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

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A busy week ahead for Caldwell in the transfer market

Will Jordi Gomez be willing to take a pay cut to rejoin Latics?

Will Jordi Gomez be willing to take a pay cut to rejoin Latics?

 “We tried to sign players last year who would not only do well in League One, but who were really Championship quality and I’ve got real confidence that they’ll be able to do a job at this level.”

So said Gary Caldwell, giving a public show of support to the players he signed. But the question is: how many of them will be a success in the Championship?

One player who has been a success in that division is Jordi Gomez. He was voted Player of the Season for Latics in 2013-14 after scoring 11 goals in 43 appearances. Gomez had received a similar award at Swansea in 2008-09, when the Welsh club was in the Championship division.

Rumours of a return for Gomez surfaced several weeks ago, but Gary Caldwell has now confirmed it as a possibility. However, whilst being keen on a return for the Catalan the manager stated through Wigan Today that “If it doesn’t make sense financially, then we’re not going to do it. We have to work within certain budgets, and we have done that.”

Should Gomez return he will have to take a sizeable pay cut. He is on Premier League wages at Sunderland and any offer from Latics is likely to fall short even of the figure he had been on when he left Wigan in the summer of 2014. However, it could be that Sunderland are willing to continue to pay Gomez a fraction of his wages for the coming season in a bid to move him on.

In his heart of hearts Caldwell surely knows that some of his current squad will fall short in the higher division. With the players due back for training in just over a week he will be keen to finalise deals for new players who he believes can be successful in the Championship. But his problem is doing so within a tight budget for a wage bill that will not be supported by parachute payments a year from now.

One year contracts for experienced players in their thirties is a viable option, providing Caldwell can beat off opposition from other clubs willing to offer contracts of longer duration or of more money. The latest rumour is that Latics are looking at the 35 year old Leon Osman, released by Everton.

Transfer rumours abound at this time of year and it is never easy to sift through them to ascertain which are realistic. However, given Latics’ recruitment policy it is unlikely that they will look at signing two other Sunderland players whose names have been mentioned through the social media. Caldwell will be searching for another centre forward but is unlikely to be able offer the right kind of terms for Danny Graham (30) or Steven Fletcher (29).

Last season’s recruitment process involved largely focusing on players out of contract or available at knock-down prices. Indeed the Player of the Season, David Perkins, was recruited when his contract with Blackpool terminated. Moreover Max Power, who finished in second place in the voting, was also a free agent although Latics had to pay compensation to Tranmere Rovers because of his age. Rumours suggest that Latics are currently interested in free agents John McGinn (23, right back, Dundee), Curtis Nelson (25, central defender, Plymouth Argyle) and Alex Gilbey (21, midfielder, Colchester United).

However, David Sharpe has backed Caldwell in paying serious money when a player has become available who could serve the club for years to come. Around £900,000 was spent on Will Grigg and £600,000 for Yanic Wildschut, both in their early to mid-twenties. Latics have reputedly made bids over £500,000 for 25 year old Barnsley midfielder Conor Hourihane and 28 year old Aberdeen winger Jonny Hayes. The latter would be a surprise, given the player’s age.

Last summer Caldwell had a budget advantage over rival managers in League 1. The reverse is the case this summer, with so many Championship clubs having parachute payments exceeding those of Latics in terms of size and longevity. Moreover the budget that Caldwell has is not sustainable beyond one more year.

Caldwell and his recruitment team will continue to focus on picking up younger players who are out of contract or available at bargain prices. But funds will be available for signing young players who represent good value for the future and can add value in the coming season. Caldwell will also ensure that an age balance is maintained by bringing in quality players in the latter stages of their careers on shorter contracts.

We can expect Caldwell to be increasingly active in the transfer market over the coming week as the pre-season training date comes closer and closer.

 

Blackpool writer: Wigan are getting a Mr. Consistent in Stephen Crainey

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As the Owen Coyle revolution continues so too does our coverage of Wigan Athletic’s new signings. This week’s guest writer is Dan Bennett of Vital Blackpool (http://blackpool.vitalfootball.co.uk/), who kindly shares his insight on Scottish left-back Stephen Crainey — a man he dubs Mr. Consistent:

Although not one of the most exciting footballers to admire, Stephen Crainey certainly is one thing — consistent.

In total he has made 295 club appearances and had played for four different clubs before joining Wigan. He started his career at Celtic where he was never really first choice left back, and made 58 appearances over five years at Celtic Park before moving on to Southampton.

Crainey never truly found his feet at Southampton and only made 5 appearances for the club before a swift transfer move to Leeds United. It’s fair to say he did well at Leeds, his solid performances at left back won him many fans and in the 2005-2006 season made a total of 30 appearances for the club. This was the season Crainey had made the most appearances for any of his clubs until that point. 

However this was soon set to change as Crainey made his move to Blackpool, a club where his talents were truly appreciated. His ability never looked in doubt, and in the first season he spent with the club he made 43 appearances. His excellent work ethic and fantastic defensive play pleased many Tangerine fans and he soon became a favourite.

Crainey was part of the famous team that secured promotion to the Premier League with Blackpool, and featured many times the following year in the top division. Blackpool’s defence often came under scrutiny whilst Ian Holloway was manager of the club, and although Crainey was not the ‘perfect defender’ he rarely performed badly in a Pool shirt.

He’s certainly a player that Blackpool fans wanted to see back at the club next season; he was offered a fresh deal at the club but took the opportunity to move on. If he features frequently for Wigan next season, he’ll be a player that will always give his all in every game he plays. Even if he’s used as a squad man, Crainey’s performances are still likely to impress Latics fans.

He is certainly the solid and decent championship standard player that many of the clubs in this league desire. Luring Crainey to the club away from other potential suitors was certainly a great bit of business on behalf of Wigan Athletic. Latics fans will surely hope his championship experience can help you bounce back first time of asking.

Many thanks to Dan for his insights and to Vital Blackpool editor Jon Pearcy for his help.