Wigan Athletic DO have strength in depth, despite poor EFL trophy performances

Image courtesy of the EFL

“Physically, it’s better than training. The lads got some good minutes in there because they’ve gone weeks without match sharpness.”

So said Leam Richardson following a dull 2-0 defeat at Crewe in an EFL Trophy fixture on Tuesday. Crewe were so much better than Wigan, the scoreline not reflecting the superiority of the home team. A fine display by 19-year-old debutant goalkeeper Sam Tickle had helped keep the score down. Crewe had made 8 changes to their team, Latics making 11. The home team had looked cohesive, Wigan disjointed.

The EFL Trophy is not a priority for most managers these days. Richardson used the fixture to give seven of his first team squad a run-out with players from the U23 squad.

The EFL Trophy was launched as the “Associate Members’ Cup” in the 1983-84 season, when it was won by Bournemouth. The following season Bryan Hamilton’s Wigan Athletic won it (as the Freight Rover Trophy), beating Brentford 3-1 at Wembley in front of a crowd of 39,897.

In 1999 Latics won it again (as the Auto Windscreens Shield), with 55,349 spectators watching Ray Matthias’ side beat Millwall 1-0 at Wembley.

Despite constantly poor attendances in the early rounds the competition’s final has always drawn big crowds, the record being the massive 85,021 for the Portsmouth-Sunderland encounter in 2019.

The introduction of U21 teams to the competition has not gone down well with the fans of clubs in Leagues 1 and 2. Attendances reached an all time low on Tuesday and Latics’ game at Crewe was one of eight matches that night with less than 1,000 paying spectators. Some 185 Latics fans travelled to watch a game in which their team just did not show the kind of commitment that wins games. Wigan still have a chance of qualifying from if they win their last group game at Shrewsbury, but on the evidence of the commitment shown in the games against Wolves U21 and Crewe it would be a surprise.

Richardson’s prime goal this season is to secure promotion. The League Cup and EFL Trophy have been secondary considerations and there are few fans who would argue against that. However, the performances of the second string in the EFL Trophy games and in the Sunderland game in the League Cup have been so below par that some fans are questioning the quality of the first team squad players who were involved. If those games have provided an opportunity for fringe players to stake a claim for a place in the senior team starting line-up, then it has not happened. Wigan’s best player at Crewe was Tickle and Kieran Lloyd, Scott Smith and Chris Sze looked as comfortable as any of the senior players.

However, looking at the first team squad analytically there is lots of depth. There are experienced players who have already been successful at League 1 level or above. However, they may be lacking sharpness due to lack of playing time with the manager keeping faith in a group of players who have got the club off to a fine start to the campaign. In the old days those players would have been sent to get game time in the reserve team. Such entities no longer exist in the modern era, having been replaced by development squads, with the emphasis of grooming young players.

However, first team squad players are sometimes drafted into U23 games from time to time. Both Curtis Tilt and Thelo Aasgaard played against Charlton U23s on September 13. Adam Long and Luke Robinson have played in the last four U23 games. Up this point Richardson has used the cup games, rather than U23 games, to help senior players to keep up their match fitness. The next EFL trophy game is on November 9 at Shrewsbury.

Courtesy of bbc.co.uk

The indifferent performances of senior players in the recent cup games is hard to fathom. There was surely enough ability and experience in those line-ups to put up better performances against the second strings of Sunderland and Crewe and the Wolves U21s. One could not expect those Latics XI’s to gel, but despite the lack of cohesion we might have expected some more memorable individual performances.

But the bottom line is that Wigan do have considerable strength in depth. It can only be truly tested when those fringe players are given the opportunity to play in a first team which has already gelled, making it easy for replacements to slot in.

Stormclouds loom over Wigan Athletic’s fight to avoid relegation: time for changes?

The dedication and sheer hard work of the management team of Leam Richardson and Gregor Rioch has kept Wigan Athletic in with a fighting chance of avoiding relegation from League 1. That Latics are not totally adrift of the teams above them in the table is a testimony to their endeavours. The league table shows the task ahead of them.

Courtesy of SkySports.com

After Jamie Jones had somehow allowed an innocuous shot to go through him in the 27th minute on Wednesday evening it was always going to be an uphill struggle for Latics against high flying Hull City. Up to that point they had matched the visitors and had looked solid. However, with five losses in the previous six games Wigan’s confidence was bound to be brittle. Another goal five minutes later was no surprise and as the game continued, with their confidence shot, the Wigan team capitulated. Hull could have scored more than five.

Wigan’s starting line-up against Hull consisted of just one player, Chris Merrie, who had come through their academy. There were five players new to the club over the January transfer window. Much had been said earlier in the season of a young team giving away goals through a lack of experience. In the January window the club had done well to bring in new players who might provide an experienced backbone to the squad. But goals continue to be given away with more seasoned pros having taken the place of U23 players.

With so many new players arriving it was always going to take time for the new blend to gel. The comings and goings of so many players over the course of the season has made things extremely difficult for management. Moreover, the long-term injuries to Kyle Joseph and Tom Pearce have thrown another spanner in the works.

Following poor performances and results against relegation rivals Wimbledon and Swindon, Richardson switched to a back line of three central defenders for the next game at Northampton which was decided by an opportunist strike by Callum Lang. That backline had the experience of Scott Wootton and Curtis Tilt, both 29-years-old, with over 360 career league appearances between them, together with the very capable 22-year-old George Johnston. It looked like a combination that could provide solidity at the back with enough height and muscle to deal with the aerial threat posed by so many teams in the division.

Latics did not perform badly in the following game against an Oxford team in top form, another well taken goal from Lang putting them in front. Sadly they went on to lose the game through goals created by centres into the box.

It was a surprise to see that for the Hull game Richardson had ditched his back three in favour of an orthodox back four, with Johnston pushed to left back. But what was more puzzling was his advanced midfield trio with Viv Solomon-Otabor on the left and Dan Gardner and Will Keane in the centre and on the right. The new shape did not work and all three were taken off after 56 minutes, with Latics already four goals down.

Managers under pressure tend to rely on experienced players and that showed in Richardson’s team selection. Thelo Aasgaard was rested and not in the squad. Luke Robinson and Callum Lang were on the bench and brought on in the second half. Alex Perry, whose range of passing from the centre of the field can be a real asset, has been pushed out by the arrival of the more conservative Funso Ojo. The problem over recent games has been that too many of those senior professionals have been way off form. However, Richardson has stuck with them. Jones in particular has been fortunate to have kept his place despite poor goalkeeping that has cost Latics dearly.

If Latics are to lift themselves for the visit of top-placed Lincoln City tomorrow a shake-up is needed. Having a backbone of experienced players can be of great value in a relegation dog-fight, but some need a break to help them regain their form. There are lots of hungry, talented young players at the club who can step in.

Light at the end of the tunnel for Wigan Athletic

These have been dark and gloomy Covid-19 months for EFL clubs, especially those in the lower tiers who are so much more reliant on gate money. Some financial support is coming in via the EFL and Premier League, but rumour suggests that several clubs are already close to folding.

For Wigan Athletic it has been particularly tough. Going under administration is difficult enough in normal times, but the pandemic has made it so much harder. Why would anyone want to buy a football club with no certainty of when gate receipts will once again underpin the finances of clubs like Latics?

But within the last couple of weeks there has been light showing at the end of the tunnel.

During that time the team has gained two consecutive victories over clubs not far from the top of the League 1 table. The wins have lifted Latics off the bottom, giving hope for what comes next. Moreover, the ownership issues are moving ahead, with Jose Miguel Garrido dropping out of the picture and Felipe Moreno seemingly the potential future owner. Given Moreno’s excellent record as an owner of a club in Spain and that his bid is being supported by the administrators, it is surely a matter of time until the takeover is ratified by the EFL.

The social media and noticeboards have been awash with debate over the Spanish bid and why the administrators have not taken away exclusivity, allowing other parties to bid. Tony Frampton’s interviews with the PWU Podcast and Jay Whittle were certainly seductive in terms of him being a Wiganer who is a director in a multinational company that has a large financial base. Some conspiracy theorists suggested that Frampton was an ally of Ian Lenagan, trying to get control of the football club to hep the rugby. Others thought that some of Frampton’s ideas were pie in the sky.

In the meantime, fans have started to warm to the idea of a Moreno takeover. Simple internet searches reveal the degree of success he has had since taking over Leganes, a relatively small club in the south western suburbs of Madrid.

Miller’s tweet was certainly uplifting. It was soon followed by a quality interview on “The Full Time Whittle” with Madrid-based journalist Sam Leveridge, detailing the achievements of Moreno and his wife, Maria Victoria Pavon, at Leganes:

Administrator Paul Stanley has said that he hopes the EFL stamp of approval will be given before Christmas. The sooner the better for Wigan Athletic with the January transfer window approaching.

The loans of Tom James, Darnell Johnson, Matty Palmer and Curtis Tilt are due to expire as are the short-term contracts of Dan Gardner, Will Keane and Viv Solomon-Otabor. Moreover, there are four players from last season’s senior squad whose contracts expire in June. Reports suggest that Kal Naismith is already interesting a couple of Championship clubs.

The sooner the takeover is ratified the better opportunity the club has of making the right decisions regarding contracts. The aim will be to put together a squad which has a backbone of experienced professionals, with continued opportunities for the under-23 squad players who have made so much progress over these months after being thrown in at the deep end.

Although Latics are still in the relegation zone they are not so far away from safety. So much will depend on what happens in that January window. But after such a gloomy period there is certainly light showing at the end of the tunnel.

A debt-free fresh start for Latics?

Why did Au Yeung Wai Kay waive his rights to the £25.3m “loan”?

We may never know the real reason but there is no shortage of opinions from Latics fans on the social media, with conspiracy theories abounding. But whatever the reason it is great news for the survival of the club.

There remains a £6m debt to be paid off to football creditors and another £4m to non-football creditors. To avoid a 15-point deduction for the coming season Latics need to pay the football creditors in full and pay 25% of the other £4m.

When the change of ownership is completed the administrators will need to be paid off and a figure around £2m could be needed.

There has been consternation among some fans regarding the fire sale that we have seen in recent weeks. Three outstanding youth players were sold off, ifollowed by regular first team starters Kieffer Moore, David Marshall, Antonee Robinson and Joe Williams. Sheffield Wednesday’s purchase of Joss Windass was no surprise, given that he had been on loan there. However, although those players have been released for sums well below their normal market values, the combined revenues will go a long way towards paying off the creditors.

The fire sale may well continue until the ownership issue is resolved. With the debt much reduced than it was a couple of weeks ago the club is now a more attractive package for purchase. However, although five major earners have departed there will need to be more shed if the wage bill is to be commensurate with the division Latics find themselves in.

There have been rumours of other clubs interested in Cedric Kipre and Jamal Lowe. However, it remains to be seen whether the administrators would sell them off in the current buyers’ market or if they would allow the future owners to make such a decision. If a new owner were to come in and continue to fund the wage bill in the short-term it would allow them more time to get better fees for assets yet to be sold off. The administrators have needed ready cash to pay off the club’s debts, rather than following the usual route of transfer fees being received in instalments. Selling any further player contracts by means of instalments would surely provide a higher return and money coming in during the future.

Once the ownership issue is dealt with Latics can expect revenue coming in from the EFL and instalment payments due to them from previous player sales.

It remains to be seen what Latics and other clubs will do about season tickets and televising of matches. Reports suggest that fans will be welcomed back in October but with stadium capacity reduced to 25%.  The capacity of the DW Stadium is listed at 25,138 meaning they would be allowed to accommodate just less than 6,300, a figure close to the number of season tickets they have sold in recent years. However, the new rules are unlikely to include away supporters who pay at a higher rate per game than season ticket owners. Revenues will be relatively small, but at least there will be some money coming into the club.

The UK economy is in recession and football clubs, like other businesses, will be under pressure. More football clubs will most likely go into liquidation over the coming months.

The Swiss Ramble figures for 2018-19 show Wigan Athletic with a lower gross debt – £21m – than most Championship clubs, being dwarfed by the £142m of Blackburn Rovers. Given the recent actions of the administrators that debt is being reduced.

Some clubs are under benevolent ownership, as were Wigan Athletic to a large degree under Dave Whelan. Other clubs have owners willing to allow a club to go into considerable debt in search of a potential Premier League pay off. It is a dangerous path that is being followed by so many clubs.

During the coming week we most likely learn that Wigan Athletic have new owners. Whoever it is they will be taking over a club that has lower debts than many. Following the rocky period that the club has been through in recent months there is a need for stability and a long-term plan sustainability. Let us hope the new owners will be able to provide those things.

 

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.