Restructuring at Wigan Athletic: can it bring more stability and hope for the future?

Can Talal steady an unsteady ship?

“As an ownership group we have invested well in excess of £20m since we came on board in 2021. Clearly mistakes have been made and this investment has not been spent in the right areas meaning finances this season have been difficult to sustain. This latest payment will ensure our wage obligations are secured until we finalise a sustainable budget for next season.

Clearly mistakes have been made and this investment has not been spent in the right areas meaning finances this season have been difficult to sustain. This latest payment will ensure our wage obligations are secured until we finalise a sustainable budget for next season.

“There will also shortly be announcements made regarding board and staff re-structures which will help us deliver this. I finally again want to reassure all staff, players and fans that Mr. Al Jasmi and I are fully committed to the club with manager Shaun Maloney at the helm.”

Talal Al Hammad’s announcement was long overdue, but it did provide a glimmer of hope for what is to follow. The Wigan Athletic Chairman has been subjected to some vile attacks by fans on social media over these past weeks, a far cry from the adulation he was receiving this time last year after Leam Richardson’s team had secured the League 1 title.

Following administration, the senior squad was down to just a handful of players and a massive recruitment process had to be undergone. At the time the recruitment looked impressive, with relatively little spent on transfers and experienced players brought in on free transfers. There had been stories in the national media of Latics offering salaries that few other clubs in the division would or could match, but they were somehow downplayed by the club. Unbeknown to the fans those “competitive” salaries were to become the root cause of the club making a £7.7m loss for the season.

In terms of achieving promotion to the Championship the recruitment had done the trick. However, over the summer fans were getting increasingly concerned about the lack of Championship-level quality in the squad. Recruitment was minimal and Latics line-up in the opening game showed no new faces. Richardson was to rely on the players who formed the backbone of the team in 2021-22. Although fans had been buoyed by the results of the previous season there were those who questioned whether the manager’s physical – some would say outmoded – style of football would work in the Championship. It did at first, until the cracks started to appear when the momentum provided by the successes of the previous season was slipping away. By the time Richardson was sacked the football had become dire to watch.

The recruitment drive of summer 2021 had left the club with so many players on long-term contracts. Moreover, the squad was one of the most aged in the division, containing so many players with minimal “resale value”. Having already incurred a significant financial loss the previous season, Phoenix 2021, had to cut back on recruiting new players. Nevertheless, Latics sources were quoting their wage bill to be the 12th or 13th highest in the Championship.

The overspending by Phoenix 2021 is by no means rare in the Championship but it raises a red flag to a fan base that has been through the trials of administration: one that worries about the continued existence of the club. The ownership itself can surely not have envisaged the kind of investment made to get the club promoted, then to see it drop back down to the third tier. It is a lesson they have learned the hard way.

We will probably never know the reasons why staff salaries were paid late on so many occasions. One can only assume it has been caused by liquidity issues with the owner seemingly unprepared for the sums of money needed over the course of the season. The whole thing has been so unsettling to all associated with the club. However, it is of key importance that Phoenix 2021 have already wiped out £20m of debt by buying shares.

There are complications in having an owner and chairman who are based overseas. It means that the directors and CEO have a key role to play. Mal Brannigan’s sacking was no surprise given the losses made, but who was overseeing the CEO himself? It would be no surprise to see locally-based representatives at director or CEO level in the restructuring that Talal is considering. It would be a wise move on a PR level as a means of rebuilding trust with fans and the wider community.

For a number of weeks, it has been rumoured that Gregor Rioch will take over a new role as Director of Football. The creation of such a position is something that has been mooted by fans for several years. If there had been one when Roberto Martinez left would a DOF have agreed to bring in Owen Coyle, whose long-ball approach was diametrically opposed to that of the Catalan? Creating an all-encompassing footballing ethos around the club will surely give it more direction. One of Phoenix 21’s prime goals has been to bring more home-grown talent into the senior squad. It was Kolo Toure who gave Charlie Hughes his EFL debut and how he has shone since. Previous managers had resisted bringing in the club’s academy players, preferring to rely on senior professionals or bringing youngsters from other clubs, except in the season of administration when they simply had to.  

Al Hammad and Maloney will need to bring down the running costs of the club to a sustainable level. Rumour suggests that there are dissatisfied players at the club: those whose contracts are expiring and those remaining under contract. Given the problems with late pay it is to their credit that they put in the effort for so long. The chairman and manager must reassure those who they want to keep that the club’s future is secure and those late payment are a thing of the past.

The club is once again at a turning point. If the restructuring is handled well, it could provide Latics with more direction for the future. The restructuring together with the continued financial support of Abdulrahman Al-Jasmi can help steady an unsteady ship.