. But the defence had been tightening up, with less “soft” goals being given away. Shaun Maloney had finally got a place in the starting line-up against Albion and he was to be the catalyst to revitalise the attacking side of Wigan’s game. By the end of the season Latics were in 15th place, 7 points clear of the relegation zone. They had won five of their final six matches.

A year later Latics were to find themselves second from bottom in mid-February. By the end of the season they were to rise one place, not enough to avoid relegation. Some attributed relegation being due to the FA Cup campaign, others cited horrendous injury problems. But few would have traded an FA Cup win for a continuation in the Premier League.

A couple of years later, in mid-February 2015, Malky Mackay’s Latics were second from bottom, nine points from safety. When the manager had taken over from Uwe Rosler in early November 2014, Latics had been third from bottom, but only one point from safety. But the fire sale that followed in January, together with a lack of investment in suitable replacements, led to Latics finishing second from bottom, seven points behind Rotherham who were safe in 21st place. The quality of football during Mackay’s reign had plummeted drastically.

tablefeb2017

Once again Wigan Athletic find themselves second from bottom in mid-February. They are five points behind the 21st placed team, Burton Albion, but with a game in hand. Wigan were in  exactly the same position when Gary Caldwell was dismissed in late October and replaced by Warren Joyce.

In terms of results the records of the two managers are remarkably similar. Caldwell’s league record reads W2 D5 L7, GF 13 GA 16 Pts 11 and Joyce’s is W3 D3 L9 GF 14 GA 22 Pts 12.

So despite the change in manager, results have stayed largely the same. However, in terms of quality of football there has been a major change. The possession football that typified the Caldwell era has been replaced by a more “direct” style under Joyce, reminiscent of the Mackay era. Caldwell’s team had started the season cautiously, with the manager seemingly reluctant to push men forward to support the central striker, for fear of counterattack. The caution has become even more evident under Joyce, with frequent use of a version of 4-1-4-1, leaving the lone striker isolated and too often fighting a lost cause.

In their successful fight against relegation in 2011-12 Wigan Athletic continued to try to play good football, even when the odds were stacked against them. Their famous late season victories over Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United were gained on merit, through resolute defence and some inspired attacking. It looks unlikely to be the case this year, with Joyce in charge.

However, despite the poor quality of the football, Joyce appears to have made some progress. His insistence on a high level of fitness caused injury problems early on for players unused to the intensity he was seeking. But the players do look fitter now and willingly run themselves into the ground for the cause. There is no lack of effort.

Fans of Joyce will say that he has already improved some of the players and that he has filled gaps in the squad that needed attention. The departure of Yanic Wildschut has left the team short of pace on the wings, but nobody can argue with a transfer fee of around £7 million. The Dutchman certainly made progress under Joyce, not least in his level of fitness and being able to play the full ninety plus.

Dan Burn made a bad start in Joyce’s first game as manager, in  a 3-0 home reverse to Reading, the manager leaving him out for the next couple of games. But in recent weeks the big centre half has looked a much more assured and accomplished player. Joyce has fixed the problematic right back position with the acquisition of Callum Connolly on loan from Everton. Moreover he brought back Sam Morsy from his loan at Barnsley and the player has played consistently well since his return.

However, there remain questions over Joyce’s tactics. It can be argued that Joyce has tightened up the defence, although the goals against record does not reflect that,  albeit with three goals conceded against Reading, Fulham and Rotherham. Joyce’s critics will say that his emphasis is on trying not to lose, so often pulling back ten men in defence.

Latics were clearly unlucky not to save a point at Fulham on Saturday, going down to a last minute of stoppage time winner. But even with a 2-1 lead at half time were they really likely to come away with three points, given the way Fulham were dominating possession?

fulham-lineupOnce again Joyce operated the 4-1-4-1 formation. The stats revealed that Fulham had 73.3% of possession, Latics 26.7%. I simply cannot recall Wigan Athletic having such a small share of possession in a match.

Possession is a frequent talking point for Wigan Athletic supporters. Not everyone enjoyed the football served up by Roberto Martinez, despite his considerable accomplishments at the club. Neither was Gary Caldwell universally liked despite bringing home the League 1 title. At times the football served up by both managers could be sterile, with midfielders far too willing to pass the ball sideways or backwards. But at its best the possession football played by Martinez’s teams was enough to beat the top teams in the country in the Premier League and to win the FA Cup on merit, without resorting to over physical tactics. Caldwell built up a big squad, packed with players who had too much ability for most of the opposition in League 1. His football followed a similar style to that of his Catalan mentor.

Many long-standing supporters recall the days of 4-4-2 with Nathan Ellington and Jason Roberts, a dynamic partnership in attack. Many still yearn for the more direct, but rarely negative, football of Paul Jewell’s heyday at Wigan.

However, neither Caldwell nor Joyce, managers of the modern era, are fans of the twin striker formation. There have been so many times this season, under both managers, when the centre forward has been lone in the true sense. There has been a reluctance to attack the opposition in the way that Jewell’s teams might have done. But that said, it was Wigan’s defensive record under Jewell more than anything else that propelled them up the divisions.

There are arguments on both sides, for and against possession football. Warren Joyce has support from many fans for his teams not playing in that way. However, when David Sharpe was in his early days as chairman he talked about wanting football played the “Wigan Way”. Whether that was a reference to the days of Martinez or Jewell is open to conjecture. But whatever way we look at it, the football served up so far by Joyce has come nowhere close.

What Latics fans want more than anything else at this moment is to avoid relegation. Joyce will be largely forgiven for serving up “ugly” football if he can keep the club in the Championship division. His followers will say that he has been working on tightening up the defence and the players’ fitness, that better football will follow once he has players he has signed himself, who can play the style he wants. His signing of no less than fourteen new players over the January transfer window suggests that this is what he is seeking.

Joyce’s problem with the new players is that so many have arrived short of match fitness due to lack of competitive football since the start of the season. Wildschut’s pace has been badly missed. Gabriel Obertan is a different kind of player, but has genuine pace. However, he lacks match fitness, his last appearance in Russia being on December 1. Moreover he had only made 6 starts and 2 appearances off the bench for Anzhi Makhachkala since August. James Weir too lacks match sharpness after not making any appearances for Hull City since his move from Manchester United in summer. Joyce appears reluctant to include Ryan Colclough, who was called back from loan at Milton Keynes Dons after scoring 5 goals in 18 appearances.

But then again, it is not so much the amount of attacking talents Joyce has on hand. It is more a matter of not withdrawing his midfielders into largely  defensive roles and fielding a lineup with more attacking intent.

Should Joyce wish to adopt a more attacking posture he will need a more creative player in advanced midfield. Josh Laurent made the bench on Saturday, but did not appear. Joyce also has at his disposal the 20 year old Jack Byrne, signed from Manchester City. Byrne was signed as a player for the future, but could play an important creative role this season.

The jury remains out regarding Warren Joyce’s abilities as a Championship manager. However, most fans feel he deserves more time in the job. Given the length of contract he has this is most likely. In the meantime we can only hope that he can focus on playing to win, rather than not to lose.

Wigan Athletic fans like to “Believe”. They will support Joyce in his fight against relegation.

But wouldn’t it be something if we did not go into games focusing not only on stopping the other team playing, but also stressing the importance of attack?

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.