Why relegation to League 1 might not be such a bad thing for Wigan Athletic

Wigan Athletic’s wage bill in the 2018-19 season amounted to some £19.4m. The club’s revenue was £11.5m. The figures for the 2019-20 season recently completed are likely to be even more stark, given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on football revenues.

Were Ian Lenagan and his associates to take over Wigan Athletic we could expect a wage budget somewhere between 10-15% of what was paid last season. Lenegan would run the club within its means, in a stark contrast to what has happened over the recent years.

Stats courtesy of The Swiss Ramble

The Rugby Union’s Premiership has a salary cap of £7m per club whereas that of rugby league’s Super League is of £2.1m.

Clubs in the EFL are about to vote on salary caps for their three divisions. A cap of £2.5m is proposed for clubs in League 1, with £1.25m for League 2 clubs. The figure being quoted for the Championship is £18m.

The caps for the lower two divisions might well be accepted by the majority of the clubs involved, although a club like Sunderland, desperate to get out of League 1 and with a wage budget over £10m might not be happy about it.

Were Latics to continue with even a handful of players who regularly appeared last season and remain under contract there would be no way of staying within that £2.5m figure. We can therefore expect almost all of the current senior squad players to depart. Many of those players will already be considering their next move. It is typical to have relegation clauses in contracts which lower player salaries in the event. However, on the flip side players can have clauses inserted which give a maximum price for a transfer. Reports suggest that Antonee Robinson can leave for £1.5-£2m due to such a clause, whereas he was due to move to Milan in January for some £6m.

Existing players’ wages would be regarded as the divisional average as far as the salary cap is concerned. The average League 1 salary is around £1,800 per week. Latics could therefore keep some of their higher paid players without breaking the salary cap, although the big fall in revenues involved in dropping down a tier makes it unlikely that such luxuries be afforded. The last time Wigan were in League 1 they spent £11.7m on salaries in a bid to get out of the division. They made a loss of over £9m over that 2017-18 season as a result.

For the moment the administrators must bring in as much cash as possible through player sales. Transfer fees are typically paid in instalments, but Latics currently need cash upfront in order to pay salaries and repay their football debts of £6m. If salaries are not paid the club runs the risk of losing players without receiving transfer fees through not fulfilling contractual obligations. Given the situation we can expect players to be sold for fees well below market value or even released for free.

A period of austerity is coming for all clubs in the lower divisions. For Latics the situation is exacerbated by the extraordinary actions of the previous owners. In the long-term it is going to be of paramount importance that the academy is funded as it has been previously. The salary cap proposals exempt players under the age of 21 from the calculations.

The short-term picture for Wigan Athletic is grim as they struggle against the impact of the actions of the previous owners and the pandemic. The first step will be for new owners to take over and steer the club through a difficult 2020-21 season. Avoiding relegation to League 2 would be an achievement.

However, in the long-run the prospect of a club living within its means, producing home grown talent, is to be welcomed in terms of stability. Given the excellence of the academy it is to be hoped that new owners would not only continue to support it financially, but also employ a manager willing to give young players opportunities to a degree that we have rarely seen in recent years.

Building up a solid base in the lower levels of the EFL  over a period of years is essential to the survival of the club. It could well prove a blessing in disguise that the appeal against the 12 point penalty did not succeed. Another season in the financial lunacy of the Championship would not have been easy. But who knows – maybe in time even the Championship clubs will come to the agreement that things cannot continue as they have over these years.

 

 

 

Our thoughts, and those from social media, after another tough day for Wigan Athletic

Supporting Wigan Athletic has been such a rollercoaster ride. The highs have been marvellous: the lows have tested the resilience in us all.

Until the closing matches of the restarted season I had resigned myself to not worrying about what division Latics would be in next season. My main concern was for the survival of the club.

But I got hooked by the wonderful reaction of Paul Cook’s squad. Despite not having received their normal pay for months they played so well, making a wonderful effort to nullify that horrible 12-point penalty. Not having the fortune to get that second goal against Fulham was heart-breaking for players and fans alike.

Today’s decision by an appeal court regarding the 12-point deduction rubbed salt into the open wound.

Like many fans of “smaller” clubs I have become disillusioned with the way football in England has been going. Put simply, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. There was always a “feeling” in the Premier League days that they really didn’t want a club like Wigan mingling with the elite and bloated. Since Latics have returned to the jurisdiction of the EFL that feeling has never gone away. Feelings are what they are: hard to substantiate, but one remains sceptical about the people in power in English, and indeed world, football.

Sometimes the heart can speak more loudly than the mind. The bottom line is that Latics still exist and long may that continue. It is heart-breaking to see staff laid off and players being sold for meagre prices, but other clubs have been through administration and come out of it stronger.

Paul Cook has gone and we can expect almost all of the senior squad to be on their way. The wage bill over summer must be drastically reduced so some players who would normally command a significant transfer fee will be freed from their contracts to get them off the wage bill.

Let’s take a brief look at how fans reacted to today’s news through the message boards and social media.

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.

Th10 on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

It’s what we all expected, an absolute joke.

I really fear for the future of the club now. Only a few weeks till the start of the new season. We don’t have owners or a manager and won’t have many players left. What will the EFL do next when we’re not in a position to start the season? They’re going to destroy the club.

FrancosLoveChild on the Latics Speyk Forum said:

I wont stop loving Wigan, but I have fallen out with the sport, football was/is a big part of me, but as the years go on, you see how the sport is becoming more and more about keeping the big clubs happy for revenue than the integrity of the sport.

Cupwinners on the Cockney LaticForum said

I’m afraid this could be the final nail in the coffin for Wigan Athletic.

We need to find a new owner yesterday with mega deep bottomless pockets. We have no money, no crowd, no match day money, no manager, players leaving daily, TV funding slashed, players fire saled and clauses to allow them to leave cheap or free. Players been sold for nothing.

A new owner? J—s !! , as a business you would have to have your head seeing to take us on. I fear for our future truly fear. We need someone in asap or we will for sure be the new Bury.

Zeb2 on the Latics Speyk Forum said:

I don’t hate the DW/JJB but it will never feel the same to me as Springfield Park did.

All your childhood/teenage experiences are more intensely felt and burned into your memory than what comes afterwards.

The prospect of returning to L1 or L2 if we were at Springfield wouldn’t faze me one bit but is far more concern8ng rattling round a largely soulless stadium …..though to be absolutely fair we have had some cracking matches/atmospheres there as well, it’s just that you generally need 15k plus to generate that at the DW.

Of course we deserve a club, absolutely, it’s just profoundly more difficult for us as a 40 odd year ’League club’ to be located in this area which is a cauldron of English football.

It isn’t the Rugby that’s a problem for me it’s the born and bred Wiganers strutting around in their Utd/Liverpool/Everton/etc shirts (most of whom have never been)….I know Wiganers who are season ticket holders at Bolton, Burnley (fkn Burnley ?) and Blackpool , what’s that about ?

Clubs like Burnley, Stoke, Norwich, even Leicester enjoy the distinct advantage of being substantial towns/cities that are slap bang in the centre of “nowhereinparticularshire” ….draw a 20 mile radius round their grounds and who are they competing with ?….maybe one rival of a similar or bigger size or more likely none at all. Draw a 20 mile radius round Wigan and ….well !

Ideally we should be in a 12/15,000 stadium but we Can’t make that happen unfortunately.

Lets get past this current crisis and press on from there ….Onwards (but maybe not upwards for a bit just yet !)

 

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?

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.