How Much Longer for Bob and Dave?

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“I have one ambition left in my life and that is to get Wigan back in the Premier League.”

So said Dave Whelan just over a week ago.

It seems like the FA Cup win has put a new lease of life into the Wigan owner, 76 years old.  At times Latics supporters have pondered on Whelan’s ability to keep motivated, given all that he has achieved for the club and his advancing years.  How much longer can he keep it going?

Wigan Athletic without Dave Whelan does not bear thinking about at this moment in time. The good news is that he is committed for the short term at least.

Although Latics are going to lose around half of their current squad there will be enough quality players remaining to provide a strong backbone for a promotion push.

Funds gained by selling prize assets – such as James McCarthy, Arouna Kone and Callum McManaman – are likely to be ploughed back into the acquisition of new players. Young players who have been carefully nurtured – the likes of Fraser Fyvie, Roman Golobart, Lee Nicholls, Eduard Campabadal, Jordan Mustoe, Daniel Redmond, Nouha Dicko – are going to be pressing for first team action next season.

Despite relegation and the impending departure of so many players there remains a mood of optimism at the club. But then for a third consecutive summer there is uncertainty over the future of manager, Robert Martinez.

In most clubs the manager would lose his job for his team being relegated. Martinez has certainly had his critics during his four year stint as manager. However, the support he got at the victory celebrations on Monday showed how highly he is held in regard by so many fans. Not only did he keep Wigan above the relegation zone for three years on a budget that was “shoestring” in comparison with the competition, but he also built an infrastructure that will serve the club for years to come.

Who could blame Roberto Martinez if he decided to move on? Every manager needs a challenge and the Spaniard has certainly had lots of those already at Wigan. But now the parameters have changed. What would he have to realistically aim for if he were to continue?

Current media reports present a picture of the main focus of discussions between chairman and manager being on youth development and training facilities. Martinez rightly wants the chairman to commit to advancement in those key areas before deciding if he, in turn, will commit to the club for a further period of time.

Whether Martinez stays or goes, Latics have need more quality young players coming through the ranks. Even as a Premier League club, Wigan Athletic’s under 21 and under 18 teams have been playing in the second division of the Professional Development League  this year, with clubs from the Championship division. That the under 21 team reached a mid table position is no indictment on the coaching or management at that level. It is the lack of quality coming from  youth level that is the concern. Although it can be argued that results are not so important in younger age ranges,  it is no coincidence that the under 18 team has lost a lot more matches than it has won this season.

Roberto Martinez is right in his insistence on a good youth development programme. It has been wonderful to see Callum McManaman come through the ranks with such impact. Before him it was Leighton Baines. But if the club is to be sustainable in the upper leagues in years to come  it is going to need quality young players coming through teh system more frequently.

Lots of exciting work remains ahead for the formidable duo of Roberto Martinez and Dave Whelan. Next season begins with Wigan Athletic playing in the Community Shield at Wembley. Then the efforts will begin to put up a good show in the Europa League and to get promotion back to the Premier League.

We will find out early next week if Roberto Martinez is up for these new challenges. The vast majority of Wigan Athletic fans will be hoping that the Bob and Dave partnership will continue in the near future at least. They have done so much together, but there is still much more that needs to be done.

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WIGAN ATHLETIC 3 WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS 2 – CHAMPAGNE FOOTBALL IN A PARTY ATMOSPHERE

What a pleasant way to end a season – champagne football played by Latics, with an appreciative home crowd lapping it up. How strange that after 8 minutes with the home crowd celebrating an upcoming 8th year in the Premier League, Matt Jarvis should dampen the party atmosphere by scoring a peach of a goal. Receiving a ball from Steven Ward he cut in from the left and put a peach of a shot beyond Ali Al Habsi’s reach.

Latics came back in the 12th minute with an opportunist goal from Franco Di Santo, kicking the ball between the legs of a Wolves defender into the left hand corner, after James McCarthy had dispossessed Stephen Hunt in midfield. The Jimmy Macs and Shaun Maloney were running the midfield and it came as no surprise when Emmerson Boyce scored two minutes later with a towering header from a Jean Beausejour corner. Latics dominated the remainder of the first half with their excellent movement and silky skills, but could not further add to their tally.

Wolves came out with more resolve in the second half and the Wigan defence had to be on its toes. Al Habsi produced an excellent save from Kevin Doyle, but Gary Caldwell was ruling the roost at the back. Wigan continued to produce waves of classy football, with Shaun Maloney orchestrating the play, giving the Wolves defence a torrid time. The lively Albert Crusat came on for Victor Moses after 58 minutes and Hugo Rodallega for Franco Di Santo after 79 minutes. Within the first minute of coming on it was Rodallega who headed the ball for Boyce to hit a screamer of a half volley into the net. Jordi Gomez came on for Shaun Maloney after 82 minutes.  In the 84th minute Boyce went through the Wolves defence with the chance of a hat trick. However, he unselfishly tried to square the ball to Rodallaga and the chance was lost. Steven Fletcher got a consolation goal for Wolves on 86 minutes, after Adrian Lopez – in for the injured Antolin Alcaraz – got caught in possession on the edge of his penalty area. In another sweeping move Rodallaga was unlucky to see his shot hit the post in the final minute of added time. The final whistle signaled a pitch invasion by delighted fans.

The Good

The scoreline did not truly reflect the gulf between the two teams. This was champagne football from Latics, with Shaun Maloney being at the core of practically all of our best attacking moves. The Latics fans have been fantastic over the past few months, in sharp contrast to the doom and gloom that pervaded the earlier part of the season. The belief shown by the fans has galvanised a team previously lacking self confidence.

 It is not only the prospect of an 8th season in the Premier League that makes me look forward to the resumption in August. More than that it is the prospect of Latics playing this brand of football and not being afraid of the rich and bloated clubs who dominate the league. We have to shed the image of “Little Wigan” and move up a notch in our own estimation. If Bob and Dave both stay for a few years longer we will not be perennially looking to avoid relegation, but towards being in the top half of the table, seeking a Europa league place.

The Bad

After being outstanding in recent games Antolin Alcaraz suffered a thigh injury in training. Estimated time of recovery is 6 weeks so let’s hope all will be well for him at the start of next season. He was missed in defence.

Player Ratings


Ali Al Habsi: 8 – Did all he could to keep Wolves out.  A top class ‘keeper.

Emmerson Boyce: 9 – This defensively minded player has become a real attacking option in the right wing back position. Has scored three cracking goals in recent matches.

Adrian Lopez: 6 – Tried hard to impose himself physically, but looked nervy. His lack of match fitness and practice probably contributed to him losing the ball for Wolves’ second goal.

Gary Caldwell: 9 – Superb at the back once again.

Maynor Figueroa: 8 – Excellent yet again.

Jean Beausejour: 8 – Played more of an attacking role than usual. Put in some lovely crosses that might have led to more goals.

James McCarthy: 8 – Excellent yet again.

James McArthur: 8 – Probably our most under rated player. Excellent performance.

Shaun Maloney: 9 – A brilliant performance from the Little Magician.

Victor Moses: 6 – Ineffective, taken off after 58 minutes. Maybe unsettled by transfer talk?

Franco Di Santo: 8 – Must be one of the best in the Premier League in his skilful hold-up play. Scored an opportunist goal.

Substitutes

Albert Crusat: 8 – Made a major impact as a substitute, coming close to scoring on at least three occasions. Promises well for the future.

Hugo Rodallega – Has been a great servant for Wigan Athletic. What shame he was unlucky in the last minute, hitting the post as his Latics career was coming to a close.

Jordi Gomez – Worked hard and put through some nice passes. This has been his best season at the club and he has managed to silence many of his critics.