The financial side of keeping a nucleus for League 1

“Que sera sera…..whatever will be will be….we’re going to Shrewsbury….que sera sera

So sang a group of Wigan Athletic supporters. It certainly took the wind out of the sails of the “going down” taunts of home fans at the Madejski Stadium last Saturday.

Shrewsbury is certainly a pleasant place to visit. Its football team has competed in each of the three EFL divisions. Their New Meadow stadium holds 9,375. Shrewsbury Town met Manchester United in the FA Cup in February 2016. They lost 3-0, which is not surprising given the fact that the Shrews had a wage bill of £2.5 m compared with £210 m of United.

In fact the Shrewsbury wage bill is typical of many clubs in League 1. According to an interesting article on the Daily Mail site, the average salary of a League 1 footballer in 2014-15 was £69,500. It compared with £324,200 in the Championship. The ratio of the average salaries is 1 to 4.7.

There are strong arguments to suggest that the league positions of clubs in the Championship division correlate to their wage bills. In their first season back in the Championship Wigan Athletic finished in a playoff place. The wage bill was around £30 m. Clubs in mid-table would typically have wage bills averaging £20 m.

Latics’ reputed wage bill for the current season is around £17 m. Assuming they were to trim next year’s wage bill according to, say, that previous ratio of average salaries between the two divisions, it would give a figure of around £3.6 m. In 2015-16, still buoyed by parachute payments, Latics had a wage bill of around £6 m in League 1, reportedly second highest after that of Sheffield United.

So at what level will David Sharpe pitch the wage bill for the coming season? As in the Championship there is some degree of correlation between wage bills and success on the playing field in League 1. If the club is to break even financially next season what kind of wage bill would be realistic? Moreover will the club be able to slash its wage bill as successfully as it did in the summer of 2015, when faced with a drop down to the third tier?

In 2015-16 Latics finished top of League 1 with an average attendance of 9,467. Shrewsbury Town finished in 14th place with an average of 5,407. The average attendance for the division was 7,163. Wigan’s cheapest adult season ticket cost  £250 while Shrewsbury’s was £285.

David Sharpe took a bold step in reducing season ticket prices for the club’s return to the Championship. Renewals were pitched at £179, with a price of £199 for new purchasers. The levels were uneconomic compared with those of competitor clubs, but Sharpe was clearly hoping to not only hold on to the core support, but to attract others. With just one match to go in the Championship season Wigan’s average home attendance is 11,560 up by more than 2,000 from the previous season in League 1. However, the bigger clubs in the Championship have brought sizeably larger away support than had those in League 1.

Rumour suggests that the club will maintain the levels of season tickets prices for the coming season. If this is so the £179 price would be almost 40% less than the figure of £295 to be offered by Shrewsbury Town for the coming  season. Moreover should Latics not be as successful as they were last time in League 1 attendances will surely fall. The match day revenue differentials between Wigan and Shrewsbury could merge closer.

Put simply potential match revenues for Wigan Athletic will in no way suffice to give them a competitive advantage over most of their rivals. Some would say that under Gary Caldwell Latics had bought their way out of League 1, having a wage bill twice that of most of their rivals. That was made possible by the parachute payments they were receiving at the time. However, now that the parachute era has come to an end, how can Latics get a financial advantage over most of their competitors in League 1?

One solution is to sell off assets. The second is for the ownership to provide the necessary funding.

The saleable assets Latics have are their players. The club’s main asset, Yanic Wildschut, was sold in January for a hefty premium. Early in the season Will Grigg would have been another major asset: he was scoring goals and looking comfortable in the higher division. It was sad to see how the player later found himself either warming the bench, playing as a lone centre forward with a derisory lack of support, or being played out of position. A player who could have probably drawn a transfer fee in excess of £5 m is now not such an attraction on the transfer market. Better to keep Grigg who has a superb record of goalscoring in League 1.

Nick Powell will surely be on his way. After months out through injury he roared back with spectacular performances as a super sub. In doing so, Powell put himself in the shop window. Dan Burn is another player who has caught the eye and will surely be of interest to Championship clubs. Burn was already an experienced Championship level player when arriving on a free transfer from Fulham. He has since developed a level of self-confidence  previously lacking. Between the two, Latics could possibly raise around £5 m on the market.

Omar Bogle was the most exciting of the January signings. Having scored a lot of goals for Grimsby he arrived brimming with confidence and style. But after a promising start Bogle was to wilt under  a horrible burden put on him by Joyce: that of being the lone striker in a 4-5-1 formation. Injury too was to hold him back. Like Grigg, his potential transfer value has plummeted. But the likelihood is that either Grigg or Bogle will be sold, albeit at a discounted price.

Max Power was almost sold to Birmingham City in January. Although he did not have the season he would have liked, Power remains one of the more saleable assets. Sam Morsy too is a player who could be sought by Championship clubs.

Last weekend Jonathan Jackson stated that “There will be some changes in the squad, but we want to keep the core there.”

Goalkeeper Matt Gilks and ex-captain Craig Morgan will be two of those core members who continue. Gilks was only signed in January on an 18 month contract and Morgan recently signed a two year extension to his contract. The long-term injured players – Donervon Daniels, Reece James, Andy Kellett and Shaun MacDonald – will also be staying. Alex Gilbey is another who has not been able to play in recent games after coming back from long-term injury. Latics will be hoping at least some of those players will be available for the beginning of next season.

It is difficult to predict who else will stay to provide a core for the coming season. The club is going to have to slash its wage bill some 60-70% to be financially viable. Put simply more than half of the players currently under contract are likely to depart over summer, many on free transfers. Others will be sent off on loan.

The players currently under contract for the coming season are:

Goalkeepers: Matt Gilks, Dan Lavercombe

Full Backs – Luke Burke, Reece James.

Centre backs: Dan Burn, Jake Buxton, Donervon Daniels, Jack Hendry, Craig Morgan.

Midfielders: Jack Byrne, Alex Gilbey, Andy Kellett, Josh Laurent, Shaun MacDonald, Sam Morsy, Max Power, Danny Whitehead.

Forwards: Nathan Byrne, Omar Bogle, Ryan Colclough, Will Grigg, Michael Jacobs, Mikael Mandron, Sanmi Odelusi, Nick Powell, Kaiyne Woolery.

The amount of turnover at the end of the 2015 season was remarkable, with 31 incomings and 44 outgoings, including loan players.

Latics currently have seven whose contracts are due to expire – Jordan Flores, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Billy Mckay, Gabriel Obertan, David Perkins, Andrew Taylor and Stephen Warnock. There are another eight players whose loans are coming to an end.

In 2015 Gary Caldwell had already been installed as manager to oversee the massive turnover that took place over the summer.

At this stage we do not know who the next manager is going to be and there have been mutterings about taking the time to choose the right man for the job.

But given a mountain of a task ahead we might well see an appointment made sooner rather than later.
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A rainbow shines at Brentford

rainbow

Brentford is not a particularly attractive place. Neither is Griffin Park football ground, at first glance. The Bees fans still have three more years to wait before their new stadium is built. But for all its faults the old stadium is well maintained, with a superb playing surface and we had a great view from the away supporters end. Moreover it was a rare pleasure to mingle with home fans before the match started, with no hint of the kind of insularity and hostility that can prevail in the vicinity of some English football stadia.

The home supporters were optimistic before the match, their team having scored nine goals in their last two home games. But they were to be disappointed as a resolute Latics side spoiled their afternoon by coming away with a point. One home fan went so far as to say that the only entertainment of his afternoon was provided by the stunning double rainbow which hovered above the stadium in the second half.

On the other hand the Wigan fans were appreciative of what they had seen. Their team had shown the kind of defensive strength that had been missing since the start of the season. That, together with the rainbow, will stick in many of our memories over the weeks to come.

Gary Caldwell’s tactics certainly worked. He packed his midfield, denying the home team of space. Will Grigg cut a lonely figure for most of the first half, the midfielders holding back rather pushing forward to support him. Wigan’s attack was muted, but so was that of the home team as the Latics defence held firm, shielded by a combative midfield. The home crowd had seemed muted too, their hopes of another goal-fest diminishing by the minute.

When the second half started it looked like a goalless draw was the most likely outcome. Could the Wigan defence hold out or was all the good work going to be ruined by sloppiness as the final whistle would approach? Caldwell was likely to bring Yanic Wildschut off the bench at some stage, but it seemed more likely to happen later rather than sooner.

Strangely enough Caldwell made a double substitution in the 57th minute, bringing on Wildschut and Nick Powell for Nathan Byrne and an ineffective Jordi Gomez. Caldwell was opening up the game with the substitutions. On one hand Latics were to increase their attacking intent. On the other Brentford were to enjoy more space. Powell and Wildschut did enliven the Wigan attack, while an under pressure defence still continued to hold firm. The 0-0 score at the end was a fair result for both sides.

The central defensive pairing of Jake Buxton and Dan Burn was strong in this game. They are clearly developing a mutual understanding. After a shaky start at the club Burn has shown his mettle in recent weeks. He was arguably the Man of the Match yesterday, towering above the Brentford forwards, his positioning sound and tackles firm. However, it could be argued that Buxton was just as good. He does not catch the eye as much as Burn can. Buxton just seems to get on with his job, nothing flashy, but solid and reliable. It was noticeable from an early stage in the game that the two had been given licence to clear their lines when under pressure. The inter-passing between defenders that had been problematic in previous matches had taken the back seat to a more pragmatic approach of safety first.

There has been much talk about the merits of 4-3-3 over 3-5-2. Although seemingly playing with a back four yesterday the presence of Shaun MacDonald so close to the central defenders reminded one of the role Ben Watson could play in the Martinez era. After getting so little playing time over the last two years the Welshman is getting back his match fitness and sharpness. He played a key role yesterday.

The point yesterday puts Latics out of the relegation zone. The cohesion is gradually developing and it is starting to look much more like a team rather than a collection of individuals. There will be ups and downs ahead, but the squad has sufficient quality to at least hold its own in the Championship division.

After the game I met up again with Billy Grant of Brentford fan site Beesotted. Billy has provided us with fascinating articles in the past and his podcasts are always worth a listen. His post-match podcast is to be found below. My contribution from a Wigan perspective starts at 8:00 minutes:

 

 

 

 

Fan views – Part 6 – Jake Buxton and Dan Burn

We  occasionally republish articles from our archives, that some may not have seen. We ask our long-established readers to bear with us on this. We will continue to put out our stream of current articles.

Our site stats have shown that our readership has been particularly interested in perspectives of Latics players from fans of their previous clubs. Thanks to contributions made by bloggers on the fan sites of those clubs for these articles.

A Derby County fan’s view of Jake Buxton

Photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk

 

Fan view by: Ollie Wright at the @derbycountyblog

Published: July 27, 2016

 

 

No sooner had Jake Buxton signed for Wigan Athletic but he made his debut last night at Oldham. The 31 year old central defender, who is 5 ft 11in tall, has joined Latics on a three year contract.

On acquiring Buxton’s services Gary Caldwell said that: “Jake adds great experience and competition to our defence and I am delighted to be able to bring him here, Not only will he be an asset to us on the field, but Jake will also add to the great character within our dressing room and I feel he will fit into our group perfectly. He’s a top professional with over 300 Football League games to his name and he’s chomping at the bit to add to his tally.”

Jake Buxton was born in Sutton-in-Ashfield, a Nottinghamshire market town. He started his career four miles away in Mansfield coming through the youth ranks, making his first team debut as a 17 year old in a Football League Trophy game against Crewe in October 2002. Buxton was to made captain at the age of 21 in the 2006-07 season and was to spend 6 years at Mansfield Town, making over 160 appearances.  However, on the club’s relegation to the Football Conference in 2008 he left by mutual consent.

Following a trail at Crewe, Buxton joined Burton Albion and they went on to win the Football Conference title under Nigel Clough. Buxton was voted Player of the Year for the Brewers in that 2008-09 season, after making 40 appearances.

Clough was to join Derby County the following season, taking the out-of-contract Buxton with him. Buxton went on to make 139 appearances over 7 seasons for the Rams, scoring 11 goals.

Here’s over to Ollie:

Jake Buxton arrived at Derby County from Burton Albion in 2009, following his manager Nigel Clough in transferring from the Brewers to the Rams.  Given that Derby had not long been relegated from the Premier League and Burton had only just been promoted to the Football League, the signing was met with widespread incredulity – but Clough had faith in Buxton to make the jump, based on his work ethic and character.

 Clough was big on character.  In the same way that his father would have no truck with ‘sh..houses’, Nigel prioritised and was loyal to men that he could trust.  Buxton proved to be worthy of Clough’s faith.  

 He is not tall for a centre back, nor is he particularly quick.  He is, however, rabidly competitive, blessed with a street fighter’s determination and not above using a few of the ‘dark arts’, at times. Raised in the lower leagues, he loves to fight for every ball.  It would be unfair to write him off as a rudimentary clogger, because he can pass, but it’s undeniable that his game is based on the simple core virtues of ‘heading and kicking it’, to quote Clough.  

 Buxton continued to play regularly under Steve McClaren, who also extended Buxton’s contract. He was a key member of the side which reached the play-off final in 2013/4, but that season proved to be his peak at Derby, with injuries and the arrival of Jason Shackell reducing him to the role of bit-part player in the past two seasons.  

 This is the right time for Buxton to move on from Derby, but at 31, he has plenty of time left.  And a cursory scan of Twitter will reveal the real affection most Rams fans have for ‘Bucko’, who will be missed by all of us. 

 

A Fulham fan’s view of Dan Burn

Dan_Burn

 

Fan view by: Peter Grinham through Facebook

Date: July 1, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Wigan Athletic have announced the signing of 24 year old Dan Burn. The 6 ft 7 in central defender was out of contract with Fulham.

Gary Caldwell is clearly pleased to have signed Burn and the club’s web site reports him saying that “He fits our profile exactly, young, hungry and with experience at this level and the desire to progress with us. He is a powerful defender, but he likes to play as well and adds tremendous competition to the squad.”

Dan Burn was born in Blyth but came up through the youth ranks at Darlington, making his first team debut at the age of 17.  He went on to make 14 appearances for the north east club before moving to Fulham in the summer of 2011 for a fee of around £350,000.

In September 2012 Burn went on an initial short term loan to Yeovil, but the loan period was to be extended to the end of the season. He made 41 appearances for the League 1 side, scoring three goals. Burn was to be sent off on another loan in July 2013, this time to Championship club, Birmingham City. He made 28 appearances for the Blues, scoring one goal, before being recalled to Fulham in January 2014. He made his debut for the Londoners on January 4th 2014 in an FA Cup tie at Norwich.

Burn went on to make a total of 69 appearances for Fulham scoring two goals.

Here’s over to Peter:

Your fanzine editor asked on a Fulham Supporters website about Dan Burn and a view on him. I am a Fulham supporter of many years going back to the days of our legend Johnny Haynes (Fulham and England captain) and been part of the roller coaster ride during those years, so no Johnny Come Lately! I watch every Fulham 1st team home game, a few aways and every home U21 and U18 game, so I have seen a lot of Dan Burn.

Dan is a product of the North East and came to us from Darlington. He is about 6’ 6” tall and has always played centre back for us. He is left footed and, unsurprisingly, prefers to play left centre back. He had 2 loan spells at Birmingham and Yeovil respectively. I don’t know about his Yeovil experience but the Birmingham management thought well of him and were interested in extending his loan at the time with a view to signing him.

Dan is full of enthusiasm and has admirable leadership qualities but only in respect of drive and determination. He is said to train hard. He takes the game seriously and nobody could ever accuse him of not giving 100% in every game. This alone made him popular with many Fulham supporters. He is physically strong which is what you expect in a centre back. However, some of his decision making is questionable and if players run at him his legs buckle with fast jinky players, as his reading of those situations is poor and he is often left floundering on his backside.

His aerial ability is somewhat mixed. From a defensive point of view he is strong in the air at defending crosses but often he does not get good purchase on the ball and in some situations the ball seems to loop of the top of his forehead when it needs to be powered away. This rather poor technique can be attributed to the fact that, like some tall players, he does not jump highly and has probably never had to at junior levels because of his height. This puts him at a disadvantage if a forward builds up a head of steam on the run and can either rise above him or equal his height. He should have scored more goals from set pieces but the same heading restrictions impede that part of his game too.

I always thought that Dan would benefit from better coaching because unless he is a slow learner – and I have no reason to believe that – he could improve a lot on his technique and decision making. However, Fulham have not been blessed with decent coaching since the destructive Magath arrived and decimated our club, Kit Symons followed but was not allowed experienced coaching staff, having to make do with U21 coaches (NB: A big step up without a mix of 1st team experienced coaches). We now have some decent 1st team coaches but they obviously don’t fancy Dan.

Whilst I have never met Dan, everyone Fulham fan that has likes him immensely. One thing that I do know is that when he signed the Wigan contract he will be genuinely devoted to the cause and not be false in the usual footballers speak of ‘great to be here’. If he sad that he would mean it and give all for the cause. I genuinely wish him all the best in his career and I hope that he is a late developer who will prove some people wrong.

Hope this insight helps. Good luck with the new season.

Bramble and Burn

Dan_Burn

Dan Burn’s inept back pass to his goalkeeper gave Nottingham Forest a flying start at the City Ground. The home team centre forward Britt Assombalomba snuffled it up to give his side an early lead. It was the kind of error a Sunday League defender would be embarrassed by. Soon after the boos started to come from a small section of the away support when Burn touched the ball again. Thank goodness the jeering subsided and it did not rear its ugly head again.

A couple of weeks earlier a Latics fan, who had been to the pre-season games and had made a frustrating journey to watch his team play at Bristol said that Burn was “an accident waiting to happen”. Another went further by saying that he looked like a second Titus Bramble.

But is it fair to compare Burn with Bramble? Was the fan referring to the Titus Bramble who was famous for his high profile errors or the one who was Player of the Season for Steve Bruce’s Latics in the 2008-09 season?

Titus Bramble arrived at Wigan on a free transfer from Newcastle in the summer of 2007. Although he had made over 100 league appearances in his time at the north east club, he had become more well known for his errors than his considerable attributes as a Premier League central defender. Bramble had a superb physique with the requisite skills to be a top class defender. But it was his gaffes that had given him notoriety. Bruce was sticking his neck out by taking in the big Ipswich-born defender, but the manager himself had been a central defender. Could he and his coaching staff help Bramble become a more complete player?

It was not easy for Bruce or Bramble and the player continued to make those same kinds of errors in his early days at Wigan.

But Bruce maintained his belief in the player. The result was Bramble being voted both Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year near the end of the 2008-09 season. Bramble was to spend three years at Wigan, before following Bruce to Sunderland.

Dan Burn’s poorly hit back pass at Nottingham hardly places him in the category of Bramble. But Fulham fans will tell you he was prone to the odd howler and his pre-season performances for Latics were riddled with occasional errors that one would not expect from a player who has made more than 70 appearances in the Championship.

Having a very tall central defender can be a prerequisite for success in the Championship. At 6 ft 6 in Burn can dominate in the air. Tall defenders like Burn are not always strong in their distribution, an important feature in Gary Caldwell’s style of play, but Burn is capable of launching precise passes with a sweet left foot. Moreover he can be effective on the ground in making interceptions and breaking up play.

However, Burn needs to work on his heading of the ball. Being tall is not sufficient. He needs to work on developing more power and control of his headers. His arrival in the opposition penalty area should provoke concern for their defenders, but he remains unconvincing.

More than anything else he needs to work on his concentration.

When Bramble arrived at Wigan he was 24, the same age as Burn. Direct comparisons are futile. Their attributes and experience differ. But there are analogies.

Titus Bramble was a success at Wigan despite his precedents. His manager clearly believed in him and inspired him to give his best.

Like Bruce, Caldwell too is an ex- central defender. Can Caldwell help Burn cut out those errors, those moments of uncertainty which can blight his performances?

Dan Burn and Titus Bramble are different types of player from different eras. Moreover Bramble operated in the Premier League, not the Championship. But some parallels exist. Will Burn become one of the first names on Caldwell’s team sheet as was Bramble in the Bruce era?

Burn has the attributes to become a dominant central defender in the mould of Fulham legend Brede Hangeland. As such he could be invaluable to Latics. Although he can sometimes be uncertain in his play he has not committed the quantities of high profile errors that had plagued his predecessor Bramble’s early career. But can he win over the doubters in the Wigan support as Bramble did?

Caldwell was clearly unhappy with Fulham’s first goal at the weekend. With Jake Buxton’s suspension period over will he recall the ex-Derby player at Burn’s expense for the QPR game coming up on Saturday?

Or will he find a way to include both, giving Burn a vote of confidence?

 

 

Has Caldwell got it right in the pre-season?

exhaustedathelte

Wigan Athletic’s first league game in their return to the Championship is less than two weeks away. Since the last match of the previous season against Barnsley on May 8th Latics have signed four new players, moved to a superior training complex at Euxton and played five pre-season games without a win, scoring just one goal. Today’s 4-1 defeat at Rochdale has raised many eyebrows. Given what has happened so far what kind of season can we expect to follow?

Some weeks ago Gary Caldwell acknowledged that recruiting players this summer was going to be a different matter than it was a year ago. Latics no longer have the financial advantage over teams in their division, enabling them to offer lucrative salaries to prospective signings. Wigan are now up against clubs with higher revenues, many of them buoyed with parachute payments. Latics are now in their final “parachute” season with a less than rosy financial short term future ahead.

Nevertheless Caldwell and his recruitment team have done well over the past weeks. Dan Burn may not be the most fulfilled central defender, but he is only 24 years old and already has more than 80 appearances in the Championship under his belt. The question is whether Caldwell, an ex-central defender himself, can nurture the player into realizing his full potential.

The signing of Stephen Warnock on a one year contract was no surprise. Warnock proved to be an excellent loan signing for League 1 and has a wealth of experience in higher divisions, plus two England caps.  However, he will be 35 in December, hence the short term contract. Warnock will face fierce competition for the left back spot from the 22 year old Reece James, providing the young player can rid himself of the troublesome ankle injury that has been dogging him so long.

Caldwell has brought in one for the future in the 21 year old Alex Gilbey. A product of the Colchester academy he has the kinds of technical attributes akin to those of Max Power, together with a willingness to work hard for the team. Although only 22 years old he made over 100 senior appearances for the U’s. Gilbey’s arrival will heighten the pressure for places in the central midfield.

The signing of Nick Powell is a bold gamble that Caldwell will be praying will come off. Powell’s impressive performances for Latics in the first part of the 2013-14 season showed what a fine player he can be at Championship level. However, niggling injuries have played their part in knocking Powell’s career off-track. His loan spells at Leicester and Hull were fruitless. In fact, the last time Powell played in a starting lineup was on April 5th 2014 for Latics against Leeds United. But the player is still only 22 and has the ability to become an outstanding performer. Once again the question arises whether Caldwell and his coaching staff will be able to give the player the kind of nurturing he will need to help him turn his career around.

The loan signing of Adam Bogdan from Liverpool leaves Latics with four goalkeepers on their books. Although he has had a hard time at Anfield the Hungarian was highly regarded at Bolton, where he pushed Jussi Jaaskelainen out of the team. It is most likely that Bogdan will do the same again at Wigan, with the big Finn being the backup keeper and either Lee Nicholls or Dan Lavercombe leaving for a loan spell.

Right back continues to be a problem position, with recent loan signing Kyle Knoyle ruled out long term due to an elbow injury. In the meantime Caldwell has brought Ryan Taylor back to Wigan on trial. Taylor’s set piece deliveries were a key element for Steve Bruce’s team at Latics, but he left for Newcastle in February 2009, spending more than six years on Tyneside. However, injuries have taken their toll on the player who is now 31. Taylor started in only one Championship game for Hull City last season. Should Taylor be offered a contract it is unlikely to be for more than a year, given his recent history.

Caldwell will be hoping that his new signings can come out of the blocks running. However, in the cases of Bogdan and Powell, coming from unfulfilled spells at their previous clubs, it could take more time. Moreover Gilbey has to adjust to playing in the Championship for the first time and Burn has arrived possibly short on confidence after playing for a struggling Fulham team. However, new signings apart, the players remaining from last season’s League 1 title squad will also face the challenge of playing in a higher division. Key players such as Will Grigg and Max Power have never played at a level above League 1 and Yanic Wildschut only started in three games during his time at Middlesbrough in the Championship.

Wigan’s purchase of the Euxton training facility from Bolton Wanderers certainly looks like sound business. However, it puts into question the future of the venture at Charnock Richard, with implications for the development of the club’s academy. Dreams of developing a Category 1 academy now seem far away, given the short term financial situation the club will face. One wonders if Latics were to find their way back into the Premier League would they even then revisit the idea of having a top level youth programme?

In this month just a couple of years ago Uwe Rosler was the toast of the town after doing such a fine job in uplifting Latics following the damaging reign of Owen Coyle. But a calamitous pre-season proved to be the first nail in the coffin of a sequence of events which resulted in the German’s departure some four months later. Too many players picked up niggling injuries and a friendly match in Germany had to be cancelled because Rosler just did not have enough fit players. When the season started the majority of the players just were not up to going the whole 90 minutes, with slumps in the second half being too common. The seemingly old-fashioned concept of “over training” was raised by many fans at the time.

It is to be hoped that the lessons of a couple of years ago have been learned and that Caldwell’s squad is not being over trained. However, just one goal scored in five pre-season games is a worrying sign. Following a goalless draw at non-league Macclesfield Town the manager stated “It’s not about winning games or scoring lots of goals at this point, it’s about putting things into them physically and tactically and seeing how it works on the pitch.

However, he changed his tune somewhat following an abject 4-1 defeat at Rochdale yesterday, commenting that “I’m disappointed obviously with both the result and the performance because it wasn’t good enough. However, it’s understandable from the work we have been doing in training that the boys are going to be a little tired but we do still know that it’s unacceptable and we have two weeks to do something about it.”

Given the apparently heavy training regime and playing four games in eight days it is not surprising the players might be tired. The scheduling of the games against Manchester United and Liverpool on consecutive days was odd to say the least, offering more value in terms of PR than as a means of preparing the players for the season ahead.

Yesterday Caldwell was apparently unable to call on his three main centre backs – Donervon Daniels, Craig Morgan and Jason Pearce – and left back Stephen Warnock went off injured early on. Not surprisingly the back four of youth debutant Luke Burke together with Jack Hendry, Dan Burn and David Perkins was unable to assert itself.

Without a single victory in the pre-season up to this point, Caldwell will surely put more emphasis on winning for the two remaining friendlies at Oldham and Fleetwood. Although pre-season results are of minimal consequence as the season unfolds, the manager will want to restore the winning habit that the team established last season. He will also need to make greater use of his more established players, providing they are fit.

It is to be hoped that the sports science, physiotherapy and physical conditioning staff at the club are on top of things during the pre-season. Latics need to go out to that first league game at Ashton Gate with a squad of fit players who can give their all.

Surely the lessons of the Rosler era have been learned?