Jack Byrne –the best of the January 2017 signings?

 

Warren Joyce must have been looking forward to the January transfer window. It presented him with the opportunity to bring in his own men. Joyce had been appointed in early November to take over a squad used to playing possession football under their previous manager. Joyce was determined to change that approach to a more direct style of play.

But by the time the window had opened he had won just one of the nine games he had been in charge. Getting the right players in during the January window was never going to be easy. Clubs are not keen to lose key players in mid-season and the pickings in January tend to be thin.

Joyce went on to contract six new players, plus another seven on loan. He had a fair amount to say about the new arrivals, but his words about Jack Byrne were kept to a minimum:

“Jack is one for the long-term, a really hungry player who we feel can develop here over the next few seasons, a real talent.”

It was almost as if he was playing down Byrne’s signing, although the player had been given a three and a half year contract and had excellent reviews as a young player at Manchester City. The sale of Byrne did not go down well with quite a few City fans, frustrated that another talented young player coming through the ranks had been sold off. The transfer fee was of the “undisclosed” category, but City were unlikely to let the player go for peanuts. They had sold another talented young player to Latics a couple of years earlier. Wigan paid them around £2.5 m for Emyr Huws, who was 20 at the time. City would expect something substantial for Byrne, also 20.

One wonders if Joyce himself was responsible for Byrne’s signing or whether it was someone else within the club. Patrick Vieira, Manchester City youth team coach, had said a year ago that: “If you want to play direct, Jack will be useless but if you want to keep the ball on the floor, and you need someone really creative, Jack will be the player who can do that.” Joyce’s preferred playing style was certainly “direct”.

Byrne did not set foot on the pitch for the senior team during Joyce’s reign which was prematurely terminated in mid-March. But he does seem to feature in Graham Barrow’s thinking, having come on off the bench in the recent wins over Rotherham and Barnsley.

Born in Dublin, Jack Byrne joined Manchester City as a 14 year old. Byrne has played for the Republic of Ireland at U17,U18 and U21 levels. In 2014-15 he was a key player in a  Manchester City team that reached the quarter finals of the UEFA Youth League, scoring 6 goals in 8 appearances, including two against Bayern Munich.

Last season Byrne was sent to Cambuur to play in the Dutch Eredivisie. He made his debut in mid-September against FC Twente after a 6 week layoff due to an ankle injury.

The Irish site SportsJoe spoke to the Chairman of  De Kern van Cambuur (the Cambuur Supporters Club), Kees Elzinga. Referring to Byrne he commented:

Jack reminds me of the Welsh player Gareth Bale but he could probably learn a lot from Wesley Sneijder is mostly playing midfield and is able to give long distance passes to his left and right wing teammates. He also tries to get forward and threaten the goal of the opponent and he tries to score with long distance shots. Jack is well known in our Premier League; Dutch television (mostly FOX Sport) shows quite a lot of his actions and other teams do their best to keep him out of the play.”

 

Byrne went on to play 27 games for the Dutch team, scoring four goals.

Following a successful season in Holland, Byrne was sent on a season-long loan to Blackburn Rovers  last summer. It turned out to be a bad move for him as Owen Coyle so often left him out of the lineup. Byrne’s loan was cut short and he returned to Manchester City in early January.

Wigan Athletic have been desperately short of creativity this season. Jordi Gomez was too often sidelined before leaving in January. Both Nick Powell and Alex Gilbey had long spells out through injury. Byrne appeared late in the 85th minute against Rotherham, but was brought on after 54 minutes against Barnsley. His Wigan Athletic career has now been kick started.

Of all the January signings Byrne was perhaps the least heralded. But given his talent he will surely play a key creative role for Latics over the coming season, if properly nurtured. He has the ability to become a top player. Only time will tell if he proves to be the best of the January 2017 signings.


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Regaining a winning mentality

Can Caldwell instill a winning mentality into his squad?

Can Caldwell instill a winning mentality into his squad?

Those initial waves of optimism crashed ashore yesterday as Wigan Athletic were beaten 3-0 at Blackburn. Suddenly that trip to Coventry next week is not as appealing as it was a couple of days ago.

But did people really expect Latics to get a good result at Blackburn, which has so often been a graveyard for them? It was goalless up to the 73rd minute, with “expert commentator” Neill Rimmer getting constantly frustrated by the football he was watching. Rimmer has tried to be positive in the past, but it was depressing listening to him yesterday. He was clearly not happy with Latics’ slow build up from the back and Will Grigg being unsupported up front.

However, if Lee Nicholls had done better with a speculative long shot a minute later maybe the result would have stayed 0-0. But once Blackburn had scored the first goal they were to grow in confidence. Their second goal came after Latics had already substituted two of their three starting central defenders.

Perhaps Caldwell’s most difficult task in his early days as a manager is to help his team regain a winning mentality. The last time Latics had it was through February to mid-March in 2014 when they went on an unbeaten run of eight games in the league and knocked Manchester City out of the FA Cup. Even if they were not playing that well they were able to grind out results. Since then they have far more often lost than won.

It was perhaps predictable in that the pre-season was not going to help in regaining that winning mentality. A 1-1 draw at Altrincham was followed by a 2-0 win at Southport, a 1-1 draw at Partick Thistle and defeats at Dundee and Blackburn. Winning came secondary to using the games  to get the players fit for a long, grueling season ahead. Caldwell was able to induct his new players into playing football in the style he prefers. But with so many new players there was no way that any lineup that Caldwell put out would be able to effectively able to gel together. Yesterday’s starting lineup against Blackburn had only one player who was at the club last season.

The starting lineup at Blackburn will surely provide indicators for the side to face Coventry. A back three of Daniels, Morgan and McCann is highly probable, with James at left wing back. A decision will need to be made soon whether Kevin McNaughton will be offered a contract. If not, Caldwell will be looking towards acquiring an experienced right back/wing back to challenge Jonjoe Kenny for a place.

In the games in Scotland the wing backs were pushed well forward, proving support for the central midfield and the forwards. However, against strong opposition with good wide players Caldwell will employ his wing backs more conservatively. Interestingly yesterday Caldwell once more gave Andrew Taylor a role ahead of Leon Barnett. It was perhaps another indication that Barnett’s time at Wigan is drawing to a close.

Caldwell will also have to decide which formation to employ in central midfield. Both Francisco Junior and David Perkins can play the holding role just in front of the back three. Caldwell has the option of playing one of them in that position and the other pushed further forward with Max Power. The alternative is to play the two of them in front of the back three, with Power more advanced in a creative role. Midfield trialist John Lundstram was noticeably absent yesterday. Although he did not play badly in his two appearances in Scotland, he was unable to impose himself on the games. It remains to be seen if he will be offered a contract.

As expected Caldwell gave Michael Jacobs his debut yesterday alongside Will Grigg. Jacobs has pace and trickery but does not possess the physicality of someone like Craig Davies. Neither does Billy Mckay, who was noticeably the one substitute who did not get game time yesterday. Once again, an indication that a player is on his way out of the club? Sanmi Odelusi remains another option up front, physically strong and fast, but has his game evolved sufficiently for him to challenge for a starting place in the lineup?

Caldwell has already talked about the exciting possibility of a Grigg-Davies striking partnership, but the big Welshman has still not managed more than 30 minutes during a match so far. Getting him to peak fitness, free from the hamstring problems that dogged him last season, is the priority. Caldwell will be unlikely to risk him as a starter at Coventry.

Regaining a winning mentality is the key to Wigan Athletic’s promotion hopes. It is something that can happen, but if it does it will take time. Moreover younger players now dominate the squad. Seven of the starting lineup yesterday were under 25. Young players need time to progress – so often it can be two steps forward and one step back. They will make mistakes that will cost points.

Some of the more savvy fans are quietly saying that a mid-table position this season, giving the young players time to develop, would not be a bad thing. The team would not have gained a winning mentality, but it would have shed that losing mentality that was the hallmark of last season.  It could provide a strong base for a promotion push in 2016-17.

However, such a scenario is unlikely to satisfy the demands of a young chairman who wants to “smash” League 1. However, if Latics were to occupy a mid-table position around Christmas, the players would have better knowledge of each other’s games and would have learned to play the way that the manager seeks. A promotion push in the second half of the season might then be a more realistic expectation.

In the meantime Caldwell will continue to trade in the transfer market. There are likely to be several more departures and arrivals. At the same time he will identify the players who will form the core of his team, week in, week out. The type of rotation policy adopted by Uwe Rosler is unlikely under the Scot.

Shedding that losing mentality is the first step towards gaining a winning one. Despite criticism of leaving his centre forward isolated, Caldwell will look at building a solid defence first and foremost. That means his wing backs not being pushed permanently forward as they were in Scotland, leaving the back three exposed.

If Caldwell can build a strong, well organized defence that does not give away soft goals it will be a step forward. An emphasis on defence, as the new players continue to gel together into a working unit, might well be the way he starts off the season. To push men forward gung-ho without the advantage of mutual understanding between the players could be a recipe for disaster.

As fans we will need to be patient. Turning a disparate bunch of footballers into a team with a winning mentality is something that will take time.

Off to Blackburn in a mood of buoyant optimism

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It seems a long time has passed since the last away game. In fact it was a month ago when Latics went to Charlton in an air of uncertainty following a League Cup exit to Burton Albion. Uwe Rosler’s honeymoon period as manager reached its end when Charlton snatched the points with a freaky last minute goal.

In contrast Latics go to Blackburn tomorrow in a mood of buoyant optimism. Ewood Park has rarely been a happy hunting ground for Latics and there might well be another adverse result, but fans are now more confident about what lies beyond. As a result of recent transfer activity Rosler has built a formidable squad, with quality players competing for places in every position.

One of the questions fans are now asking is whether Rosler will revert to his squad rotation mode after keeping a consistent starting lineup in the last three matches. Moreover will he stick with that same 3-5-2 formation that has produced improved results? Will he bring in his new signings: Andy Delort, Andy Forshaw and William Kvist?

Squad rotation is a prickly issue with many supporters. Those opposed to it will cite the example of Burnley who won promotion after sticking to a consistent starting eleven throughout the course of the season. In fact, Burnley used 23 different players in league games last season. However, three players – Tom Heaton, David Jones and Jason Shackell – started in all 46. Moreover another seven started in 37 games or more.

In contrast Wigan used 34 players in the league last year. However, in all competitions they played 11 matches more than Burnley over the course of the season. Leon Barnett and Emmerson Boyce both started in 39 games, James Perch in 38 and James McArthur in 37.

Rosler will cite the example of Alex Ferguson, who never picked the same team twice. He remains a fan of squad rotation, dating back to his formative years as a player under Otto Rehhagel at Kaiserslautern. Rehhagel is one most successful coaches in German football history, but perhaps better known as the coach of the dour Greek side that won the European Championship in 2004. However, Rehhagel won the Bundesliga with Kaiserslautern in 1998 with a newly promoted team that attacked with verve and seemed to have hidden depths of energy. Rehhagel operated a rotation system, with the result that all players in the squad felt involved and had a part to play. The result was a strong team spirit.

Given his previous history and the fact that he now has a very strong and well balanced squad, Rosler is likely to continue his rotations. However, most fans will hope that he will not be making wholesale changes in consecutive matches. There is the alternative of giving a player a run of games, then resting him.

For tomorrow’s match Rosler will most likely field a similar lineup to the team that beat Birmingham some two weeks ago. If he continues to opt for 3-5-2 he will probably choose between Ivan Ramis and Leon Barnett to play alongside Emmerson Boyce and Rob Kiernan in the back line of three. The heading ability of Barnett could be a useful tool against Blackburn who play with two big men upfront.

Kiernan continues to have the backing of the manager, having kept his place despite more experienced central defenders challenging him for a place. The ex-Watford player is particularly strong in coming forward to intercept balls before they reach the strikers. Moreover his passing from defence is getting better and better. Last time Latics played at Ewood at the end of last season they were undone by the central strikers, the 6’ 4” Frenchman Rudy Gestede and the 6’1” Scot Jordan Rhodes, whom they are likely to face again tomorrow.

Of the new players neither Delort nor Forshaw is likely to be match fit, although one or both could appear on the bench. However, William Kvist has played two games in the past week for Denmark. He played a full 90 minutes in the friendly against Turkey, followed by 74 minutes in the European Championship win against Armenia.

Despite the loss of James McArthur, Rosler has options in midfield. He might be tempted to put a solid wall in front of his defence by including Kvist alongside Cowie in holding midfield, pushing Emyr Huws further forward.

James McClean has recovered from injury, although he is not yet fully match fit. He could well come off the bench for Callum McManaman at some stage of the proceedings.

Blackburn have beaten Latics in 6 of the last 7 matches at Ewood Park, in all competitions. They are currently level with Wigan having 7 points from 5 games.

Given past history and the strength of Blackburn’s squad, tomorrow is likely to prove a difficult test. Latics can expect a strong physical challenge from the home side with balls raining in to their penalty box.

Physical fitness has been problematic for Rosler’s squad so far this season. Tomorrow represents an acid test.

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FFP and Latics – should Whelan splash the cash?

2012-moneyball

Bournemouth has never had a team playing in the top tier of English football. They entered the Football League in 1923 and AFC Bournemouth play in a stadium that holds 11,700. They had 91% occupancy last season when they challenged for a playoff place, eventually finishing 10th in the Championship.

Owned by Maxim Demin, a Russian petrochemicals billionaire, they would like to see the Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules changed. They claim that less than half of the clubs playing in the Championship now were present when current FFP regulations were agreed. In May their chairman, Jeremy Mostyn, said that “What we have is an ambitious owner who has a desire to take this club as far forward as he possibly can…….but what is wrong with having an owner who is determined to put his own money into a football club and take it as far as he can?

Demin wants to see his club in the Premier League. In gaining promotion from League 1 in 2012-13 they lost £15.3m. He is clearly prepared to put in the funds to launch them up another division.

Wigan Athletic fans know what it is like to have an owner who wanted to get his club into the Premier League. It cost Dave Whelan an awful lot of money not just to get Latics into the elite circles, but also to keep them there. If FFP had existed a decade ago it is highly unlikely that Wigan Athletic would have been able to climb up to the Premier League.

In their final two seasons in the Premier League Latics were among a small minority of clubs that actually made a profit. After years of Whelan pumping money into the club it was starting to look like it could become self-sufficient. But relegation meant that the parameters changed – breaking even in the Championship was to be a very different proposition to doing the same in the Premier League.

Last season Latics were due to receive £23m in parachute payments from the Premier League. With an historic Europa League campaign coming up the club decided to largely invest the parachute payments into maintaining a large squad. It is believed that the club had previously written into players’ contracts that their salaries would drop if they were to be relegated from the Premier League. Moreover a number of players left the club, several at the ends of their contracts, others for significant transfer fees.

The proceeds from the sales of Arouna Kone and James McCarthy to Everton probably amounted to around £18m, although the payments were to be staggered over a time period. Most fans expected a sizeable chunk of that money to be reinvested in signing players who could help get the club back into the Premier League. Owen Coyle came in and did a remarkable job in bringing in 10 new players in the space of a couple of months, some having been at the ends of their contracts, some loan signings and others for what appeared to be bargain prices.

With hindsight Coyle was to make one major blunder, paying around £2m for the 32 year old Grant Holt and giving him a 3 year contract. At the time Holt looked like a good signing, given his proven goal scoring record, although the length of the contract raised eyebrows at the time. However, Coyle paid modest fees to acquire Leon Barnett, Scott Carson and James Perch, who have proved to be good signings. He paid a little more to sign James McClean, who took a drop in pay to join Latics from Sunderland. Although the Irishman remains enigmatic he might well become a key player in the future. Coyle’s acquisition of Chris McCann, who had reached the end of his contract at Burnley, was by no means lauded at the time, but the Irishman was to prove a quality signing. Seven of Coyle’s signings remain Latics players, although Juan Carlos Garcia has gone to Tenerife on loan.

The sum total of the transfer fees paid by Coyle would approximate to that received through the sale of Kone. It is assumed that the sum roughly equivalent to that due to be received through McCarthy’s transfer will be allocated towards the development of the new training and youth development facility at Charnock Richard.

Latics actually performed relatively well last season in using their parachute payments to assemble a squad good enough to reach 5th place in the Championship. In the previous season the clubs who came down from the Premier League – Blackburn, Bolton and Wolves – finished in 13th, 16th and 18th positions, despite parachute payments of £16m.

With the parachute payment and funds gained from the Europa League campaign, together with prudent financial management, it is likely that Wigan Athletic at least broke even financially last season. The projected cost of the Charnock Richard facility has not been announced by the club, although Latics clearly made a bargain in buying the site, which was auctioned at a guide price of £650,000.

The accounts will make interesting reading when they are announced in a few months’ time.

Under the current financial regime at the club, Wigan Athletic are highly unlikely to incur penalties under FFP rules. The challenge is whether they can secure promotion back to the Premier League against clubs who are spending millions on new players. Fulham’s investment of £13m on Ross McCormack was staggering, especially for a player who has never played in the Premier League. Last season both Leicester City and Queens Park Rangers flouted FFP rules in gaining promotion. The London team is reported to have had a budget of £70m last year, exceeding that of Atletico Madrid, La Liga winners and Champions League finalists. They lost £23.4m over the season.

The rules for FFP for the Championship division differ from those of the Premier League and Leagues 1 and 2. For the 2013-14 season clubs were required to restrict any losses to £3m. However, it gave the owner of the club the option of converting up to £5m of any loss into equity, putting in cash to buy shares in the club. It cannot be done by borrowing money. However, if these were to be met and the losses did not exceed £8m there would be no penalty.

Clubs are required to submit their accounts for the 2013-14 season on December 1st. Any club that exceeds the limit will have a transfer embargo imposed until it turns itself around to reach FFP rules.

One club that appears certain to have a transfer embargo placed on it in January is Blackburn Rovers. They lost an incredible £36m in the 2013-14 season, wages alone accounting for 115% of revenue. The transfer of Jordan Rhodes for big money would help them to balance their books for the 2014-2015 season, but they face at least a year of transfer embargoes until the accounts are once more submitted in December 2015.

The Football League has a “Fair Play” tax in the case of clubs who overspend, but are promoted to the Premier League. The tax is on a sliding scale, but QPR are due to pay over £17m on their overspending last year. The Championship clubs voted overwhelmingly to impose the Fair Play tax, but the implementation of the scheme relied on the support of the Premier League, which has not materialized. At this stage it looks like QPR have got away with it, but it remains to be seen what will happen if they get relegated and return to the Championship.

Championship clubs continue to overspend in their ambitions to reach the Premier League, not only in transfer fees, but also in salaries. In the 2012-13 season only five clubs in the Championship made a profit. Leicester City lost £34m that season and if FFP rules had been in effect there is no way they would have avoided a transfer embargo, making it unlikely they would have been able to build up a squad strong enough for promotion the following season. It will be interesting to see if clubs fared any better last season, knowing that FFP was coming into effect.

Almost half of the clubs in the Championship are receiving parachute payments. This gives them a considerable financial advantage over the others who receive a “solidarity payment“of £2.3 million from the Premier League, one tenth of that of a club in its first year of parachute payments. The imbalance among the clubs has led to suggestions that clubs with parachute payments should have TV money withheld and that a salary cap be introduced for clubs.

Because of the financial support through the second parachute payment now is the time for Latics to really push for promotion. Over the next two years the payments will decrease and after that Latics would receive only the meagre consolidation payment that teams like Bournemouth are receiving. However, they are now competing against clubs who have just come down with bigger parachute payments plus other clubs who do not seem to be afraid to splash money on transfers despite FFP.

Latics desperately need another striker who can win matches by scoring goals. The question is how far is Whelan willing to go in the bidding wars that start up as the transfer window deadline day draws closer? Brentford sources are suggesting that Latics are going to have to pay more for Adam Forshaw than we previously thought. Moreover a good central striker is going to cost money.

Whelan will want to squeeze as much as he can out of any deal for James McArthur in order to finance the other two purchases. The hold-up in the Forshaw transfer might well be because Latics need to get the McArthur deal finalized first. There has been no news about other Latics players being sought by other clubs, but it remains a possibility at this late stage.

Whelan, Jonathan Jackson and Uwe Rosler deserve credit for the way the club is being run on a sound financial basis. Looking at the plight of near neighbours Bolton and Blackburn highlights the fact. Latics are likely to be one of the leaders in the division in terms of meeting FFP conditions.

However, whether Whelan will allow potential outgoings on transfers to exceed the incomings is a moot point. If he does not do so it will almost certainly jeopardise Latics’ chances of going up this year.

Dave Whelan is first and foremost a businessman. He will have some key business decisions to make over the next few days.

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