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.

A Torquay fan’s view of Dan Lavercombe

Dan Lavercombe. Photo courtesy of Western Morning News.

Dan Lavercombe.
Photo courtesy of Western Morning News.

A couple of weeks ago Wigan Athletic announced the signing of 19 year old Torquay United goalkeeper, Dan Lavercombe.  Lavercombe has returned back to Torquay on loan for the rest of the season.

The Torquay-born Lavercombe played at Exeter City in his early teens then passed through the Gulls’ now-closed academy.  He made his first team debut for Torquay last season in a 2-0 defeat at Aldershot on Easter Monday and signed a professional contract with them in summer. On signing the professional contract manager Chris Hargreaves commented:

“He wants to stay so we’re happy to do that. We’ve got a real prospect with Dan, I’m looking forward to working with him….I know people are looking at him already and I don’t blame them for doing that because I’ve got no doubt that he’s going to have a good long career. He’s very calm and very assured for someone of his age.”

Lavercombe  was to  establish himself as first choice goalkeeper. He had certainly attracted a considerable amount of interest from other clubs, having trained with Liverpool and Bolton Wanderers in addition to Wigan.

In order to learn more about Lavercombe we reached out to the Forum at www.TorquayFans.com . What follows is a compilation of views put forward by people contributing to the Forum.  Our thanks to all for their input and to the site for making it possible.

Drummergull90 tells us that:

Dan is a local lad and Torquay fan as far as I am aware. Tall, composed and mature for his age. Came in to a struggling team at the end of last season and his presence at the back was hugely reassuring. At 18 it was remarkable that he didn’t seem nervous or at all phased by it. I believe he kept three clean sheets on the bounce. This season he started as number 2 to Fabian Speiss but has made the shirt his own in recent times. Seems to improve every time I see him. He does however have a tendency to be beaten by long-range shots and hopefully this is something your coaches will work on with him. He has the potential to be a very good keeper. Probably Championship standard. Was on trial at Liverpool in the summer and had also previously been linked with Bolton before their financial troubles. The fee has been rumoured at around £30k with add-ons.

According to yellowforever:

I like him a lot. Technically a good keeper but I’ve been impressed by his confidence and commanding of the defence. Many other factors are involved of course but since he’s made the no.1 spot his own, we’ve looked a lot more solid in defence. His improvement over the last few years has been rapid, and I see no reason why he can’t continue to do so with you guys next season.

Ferrarilover comments that:

Danny boy has gone from shot stopper to goalkeeper with the addition of one crucial element: starting position. He now adopts such a good starting position so much of the time that he has developed command of his area and makes himself seem a much better goalkeeper than he was even a few months ago. He needs to work on his kicking under pressure and his kicking decision making, but aside from that, he’s good to go.

Torq2u mentions the calamitous 3-7 mauling that Torquay took from Bromley in September:

The 3-7 result was not down to Dan! It was the culmination of great unrest at the club with staff, players and fans not really knowing what the heck was going on and if the club would still exist the next day! To Dan’s credit, he has more than “bounced back” from that upset and acquitted himself well over recent weeks, amid the rumours and negotiations surrounding his transfer to WIgan. His current (new) coach here has commented on his command of the area and has stated he will work specifically on Dan becoming more vocal. Oh, and I think Dan has a bright future ahead of him. And the future is orange (his preferred colour!).

 

Wabara the next on Caldwell’s latest wish list?

Reece Wabara. Photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Reece Wabara.
Photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Wigan Athletic currently stand in 5th place in League 1, just 5 points behind second placed Gillingham. They are desperately seeking an automatic promotion place.

On November 9th we posted “Caldwell’s Christmas Shopping List”. At that time Latics were coincidentally 5th in the League 1 table, 5 points behind the Gills in second place. We advocated the need for another central striker (Alex Revell was brought in soon after), a right back, a central defender and an influential central midfield player.

Since then short-term loanees Francisco Junior, Donald Love and Sean Murray have left the club, with Yanic Wildschut being signed on a permanent contract. Revell was recalled early by Cardiff City from his loan spell. Moreover Richard O’Donnell has joined Bristol City on loan.

Since November 9th Latics have a record of W5 D3 L2. Statistics supplied by www.statto.com show them lying 8th in the form table for games played between then and now.

Statto

Wigan’s average of 1.8 points per game over the period has helped then maintain their position in 5th place, but the teams that were above them in November remain above them now.

Both Burton Albion and Walsall have had managerial changes since then.  Since Nigel Clough took over from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink at Burton on December 4th he has had a record of W4 D1 L0. Sean O’Driscoll succeeded Dean Smith at Walsall on December 18th, his record so far being W3 D1 L1.

Latics clearly cannot rely on the teams above them defaulting over the remainder of the season. History tells us that teams who have gained automatic promotion from League 1 have amassed a minimum of 90 points. To achieve that minimum target Latics would need 45 points from their remaining 20 games, an average of 2.25 points per match.

The January window is crucial to Wigan’s quest for automatic promotion. Caldwell’s squad is strong, but somehow the team rarely fires on all cylinders. The chemistry just does not seem quite right. The question is whether Caldwell can bring in the types of players who can provide an appropriate balance.

A right back/right wing back is surely high on Caldwell’s wish list. Donervon Daniels can excel when attacking, but can be suspect when up against a speedy wide player. Daniels is basically a central defender who has been helping the team by playing out of position. Rumours are that Latics are about to sign right back Reece Wabara whose short term contract at Barnsley has come to an end. Wabara is a 24 year old  ex-Manchester City youth player.  He made 43 appearances for Doncaster Rovers last season before joining Barnsley for whom he appeared 19 times.

According to press reports it appears that Aberdeen are interested in taking Don Cowie on loan for the remainder of the season. With the departures of Junior and Murray and a possible exit from Cowie, Caldwell will be keen to bolster his central midfield.

For some time now Latics have looked short of a midfield enforcer who can close down opponents when the going gets tough. Sam Morsy of Chesterfield is certainly that, being known for his toughness in the tackle. Signed by Paul Cook from Port Vale in summer 2013, the 24 year old  captain has made 97 appearances for the Spireites. His contract expires at the end of the season, suggesting that a relatively small transfer fee could secure his services.

Latics have also been linked with Oldham Athletic captain Liam Kelly. A 25 year old Scottish international, who started his career at Kilmarnock, Kelly is a holding midfielder that Oldham fans don’t want to lose.

With the departure of Junior, Latics look short of variety in midfield. Although dogged by injury during his stay at Wigan, Junior could offer alternatives when coming off the bench. Michael Jacobs is the main creative force for Latics, but there is a need for another player of his type.  So many teams will “park the bus” when they come to the DW Stadium and someone is needed who can help unlock visiting defences.

Grant Holt is now back at Wigan after his loan spell at Wolves, but it seems most likely that he will loaned out to another club. Should that happen Caldwell will surely seek another centre forward. The latest name to be mentioned is Lukas Jutkiewicz who has played for 9 clubs even though he is only 26 years old.  Jutkiewicz is a big target man, but his career strike record is not particularly impressive and he has not scored for his current club, Burnley, in 30 appearances.

Leon Barnett’s contract is up at the end of the season and he might well be looking for a move in January.  Previous rumours linked him to Preston North End. Should Barnett leave then Caldwell will seek to bolster the centre of defence with a new signing. Given the long ball approach that can prevail in League 1 he might well look for a tall player who is strong in the air. Good passing of the ball is not Barnett’s strength and it is an attribute that Caldwell will look at from any incoming player.

Latics have already announced the signings of 19 year old Torquay goalkeeper Dan Lavercombe and the 22 year old Macclesfield midfielder Danny Whitehead. Both players will continue playing for their former clubs for the remainder of the season. They are clearly players for the future.

However, Caldwell’s main priority is to recruit new players for the 20 games that remain this season. How many will be able to recruit will largely depend on the departures of players on Championship-level salaries whose contracts expire in summer.

Given the difficulties he has faced with the right back position Caldwell will be keen to bring in a new player as soon as possible. Reece Wabara might well be a Latics player within the next couple of days.