A breath of fresh air from Coyle

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Owen Coyle – a breath of fresh air

What a breath of fresh air Owen Coyle has brought to Wigan. Like him or loathe him he cannot be criticized for sitting on his backside and waiting for things to happen. Within the place of week he has signed two new players who look like a really good fit for the club. At a time of doom and gloom, when it looked like the heart was being ripped out if the club, he has come in and his positive outlook has already started to lift our spirits.

Wigan Athletic were stuck in limbo during the ”Will he stay or will he go “ saga with Roberto Martinez. Worse was to follow -even before the charismatic Spaniard had been unveiled as Everton manager – there were stories about him raiding his old club for playing and backroom staff. It seemed like he was going to be the main destroyer of the infrastructure he himself had painstakenly built in his four years at Wigan.

Reports suggest that Martinez is coming back from vacation and is ready to start forming his backroom staff at Everton. Graeme Jones is a probable departure to Goodison, but we will have to wait and see if Graham Barrow and other coaches and backroom staff will go too. Once again we seem to be waiting for Martinez and it is not an ideal situation for Coyle to come into as new manager.

At this stage it looks like each of James McCarthy and Arouna Kone already has a foot out of the door. However, there have been reports saying that Callum McManaman wants to stay and that could be of huge importance for a promotion push. Championship defences will not relish the prospect of dealing with McManaman’s speed, trickery and directness on one flank and the dangerous, curving crosses coming in from Jean Beausejour on the other.

There has been much said about Latics allowing players to run down their contracts over the past couple of years. Maynor Figueroa has already gone to Hull, Roman Golobart to Cologne and it looks odds-on that Antolin Alcaraz will go to Everton.

Figueroa was a real stalwart for Latics and will be missed. He has been reunited with Steve Bruce, the manager who brought him to Wigan.

Golobart was being carefully nurtured by Martinez and it looked like he might be a key player for the coming season. However, there were question marks whether he had the pace needed in the Premier League.

Alcaraz had three topsy turvy years at Wigan. In his first season he started in 34 Premier League games, but injuries hampered him after that. He made 25 league starts in his second season, but only 8 last year. Ironically his best performances came near the end of his time at Wigan, when he looked a class act.

However, freedom of contract is a double-edged sword and Latics are using it to their own advantage. Both Chris McCann and Stephen Crainey are highly experienced and capable Championship level players, who have also played in the Premier League. The signing of the 22 year old Thomas Rogne is being processed  – he would be one for the future and the 6’4” Norwegian would provide height and power that the Latics centre of defence has been lacking.

Coyle recently stated that he needed at least six new signings, but that looks like a conservative figure. It could be that he is looking at youngsters like Lee Nicholls, Jordan Mustoe, Eduard Campabadal, Daniel Redmond and Nouha Dicko stepping up to the plate, although we await confirmation on those who were at the end of previous contracts.

If Coyle can avoid a firesale and only McCarthy and Kone depart he will have a strong squad. However, he is going to have to get out the cheque book to sign those kinds of quality players who can add something special. Signing some of the best of the Championship’s younger players would appear to be the way to go forward. Latics have already been linked with two 25 year olds –  Derby County full back John Brayford and Bristol City winger Albert Adomah. However, if Kone were to go he would be hard to replace and it would be Coyle’s greatest challenge.

Coyne has inherited the backbone of a team that – with a few key additions and a minimum of departures – would be quite capable of pushing for promotion. His critical signings may be yet to come.

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No need for a fire sale, Dave

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Just over four years ago a Wigan Athletic team that was to finish in 11th place in the Premier League was gradually dismantled. The books were not being balanced, so the prized assets were cashed in and the wage bill slashed.

In the January transfer window Wilson Palacios left for Tottenham and Emile Heskey for Aston Villa for good money.  At the end of the season Antonio Valencia was sold to Manchester United for serious cash, but then Lee Cattermole followed Steve Bruce to Sunderland at a discount fee. Michael Brown was to start a couple of league games under the new manager before being released to join Portsmouth.

Roberto Martinez started his reign at Wigan under a blanket of austerity. It was to continue for his four year tenure at the club.

Will the same happen again? Are we going to see another fire sale and the selling of prized assets?

We are told that the club is in a good state financially and does not need to sell off its assets. Players had it written in their contracts that were the club to be relegated their salaries would be adjusted accordingly. Given the considerable  parachute payments due to be received would it be possible for Latics to keep all their players who remain under contract and challenge for an immediate  return to the Premier League?

Dave Whelan has consistently said that he will not stand in the way of a player who wants to go to a big club, providing the price is right. The joint sales of Palacios and Valencia in 2009 realised somewhere in the region of £30 million. Do Latics have assets of that kind of stature in the current squad?

James McCarthy stands out as Wigan’s most prized asset. Although only 22 years old he has made over 100 Premier League appearances and is a complete player, with a good temperament. There is already a lot of big club interest in him and Latics might well benefit from a bidding war between them. A fee in excess of £15 million is realistic.

Callum McManaman caught the eyes of the big clubs near the end of the season with some dynamic displays. However, he remains unproven over a Premier League season and has suffered a serious injury. Latics would be wise to hang on to him for the moment. He will be a handful for Championship defenders and could develop into a top player over the coming season. If he continues to progress he is going to be worth big money a year from now. However, if a ridiculous offer were to come in over the next couple of months he might well be released.

Arouna Kone is an excellent centre forward who scored 11 goals and made 5 assists in his first Premier League season. It is rumoured that Swansea are willing to pay £5 million for him. It is not big money for a player of his quality, but he is 29 years old and that is a factor. Kone has a release clause in his contract that sets a £6.5 million maximum fee. Kone could terrorise teams in the Championship and one hopes that Latics will be loath to let him go for a relatively small financial gain.

The press continues to buzz about Latics players who want to stay in the Premier League, with its inflated salaries. However, those same players signed contracts with the relegation clause included.

This columnist urges Dave Whelan to send an unequivocal message to those players that they are expected to stay and get the club back into the Premier League. Only if a ridiculously high offer comes in should it be considered.

Players like Ali Al Habsi, Shaun Maloney, Ben Watson and James McArthur will not fetch the same level of transfer fee of those players aforementioned. To let them go for a few million would be a backwards step. They are the kinds of players who could form the backbone of a promotion-winning team.

Let’s have no fire sale at Wigan!

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Arouna Koné – Best yet to come

Kone

In August 2007 Sevilla paid PSV Eindhoven a reported €12 million for their Ivorian striker, Arouna Koné. Club president, José María del Nido, commented at the time that Koné was “One of the best attackers in the world” and that his acquisition gave them the strongest side in their history. Sevilla had just won two successive UEFA Cups and the signing of Koné on a five-year contract was the icing on the cake.

Koné had come to Europe as a 19-year-old, playing for Lierse SK in the Belgian first division. Despite his youth and lack of experience Kone scored 11 goals in 32 games in his year at Lierse. He then moved to Roda JC of Kerkrade, a town in the old coal mining area in the south of Holland. He regularly scored goals, like this spectacular one, for the club which usually finished in the top half of the Eredivisie table. In his two years at Roda he scored 27 goals in 63 appearances.

Koné clearly impressed reigning champions PSV when he scored this beauty against them for Roda, so it was no surprise when he joined the Eindhoven side in the summer of 2005. He was to spend two years at PSV, winning the Eredivisie title twice and scoring 21 goals in 52 matches.

Given Arouna Koné’s previous track record in Holland, the move to Sevilla promised so much for him and the club. However, the first season did not go to plan. He had been signed only a few days after  Sevilla midfielder, Antonio Puerta, had suffered a heart attack on the field of play and died three days later.  A couple of months after that their successful coach, Juande Ramos, left for Tottenham. It was a difficult period for the club and Koné. The striking partnership of Frederic Kanoute and Luis Fabiano was to become very successful and Koné’s altercation with a member of the club’s training staff made national television. His difficulties were compounded when he suffered cruciate knee ligament injury  in August 2008,  when playing for Ivory Coast against Guinea, leaving him out of action for six months.

On 1 February 2010 Koné joined Hannover 96 on loan, scoring on his Bundesliga debut, at Hoffenheim. He had only appeared once for Sevilla in the 2010-2011 season, that being as a substitute in the last minute. His career was to be revived when he was loaned to Levante UD for the 2011-2012 season.

Levante had come up from the second division the previous year, gaining 14th position in La Liga. Koné’s arrival was to spark an upturn of fortune for the poorer relations in the city of Valencia. His first goal for them was a winner against Real Madrid in September 2011. Levante were to finish 6th and qualify for the Europa League, with Koné scoring 15 goals in 34 appearances, including one against Sevilla. He missed the last three games of the season , having suffered an injury. Moreover, if he had reached 18 goals the terms of his contract meant that he would have to return to Sevilla.

Koné played one game for Ivory Coast in the recent African Nations Cup tournament, on the right wing against Algeria. He has tough competition for a striking position for his country, being up against Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou. However, he has already represented his country 38 times, scoring 9 goals. Koné also played Champions League football at PSV.

The Ivorian comes from a humble background, being the eighth of fifteen children that his father had through three wives. He is a man who stays in contact with his roots, supporting his large extended family back in Ivory Coast. Together with Ali Al Habsi they are practicing muslims and both will be found praying at the appropriate times. His elder brother Bakari is a 31 year old winger currently playing in Qatar, following seven years in France playing for Lorient, Nice and Marseille. Bakari has played 41 games for Ivory Coast, scoring 9 goals.

When Koné joined Wigan Athletic in summer he took over the number 2 shirt, as he had done at Levante. He likes to dye his hair yellow, as did his basketball hero, Dennis Rodman. With 10 goals in the league under his belt, Koné is getting close to reaching Henri Camara’s record of 14 goals in a season for Latics. He has also made 5 assists. His transition to English football has been rapid. An excellent target man, able to withstand strong physical challenges, he is yet to incur a single yellow card this season. He is fast, intelligent and a team player.

The move to Wigan has been a good one for Arouna Koné. The disappointment of his time at Sevilla is now water under the bridge. He has all the attributes to be a top class Premier League centre forward. Although he has done very well so far one feels that the best is yet to come from the 29-year-old Ivorian.

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Huddersfield Town 1 Wigan Athletic 4 – A Difference in Class

McManaman

A mixed Wigan Athletic team was far too strong for a mediocre home side and the scoreline reflected the difference in class between the two sides.

Despite the importance of next week’s game at Reading, Roberto Martinez decided to risk putting in a handful of his first choice players. Latics started with a flat back four, with Arouna Kone in the lone centre forward role and Callum McManaman on the left wing. The  central midfield players – Fyvie, McArthur, Espinoza and Gomez – were the key to dominating possession and putting Huddersfield under pressure from the get-go.

Despite a pitch churned up by a rugby match between teams from the same towns the previous day, Wigan were still able to display their usual brand of possession football. The directness and pace of Callum McManaman provided a cutting edge and he took his chance brilliantly when put through by James McArthur in the 31st minute. The young winger tormented the Terriers defence, particularly in the first hour.  It was no surprise when Kone added a second after 40 minutes, after McManaman had put in a low cross for Gomez’s blocked shot. In the 56th minute he was to combine with James McArthur, for the Scot to hit the target with a screamer from the edge of the box.

Huddersfield’s main form of attack was to pump high balls into the box, but Wigan’s two tallest central defenders – Roman Golobart and Paul Scharner – held firm. However, the ploy worked when substitute Lee Novak managed to outjump Maynor Figueroa to put the home team back in the game after 62 minutes.

Arouna Kone’s opportunist goal in the closing minutes, following a defensive mix up from the home side, put extra gloss on the scoreline for Wigan.

The Good

This result means that Wigan Athletic have made the last eight of the FA Cup for the second time in their history. However, an away trip in the next round to Everton or Oldham, is not going to be easy, particularly if it is to Merseyside.

Roberto Martinez made a brave move by putting in a higher proportion of first team regulars than expected. He had to make a conscious decision whether to risk his mainline players with a key relegation match looming. However, the positive scoreline from this match will surely help boost morale at a key time within the club. The  tactic of packing the midfield worked in this match.

The Bad

Huddersfield’s churned-up pitch – a reminder of what can happen when you share a ground with the local rugby team.

Interestingly the attendance for the Giants-Warriors rugby encounter was 8,023 and that for the FA Cup match was 12,117.

Player Ratings

Joel Robles: 6 – looked comfortable. Although he was rarely called into action,  he made a good save early in the second half  as Huddersfield threatened.

Ronnie Stam: 6 – one of his better games in an orthodox right back position. Has clearly been working hard on the defensive side of his game.

Roman Golobart: 7 – teamed up well with Scharner in the centre of defence.

Paul Scharner: 7 – calm and composed in the centre of defence.

Maynor Figueroa: 6 – captain for the day. Still clearly enjoys the left back position, which allows him the chance to go forward. Needs to work on challenging for aerial balls in the penalty box – it is not the first time this season he has been outjumped for a goal.

Fraser Fyvie: 7 – looked the part. Hardworking and did not waste the ball.

James McArthur: 8 – looked a class above his Huddersfield counterparts. His rocket shot for the third goal is one to be remembered.

Roger Espinoza: 6 –worked as hard as always, until taken off after 57 minutes.

Jordi Gomez: 6 – put in a useful stint, proving a link between midfield and attack.

Arouna Kone: 6 – worked hard as usual. His first goal was scored from an offside position, but he took his second goal well, blasting the ball past the keeper from just inside the box.

Callum McManaman: 8 – dangerous throughout. Took his goal really well and looked the part on the left wing. How much longer can he fail to make the starting lineup in the Premier League?

Substitutes:

Shaun Maloney – a capable replacement for Espinoza early in the second half.  Was his usual effervescent self, working hard, putting through nice passes.

Jean Beausejour – came on for Gomez after 74 minutes. Solid.

James McCarthy – came on in the last minute.

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Chelsea v Wigan Athletic Preview – Embattled Spanish Managers Meet

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Two embattled Spanish managers meet head-to-head  tomorrow, as relegation-troubled Wigan Athletic travel to Stamford Bridge to meet a Chelsea side whose recent results are not meeting  the expectations of  their owner nor their fans. Both managers have good track records, albeit in under very different circumstances.

Nobody can deny that the Madrid-born Rafael Benitez has been involved in major successes during his career.  With Valencia he challenged the Madrid-Barcelona hegemony achieving  two Spanish League titles,  also winning  the UEFA Cup.  Few in England will forget his Liverpool team’s miraculous comeback in winning the Champions League final against AC Milan. Although still only 52 years old he has the kind of wealth of experience that places Roberto Martinez in the category of  ‘promising young manager’  in comparison. The 39 year old Martinez‘ career clearly has much further to go, but his accomplishments up to this point should not be underrated. Martinez not only established Swansea in the Championship division, but also provided them with a footballing legacy that has seen them prosper ever since. On a tighter budget than his predecessors at Wigan he has kept the club in the Premier League for the past three years, insisting that they play attractive football.

Benitez comes into this match desperate for a good result, his team having gone four games without a win. Martinez’ team are third  from bottom and have only won one of their last 12 league matches.  Moreover Wigan tend to play particularly bad following international breaks. No wonder the bookmakers’ odds firmly point to  Chelsea victory. However, let’s cast our minds back to April of last season when Wigan were so unlucky to lose 2-1 at Stamford Bridge, beaten by two offside goals, the second being in added-on time at the end of the game. When the teams met at the DW Stadium in August a couple of defensive errors let in the visitors for a 2-0 win, although the overall Wigan team performance that day was by no means bad.

Wigan Athletic are actually two points ahead of where they were at this same point last season. However, they remain in serious danger of relegation.  They will be buoyed by the return of leading scorer, Arouna Kone, from African Nations Cup duty with Ivory Coast.  Not only is Kone leading scorer, but his hold-up play is important for his team. Despite the physical challenges he has faced from ruthless  Premier League central defenders he has shown such self-discipline that he has not  received a single yellow card this season.  Moreover he has made 5 assists, in line with team mates Jean Beausejour and Shaun Maloney. Martinez will have to decide whether to stick to his recent formation with five in midfield, or whether to employ Kone and Franco Di Santo as twin strikers.

Gary Caldwell is a doubt for tomorrow, having picked up a hip injury.  Sadly his potential replacement, Antolin Alcaraz,  is still not fully fit, although he might well make his overdue reappearance in next week’s FA Cup tie.  Last week against Southampton, Paul Scharner started at right centre back, later moving to right full back when the shape was changed to a flat back four. He will probably revert to the former role tomorrow, with young Roman Golobart or Adrian Lopez being brought back if Caldwell does not make it. If Caldwell were to play there would be a possibility of employing Scharner as a right wing back, depending on the fitness of Emmerson Boyce and whether Martinez has the confidence in Ronnie Stam’s defensive qualities. Were Scharner to move to wing back Martinez would bring Golobart or Lopez  into central defence.

Latics go into this match with nothing to lose. Interestingly Chelsea have received more penalties than any other team this season, 8, and Wigan have conceded the most, 7. Nobody expects them to get a result at Chelsea, especially after an international break.  No less than 8 of last week’s starting lineup played for their countries on Wednesday.  The odds are stacked against Wigan, but with a little luck and some fair refereeing, one never knows what might happen.

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