Seeing through the gloom – the way ahead for Latics

Gloom

They say that you have to experience the lows in life to truly appreciate its highs.

It is certainly a low time for Wigan Athletic. They stand second from bottom of the Championship after 19 matches, having won only three. Moreover the positions of both the new manager and the chairman are precarious, pending the results of FA investigations. The last manager was undone by player power and the new manager has failed to win either of his first two games.

Who will be running the club six months from now? How many players and staff will be gone by then? Will Latics still be in the Championship division? Will the financial future of the club be safeguarded?

It is indeed a time of doom and gloom, amid a prevailing air of uncertainty.

It is in such times that negativity and pessimism come to the fore. Fans are justifiably disillusioned with a squad of players that have let the club down up to this point. Indeed one of the Latics fan forums is currently running a thread entitled “Who would you get shut of?”

But despite the frustrations, pointing the finger at individual players is not going to help matters. Despite his rotation policy and mesmerizing team selections, Uwe Rosler put together a squad good enough to challenge for promotion. What has happened since the season started in August is now water under the bridge, but it has left the players in a crisis of confidence.

Good players have not become bad ones over these three months. It is not so much that individuals have played so badly, but more to do with their ability to play as a unit. The sum has been much less than aggregation of  its parts.

Dave Whelan has taken flak for his appointment of Malky Mackay, not just from the national media but from Latics fans. At times it has seemed that Whelan made a big error of judgment. Fans have been frustrated by the lack of goals, but Whelan has appointed a manager whose teams have not been known for their flowing, attacking football. There is more unsettling gossip in the media about Latics bringing in Ryan Giggs as manager should Mackay be suspended by the FA.

However, there exists the possibility that Whelan did know what he was doing. Mackay knows the environment of the Championship division. He is also reputed to be a motivational manager. Mackay has also had lots of experience in dealing with significant turnovers of players at the end of their contracts. Could it be that Mackay has been brought in to clear out the bad eggs in the Latics dressing room?

Mackay wisely turned to the old guard in his first match in charge. He needs them behind him if he is going to create stability and raise morale in the dressing room. Moreover in times of adversity managers typically rely on their most experienced players. The starting eleven against Middlesbrough contained five players from the Roberto Martinez era and four signed by Owen Coyle. The average age of the back four was thirty plus. Just two of the eleven players signed by Uwe Rosler – Adam Forshaw and Andrew Taylor – started in that game and the next one at Sheffield Wednesday.

No fewer than ten players have contracts which finish at the end of the season.  Most of those are approaching 30 or are on the wrong side of it. Eight of them – Al Habsi (32 years old), Boyce (35), Caldwell (32), Espinoza (28), Maloney (31), Nicholls (22), Ramis (30) and Watson (29) – remain from the Martinez era. The other two are Fortune (33), signed by Coyle, and Kvist (29) brought in on a one year contract by Rosler.

Given that Latics have only 17 points from their first 19 matches, Mackay will be looking at consolidation rather than promotion. Financial considerations will increasingly come into play.

Mackay recently stated that “This is a business, and after we’ve assessed the situation. There will be players moving out as well as coming in. After two or three weeks you get to know every player, how they train, their strengths and weaknesses. It will take two or three transfer windows for it to be ‘my team’, for the team to be sufficiently tweaked.”

His remarks indicate that the merry-go-round of players that we have seen over the past year will continue. Coyle brought in ten new players and Rosler signed eleven.

Since the summer of 2013 Latics have made a profit in the transfer market. The fees recouped through the sales of cup final winners McCarthy, Kone and McArthur have more than compensated for the relatively small fees paid by Coyle for Barnett, Holt, McClean and Perch plus the more considerable sums spent by Rosler on Delort, Forshaw, Huws and Riera. The flip side is that Latics lost quality when McCarthy and co left the club. Even more quality was lost as Beausejour and Gomez left at the end of last season as free agents.

In order to bring in his own players Rosler allowed the senior squad to swell beyond 30 players. He had clearly been keen to transfer out higher salary earners such as Al Habsi, Holt and Ramis but was unable to do so. Moreover the signing of Figueroa on loan meant that Latics had not only four left backs on their books, but had enlarged a squad that was already bloated.

Next year the club’s parachute payments will halve to £9m. Not only will Mackay have to follow in the footsteps of Coyle and Rosler by staying in the black in the transfer market, but he will have to make significant cuts in the wage bill. He will need to shed higher wage earners and considerably reduce the size of the squad.

Latics are clearly going to lose more quality players by the end of the season. They could well start the 2015-16 season without any of the players that played in that magical FA Cup final of 2013. The moment of Watson’s famous header will stay etched in the minds of Latics supporters for the rest of their lives. But somehow it needs to be put out of mind for a period of time as Latics adjust to a new reality.

Dave Whelan backed Uwe Rosler and Latics got within touching distance of the Premier League last season, but could not quite make it in the playoffs. He continued to back Rosler this season in bringing in new players. It all looked so promising, but it just did not happen.

A significant proportion of Latics fans remain critical of Rosler’s signings, whose performances up to this point have been less than eye-catching. Adam Forshaw has not yet lived up to his transfer fee and the hype he received at Brentford and the form of overseas strikers Andy Delort and Oriel Riera has been below par. Martyn Waghorn, signed last season, has fallen under the radar. Andrew Taylor has shown flashes of his best, but does not yet convince. However, Mackay had taken both Taylor and Don Cowie with him from Watford to Cardiff and we can expect them to feature regularly.

Cowie is already under criticism from a section of fans, but he is the kind of unspectacular “water carrier” that a Championship team often needs in midfield. William Kvist is Denmark’s captain and can surely do a job as a holding midfield player. Emyr Huws is an exciting young talent, who has all the skills needed to play at the highest level. What he lacks is experience and he will find that hard to get now, given the competition for midfield places. James Tavernier is one for the future, his quality crossing and delivery from set pieces a real asset, even if he is not yet up to par defensively. Young left back Aaron Taylor-Sinclair has yet to step on the pitch in a league game.

It may be that Rosler’s signings will come good with time. They came into a struggling side, with a manager who had lost the plot. Latics made major investments in the signings of young players. Forshaw is  23 years old, as is Delort. Huws is 21. Only time will tell if Rosler picked up free transfer bargains in the 23 year olds, Tavernier and Taylor-Sinclair, and the 24 year old Waghorn.

Coyle will be remembered more than anything else for the signings of the then 32 year old strikers, Grant Holt and Marc-Antoine Fortune. However, in Leon Barnett, Scott Carson, James Perch and Chris McCann he signed experienced practioners who will most likely form the  backbone of Mackay’s team.

If there is a cancer within the playing staff then Mackay will deal with it. Rosler had a clear view of the style of football he wanted but the players were apparently unable or unwilling to deliver it. Did Rosler just did not have the credibility with the players that he needed to motivate them to deliver his vision?

Mackay will need to be tough in cutting out any cancer that might be there. He will also have to show the kind of fortitude that we saw in Martinez, insisting on his preferred style of play and not bowing to fan pressure. He will need to show the door to certain players, even if some are popular with supporters.

It remains to be seen what will happen with the FA charge against Whelan. However, at 78 years of age the chairman will surely be looking at handing over the reins in any case. If the FA decision causes him to resign as chairman he will remain the owner of the club and will surely continue to pull the strings behind the scenes. With his home base in Barbados, Whelan has been devolving authority to the Chief Executive, Jonathan Jackson to run the club’s daily business.

No matter what happens on the pitch this season the club is likely to be in a far superior position financially than most in the Championship division. Latics’ balance sheet for the 2013-14 season is due to be published shortly and it will make interesting reading. Whelan has insisted on prudent financial management and it will be a surprise if the club went into the red last season after receiving parachute payments and gaining extra revenue from its Europa League campaign and reaching the semifinal of the FA Cup.

Yesterday was the deadline for clubs to submit their accounts for the 2013-14 season to the Football League. Any club breaking FFP rules will have a transfer embargo imposed until it turns itself around to meet them again. A fascinating study by Ed Thompson suggests that Birmingham, Blackburn, Bolton, Bournemouth, Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest are ‘very likely’ to fall into that category. Latics fall into the category of ‘very unlikely’ to receive a transfer ban.

ffptableWigan Athletic’s sustainability in the long term will partly depend on their ability to develop young talent. An article on the club’s official site yesterday highlighted the under-18 side being undefeated in 11 matches. Coach Peter Atherton quoted that: “Things are heading in the right direction, Gregor Rioch has come in as Academy Manager and he’s implemented a lot of changes to put us on that correct track…….. The success has come sooner than we probably expected, but we’re not getting carried away.  The lads will continue to work just as hard. We should be at the top of this league and we’re aiming higher up the Academy pyramid.  We’re happy with the direction we’re heading in and what we’re achieving.”

To be heading a division of the Football League Youth Alliance largely composed of clubs from League 1 and 2 would not appear such an achievement, but it is a sign of the improvement shown at academy level. The new facility at Charnock Richard is due to be completed by 2016 and it is clear that Latics are ramping up their youth programme aiming for a Category One Academy.

A year from now Malky Mackay may or may not be the manager, Dave Whelan may or may not be the chairman. A swathe of players will have departed, possibly backroom staff too.  But the club will be financially stable and well run.

The squad will not have the quality to which we have grown accustomed. Most of the household names will have departed. But Latics will have a team that is hungry for success, with a nucleus of capable and experienced pros together with exciting young talent.

Latics will have bucked the trend of overspending as has been the wont of so many other clubs .

Then there is the prospect of a Category One Academy and long-term sustainability.

Things might seem gloomy at the moment, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

 

Related articles on Amigos:

Finances, FFP and the long term future for Wigan Athletic

FFP and Latics – should Whelan splash the cash?

 

Dave makes the right decision, but can he get the next one right?

Whelan

“Following the incredible achievements of last season, I felt it was the right thing to do that he should be given more time. However, the situation we find ourselves in at the moment, and the run of results in recent months, really has been alarming. Something is clearly not working. For whatever reason, the team is not gelling, despite substantial financial backing in the summer and the dressing room being blessed with a huge amount of quality. Therefore, I have now come to the reluctant conclusion that for the long term good of the club, we need a change.”

Dave Whelan’s words signaled the end of another era at Wigan Athletic. Uwe Rosler departing after only eleven months at the helm. The club is going to have its third manager in a period of a year.

Given only three victories in seventeen league games it seemed like a matter of time before Rosler would be shown the door. It was a sad end to an era in which Rosler had enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame. He took over a team in 14th place and got them into the playoffs, only to be narrowly beaten by QPR. Moreover the stunning win at the Etihad against the to-be Premier League champions in the FA Cup sixth round will stick in the memory for years to come. So will the semifinal, taking Arsenal to a penalty shootout.

Sadly things went pear-shaped for Rosler in the second half of his reign. The rot had set in near the end of last season. The confidence that had been generated through a long string of good results started to wane. The new season saw the team coming back from pre-season training in Germany in poor physical shape, with second half collapses being the order of the day. Moreover Rosler had made nine new signings since the summer, all in need of  a settling in period. But their arrival had swelled the first team squad to over thirty, the end result being Rosler having to deal with disgruntled players not getting a regular game. Sadly we never saw Rosler’s dream of high pressure, high tempo football come to fruition. The players just did not seem capable of delivering it.

One hopes that Rosler will be remembered with some degree of affection among Latics fans. Serious injuries to midfield lynchpins Chris McCann and Ben Watson were a cruel blow when his team was doing so well. Moreover Nick Powell’s form had dipped at the wrong time, with the playoffs within reach. The team’s form wavered as the end of season approached, the loan players brought in during January being largely disappointing. However, despite the playoff disappointment fans remained supportive of Rosler and looked forward to the coming season when he could bring in his own signings and play the high tempo football he sought.

However, Rosler was to face a difficult task in the transfer market. In Jean Beausejour and Jordi Gomez he lost two skillful, quality players who would be difficult to replace. But the biggest blow was the departure of James McArthur on the transfer deadline day. Latics have only won one game since he left. Rosler had to fill the void left by the three who had oodles of Premier League experience.

There has been a lot of criticism of Rosler’s new signings. It would probably be fair to say that none of them have yet reached their best form. However, Rosler should be commended for his acquisition of young players with exciting technical skills, who will surely make their mark with more experience. Whelan backed the manager by forking out significant transfer fees for Adam Forshaw and Emyr Huws, who could prove to be the lynchpins of the midfield in the future. James Tavernier was acquired from Newcastle for a modest fee and the quality his crossing and set piece deliveries make him a threat to opposition defences. Left back Aaron Taylor-Sinclair has yet to appear in a league game. Bringing in the experience of Don Cowie, William Kvist and Andrew Taylor on free transfers made sound sense and all three will have a part to play as the season progresses. Sadly the two new central strikers, Andy Delort and Oriel Riera, in whom Whelan made a significant investment, just have not clicked up to this point.

Whelan did what was necessary by removing Rosler as manager. He now seeks to appoint a manager who can get the best out of the players, in a manner that eluded Rosler over these months. Moreover the squad is unnecessarily large and the new man will surely release a number of players in the January transfer window.

Rumours continue to fly around that some of the senior players within the squad were undermining Rosler. Similar stories were in the wind when Owen Coyle was dismissed last December. Like any football club, Latics prefer to clean their dirty washing in private, so one can but surmise that this has been happening. But it will be interesting to see who does leave in January.

The squad contains players signed by Roberto Martinez, Coyle and Rosler and all three managers had different preferences in terms of style of play. Sadly the flowing football of the FA Cup winning side is becoming an increasingly distant memory, but fans will hope that the new manager will be able to produce that, in addition to getting results. Perhaps it is too much to ask for a new manager coming in with morale at low ebb.

Once again Latics are back in the managerial merry-go-round. A new manager coming in from outside is likely to want to bring in his own right hand men and there could well be a cull of coaching and backroom staff. Or would Whelan insist that current staffing be maintained as he did when Rosler was appointed?

A valid alternative for Whelan would be to appoint from within. The name of Eric Black immediately comes to mind. The costs of hiring and firing will surely play a part in Whelan’s decision, with the financial fair play framework hovering above him.

Once again Dave Whelan has to make a key decision. Like anyone else in the football business he is by no means infallible. His big mistake in recent years was in not replacing Martinez with someone with a similar footballing philosophy. It is in the first year in the Championship that teams who have been relegated from the Premier League have the best chance of returning. Whelan blew it by appointing a manager whose teams more often than not reverted to route one, poles apart from the Martinez era. However, he deserves credit for appointing Rosler who really did lift the club, although in the end he could not maintain it.

Let’s hope Dave gets it right this time.

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Huddersfield Town 0 Wigan Athletic 0 – Latics get their first away point in scrappy game

A return to form for captain, Emmerson Boyce. Photo courtesy of the Huddersfield Examiner.

A return to form for captain, Emmerson Boyce.
Photo courtesy of the Huddersfield Examiner.

Latics claimed their first away point of the season, but were unable to convert their superior possession into goals. Many Latics fans will consider this an opportunity lost, that Huddersfield were there for the taking, with three points going begging. However, some will point to last season when a Huddersfield side no better than the current one, beat Rosler’s Latics by a single goal. A point away from home to any team in the Championship is not such a bad result.

Uwe Rosler shocked us all with his team selection, starting with the same eleven as at Blackburn.

Huddersfield were lively in the first ten minutes, Andrew Taylor blocking Danny Ward’s cross shot on the goal line and Scott Carson making a good save from the same player. But Latics then started to control possession, albeit without much penetration. Don Cowie and William Kvist were controlling the centre of midfield and the defence was looking sharp. Andy Delort had a rasping shot from distance saved well by Smithies. Then Callum McManaman collected a fine through ball from Cowie and rounded Smithies but a couple of defenders got back to block his shot. On the half hour mark McManaman went down for what looked like a penalty, but was instead rewarded with a yellow card from the referee for simulation.

Emyr Huws was looking lively in the more advanced midfield role and threatened the home team’s goal twice in the first couple of minutes of the second half. However, as one might have predicted Latics dropped back and Huddersfield started to show more attacking threat, mainly through half time substitute Sean Scannell. However, the back three of Emmerson Boyce, Ivan Ramis and Rob Kiernan were on their toes and managed to keep the home team at bay.

After 63 minutes Rosler took off Latics’ main goal threat McManaman and put on James McClean who had not played competitive football since May. Delort had a powerful drive go wide, but other than that Latics rarely looked dangerous. Their possession football just did not have any cutting edge and too often ended up in coming back for the defence to put a long ball forward.

James Tavernier came on for Taylor after 72 minutes, with James Perch moving to the left. Tavernier added some energy to the right of the attack and put over some quality crosses. Oriel Riera came on for Delort after 76 minutes and a few minutes later he came close with a volley from a Tavernier cross.

Huddersfield looked threatening in the closing minutes and Jonathan Stead almost squeezed a late winner past Carson. In the end a draw was probably a fair result in a scrappy game. Huddersfield had achieved their first clean sheet in 20 games.

The Good

The stats show that Latics largely controlled the game. They had 61% of the possession, with 15 shots (4 on target), compared with Huddersfield’s 9 shots (3 on target). The back three of Boyce, Ramis and Kiernan were excellent throughout. They were provided solid protection by Cowie and Kvist. Despite the knock he received against Blackburn, Huws was lively throughout. A pity his set pieces continue to be disappointing.

Although there was a lull in early stages of the second half Latics’ legs were much more willing this time around. They were able to keep going for the 90 minutes, if not playing a full pressing game of high intensity. It was a step forward.

Andy Delort worked hard up front and had four shots on goal, one forcing a fine save from Smithies. Delort has the style of a typical old fashioned bustling centre forward, with a powerful club of a right foot. Once he gets his first goal he will surely get plenty more. Riera came on for the last 15 minutes and went close with a volley. He is a more subtle kind of player and is continuing to adjust to the hurly burly of the Championship.

McManaman looked dangerous until he was taken off early in the second half. Huddersfield clearly considered him a threat and he was heavily marked.

The introduction of Tavernier for the last 20 minutes gave Latics more cutting edge on the right hand side. He is able to consistently deliver high quality crosses, something that his team mates are rarely able to do. In terms of his crosses and set piece deliveries Tavernier is reminiscent of Ryan Taylor. However, if Tavernier is to claim a regular place in the team he will have to work on the defensive side of his game. In an old 4-4-2 system he could have been effective in a right midfield position.

Apart from the McManaman incident, Latics had two other penalty claims, which were for hand ball, either of which could have been given. Such matters change the course of a match and Latics can consider themselves unlucky in that respect.

The Bad

Once again the lone centre forward was looking very isolated. The midfield players were just not giving enough support. James McArthur is being desperately missed in the build up from the back. Neither Cowie nor Kvist can be faulted for their effort and their defensive cover, but far too often they were passing the ball sideways or backwards. There is room for one such player, but having the two there led to Latics being too predictable.

Adam Forshaw could provide the key, but his ten minutes against Blackburn was his first competitive football since May. There was a development squad game against Preston on Monday, but the Liverpudlian did not appear, presumably because Rosler wanted him in the squad at Huddersfield. With no more development squad matches coming up for a couple of weeks, will Rosler risk him as a starter in the next league match against Ipswich?

At times Latics seem confused about their style of play. The possession football in this match was reminiscent of the Martinez days, but many bouts of possession ended in a final pass going back to the defence for a hoof forward.

One of the main criticisms of Owen Coyle’s reign was that there was no set style of play, too often resulting in giving the ball away through aimless long passes. It was particularly noticeable after the consistency – and maybe rigidity – of Martinez’s teams. Rosler’s current team seems to alternate between the two approaches. We are yet to see the high pressing, high tempo approach with rapid counterattacks that the German espouses.

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 7 – confident in his handling. Distribution remains an issue. The high diagonal balls to the wings don’t seem to work.

James Perch: 6.5 – solid defensively.

Emmerson Boyce: 8 – back to his best. Made some key interventions.

Ivan Ramis: 8 – a class act.

Rob Kiernan: 8 – a much better performance than against Blackburn. More aggressive, with good use of the ball.

Andrew Taylor: 6.5 – worked hard up and down his flank. Substituted after 72 minutes.

William Kvist: 7 – provided good defensive cover and rarely wasted the ball.

Don Cowie: 6 – cannot be faulted for effort and shielded his defence. The final pass was too often disappointing.

Emyr Huws: 7 – growing into a fine player. Full of industry, with a great left foot. Needs to work on his set pieces.

Callum McManaman: 7 – heavily marked, but remained a threat. Substituted after 63 minutes.

Andy Delort: 7 – combative and brave. Managed to get in some powerful shots although heavily marked. Substituted after 76 minutes.

Substitutes:

James McClean: – energetic as always, but looked rusty.

James Tavernier: – added energy and threat to the opposition’s defence.

Oriel Riera: – being left out of the starting lineup in the last two games is not going to help his confidence. The best is yet to come.

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Deploying a stronger strike force

Callum McManaman could be the 20 goal striker that latics have lacked.

Callum McManaman could be the 20 goal striker that Latics have lacked.

When Uwe Rosler first arrived at Wigan he inherited a blunt strike force. Owen Coyle’s new signings just had not clicked and players remaining from the Martinez era were dogged by niggles and injuries. The shining light appeared to be provided by a loanee from Manchester United, but he was to fade as the season progressed. The end result was a forward line that just could not put away so many of the chances that were created. It was largely the lack of forward power that was to thwart Latics’ chances of getting back to the Premier League at the first attempt.

Some 10 months later Rosler has a strike force which has the potential to do much more. The question is whether it can realize that potential and propel Latics into contention for promotion. Can the two new central strikers adapt to English football? Can the key players Rosler inherited from previous managers achieve full fitness and consistency?

Both Andy Delort and Oriel Riera arrive with good goalscoring credentials from last season. Delort scored 24 goals in the French second division, Riera getting 13 in La Liga for a team that was relegated. Rosler does not favour a system with two central strikers, so the two are likely to be alternated. With the physical demands of high pressing, Rosler typically substitutes the central striker some two thirds of the way through a game.

Riera continues to adapt to English football following his move from Osasuna and his best is yet to come, although he scored a fine goal against Blackpool. Delort comes with the label of an English-style centre forward, but is going to need time to get match fit.

In the meantime, Marc-Antoine Fortune, remains an option. Fortune scored a paltry 4 league goals last season, but made 6 assists. The big man from French Guiana has never been a prolific scorer, but last year’s strike rate was only around a half of his career average. Fortune remains a handful for central defenders, being strong and pacey, with a good technique.

Martyn Waghorn has had slow start to the season, but made such a favourable impression when arriving from Leicester City on loan that he secured a permanent contract at Wigan. The 24 year old Geordie scored 8 goals and made 6 assists in the 28 league starts and 5 appearances off the bench. Waghorn was typically played wide on the right, but sometimes in the hole behind the central striker. Having started out his career as a central striker it continues to be his preferred position, but he is versatile and makes a major contribution to the high pressing that Rosler seeks.

Callum McManaman has had an excellent start to the season, following the frustrations of last year when he just could not hit a consistent run of form. There are few English players who can match him for skill when he is at his best. McManaman remains just 23 years old and is such an exciting talent. The irony for Latics fans is that once McManaman adds consistency to his game he will be the target of the elite clubs that dominate English football. A transfer fee between £20m-£30m is not out of the question.

McManaman could become that 20 goal per season striker that Latics have lacked since the days of Ellington and Roberts. Last season he was usually played wide and scored three goals in 19 starts and 13 appearances off the bench. He has already exceeded last year’s goal tally with four goals in his first five league starts. Moreover the goals have been superbly executed.

It is to be hoped that McManaman can steer clear of the injuries that have impeded his progress over the past year or so. Being a flair player brings him extra attention from opposition defenders and Rosler has already publicly stated his views that the player needs due protection from referees, which at times he has not had. In recent matches Rosler has adopted the 3-5-2 formation, with McManaman able to operate in a free role upfront. That role not only gives him more of the ball, but makes it harder for defences to mark him out of the game. Playing on the wing in a 4-3-3 formation will remain an option, but if Rosler is to get the best out of his key flair player he will need to look at playing him in a role that is not so restricting.

James McClean has not featured so far due to an ankle injury sustained in pre-season training. McClean was called into Martin O’Neill’s Ireland squad this week, but the manager considered him short of match fitness. McClean can be such an exciting player with his pace and aggression, but too often flattered to deceive last season. He has a career record of scoring a goal in every five appearances, but last year could only muster four goals in 25 league starts and 14 times coming on off the bench.

McClean and McManaman are different types of players, but with similar strike rates during their careers. Having had to play on the left so frequently during his career McManaman packs a strong punch with his left foot, although he favours his right. McClean showed that he can use his right foot to score goals at Ipswich last season, with a well taken goal from a cross from the right. Owen Coyle sometimes put him on the right, but he looked like duck out of water, seemingly too left footed to adjust. Rosler also tried him there without conspicuous success.

McClean cannot be faulted for effort, frequently helping out his full back and going forward on his marauding runs. At his best he adds enthusiasm to the team and can cause panic in opposition defences. The Irishman is still only 25 years old and his best is yet to come. Perhaps a switch from the left wing to the kind of free role that McManaman has been enjoying could open doors for McClean. The Irishman’s career record shows that he can score goals and make assists. If he can improve his finishing this season he will make a major impact.

Shaun Maloney can certainly score goals, as well as provide assists. Despite his lack of match fitness he has been called up for the Scotland squad to play Germany. At 31 years of age and an injury-struck career can the fan favourite make his mark on the season? Rosler certainly has him in his plans. Only time will tell if the Scot can stay fit and produce that same brand of skillful football that we have seen from him at his best. His combination with Waghorn for a beautifully engineered goal against Birmingham was a joy to see and whetted our appetites for what is to come. Maloney had spotted Waghorn’s run and laid the ball into his path for what appeared to be a simple tap-in.

Grant Holt’s future at the club remains uncertain. The player has had a nightmare time at the club and the abuse he has taken on the social media goes way beyind the norm. A fresh start at another club would appear to be the best case scenario for the player. But at 33 years of age, with his salary expectations, will it happen?

Rosler now has a much stronger strike force, with variety to match. His challenge will be in getting the best out of each of those players. With good service from midfield the strikers he has are capable of scoring lots of goals. We will then see the end of the goal drought that dogged Latics’ promotion chances last year.

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From scapegoat to hero – A look at Jordi’s five years at Wigan

“My time in Wigan was unforgettable.”

 

 

So said Jordi Gómez after he had cut his five year tie with Wigan Athletic by agreeing to join Sunderland.

The myriad of Latics fans that for months had been campaigning for him to stay through the social media were to be disappointed, although in their heart of hearts they probably knew it was not going to happen. The player who was transformed from scapegoat to hero is packing his bags for the north east. Emotion apart, a return to the Premier League and a lucrative three year contract makes sound sense to a player who is 29 years old.

It is ironic that Gómez should be leaving Wigan with his popularity ratings being at their highest point during his five year stay. His final season proved to be easily his best. The Spaniard had started to win over fans through playing a key role in the FA Cup run of the previous season. Moreover he had shown before what a force he could be playing in the Championship division. However, it took the departure of the hapless Owen Coyle to allow Gómez the chance to show what he was capable of. He was to shine under Uwe Rösler.

After suffering continual verbal abuse from sections of the crowd for so many years, Gómez had won over so many of them through his performances over these past months. Ice cool penalties dispatched in the cup run against Manchester City and Arsenal thrust him once again into the eye of the media. Spectacular goals from long range in open play and from free kicks, matched with a high work rate added to the impression of the Spaniard being a changed man under the management of Uwe Rösler.

In the end his displays managed to convince the majority of Latics fans that he was a player the club should keep if they were to keep pressing for promotion. The inability of the club to keep him leads supporters to worry about who next will jump ship.

But was it more than just financial security that helped the Spaniard decide to leave Wigan after five years?

If it had not been for an end of season rally,  Sunderland would have been joining Latics in the Championship next season. Gus Poyet must have known it would be an uphill task to turn things around when he replaced Paolo Di Canio at Sunderland in October last year. Poyet had come in with a reputation for good football from his time at Brighton and the Mackems are a much more attractive side to watch now. It is a playing style that Gomez should find relatively easy to fit into.

Although the majority of Latics fans will be sad to see Gómez go, there will be others who won’t.

Jordi Gómez was a player who divided Latics fans. He was derided by those who preferred the more traditional English approach of “up and at ‘em” . His admirers would say he was a skilful player who could bring order to a game through his cultured technique, keeping the ball while under pressure, drawing fouls. It was sometimes said that we would never see how good Gomez could be until Latics were playing the level of skilful football that Roberto Martinez sought.

The anti-Gomez lobby was strong during Martinez’ reign at Wigan. Jordi Gómez was identified as a player in whom the manager had faith beyond the norm. When the crowd lost their patience with the tiki-taka style of Martinez’ teams it was so often Gomez who suffered the brunt of their frustration .

I retain a vivid memory of the first match of what proved to be the last season for Martinez at Wigan. Latics had lost 2-0 at home to Chelsea. At the end of the match I was sheltering from the pouring rain outside, when I overheard a conversation where a group of Latics supporters came to the consensus that having Gomez in the team was like playing with ten men. These fans were  infuriated  by the team’s apparent unwillingness to go at Chelsea after falling behind. Jordi had come on in the second half for crowd favourite Shaun Maloney. Once again Jordi Gómez had become the scapegoat of a section of fans, who were above all frustrated by the manager’s tactical approach.

In those days, when Wigan fell behind there would be little increase in tempo, contrary to what one would expect in English football. In this particular game Latics had so often seemed languid after giving away a soft opening goal. In such circumstances the Englishman in me would get frustrated, even if I  knew that Martinez’s teams would not follow the usual English pattern. Watch Barcelona fall behind and you would see no change in their brand of football: they would eventually grind you down and beat you. The Barcelona style was clearly an inspiration for Martinez, but he was savvy enough to know that Latics did not have the wherewithal to go with it fully.

Jordi had come through the youth ranks at La Masia, with the likes of Messi and Pique. The Barca style of play was in his blood and it was probably for that very reason that Martinez first signed him. Martinez espoused possession football and for Gómez had grown up playing that brand of tiki taka.

It was anathema  for Gómez to waste the ball with a speculative pass. He would infuriate fans by passing the ball backwards or sideways, rather than risk losing possession. His detractors would label him as lazy, too slow and unwilling to go into 50/50 challenges.

If one looked at the stats for ground covered during his time on the pitch the ‘lazy’ tag would he hard to justify. When Latics’ defence or midfield was under pressure Gómez was invariably there to receive the ball, so often drawing free kicks which gave his side a breather. But too often Martinez would play Gómez in a role wide on the right where he did not have the pace to get past the full back on the outside. Inevitably he would have to cut the ball back inside, once again testing the patience of the fans. The manager was doing the player no favours using him in that position.

Over four years in the Premier League Gómez had mixed success. In the minds of many Wigan Athletic supporters Jordi Gómez never quite proved that he could handle the transition from the Championship to the Premier League. Too often he would get himself into great scoring positions, but not have the composure to put the ball in the net. However, Martinez continued to have faith in Gómez and the player persevered with the support of his manager, despite hostility from elements of the crowd, but never establishing himself as a regular starter.

In the 2012-13, his last season in the Premier League, Gómez scored three goals in 32 appearances However, those goals were memorable as they came in the same game, a thrilling  3-2 home win over Reading in November.

In that very game Gómez was booed early on following misplaced passes and poor finishing. A few minutes later he slipped an incisive short pass through to Kone who should have scored. But Gómez was back to showing his frustrating side just before half time, maneuvering past defenders with considerable skill in before shooting wide. Who would have thought that he would come to the rescue, winning this game for the Latics with a brilliant hat trick of second half goals? Even the most fair and open-minded of Latics supporters had been getting to the point where they would wince to see his name on the team sheet.

The game would be remembered as the day that Gómez showed the Wigan fans that his manager’s faith in his abilities might be justified after all. In the second half of this match he had looked a class act, threading through good passes and taking his chances with great aplomb. Sadly Gomez was unable to add to his goal tally in the league after that.

That hat trick against Reading really was something special, but Gómez’ outstanding contribution in the 2012-13 season was in the FA Cup. Gomez was pivotal in that cup run, scoring three goals and making four assists. His assist for Callum McManaman’s goal in the semi-final against Millwall will stick in the minds of Wigan supporters for years to come. In the FA Cup Final Gomez had played remarkably well in a midfield holding role, but as fate would decree, he was the one to go off after 81 minutes to allow Watson to come on.

Given his previous success in the Championship with Swansea, Gómez appeared to be a key player for Owen Coyle on his arrival at Wigan. However, the Scot did not get the best out of the player, sometimes following Martinez’s habit of playing him wide on the right.

The low point for the player under Coyle was in the Europa League home game against Zulte Waregem in early December. Coyle had put out a well-balanced starting lineup, omitting his two out-of-form central strikers and playing Nick Powell upfront. Callum McMananan and James McClean were on the wings and this time Gómez was played in his natural advanced midfield role.The four were to link up very well at times in the first half, showing the kind of movement and mutual understanding that had been sadly lacking for big chunks of the previous game against Brighton. Although he made mistakes at times, Gómez was a key link player in the first half.

Gómez had a bad start to the second half, with poor deliveries from set pieces followed by the crowd voicing their frustration with him after being caught unawares as an opponent robbed him of the ball.  He was to be substituted soon after. Taking him off after the crowd got on his case was not going to help the player’s confidence. He needed a better level of support from a manager who had put him in the starting lineup.

However, the arrival of Rösler was to enable Gómez to play the football he was always capable of at Championship level, resulting in him being voted ‘Player of the Year’. But if fans would have voted for the  award in December, Gómez would have been nowhere near the top of the charts.

Ironically Gómez only became a regular starter under Rösler in March. Prior to that he was in and out of the lineup, only once completing a full 90 minutes. However, following serious injuries to Ben Watson and Chris McCann,  Gómez’s  name was to become one of the first to be written on the teamsheet. Spectacular and crucial goals, great assists and a willingness to cover every blade of grass of the pitch were to help Gómez win that ‘Player of the Year’ award. In doing so he leapfrogged over stalwarts like Emmerson Boyce and James McArthur who had played far more games and provided a real backbone for the team. However, given the abuse that Gómez had taken over the years, few would begrudge him the award.

In the minds of many Wigan Athletic supporters Jordi Gómez never quite proved that he could handle the transition from the Championship to the Premier League. He had a rare ability to drift in, seemingly unnoticed by a defence, but too often he would get himself into great scoring positions, but not have the composure to put the ball in the net. There had been so many times over the those years when Gómez had done everything right until his final touch has let him down, whether it will be a header, a shot or a defence-splitting pass. He just did not seem to have had the self-belief to deliver in the Premier League.

The stats show that in four years playing in the Premier League Gómez scored 7 goals in in 46 starts and 25 appearances as a substitute. He made no assists.

As Swansea’s ‘Player of the Year’ in the 2008-09 season he scored 12 goals in 38 starts and 6 substitute appearances, making 5 assists. As Wigan Athletic’s  ‘Player of the Year’ he scored 12 goals and made 10 assists in 37 starts and 13 substitute appearances, in all competitions. The stats reveal the gulf between the player’s performances in the Premier League and the Championship.

However, whatever shortcomings he might have had at Premier League level, there could be no doubting his determination and commitment to the club. Gómez has learned to hassle and harry the opposition, and to cover a large number of yards of the pitch in each game he plays. At Swansea he played in a newly promoted team that was on the up. His role was to orchestrate the midfield and to score goals. When he arrived at Wigan he moved into a struggling team that was too often unable to get the lion’s share of the possession.

Latics fans will surely wish Jordi Gómez well at Sunderland. Despite constant abuse from some sections of the crowd he has maintained a positive and professional attitude. He will be long remembered for his role in helping Wigan Athletic win the FA Cup.

Jordi’s next challenge will be to prove, once and for all, that he is a true Premier League player. Sunderland might not be the best side in the elite division, but with Gus Poyet at the helm the Spaniard  should be able to slot seamlessly into the style of play.

 

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