A History Lesson

history

“Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”
Winston Churchill

Uwe Rosler was the toast of Wigan in the summer of 2014. But within three months he was gone – his prior achievements counting for nothing. Dave Whelan had sacked him, in the hope that a strong Latics squad could still get promotion back to the Premier League. Little did we know what a disaster the German’s dismissal would turn out to be.

Had Rosler not been dismissed, would Wigan Athletic have been relegated? Granted, they were not playing well and Rosler’s new signings were taking a long time to gel with their teammates. Whelan had backed his manager in the transfer market. Hopes were high when he made the signings. Despite losing three of his best in Jean Beausejour, Jordi Gomez and James McArthur, Rosler had apparently strengthened his squad, bringing in a host of players who had good reviews. Not least of those were two exciting strikers from Europe.

Andy Delort and Oriol Riera were never bad players. The former has recently joined Universidad de Nuevo Leon, known as Los Tigres (the Tigers) for a fee over £6m, of which Latics received a portion, having put a sell-on clause in his contract when he was returning to Caen. Riera returned to La Liga and continues to enjoy the top division in Spain with Pamplona side, Osasuna, after time with Deportivo La Coruna. Neither player was given an extended run at Wigan, nor were they played as twin strikers. Marc Antoine Fortune had thought his first team chances were limited when the two arrived, but he was to see them off in January. MAF went on to score just 2 league goals in 37 appearances under Rosler and his successor, Malky Mackay.

We can only speculate about the futures of other Rosler signings. Midfielder Adam Forshaw is now playing in the Premier League after a slow start at Middlesbrough. James Tavernier and Martyn Waghorn have had a wonderful time at Rangers, albeit in the lowly standards of the Scottish Championship division. Emyr Huws has gone to Cardiff, his undoubted talent overshadowed by a consistent ankle problem and questions over his commitment to the club. Aaron Taylor-Sinclair’s time at Wigan was marred by injury: he remains at League 1 Doncaster. Don Cowie and Andrew Taylor, both signed from Cardiff, were to become the scapegoats of a relegation season. They had been successful in Wales but it was not to be in Wigan. Free agent signing William Kvist was captain of his national side, but could not reckon on a place in the starting lineup, Kvist went back to Denmark, where he continues to play for FC Copenhagen.

Like Rosler, Gary Caldwell also felt the need to bring in a swathe of new players to meet the demands of the Championship this season. Most are struggling to adjust to their new club and their manager’s preferred style of play.  Caldwell had brought in even more last season, when it took months for the sum of the parts to approximate to the whole. But in the end the quality of the players he could bring in gave him the divisional title.

Latics currently have 5 points from 8 league games. At the same stage two years ago Rosler’s team had 8 points. However, expectations differ greatly. Rosler was looking at promotion, whereas Caldwell will surely be looking at consolidation. But is Caldwell under the kind of pressure that prevailed upon Rosler at this time a couple of years ago?

Both managers had excellent records in their previous seasons. Caldwell’s achievement of winning League 1 is more than matched by Rosler’s success in revitalising his squad into reaching the playoffs and the FA Cup semi-final. But, given Rosler’s precipitous fall from grace, could Caldwell suffer a similar fate?

Looking back on the 2014-15 season one can only reflect in what might have happened. When Rosler was dismissed we continued to think about promotion. Perhaps we were being overoptimistic, but the woeful appointment of Malky Mackay put paid to that. He oversaw a January fire sale, including elements who had undermined his predecessor, leaving the squad threadbare. Relegation was the consequence.

Much has been said about Rosler being dictatorial with his players, that he brought in too many new faces, leading to discontent. But he was faced with an old guard from the eras of both Martinez and Owen Coyle. Modern football managers recruit players who will be loyal to them, rather than those whose fealty lies with predecessors. If Rosler made a key mistake, it was that of bringing in too many of his own men, bruising the egos of the status quo. Moreover his squad got so large that he had too many discontented players starved of first team football. Is Caldwell heading the same way?

There is a viewpoint that Caldwell should have stayed loyal with the players who helped him win the League 1 title. The departures of Sam Morsy and Jason Pearce were certainly controversial, the loaning out of Ryan Colclough was a surprise, and the stripping of the captaincy from Craig Morgan, following an abortive move to Sheffield United, suggests he will struggle to claim a place in the starting lineup. Moreover goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen, another key element last season, is now playing second fiddle to Adam Bogdan. It had been the introduction of the big Finn, in place of Richard O’Donnell who was struggling to meet Caldwell’s demands of a goalkeeper, that coincided with an upturn in performances. Jaaskelainen provided an aura of confidence to his defence and his ability to distribute the ball became an important cog in Caldwell’s possession football.

However, although Pearce has gone to Charlton on a permanent transfer, Morsy and Colclough have been sent out on season-long loans. Caldwell has inferred that Colclough remains in his plans although his lips have been sealed regarding Morsy. Colclough has already made three league starts for MK Dons, whereas ex-Latics goalkeeper Lee Nicholls and Jack Hendry, on loan until January, have not made any. One of the criticisms of Colclough’s loan was that it meant he was going back to League 1, whereas Morsy was going to a Championship club in Barnsley. In fact Morsy has made just one appearance so far with the Tykes, as a 65th minute substitute.

Long term injuries have robbed Caldwell of Donervon Daniels, Reece James and Andy Kellett from last season’s squad.  Moreover both Craig Morgan and David Perkins have recently been unavailable through niggles.

As it was during the second season under Rosler, new players brought in have been under the spotlight. None more so than Dan Burn and Shaun MacDonald, seen by some as replacements for Pearce and Morsy. Burn’s fateful error at Bristol saw him warming the bench for a couple of matches, but he has performed well in the last two games since his return to the starting lineup. Moreover MacDonald, who has played little first team football over the past two seasons, inevitably started slowly, but showed his worth on Saturday with a good display against Fulham.

It was bad news for Caldwell to see Alex Gilbey stretchered off the field on Saturday, after being an ever-present in league games up to that point. The ex-Colchester player has already made the transition from League 1 to the Championship, his fine technique providing him with a solid foundation. Jordi Gomez, back after a two year stint at Sunderland, has already showed what class he can bring to the team in three appearances to date.

Jake Buxton’s sending off in the League Cup led to a three match suspension and he has made just three appearances in the league so far. However, by naming him vice-captain Caldwell clearly expects Buxton to be a mainstay in the centre of defence. Reece Burke, arriving with the highest of recommendations following last season’s loan at Bradford, will most likely compete with Burn for a central defensive position, although he was employed in the troublesome right back position at Norwich. Nathan Byrne has looked lively in his two appearances off the bench so far, although there are questions about his defending skills as an orthodox right back. Byrne will best employed as a wing back in 3-5-2 or a winger in 4-3-3.

Nick Powell’s signing was a gamble by Caldwell, following a couple of seasons bereft of first team football and niggling injuries. Powell showed his exciting capabilities as a midfielder in the 3-0 defeat of Blackburn, but fitness concerns continue to dog him. At his best, Powell is a top player in this division, but he clearly has a long way to go in terms of achieving match fitness.

Adam Bogdan was an excellent goalkeeper at Bolton, but his difficult experiences at Liverpool will surely have damaged his confidence. At times this season he has looked dominant in his box and has made fine saves that kept his team in the game. However, his fatal error at Norwich shows that he is still coming to terms with Caldwell’s requirement for a goalkeeper to use his feet to build up moves from defence.

Luke Garbutt has not shown his best form yet. He had an indifferent loan spell at Fulham last season, not being helped by an injury early on. Garbutt’s loan is up to January, when he will most likely return to Everton where expectations were that he would be the successor to Leighton Baines. Caldwell will be hoping Reece James will regain fitness by the time that Garbutt’s loan is due to end.

On Saturday, Caldwell withdrew Will Grigg after 71 minutes, bringing on Adam Le Fondre. The manager’s dilemma will be in giving Le Fondre sufficient game time to keep him sharp. His preference for a lone central striker means that he is unlikely to play the two together, except near the end of games where his team needs to pull a goal back. Craig Davies already knows what it is like to be the backup striker, having had to be content with late appearances off the bench.

Caldwell’s starting lineup against Fulham contained six players signed over the summer. Moreover three more made appearances off the bench. Caldwell is familiar with the challenges of bringing in new players and weaning them into playing his style of football. He did it successfully in the past, but at this stage last season his team had 13 points, having won half the league games they had played. Caldwell’s current team has a solitary victory so far.

It is to be hoped that David Sharpe will heed Winston Churchill’s warning. His grandfather’s decision to dispense of Uwe Rosler’s services in November 2014 was compounded by the jettisoning of so many newly recruited players a couple of months later. The result was horrendous.

As with Rosler’s new recruits, Caldwell’s latest signings need time to adjust and to gel with their teammates. Caldwell himself will need time to get his squad up to speed. Sharpe needs to back the manager, who in turn needs to back his players. New players need time to adjust and to buy into Caldwell’s style of play.

There are testing times ahead. Latics are currently in the relegation zone, but as the new players gel results will surely improve. The question is when this will happen.

It could be later, rather than sooner.

 

The sad case of Rosler’s big money signings

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The rumours are getting stronger. Oriol Riera back to Spain. Andy Delort to France, not to mention the demise of Emyr Huws and Adam Forshaw. What is happening to the players who looked such good signings not so many months ago?

Latics paid a total of over £10m for the four and none of them made the starting lineup at Leeds. Forshaw and Riera made the bench, but did not come into play. Delort and Huws were nowhere.

Critics of Uwe Rosler will say that he paid over the odds for players who were not good enough. But most fans will say the four received a raw deal under Rosler, then even worse up to this point under Malky Mackay. Many still dream of an upfront pairing of Delort and Riera, whilst recognizing the potential of a midfield with the skills of Forshaw and Huws.

Mackay may be doing the right thing in letting the senior professionals shoulder the burden of getting things back on track. However, until Saturday’s result at Leeds it was just not succeeding. His choice of a midfield trio of senior pros – Cowie, McCann and Watson – can be regarded as relying in experience, building up an understanding between the three which will put Latics in good stead in the coming months. In the meantime Forshaw and Huws remain lower down in the pecking order, with Roger Espinoza ahead of them.

Delort and Riera appear peripheral in Mackay’s planning. Mackay’s front two at Leeds were Marc-Antoine Fortune and James McClean, players not known for their finishing. However, McClean was to confound his critics with a well take goal eight minutes from the end. Only time will tell if McClean can learn to play a striking role, quite distinct from being on the left wing. Moreover can he produce a reasonable goalscoring ratio?

The departure of Delort or Riera, or even both, in January remains a distinct possibility, given the impending return of Grant Holt. Holt impressed in his early games on loan at Huddersfield, but the gloss has worn thin over recent weeks and a goal tally of 2 in 15 appearances is hardly impressive. Is the 33 year old Holt likely to more effective than the two Latins? Are we heading back in time to an upfront partnership of Holt and Fortune?

Frankly speaking, Mackay’s team selections have been as frustrating as those of his predecessor. At times it seemed like Rosler had taken the names out of a hat. Mackay’s have been conservative and uninspiring.

On his arrival Mackay said that all players would be given a chance to prove their worth.

However, he has already all but confirmed the departure of Thomas Rogne, despite never seeing him perform for the first team. Rogne’s career has been blighted by injury, but he has been available all season without being called up. He looked a useful player last season – superb in the air and calm under pressure.

Denmark captain, William Kvist, is another who appears to be frozen out by Mackay. There is talk of him moving in the January transfer window. The excellent Ali Al-Habsi has appeared in just one League Cup game, having being briefly loaned out to Brighton. The exciting young ’keeper, Lee Nicholls, has had zero opportunities.

Mackay will reduce the size of his squad in January, trying to raise funds through transfers and reduce the wage bill by shipping higher earners out on loan. One of those could be Andy Delort, who has been linked with a loan move to Charlton. Rosler made a serious error in signing the exciting Frenchman, then playing him as a lone centre forward. Delort’s success last year at Tours came through playing as a twin striker. If Delort does go on loan to Charlton it will be interesting to see how they deploy him. However, the loan could be a good option for Latics, giving the 23 year old more game time in the Championship division. He could come back a better player.

Delort has been quite vocal about his frustrations through comments made to the French press. Riera, on the other hand, has remained positive and stated his desire to adjust to the physicality of the Championship division and to be successful at Wigan. However, if media reports are to be believed there are at least three La Liga teams who would be interested in taking him on loan. But then again what potential value would there be for Latics sending him back to Spain, other than by reducing their wage bill? Better to send him on loan to an English club. Even better from so many fans’ point of view to give him a fair chance at Wigan. Riera has already proven that he can score goals in a lone centre forward role at Osasuna. If he can do it in a competition as good as La Liga, surely he can do the same in the Championship?

Both Forshaw and Huws have grown up in English football. Both have the competitive edge to go with their considerable skills. They have been unfortunate to come into a team struggling to find its form. After being the League 1 player of the year, Forshaw has had to adjust to playing in a higher division. But Huws knows what the Championship is like, his excellent performances having helped Birmingham City stay up last year. The two surely have the necessary technical ability and resilience to become the lynchpins of Latics’ midfield.

Dave Whelan boldly backed Rosler by shelling out good money for four players who are certainly good enough to make their mark in the Championship. A midfield with Forshaw and Huws creating chances for forwards Delort and Riera, is a mouth watering prospect.

What the four need is to be given a run of games in the team. If it happens at all, it will come later rather than sooner.

But has Mackay already made his mind up? How many of the four will be at Wigan a year from now?

Is Maloney central in Rosler’s plans?

Shaun Maloney

Will Shaun Maloney have a major role to play this season?

They say that every new manager likes to bring in his own men. Owen Coyle brought in ten new players at the start of last season. He had little choice than to do otherwise, with twelve members of the senior squad players having left following relegation, together with the  need for a large squad due to the extra matches involved in Europa League participation.

Only two of Coyle’s recruits – Scott Carson and James Perch – started in the Huddersfield game on Tuesday. Five of that starting lineup were new, signed by Uwe Rosler over the past couple of months. Two of the starters – Rob Kiernan and Ivan Ramis – were signed by Roberto Martinez. The other two were Callum McManaman  and Emmerson Boyce. McManaman joined the club as a 16 year old in 2007. The evergreen Boyce was signed by Paul Jewell in 2006.

Given that he already had a large squad, inherited from Coyle, how was Rosler going to make space to bring in his own players?

Rosler started by trying to sell Ivan Ramis in January, but both Cardiff City and Crystal Palace backed out of possible deals on medical grounds. However, by selling Nouha Dicko to Wolves and loaning Grant Holt to Newcastle, he was able to bring in a handful of loan players over the next few months. Of those only Martyn Waghorn remains, having signed a permanent contract in April.

Over the summer Jean Beausejour and Jordi Gomez left at the ends of their contracts. Stephen Crainey was released, together with Jordan Mustoe and Danny Redmond. Juan Carlos Garcia was farmed out to Tenerife on loan. James McArthur was sold to Crystal Palace.

In the space of ten months and despite the obstacles to doing so, Rosler has managed to bring in ten of his own men. However, he now needs to reduce his now-inflated squad by sending players out on loan. They appear to include not only Grant Holt, but also Roger Espinoza, Fraser Fyvie and Marc-Antoine Fortune. The Championship loan market is open to mid-November. The latter three players are in the final year of their contracts at the club, so a loan move would signal that they are no longer in the manager’s future plans.

Wigan Athletic lost three key players over the summer. In Beausejour, Gomez and McArthur Latics had players with considerable technical ability who could play the passing game. There has been a considerable amount of debate among fans in recent weeks about the type of football Latics have been playing this season, which has seemed to alternate between the possession football typical of the Martinez era and the long ball of the Coyle reign. Do Latics still have players to play that passing game effectively?

It has been a difficult start to the season for Rosler, not only with having so many new players to settle in, but also due to fitness issues. Too many players have been physically ill-prepared to compete on an even keel with opposing teams. New players invariably need time to gel with their teammates, but the lack of a clearly defined style of play has made it even more difficult for them. The style of play espoused by the manager –  high pressing, high tempo, with rapid movement – is light years away from what we have seen up to this point. Goals have been given away by sloppy defending and goal opportunities have so often been wasted. But more than anything else it is the lack of creativity that has stood out.

Rosler clearly has faith in his recent signing, Adam Forshaw, in being able to provide a creative spark in midfield. Forshaw did it to great effect at Brentford and Rosler will be banking on him doing the same at Wigan. In recent matches Emyr Huws has provided much of that spark, but he is only 19 years old and needs time. However, if you were to ask a room full of Latics fans who is the best bet for a creative midfield role, the name of Shaun Maloney would surely be their typical response. However, is Maloney in Rosler’s plans? If so, is there room for both he and Forshaw? In what position would Maloney be employed?

Without doubt the best football Wigan Athletic have ever played was in the final part of the 2012-13 season and in the FA Cup triumph in 2013-14. The common theme was that it was based on a 3-4-3 system. There were two central, holding midfield players, who linked up with the wing backs on each side to make a strong middle line. The front three consisted of a centre forward (Di Santo/Kone), a mobile wide player/striker (Moses/McManaman) and typically Shaun Maloney. When Latics were under pressure the wing backs would retreat to make a back five, but they would supply the front three when they moved forward. Sometimes Maloney would be played wide on the left, but he was most effective when playing an advanced midfield role in the “hole” behind the centre forward. If anybody made the side tick it was he.

Martinez had switched from a flat back four system in that 2012-13 season, after his defence had been leaking goals. 3-4-3 became his preferred shape. Maloney had a key role as the playmaker. In the memorable 2-1 victory at Arsenal, Jordi Gomez played in Maloney’s place and had a fine game. However, having the two on the field at the same time rarely worked. Will also be the case with Maloney and Forshaw this season?

Rosler also plays a system with a back line of three defenders. He labels it 3-5-2. His midfield consists of the wing backs plus three more central midfielders. Some fans say that the system is too defensive, with a back line of five shielded by three central midfielders, leaving only two players up front. However, at Huddersfield Huws played a more advanced midfield role than the other two central midfielders, Cowie and Kvist. At times it looked more like 3-4-3 than 3-5-2.

Rosler’s 3-5-2 system is inherently defensive only if the wing backs and the three central midfielders do not get forward to support the attack. To be fair on the manager he is to be seen frequently urging his team forward from his touchline position. However, far too often this season the lone centre forward has been starved of good service and left without support from the midfield. Adverse results have surely played a part in the players’ minds, being reluctant to commit themselves forward for fear of an opposition counterattack. The fitness issue is also surely a factor. Confidence has a huge part to play. So often the courses of matches are changed when the opposition scores a goal out of the blue or poor refereeing decisions play their part.

Shaun Maloney did not play in the pre-season games but has amassed a total of 115 minutes in the league in four appearances off the bench. He started in the League Cup game at Burton Albion, lasting 60 minutes. He has not been at his best, but his superbly timed slide rule pass for Waghorn’s goal against Birmingham highlighted the talent he possesses.

Maloney proved himself as a top quality Premier League player. But questions remain, if at 31 years of age and after a major hip operation, he will ever get back to where he was. At his best and playing in his favourite position in the centre of midfield, he would be an outstanding performer in the Championship.

Is there room for both Maloney and Forshaw in the same team? If so will Maloney be consigned to wide position?

Let’s see what happens over these coming weeks.

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Adam Forshaw: League 1 Player of the Year [video]

The saga involving the Adam Forshaw transfer has, to some degree, obscured the signing of a very talented player.

Forshaw could well produce the inspirational moments that will help Latics get back to the Premier League. In March he was voted League 1 Player of the Year by the managers of each club in the division.

The video below is kindly shared with us by a talented and true Latic fanatic through YouTube and captures some of Forshaw’s best moments last season:

 

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Rosler builds a formidable squad


Wigan Athletic fans are buzzing again.

Despondency had crept in with the impending departure of that great Latics servant and FA Cup winner, James McArthur. It looked like Rosler was not going to get the extra striker he desperately needed with the Andy Delort situation continuing to be uncertain. Moreover difficulties over dealing with Everton’s role in the transfer process made the Forshaw saga drag on. The creative midfielder was clearly within Rosler’s sights, but was it going to happen?

But then on Saturday Delort was presented to the crowd at the DW. A ray of hope indeed. Latics went on to give a fine performance in the 4-0 rout of Birmingham City, who had been unbeaten in the league.

Then on Monday we found out that Dave Whelan had splashed the cash after all. Leicester City had dropped out of the race to sign James McArthur, but Crystal Palace had moved in and made the acquisition. There had been rumours that Ivan Ramis was leaving too, but that did not materialize. Instead we had the confirmation of the Delort and Forshaw transfers, plus the surprise signing of experienced midfield enforcer William Kvist from VfB Stuttgart.

The three signings signaled a statement of intent from Whelan and Rosler that they really wanted to finalise a squad capable of achieving promotion. But there was another signing that was unexpected – that of Emyr Huws on a permanent contract.

The capture of Huws was arguably even more significant. The young Welshman is an outstanding young talent and the type of player Latics are not usually able to sign. A price tag of around £3m would appear to be a lot for a team in the Championship without the TV revenue that it got in the Premier League. But in terms of getting a bargain for the future, Rosler has done a great job. Huws is only 20 and makes the kinds of mistakes one can expect from young players. However, with his cultured left foot, his determination in the tackle and ability to score from distance, he is going to be a top player.

More than anything the Huws signing is a statement about the longer term. Rosler and Whelan are clearly looking at a future that must surely be in the Premier League.

This season could be the turning point for Wigan Athletic’s future. Can Latics keep defying the odds and continue to punch above their weight? Without Whelan pumping big money in can Latics compete with clubs who have bigger fan bases and commercial backing? If they get back into the Premier League can they survive? If they don’t get promotion what would happen next? Would it be a slide down into the lower divisions?

A week ago Rosler’s squad was not complete. It lacked another central striker and a creative midfielder. Moreover the returns from injury of Chris McCann and Ben Watson were weeks ahead and there was a need for more cover in holding midfield.

Rosler has built a formidable squad, with at least two players competing for every position. Even if injuries strike, as they have done so cruelly for Wigan Athletic over recent years, there are very capable players in reserve.

Promotion seems a much closer possibility than it did a week ago. Other alternatives are not open to consideration as the promotion push starts.

With Dave Whelan and Uwe Rosler at the helm Latics are the envy of most clubs. They make a formidable pair. The future will be rosy if they stay together.

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