“They’ll all be in for the start of pre-season on June 25, and they’ll all be big players for us next season.”
David Sharpe’s announcement has provided a fresh boost for Wigan Athletic’s bid to regain their Championship slot.
The return of Andy Delort, Rob Kiernan, Oriol Riera and James Tavernier from loan spells is surely a declaration of intent from the young chairman. Moreover if the club is as active in the transfer market as media rumours suggest, the squad for the coming season is going to be as strong as any in League 1.
Bringing back the loanees has its financial implications, but Sharpe is clearly willing to stick his neck out in the bid for promotion. At a time when the club is at the point of jettisoning its higher earners, Sharpe is clearly gambling on Delort and Riera delivering the goods. Strikers are an expensive commodity on the transfer market and rather than splash big money out on a player from another club, Sharpe is using the players he already has. Moreover Grant Holt, Billy Mckay and Martyn Waghorn remain on the books.
So many players suffered in the depressive climate of the relegation season recently concluded. That included Kiernan and Tavernier. Neither could reach his previous levels of performance and they were shunted off on loan in the January transfer window by the hapless Malky Mackay.
Kiernan remains highly regarded by Birmingham City manager Gary Rowett following a series of good displays. After leaving Wigan in January he had to wait until February 21st to make his first start against Brighton, playing in midfield, but from then on became a regular in the centre of defence. Kiernan had been promoted to Wigan’s first team in the second half of the 2013-14 season by Uwe Rosler, for whom he had played on loan at Brentford the year before. He performed well, particularly when playing in a back line of three, showing good positional sense, skilful in his distribution.
Tavernier too suffered in that spell at Wigan. He had arrived with good credentials from Rotherham where he was a favourite of the fans. His ability to strike on goal and make crosses with pinpoint accuracy was already evident in the pre-season. Sadly he could not produce his true form in the seven games he started at Wigan. He just did not seem to have the pace or quickness of thought to play as a full back in an orthodox back four. However, being employed as a wing back, Tavernier was to make a lasting impression in Bristol City’s League 1 title winning team. His spectacular goal from 45 yards against Colchester might look a freak, but given Tavernier’s technique and ambitious approach, it could well have been intentional.
Riera was shipped back to Spain in January after a frustrating time at Wigan. He had taken time to adjust to the physicality of the Championship and was hardly helped by the lack of service from a dysfunctional midfield. However, a well taken goal against Blackpool surely boosted his confidence and he looked more comfortable in the 4-0 win over Birmingham City that followed. But Riera was surprisingly left as an unused substitute on the bench in the next game at Birmingham, in favour of a newly arrived Andy Delort. Riera was never given a run of starts after that and his confidence dwindled.
It was therefore no surprise when he joined Deportivo La Coruna. Since his arrival at the Galician club he has been a regular starter at centre forward and has scored four goals. His last one, a 60th minute header at Malaga, salvaged an important point for a side fighting to avoid relegation from La Liga.
Delort too will look at his time at Wigan with regret. Thrust into a lone centre forward role he looked like a duck out of water. A player who had scored 24 goals the previous season in Ligue 2 looked sure to make his mark in the Championship, but Delort had been used to playing with a twin striker at Tours. Rosler was to stick by his formula of playing with one central striker, as did Mackay when he first arrived. Delort was sent back to a Tours side that was struggling against relegation. He has not been able to reproduce his prolific goalscoring of the previous season. Delort has scored two goals in thirteen starts.
During the time that Delort and Riera spent at Wigan many fans had hoped to see them play in tandem as twin strikers. But it never happened. However, there is now a prospect of seeing that Latin partnership for Latics in League 1.
Given their unhappy stays at Wigan, neither player will be over keen to return. Moreover stories of members of Latics’ coaching staff writing the two of them off have become more and more credible. Tim Chow too had been written off, being told that he would not receive another contract, only for Caldwell to intervene and bring the young player back into the fold.
Given the united front shown by Sharpe and Caldwell up to this point, we can assume that the manager is supportive of the return of the four players. It looks like Caldwell’s preferred formation will be 3-5-2, which would suit them. Tavernier is a natural wing back with great attacking potential. Kiernan would slot into a back line of three capable of passing the ball out of defence. Moreover Delort and Riera could make a formidable partnership up front.
Much will depend on the ability of Caldwell, and the coaches, to bring the best out of the four players. Latics paid around £5.5million for Delort, Riera and Tavernier. A good season from them could help the club back into the Championship, in addition to increasing their values on the transfer market, which will have nosedived over the past eight months.
Wigan Athletic are keen to put the nightmare 2014-15 season behind them. The slate needs to be wiped clean for those who suffered the contagion that swept through the squad. It is a fresh start and the four players still have much to offer.