McCann out and Huws in?

Things are hotting up as the new season approaches. The news comes in, but questions continue to pop up.

Is Will Grigg really on his way to Scotland for a big transfer fee? Surely not.

Will Latics be losing Emyr Huws as well as Chris McCann? Maybe.

Why are Latics due to host Liverpool and Manchester United on consecutive days? Will the big clubs  be sending their senior squads? Will it be largely youth players or maybe a mixture of the two? Or was it an offer the young chairman just could not refuse?

SharpeManULiv

David Sharpe has shown himself to be an excellent communicator who has made an effort to reach out to the fans. He uses the social media as a vehicle to keep people informed and to raise morale. However, the social media is a double-edged sword and Sharpe has to field comments such as this:

Athertontweet

However, other fans can have a different perspective:

HumphreystweetA month ago we published an article Can Latics afford to keep Chris McCann?  Our question has now been answered by the announcement that the Irishman has signed for MLS expansion team Atlanta United. However, it appears that McCann will go out on loan until January. After his good form last season there are Latics fans who are already clamouring for McCann to spend his loan at Wigan.

There remain hopes among fans that Sharpe and Gary Caldwell will bring in Jordi Gomez and Leon Osman, but is it likely to happen?

McCanntweetMcCann announced his departure on the social media, giving due thanks to the fans.

For most of us, McCann’s departure is no surprise. One can bet that Sharpe just was not willing to offer the kind of salary the Irishman wanted, likely have been around £15-20K per week.  The departure of Reece Wabara was also most likely due to the club not meeting the player’s wage demands.

Sharpe has set the tone on keeping a ceiling on the wage bill as Latics enter their final season of parachute payments. Most of the players who previously played for Latics in the Championship, receiving relatively generous salaries, have now left the club. However, some still remain and Sharpe and his recruitment team will once again look at getting as many as possible off the wage bill. Included in those are the three players sent off on loan last season – Emyr Huws, Billy Mckay and Andrew Taylor.

Given that Caldwell already has Reece James and Stephen Warnock to compete for the left back position it is likely that Taylor will be seeking other pastures during the final year of his contract. Mckay did well to score 12 goals last season for a Dundee United team that finished bottom of the SPL. But he barely received a chance in his previous spell at Wigan and it appears unlikely that he will stay. The principal question mark hovers around the subject of Huws.

The mere mention of Huws can invoke anger in Wigan Athletic supporters. In late August 2015 Caldwell talked about the player’s unwillingness to play in League 1.

“I tried very hard to keep him to say that you have to help the club back to the Championship and to the Premier League – that’s the aim at this club – and we want people who are committed to that and doing everything they can to help us. He didn’t want to do it – that’s football – but we had to let the fans know that it wasn’t us that had decided to let him go – it was Emyr that wanted to go…I feel that is disrespectful to his team mates, myself, the chairman and the supporters.”

Caldwell’s comments certainly impacted upon fan opinion of the player. There remain some who would not like the player back at the club even if Caldwell decided on taking up that option.

However, it can be argued that Latics did well out of sending Huws  to Huddersfield. He gained further first team experience at Championship level, making 31 appearances and scoring five goals. The Yorkshire team paid his wages and the player’s value in the transfer market was maintained.

There are arguments to suggest that Caldwell made the comments to avoid criticism that might have come his way by allowing the player to leave. Moreover that it was early in Caldwell’s days as Wigan manager and with more experience he might not have criticised a player publicly. The word ‘disrespectful’ can stir up emotions in football circles. However, even in that heated time last August the manager did not close the door on a possible return of the player in the future.

Despite the furore Caldwell said last week that He (Huws) wanted to be in, he wanted to be back with the group on day one, and that tells me everything I need to know. We’ve always known the quality that Emyr has, and for him to want to be here is great. You want good players at your club, he’s a good player, and we’re delighted to have him back.”

However, rumours were circulating about a possible move for Huws to Fulham who might be willing to stump up a fee in the region of £2m for his transfer.

The likelihood is that Latics will be losing two very capable midfield players in Huws and McCann. They will not be short in that area with Alex Gilbey having arrived from Colchester and Danny Whitehead from Macclesfield. However, neither has the experience  at Championship level of Huws and McCann:  they are clearly players for the future.

If Latics can sell Huws for a price close to that they paid Manchester City a couple of years ago they will almost certainly do so. It would not only bring in revenue but they would be shedding another player on the level of the Championship salaries during the Rosler era. But questions remain over fans’ support for the player in the aftermath of Caldwell’s  previous comments. Moreover statements made by the player during his time at Huddersfield hardly improved Wigan fan views of him.

However, Huws has the potential to be a top player. He is tough in the tackle, with a high workrate, a great left foot, strong on taking set pieces. Together with the likes of Max Power he could form a formidable central midfield for Latics.

If Caldwell really were willing to bury the hatchet with Emyr Huws would the majority of supporters get behind the player? He is still only 22 years old and represents one of the club’s most potentially valuable assets. Moreover with another full season under his belt, injuries notwithstanding, he would surely be in the shop window for the big clubs.

Put simply, are Latics willing to take a gamble on Huws? Then how about Gomez and Osman?

Can Latics afford to keep Chris McCann?

Whether McCann stays or not will provide an indicator on Wigan's financial outlook for the future.

Whether McCann stays or not will provide an indicator on Wigan’s financial outlook for the future.

Norway is a country that prides itself on financial transparency. In fact you can go online and look at the earnings that people post on their tax returns, the Prime Minister included.

But obtaining hard facts on player earnings at English football clubs is quite the opposite. Individual player salaries tend to be closely guarded by clubs who want to keep such things under their hats, for their own sakes as well as those of the players. Since salaries are so rarely divulged we usually to have to make guestimates for the figures involved.

According to the Daily Mail the average basic yearly salary for a Championship player in 2014-15 was £324,250. It was £69,500 in League 1.

Using those basic figures and assuming a first team squad of 25 players it would have cost an average Championship club around £8.1m that season for its basic wage bill for its senior players, let alone for bonuses and appearance money. Together with salaries of other players and staff and the general running costs of the club, the figures would most likely top £10m. A comparable figure for the average League 1 club would have been around £2.5m.

Chris McCann and Leon Barnett were signed by Owen Coyle in the season of 2013-14 when Wigan Athletic’s annual running costs were around £30m. Simple calculations suggest that most of the senior players in that squad would have been earning salaries around £1m.

According to an article in the Star a couple of weeks ago it was Sheffield United, not Wigan Athletic, who had the highest player salary costs in League 1 this past season. They estimated it to be around £6m.

If the Star’s estimate is correct it means that Latics operated on a salary bill no more than £6m last season, remarkable given that the combined salaries of Barnett and McCann would most likely have been between £1.5m and £2.0m. It suggests the remaining players were earning a fraction of the wages of the two Coyle recruits.

Last summer Wigan Athletic did a remarkable job in preparing themselves for the financial realities of League 1, following a 12 year period in the Championship and the Premier League. Players on Championship salaries were jettisoned for knockdown prices, whilst others were sent out on loan. Whether Barnett and McCann remained due to their value to the squad or that no acceptable offers came to them is open to conjecture. In the event Barnett had an indifferent season and will be going elsewhere. McCann on the other hand became a key player in the promotion season, given his flexibility in adjusting to playing in different positions.

The club has announced that it is offering McCann a new contract. The snag is that the salary on offer would mean a substantial pay cut for the Irishman. Given that he is a proven performer with a wealth of experience in the Championship he is likely to attract interest from other clubs in the division. The arrival of Owen Coyle at Blackburn could be a factor. McCann played under the Scot at Burnley before joining Coyle’s Latics. Moreover judging by their profit and loss accounts over the past seasons the East Lancashire club are not averse to offering attractive salaries.

Should McCann leave Wigan there will be fans who will question his loyalty. But the likelihood is that he will leave. There are at least three other players who still belong to Wigan who will still be on their previous Championship-level salaries. They are the loan players – Emyr Huws,  Billy Mckay and Andrew Taylor. But the kinds of salaries that Latics will want to offer this coming season might not be in line with what those players were used to earn before going on loan.

Having had wage bills of £30m in the Championship in 2013-14, then £20m in 2014-15, what kind of figure will Latics be aiming towards for the season ahead?

Wigan will be buffered by their final parachute payment in excess of £12m. However, the club does not have a great record in raising commercial revenues and gate receipts are likely to be well below the average for clubs in division. Offering low cost season tickets is a great way to foster goodwill among supporters and it could be argued that the lower prices will bring more people in, compensating for a reduction in price. However, there are questions about whether such a stance can be maintained without the cushion of parachute money. Even in their heyday in the Premier League the club struggled to reach an annual £3m in gate money.

Latics might stretch to a wage bill of around £15m for the coming season, but they must tread with caution with regards to salaries offered and lengths of contracts. The prospect looms of making significant losses two to three years from now.

Given these factors offering McCann a one year deal on a salary compatible to that of which he has become accustomed would be possible. But a contract of two to three years on such terms would be risky.

Last summer the staffing policy was clear – get rid of the highest earners and bring in players of sufficient quality to get the club out of League 1, but halving the wage bill. This summer it is not so clear. Does the club take the gamble of going for outright promotion or does it keep an eye on what are the longer term implications for its financial future?

Whether or not Chris McCann signs a new contract will provide us with a major indicator as to where the club intends to be heading over the coming years.

Caldwell’s summer shopping list

Will Grigg has been on fire but the dust has now settled on Wigan Athletic’s achievement of winning League 1. Now it is time to look ahead to the start of the Championship season on August 6th.

shoppingGary Caldwell will surely be relieved that he will not have to go through the massive restructuring of last summer. But at the same time he will know that the current squad will need strengthening if Latics are to hold their own in the higher division. At least half a dozen reinforcements are likely to be brought in.

Caldwell’s immediate priority will be to deal with players out of contract and players who have come in or gone out on loan.

Caldwell has already secured the services of Stephen Warnock for the next couple of seasons following a very successful loan from Derby County. Warnock has looked a class act in League 1, whether playing as a left back or on the left side of a back line of three. However, he is 34 years of age and it comes as a surprise that a contract of more than a year was offered.

Rumours also suggest that Caldwell is trying to tie up a deal with Everton for Conor McAleny. The 23 year old scored 4 goals in his 9 starts and 4 appearances as a substitute since joining Wigan on loan in January. McAleny’s career has been dogged by injury, but Caldwell must feel reasonably confident that the player can maintain a good level of fitness. McAleny can hit the ball as hard as anyone, as evident on the screamers he scored at Walsall and Shrewsbury.

Haris Vuckic is the third loan player who finished the season for Latics. The 23 year old Slovenian has a great left foot and can both score and create goals. The question mark over Vuckic has been his fitness. He made 5 starts for Latics, but never completed the 90 minutes. Vuckic has reportedly gone back to Newcastle and given his inability to establish himself at Wigan it is unlikely he will be sought after by Caldwell.

Caldwell has the option of bringing back three players who were packed off on loan to other clubs at the start of last season. With Reece James and Stephen Warnock, Latics do not need another left back, so it is likely that Andrew Taylor will once again be sent away on loan until his contract expires in June 2017.

Billy Mckay was given minimal opportunities at Wigan, but has scored 12 goals in 28 starts for Dundee United who finished bottom of the SPL. However, it is reported that there is interest in him from other Scottish clubs and it is unlikely he will return.

The prospect of Emyr Huws playing in midfield with the likes of Max Power is mouth-watering, but it appears that he might have burnt his bridges at Wigan. Huws is a combative midfielder who oozes class, but comments attributed to him as not wanting to play for Latics when they were going down to League 1 were unfortunate to say the least. Moreover it appears that the ankle problem the player suffered at Wigan has continued to plague him. Huws has another two years to run on his contract and the likelihood is that Latics would accept any reasonable transfer fee put forward.

There are seven players out of contract. Both Leon Barnett and Chris McCann were recruited by Owen Coyle in the days when the club’s annual salary bill was well above what we can expect for the near future. Barnett is an experienced ex-Premier League player, but has found it difficult to adjust to the possession football that Caldwell demands. McCann on the other hand has thrived under Caldwell. The Scot has not only called on him to play in the centre of defence as he did at times under Uwe Rosler, but has reinvented the big Irishman as a wing back. Although Barnett’s stay at the club looks to be coming to a close, Caldwell will be keen to retain McCann, although he will have to ask the player to take a significant salary cut if he wants to stay.

Reece Wabara was signed on a short term contract in January, since when he made 14 starts with 3 appearances off the bench. Although Wabara has by no means played badly, neither has he convinced us that he must stay. Wabara is already being linked with other clubs and rumours suggest he is on his way out of the club.

Kevin McNaughton missed most of the season out through injury and although the 33 year old Scot is an accomplished full back it is unlikely Caldwell will offer him a further contract.

The positions of three younger players who are out of contract are unclear. The 23 year old goalkeeper Lee Nicholls has amassed nine league appearances over his five years or so at the club. He has had loan spells at six clubs, his most successful being in 2012-13 when he was an ever-present for Northampton Town. Fan opinions on Nicholls vary. Some say that he is the kind of commanding keeper that Latics need and that successive managers have never given him the chance he has deserved. Others cite a lack of concentration, that some of the goals he has conceded should have been easily saved. Rarely has the rift in fan opinion been more apparent than in the last game of the season. On the Vital Latics forum 18% of readers voted him ‘’Man of the Match’’ whereas others slated him for all four Barnsley goals. The signing of young Dan Lavercombe from Torquay in January could prove a key factor in the decision whether or not Nicholls will be offered a new contract.

The other two young players whose contracts are due to expire are Jordan Flores and Ryan Jennings, both 20 years old. It was always going to be hard for young, inexperienced players to break their way into a team aiming for promotion. Both have certainly showed promise, although only Flores played in league games this past season. He made two league starts, both in September, scoring a fine goal against Fleetwood but getting sent off at Oldham a week later. Flores has had injury issues, but he has a great left foot and shows some silky skills. Jennings made his senior Latics debut as a substitute in the League Cup game against Bury and has been on loan at Grimsby and Cheltenham, making a total of 9 starts and 9 appearances as a substitute.

So what are the areas that need strengthening?

David Sharpe has recently made it clear that Latics will not be spending big money to bring in players in their late twenties or beyond. However, that does not preclude money being spent on young players who have already shown what they can do at other clubs. Any more experienced players coming in are likely to be free agents or those available at knockdown prices.

With Jussi Jaaskelainen now 41 years old, Caldwell is likely to seek an experienced goalkeeper to challenge the Finn for his place. Rumours suggest that they will once again try to sign the 32 year old Andy Lonerghan. The ex-Preston and Bolton man has a wealth of experience and is midway through a two year contract at Fulham.

Right back was a problem position last season and Caldwell will be keen to recruit someone who can fill the bill. Donald Love (21) could be that player should Latics be able to persuade Manchester United to part with him for a reasonable fee. Love’s loan spell at Latics was interrupted by injury and call-ups from the Scotland under-21 team, but he did enough to suggest that he would be a good investment for Wigan.

Caldwell will also be looking for a quality central defender with the speed to cope with pacey Championship forwards. With the likely departure of Barnett it will be a priority.

Rumour suggests that Latics are interested in the 31 year old Darren Pratley, a holding midfielder with a wealth of experience with over 300 appearances under his belt at Swansea and Bolton. Together with the 22 year old Danny Whitehead, signed from Macclesfield Town in January, Caldwell would be adding a balance of youth and experience to his midfield if he were to sign Pratley.

Caldwell will also seek another centre forward. Much depended on Grigg last season and Latics need alternatives in case he is called up for international duty or injured. Craig Davies had his most injury-free season for some time, but was only used as a substitute in the second half of the season. Caldwell will broaden his options by going for a third central striker.

Should Vuckic not be returning, another left footed winger/creative player would help maintain a balance. Ryan Colclough, Michael Jacobs, Conor McAleny and Yanic Wildschut are all right footed although Andy Kellett can play a left footed role on the right of midfield.

Caldwell and his recruitment team have done a fine job over the past year. Their next challenge is to find half a dozen new recruits who can add further balance to a squad that is going to have to come to grips with playing at a higher level this coming season.

Latics fire off a warning to Burton – form ratings for Swindon 1 Wigan Athletic 4

Will Grigg scores the first goal. Photo courtesy of the Swindon Advertiser.

Will Grigg scores the first goal.
Photo courtesy of the Swindon Advertiser.

If the scoreline was impressive, the performance was even more so. Wigan Athletic have sent warning shots across the bows of their close challengers Burton and Walsall.

It was possibly Wigan’s best performance of the season. They were well organised in defence, tenacious in midfield and dangerous in attack. More than anything else it was the style of football that impressed most. Latics played a brand of football way beyond that one can expect in League 1.

Gary Caldwell springing a surprise is really no surprise at all. But playing with twin strikers would hardly be expected from a manager who prefers a lone centre forward setup. Rather than use his typical 3-4-3, Caldwell opted for a 3-5-2 with Will Grigg and Yanic Wildschut up front. The presence of three central midfielders in front of a back line of three was to give the wing backs the licence to attack with vigour.

Caldwell got his tactics spot-on. The twin strikers were able to harry Swindon’s back line of three, forcing them into launching long passes which more often than not were gobbled up by the Wigan defence. Moreover Wigan’s midfield trio could swarm forward and swamp an overrun Swindon midfield. Wigan’s movement off the ball was a joy to behold.

Grigg took his 15th minute goal with aplomb, evading two close markers to hit home Chris McCann’s superb cross. The Wigan wingbacks, McCann in particular, continued to look lively. Swindon’s attack was largely innocuous.

Latics could have possibly killed the game off in the first 45 minutes, given the chances they squandered, but their opening to the second half was stunning. Their high pressing reduced Swindon’s defence to jelly. Max Power’s stunning right foot shot from the left hand side after 47 minutes will rank as one of the goals of the season. Three minutes later Grigg’s deflected shot gave the Swindon goalkeeper no chance, then Sam Morsy hit home a fine drive from the edge of the box after 51 minutes.

Wigan could have had more goals in the 39 minutes of normal time still remaining, but their finishing was to let them down. As the game progressed they eased their foot on the accelerator, with a home match against Rochdale weighing on their minds. It resulted in a well taken goal for the division’s top goalscorer, Nicky Ajose, after 79 minutes.

The Good

Latics worked liked a well-oiled machine, for once the whole equaling the sum of its parts. They made Swindon look poor in comparison, remarkable in that the home side had lost only one of its previous eight games.

So often teams have tried to stifle Wigan’s playing out from the back by high pressing. This time Latics used it to their own advantage, Swindon being stymied by that tactic.

David Sharpe promised the fans a 20 goal per season striker before the start of the season. Will Grigg reached that mark yesterday, with 17 in the league and 3 in cup matches.

The Bad

With better finishing from Grigg and Wildschut, the scoreline would have been even more emphatic.

It is the norm in modern football for teams to take their foot off the gas when they have a comfortable lead, with another game looming closer. In particular Grigg looked less than delighted to be taken off in the 75th minute with a hat trick a distinct possibility.

It could be argued that a third goal for the centre forward could have been a big confidence boost for him. But Caldwell would surely counter that by saying that he needed a fully fit Grigg for the game on Monday. Such debates occur in all levels of today’s football.

Player Ratings

Jussi Jaaskelainen: 8 – solid and dependable, sound in distribution. Made an excellent save from an Ajose free kick  in the second half.

Reece Wabara: 7 – getting better. Worked hard running up and down the right flank.

Donervon Daniels: 7.5 – his physical presence proved important in keeping the home side at bay.

Craig Morgan: 7.5 – solid in defence and pragmatic with his passing.

Stephen Warnock: 7.5 – another very professional performance from a full back playing in a back line of three.

Chris McCann: 8 – excellent. A constant threat to the right hand side of the Swindon defence.

Sam Morsy: 8.5 – not only adds steel to the midfield, but intelligent in his passing and movement.

Max Power: 7.5 – an all-round player with the class to play at a level well above League 1. Showed superb technique in his goal. Taken off after 64 minutes.

David Perkins: 8.5 – a complete performance, tenacious in his covering. His performance made a mockery of criticisms that he cannot pass the ball.

Will Grigg: 8 – a danger throughout. He has scored 12 goals in his last 13 games. Once again squandered opportunities, but the good news is that he is getting into the right positions to score.

Yanic Wildschut: 7 – worked hard and was a headache for the home defence with his speed and physical presence. But finishing is not always his strong point. Substituted after 71 minutes.

Substitutes:

Tim Chow –  came on for Power after 64 minutes. Worked hard.

Craig Davies – came on for Wildschut after 71 minutes. A physical presence as always.

Haris Vuckic – on for Grigg after 75 minutes. Showed some nice touches.

Warnock – a great signing for Latics

Warnock

The “New Era” recruitment team at Wigan Athletic already had an impressive record, but the announcement of the signing of Stephen Warnock is really the icing on the cake. Warnock turned 34 in December and his loan signing might be short term, but with over 200 career appearances at Premier League level he will surely have much to offer in League 1.

The long term injury to Reece James and a two game suspension  for Chris McCann left Gary Caldwell short of options at left back/left wing back. Against Peterborough on Saturday he moved Reece Wabara across from the right to play there, while McCann was rested on the bench.  The 22 year old Andy Kellett had been signed as the back-up left sided defender, but in most of his appearances he has been played further forward. Moreover Kellett has been dogged by injury. His last first team appearance was against Gillingham in early January.

Warnock was born in Ormskirk and has two caps for England. He came through the Liverpool youth system, going through loan spells at Bradford City and Coventry City when in his early twenties. He went on to make 40 Premier League appearances for Liverpool before moving on to Blackburn and Aston Villa, subsequently dropping down to the Championship in 2012 with a loan move to Bolton. He was then to move on to Leeds United before signing for Derby County in January 2015.

Warnock has made 30 appearances in the Championship for the Rams, but the arrival of a new manager in January has seen his first team opportunities become limited.

With James still injured and McCann serving a two match suspension we can expect Warnock to go straight in the team for the visit to Colchester on Saturday. Moreover his arrival gives Caldwell more flexibility in being able to use McCann in the centre of defence or midfield.

The performance on Saturday was surely affected by losing three players to injury by half time. Jussi Jaaskelainen and Jason Pearce are key players in the promotion push and Caldwell will be hoping they will be back for Saturday. He will also hope that Conor McAleny will be back soon, although he has an obvious replacement in Haris Vuckic. Kevin McNaughton is getting closer to full fitness and will surely challenge Reece Wabara and Donervon Daniels for the right back position over the coming weeks. A back four of McNaughton, Craig Morgan, Pearce and Warnock would rank among the most experienced and accomplished in the division.

When Michael Jacobs was in injured at Crewe at the end of January it looked like Latics would be short on creativity, although the signing of Ryan Colclough has certainly helped. However, Jacobs was one of the main driving forces in the new era side until his injury, one of the best attacking midfielders in the division.

The return of Jacobs, apparently still a couple of weeks away in terms of fitness, together with the advent of Warnock could be crucial in the bid for promotion.

Warnock is a terrific addition to the squad, albeit with just 11 league games to go.