A week or two back Stuart Gray, manager of Sheffield Wednesday, commented that Wigan Athletic had a Premier League squad playing in the Championship. A similar comment was later made by Brian McDermott, Leeds United supremo, although he qualified his remark by saying that it was second to Leicester’s.
Whether Leicester’s squad is any better than Wigan’s is doubtful, but neither manager mentioned Queens Park Rangers, the most expensively assembled squad in the division. According to the Daily Star, QPR got relegated last year although their budget was higher than that of Champions League runners-up Borussia Dortmund. Their budget this year has been scaled down, but is still unrealistically high for a Championship club.
There was talk in the pre-season that Wigan Athletic were going to have a splurge in the transfer market, using money brought in from their summer sales. Many fans were disgruntled when it did not happen, with Owen Coyle paying no more than around £2m for any of the players he brought in.
With catapult payments and transfer fees coming into play the club had a financial decision to make – how best to use that money. Given the extra six matches they were due to play in the Europa League they chose to spend on building a large squad, capable of putting up a good show in Europe and competing for promotion back to the Premier League. Little did they know at the time that Latics would also end up playing six matches in the FA Cup!
In February Latics played at Cardiff in the FA Cup 5th round in a televised game. At the time the commentators remarked on how one team had so much more Premier League experience than the other. But it was Wigan Athletic they were referring to. In fact every single player in their starting lineup had previously played in the Premier League.
Similarly at the FA Cup Semi Final last weekend all the starters had that experience. Moreover Emmerson Boyce and Scott Carson alone had amassed almost 300 starts at Premier League level.
Some might say that Latics’ cup run this year has detracted from their league form. However, on their way to knocked out through the lottery of penalties, Latics were unbeaten within normal time against four Premier League teams, including two in Champions League spots. The self confidence garnered from such experience should not be underrated.
The displays against Arsenal and Manchester City have shown that this Wigan Athletic squad is good enough to challenge not only teams in the bottom half of the Premier League, but also those at the very top.
It has been a season of highs and lows for Wigan Athletic. Moreover the sheer volume of games they have had to play has contributed to poor results against teams that they would have otherwise beaten.
Uwe Rosler has done a fantastic job in raising Latics up into the playoff zone and being within a whisker of reaching another FA Cup Final.
It could be that sheer fatigue, injuries or controversial refereeing decisions will come into play over the coming weeks. However, Rosler will be mindful of the need to grind out enough points to secure that playoff place, but at the same time making sure that his key players peak at the right time – in the playoffs themselves.
The Championship playoffs are a pressure cauldron, where the unexpected can happen. However, Rosler has at his disposal an experienced and capable squad which has proved it can compete with the elite of English football.
The German’s challenge will be to ensure that the players are not complacent over the coming weeks. Latics fans are hoping for another Wembley visit on May 24th.