Holgerrson to stay?

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Markus Holgerrson is one of several Latics players whose contracts expire this summer.

The big Swede, Markus Holgerrson, at last made his debut for Wigan Athletic, albeit coming on at Blackburn as a substitute after 72 minutes.

Holgerrson was signed as a free agent from New York Red Bulls in early February, with glowing references. His contract is until the end of the current season, which is impending.

Uwe Rosler took a gamble at Blackburn by surprisingly playing Ivan Ramis in a central back line of three. The Spaniard came off at half time, to be substituted by Leon Barnett. Knowing that Ramis could be a key player in the playoffs, Rosler took the gamble of playing him despite the risk of it being too early following the hamstring injury from which he has been recuperating. Only time will tell if Rosler was right to put Ramis in there. A fit Ramis could make a big difference to the promotion push. But will he make it?

At this stage Holgerrson’s future at Wigan is uncertain. Rosler has been able to assess him in training, in the development squad and in about 20 minutes of competitive league play.

Were Holgerrson not to be offered a further contract it would not be a surprise following previous occurrences at the club. At the beginning of last season Roberto Martinez brought in two young players from Spain who had represented their country at youth and schoolboy levels. Eduard Campabadal was an exciting young right back from Barcelona who had put in good performances for the development squad. Martinez gave him his league debut in the last match of the season against Aston Villa and he did not play badly. However, for some unstated reason the 20 year old left the club over the summer and is now back in Spain playing for Cordoba. The other young prospect, forward Guillermo Andres, signed from Villareal, remains in the development squad.

The fate of Nouha Dicko does not bode well for Holgersson and others struggling to get frontline experience. As has happened with other young players at Wigan, Dicko was never given a run of games in which to establish himself. Under Roberto Martinez he went to Blackpool on loan and played well, scoring 9 goals in 32 appearances. Owen Coyle’s arrival saw him shipped off to Rotherham where he once again gave a good account of himself and scored 5 goals in 5 appearances. Despite never giving him a chance in the first choice lineup, in January Uwe Rosler sold him to Wolves where he since has scored 13 goals in 19 appearances. Given Latics’ lack of a forward who can regularly score goals the Dicko transfer was hard to fathom.

The dearth of first team opportunities for young players in particular has been a sore point at Wigan for some time. Callum McManaman had to wait so long to get his chance, as did Lee Nicholls. Their contemporaries Danny Redmond and Jordan Mustoe still have not started in a single league match despite being 23 years old and successfully negotiating Latics’ youth system and the development squad. They still remain on Latics’ books.

During his tenure at Wigan, Roberto Martinez was loath to blood young players from within the club in league games. More surprisingly Martinez gave young midfielder Fraser Fyvie little opportunity outside cup games to prove his worth. Fyvie was certainly no raw recruit, having made more than 50 appearances for Aberdeen in the SPL up to the age of 20, when he joined Latics. The current season has been a disaster for the skilful midfielder with injuries and unfortunate loan spells at Yeovil and Shrewsbury taking their toll. He has now had three managers at Wigan who have not had the confidence to give him a further league start to add to the single one he received at the same time as Campabadal against Aston Villa.

Owen Coyle took Adam Buxton to the USA for pre-season, but the young defender soon disappeared from the limelight. Over recent months he has had loan spells at Burton Albion and Accrington Stanley .

The news came out today that Honduras coach, Luis Fernando Suarez, has named both Roger Espinoza and Juan Carlos Garcia in his squad of 23 players for Brazil. The Colombian has also included ex-Latics favourites Maynor Figueroa and Wilson Palacios. Given that Garcia has played only one senior game all season at Wigan, Suarez clearly has faith in the player’s abilities. It was a surprise that Rosler did not include Garcia in the squad for the Blackburn game on Saturday. The player still has two more years remaining on his contract.

Holgerrson is not alone in that he has a contract expiring in summer. He is joined by Jean Beausejour, Emmerson Boyce, Gary Caldwell, Stephen Crainey, Jordi Gomez and Mike Pollitt. Moreover the loan periods will expire for Jack Collison, Josh McEachran, Nicky Maynard and Nick Powell.

For the moment Rosler will be focusing on the playoffs, which will decide which division Latics play in next year. Should it be the Premier League he might well look at retaining some of those end of contract players who have proven experience at that level. Should it be the Championship, Rosler will look at bringing down both the average age and the salary costs of his squad.

It is going to be a very different Wigan Athletic squad we will see at the beginning of next season.

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No fire sale please Dave

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In May 2013 it looked like a fire sale was on its way at Wigan Athletic. Having lost its place in the Premier League the club looked ready to sell most of its prized assets.  There was a need to cut the wage bill to meet the harsh financial reality of relegation and to create a cash buffer. But fans were hoping that funds coming in from transfers would be used towards buying new players.

Around £20m was to be raised through the transfers of James McCarthy, Arouna Kone and Mauro Boselli. Moreover none of the players who were out of contract were to stay, relieving pressure on the wage bill. However, critics will question the club of not jangling a big enough carrot in front of the noses of players in the final years of their contracts. The combined market value of Antolin Alcaraz, Maynor Figueroa and Franco Di Santo might well have reached  £15m if they could have been retained.

So the club’s two biggest assets in terms of transfer value – McCarthy and Kone – were the ones who went, in addition to Boselli who had never broken through at Wigan.  The good news was that the remaining twelve senior players from the Martinez were staying, giving Latics a backbone of quality players in a lower league.  It was a great relief for fans to see players like Callum McManaman and Shaun Maloney staying at the club.

Unfortunately things did not go too well for those players under Owen Coyle, with few of them playing to their true potential and others, like Roger Espinoza and Fraser Fyvie, largely left out of the loop.

The arrival of Uwe Rosler has coincided to a return to form of so many of the Martinez men. James McArthur in particular has looked rejuvenated and there are signs that the inconsistent Callum McManaman is approaching his optimum.  Were McManaman able to prove that he could perform at his best for a full 90 minutes, week-in-week-out, he could command a transfer value in excess of £15m. However, he has a long way to go before getting to that point.

The  big fire sale did not happen  in summer, but there is considerable speculation to suggest that it might happen in this January transfer window.

Far too often the media is wide of the mark with its transfer news, but it can nevertheless cause disruption within football clubs. The names of most of Wigan Athletic’s currently most prized assets have entered the transfer gossip columns over the past week, but as always it seems hard to separate fact from fiction.

Were Ivan Ramis to have been fit in summer he might well have been courted by Premier League clubs.  It is no surprise to hear rumours  that both Crystal Palace and Cardiff City are keen to sign him in this transfer window.

Ramis played one match too many in a short space of time following his recovery from cruciate knee surgery, picking up a groin injury, which has kept him out of action recently. He would be a good acquisition for either club. However, he still has another 18 months left on his contract and Latics do not need to let him go at this stage, unless they get offered a price they cannot refuse, which is unlikely. Moreover Ramis would be unwise to move to either of the two clubs, given the distinct possibility that both will be in the Championship division next season.

Jean Beausejour is the most likely to leave and the media report that Steve Bruce wants him at Hull for only £750,000. The Chilean is a proven Premier League player and it would be a good deal for the Yorkshire club. As far as Latics are concerned his contract is up in summer and they will get nothing if they don’t sell him this month. However, it will be a case of the club losing one of its most skillful players.

Jordi Gomez’s future remains uncertain. There may be some last minute offers for him before the transfer window closes, but there remains the possibility of him running down his contract and returning to Spain.

It is ironic after all the criticism the player has received over the years from fans that many of them have started to recognize what a talented player he is. Too often Gomez has been played out of position, rather than in his best spot in the hole between the central striker and the midfield. However, although Rosler has been complimentary  about Gomez to the press, one wonders the German is looking for a player capable of launching attacks more rapidly. The loan signing of Josh McEachran suggests just that.

Ben Watson might well sign a new contract at Wigan, although an offer from another club could still come through.

Rosler has already sold Nouha Dicko to Wolves and there could be more. The most likely is Jean Beausejour. However, hearing that Rosler is seeking a defender on loan makes one wonder if Ramis will be leaving. Should Latics secure promotion this season then they would need players of the Spaniard’s quality in the Premier League. To let him go for a couple of million at this stage could be a mistake. It would cost a lot more to buy a player of such quality were promotion to happen.

Let’s hope Dave Whelan will support his new manager by keeping departures at a minimum during this transfer window.  There are genuine concerns among supporters about the best quality players leaving the club.

Despite the reverse suffered by a tired Latics at Doncaster last week, there is at least an even chance that they can make the playoffs. Although promotion next season is a more realistic target, this current team should not be written off.

If Rosler can make the sum of the parts to at least equal the whole then promotion this season remains within grasp. That is providing he does not lose a number of key players through a fire sale in this transfer window.

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Rosler’s January Sales

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“The budget is spent in terms of the amount of players we have in. It’s a big squad but that was needed because of the European games. What (the January transfer window) allows me is it might free up some money on the wage budget to bring in loan players until the end of the season or on a short-term to help us and that is what I’ll try to do.”

So said Uwe Rosler according to media reports yesterday. But what can be read into his comments?

Some money has now been freed from the wage budget with the transfer of Nouha Dicko to Wolves, for a fee reputed to be around £300,000. On the other hand Dicko was not one of the big wage earners and Latics already added a new member to their staff last week by recruiting Chris Haslam, Brentford’s performance coach.

Letting a striker go when the team has been so goal-shy would seem like a backward step, but Dicko was never able to secure a first team place despite his successes on loan at Blackpool and Rotherham.

In fact Haslam’s recruitment could be the key to a successful second half of the season for the club. The players continue to adapt to the high pressing game that Rosler demands, although they often run out of steam. If Haslam can improve player fitness levels it is going to make the team more consistently competitive.

Rosler’s right hand men at Brentford – assistant manager Alan Kernaghan and coach Peter Farrell – left the London club soon after he did. But they have not followed him to Wigan, with Graham Barrow continuing and John Doolan being brought up from youth team duties to help out. It has become the norm for a new manager to bring his tried and trusted lieutenants with him, but in this case Rosler certainly seems to have made a good start without them.

The budget might be the constraining factor, but it could also be down to an awareness within the club that more wholesale changes to the coaching and backroom staff could be damaging. It is only six months ago that Owen Coyle brought in a swathe of new staff to replace those that Roberto Martinez took with him to Everton.

Rosler’s dilemma is in how he is going to be able to further reduce the wage bill, without weakening Latics’ chances of getting back to the Premier League. The established players who are still with the club from the Martinez era are going to be among the highest wage earners, although Coyle probably had to offer salaries above Championship division norms to many of the players he recruited.

Jean Beausejour, Jordi Gomez and Ben Watson are out of contract at the end of the season. All three are experienced former Premier League players who will attract interest in this transfer window. At least one is likely to go unless offers come in for others in the squad with a similar profile.

Ivan Ramis is a prized asset, but has only recently come back from long-term injury and a club is unlikely to want to take a gamble at this stage. A few months ago one would have expected the big clubs to be chasing Callum McManaman in January, but his form has been disappointing so far. Keeping Ramis and McManaman and at least two of Beausejour, Gomez or Watson will provide a backbone of players who can not only help Latics get promotion, but go on to play in the Premier League next season.

Rumours have been circulating that Rosler will cut his losses with Grant Holt, reputedly the highest wage earner of the players recruited by Coyle. The main talk is of sending him off on loan, which would help the lower the wage bill for now but it should not be forgotten that Holt is on a three year contract. It remains to be seen whether another club would come in and even take him on a free transfer, given his wage expectations. Will he suffer the same fate as Mauro Boselli to be sent off on various loans until his contract winds down in 2016?

Coyle’s hopeful signing of the two 32 year old strikers – Holt and Fortune – has proved a damp squib up to this point. He has the option to try to offload them and reduce the wage bill, but he might be shooting himself in the foot in doing so and leaving the squad without any specialized and experienced strikers.

With the short term loan signing of Tyias Browning and the not-too-distant return of Gary Caldwell the defence remains well staffed. So too does the midfield, although it looks like Fraser Fyvie will once more be sent on loan. Moreover rumours abound that Roger Espinoza will be leaving in this transfer window. He was marginalised by Coyle and Rosler has not seemed particularly keen on him despite the Honduran putting up good performances when given the opportunity. One wonders if off the field issues are coming into play.

Latics have a peculiar situation with goalkeepers, for some reason having four. Rosler is already talking about sending Lee Nicholls out on loan again and Mike Pollitt’s contract is up in summer. Even so he has two ex-Premier League keepers  in Ali Al-Habsi and Scott Carson. Should Latics get promotion they might both continue. Should they not then it is likely one will depart in summer.

The January transfer window period always seems to be a stressful time at the DW Stadium. In the past Latics have lost key players during this period. But it can work both ways. Last year Martinez brought in Roger Espinoza from Kansas City and both Paul Scharner and Joel Robles on loan from Hamburg and Atletico Madrid respectively. All three were to play in the lineup that won the FA Cup final.

Let’s hope that not too many of Wigan’s better players are whisked away over the coming weeks and that Rosler can make good loan signings.

He will be hoping that Cardiff forward Nicky Maynard will be his second loan recruit within the next few days.

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Wingers hold the key for Latics

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Ben Watson’s great run into the penalty box in the 34th minute of the recent Maribor match enabled him to put Latics into the driving seat with a 2-0 lead. Watson’s header was spot-on, but would not have been possible without a wonderful cross from Jean Beausejour on the left.

One of the features of Latics’ historic first home match in the Europa League was the width with which they played. Maribor were stretched in coping with Callum McManaman on the right and Beausejour on the left.

The Chilean received an ‘assist’ for Watson’s goal, but should have had more as he laid on chances that were spurned, despite his sublime crosses.

There are fans who don’t like Beausejour’s style or say he is lazy. He is not the kind of wide player who can speed past a full back to the by-line. Neither could David Beckham.

However, like Beckham he has the ability to squeeze through inch-perfect crosses from tight situations.  Beausejour played largely as a wing back in the past couple of seasons  – the most demanding position as far as running and sacrifice are concerned. Maybe the Chilean looks a little chubby and ungainly, which gives people the impression that he is lazy. The reality is that he is a team player who does not shirk his responsibilities or hide during a game.

Last season Beausejour provided seven Premier League assists, one less than Shaun Maloney. Although he only joined the club in the January transfer window he led with five assists in the 2011-12 season.  The Chilean has sometimes been employed at left back under Owen Coyle, which is not his best position, but gives the manager more options. If the opposition play without an orthodox right winger Coyle might continue to be tempted to put Beausejour in that position to provide a more attacking balance on the left.

Callum McManaman was starting to look more like himself before he was taken off early in the second half against the Slovenian side. It has been a difficult season for him so far, fighting injuries and illness. At his best he can stretch any defence with his directness and acceleration.

McManaman’s style contrasts with that of Beausejour. The 22 year old is the kind of player who can get to the by-line and cut the ball back. He is also a natural goalscorer and can shoot with both feet. Latics need him back to full fitness.

James McClean is 24 years old and took a pay cut to join Latics. He is fighting to get a place in the starting line-up. McClean’s workrate cannot be faulted and he is not afraid to run at the opponent’s defence. He has a good left foot and genuine pace.

Although he started in 44 Premier League games over the past two seasons he has yet to reach his peak. At times Coyle has played him on the right flank, in the kind of role that Charles N’Zogbia played in the Martinez era. Some say McClean lacks the close control to play in that position, but he can be dangerous when cutting inside to shoot.

McClean’s style also contrasts with that of Beausejour.  The Chilean is best with the ball played to his feet, whereas the Irishman is at his most threatening when he can use his pace to run on to through balls. Coyle will use him on either flank and with continued playing time McClean is going to get better and better.

Nouha Dicko is still only 21 and is another wide player with real pace. His first team opportunities continue to be limited and one wonders when he is finally going to get a start in a league game.

Shaun Maloney remains unavailable through injury. When he comes back he is going to have to fight Jordi Gomez and Nick Powell for his best position – the advanced midfield role. We are likely to see him on the wing at times.

Coyle has wingers who can be match winners. Providing they can stay fit and that the team lines up  with width there are some exciting times ahead for Latics.

Grant Holt and Marc-Antoine Fortune will be licking their lips at the service they are going to get from the wide men.

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Keep an eye out for… a look at Latics fringe players ahead of Swindon

Judging by his post-match comments earlier this week, Roberto is ready to give his first team a good week and a half of rest and relaxation. They did, after all, face the traditional top four in back-to-back matches, the most physical team in the Premier League away, and Sunderland in heavy rain and swirling winds. Two of those were played with 10 men, and at least one against 12, it could be argued.

All of which means we are likely to see a few of the younger players in the squad, and a few older faces that have been on the fringe of the squad this season. Here are some of the lads I’ll be looking out for tomorrow:

Callum McManaman: the 20-year-old is fresh from a successful loan spell at Blackpool, who judging by fan forums were sad to lose him. He scored a couple goals and looked quite confident. Scored for Latics almost exactly a year ago in last season’s FA Cup 3rd round, so he’ll be hoping to repeat the feat. It was cracker (40 secs in).

Nouha Dicko: Signed on the cheap from a club in financial trouble, just like Victor Moses, Dicko may well eventually be the man to replace him when Victor inevitably moves onward and upward. Lightning quick, the former Strasbourg man can play on the wing or as a striker, and has been the main attacking threat in the reserves for much of the season.

Shaun Maloney: When he joined towards the end of the summer transfer window, along with Albert Crusat and Patrick Van Aanholt (on loan), many felt he was Martinez’s biggest coup. One of the few players signed in the Martinez era with Premier League experience, Maloney is clever passer of the ball and dead ball specialist. He has, however, struggled with injuries down the years. This match should be a chance to assess his fitness levels.

Hendry Thomas: The Honduran hard man has been neither on the bench with the first team, or in the reserves regularly — and yet reports said he was due to have his contract renewed. The authors of this blog appreciate his no nonsense approach in midfield, it will be nice to see the old fella if he gets the call.

James McArthur: Almost certain to start, James has frequently featured for the first team in the last 10 minutes of Premier League matches, but hasn’t showed quite enough to jump Ben Watson, James McCarthy or Momo Diame in the pecking order. Probably one of the big reasons Hendry Thomas has fallen out of the reckoning, Martinez clearly has faith in the Scot. He’ll be looking forward to a full 90 minutes.

Emmerson Boyce: A favourite on this blog, Boycey is the ultimate professional, the most dependable player at the club. Unfortunately, he hasn’t featured since the away loss at Wolves, in which he skilfully earned the team a penalty. First, his young son was seriously ill, in hospital. And then he and his wife welcomed another baby into the family over the festive period. We understand his son’s health has improved — Latics fans will be grateful to see him back in the squad.

Michael Pollitt: Assuming Al-Habsi gets a rest, and the unfortunate Chris Kirkland has not recovered from his latest bout of injuries, it will be great to see Polly make an appearance. What an excellent professional, the only Latics players to have been with the club since their first Premier League season.