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.
Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

Advertisements

The problem on the right

A rest from right back duties for David Perkins?

A rest from right back duties for David Perkins?

It is now sixteen months since Emmerson Boyce left Wigan Athletic under acrimonious circumstances. Boyce had been at the heart of most of the club’s greatest achievements and was much loved by the fans. It was never going to be an easy parting of ways.

When news broke out about Boyce’s departure in May 2015 there was consternation among his supporters, many of whom felt the club could have done more to keep him. There were myriad arguments for and against the club in the Boyce debate. But although the issues revolved largely around loyalty towards a player who had become a club legend, there were also those who questioned whether Latics could get a player who was any better to replace him.

Boyce was signed by Paul Jewell in August 2006. He went on to stay for nine seasons, his versatility in being able to play in the centre of defence or on the right being a real asset. Although in his early years at the club he was not the most technically proficient, he had a will to win that endeared him to the fans. When playing at right back Boyce had not been the most fleet footed or the best of distributors, but it was all to change when Roberto Martinez switched to 3-4-3 in November 2012. At the beginning Boyce looked uncomfortable in the right wing back position, but by the end of the season he had played his part in Wigan’s epic victories over the highs and mighties of the Premier League. Boyce had become the archetypal wing back, constantly available to receive the ball, helping stretch the play wide, thoughtful in his distribution and solid in defence.

Wing back is a specialist position, not easy to adapt to for someone used to playing right back in a quartet. Martinez and the coaches had worked with Boyce and he had mastered the position with aplomb. In January 2015 Martinez had brought in Jean Beausejour to play the left wing back role in which he had been utilized by his national team, Chile. The two smooth functioning wing backs were key cogs in Martinez’s machine.

Since Boyce’s departure no one has been able to claim the right back/wing back position as their own. In the first half of last season we saw glimpses of Kevin McNaughton, Jonjoe Kenny and Donald Love, with Tim Chow sometimes filling in. Donervon Daniels also played there when not playing in the centre of defence. Reece Wabara was signed in January and made 20 appearances without being totally convincing. He left in the summer after he and the club were unable to agree terms.

The turnover has continued this season. So far we have seen Luke Burke, Reece Burke, Nathan Byrne, Alex Gilbey, David Perkins, Max Power and Yanic Wildschut play there. Loanee Kyle Knoyle has not yet appeared after getting injured in the pre-season.

Were those who thought Boyce would be hard to replace right? Could Boyce have played a major role last season if he had stayed?

In fact Boyce went to Blackpool where he made just 17 starts last season. The reality was that he was 35 years old when he went there, with his best years behind him. Moreover after Martinez’s departure the player had, more often than not, found himself being played more as an orthodox right back or central defender. His halcyon days as a Premier League wing back were over.

Like Martinez, Gary Caldwell is a major proponent of the back three/wing back type of formation. But since taking over as manager he has rarely had the luxury of seeing two wing backs make a major impact in the same game. Moreover some of the players who have occupied the positions have not looked entirely comfortable with their roles.

Caldwell’s main preferred formations can be described as variations on 3-5-2 and 4-3-3. To be able to switch between the systems he would ideally have players with a bank of prior experience playing as both wing back and full back. But with most of his signings coming from English clubs it was going to be more likely he would get players used to playing as orthodox full backs, having to coach them into playing the differing wing back role.

Near the end of the transfer window Caldwell tried to sign attacking right full back Callum Paterson from Hearts, with an expectation of him playing either role. However, the deal never materialized and instead Caldwell signed Nathan Byrne from Wolves.

The complication is that Byrne is essentially a wing back or winger. So Caldwell faces the choice of sometimes playing Byrne as an orthodox right back or bringing in someone else for the position when he wants his team to play with four at the back. When fit, Knoyle could challenge for a place, although he probably lacks the experience to make the position his own.

Reece Burke is expected to return from injury shortly and can play right back, although he is primarily a central defender. The 18 year old Luke Burke knows both the wing back and full back roles through his time in the development squad, but Caldwell seems reluctant to rely on him as a regular alternative. When fit again Donervon Daniels will also challenge for a place on the right of defence.

It is possible that Caldwell will seek an experienced right back/wing back in the January transfer window. But budgetary constraints might well preclude that option.

Many fans prefer to see Latics play with an orthodox back four, citing greater defensive stability. However, in the latter days of the Martinez era at Wigan it could be argued that playing with three central defenders and two wing backs provided more defensive solidity than we had seen with a  back four.

But it does not necessarily work like that under Caldwell’s system. Is it that Caldwell just has not yet found the quality of wing backs he needs? Or is it that he sees them in a more attacking role than Martinez did?

The right side of defence has been one of Caldwell’s biggest headaches so far in his brief managerial career. At this stage it looks like Byrne will be his first choice right wing back, when fully fit. But who would be his preference at right back remains to be seen.

Investing in youth

youth

Two defeats in the first two games have tested the resolve of the long-suffering Wigan Athletic following. Defeat is something that supporters had to learn to live with last year, when team lost 25 of the 46 league matches they played.

Just a week ago there was an almost tangible wave of optimism as fans looked forward to embarking on the “new era” of the club, under the youthful leadership of Gary Caldwell and David Sharpe. But the disappointing performance at Coventry, followed by a narrow defeat at home to Bury has dampened enthusiasm somewhat.

Most fans refuse to panic. There have been only two games so far and they accept that the new players brought in will take time to gel. But results matter, even if an early exit from the League Cup is by no means a tragedy for a club wanting to concentrate on the league, seeking promotion.

As always when things don’t go to plan the keyboard warriors are starting to rear their heads. There are those who are not fans of possession football, those who want two central strikers and a small minority who do not believe that Caldwell is the right man for the job, not having enough experience and being a blind follower of the Martinez ethos.

However, the style of play in the midweek game against Bury could hardly be labeled as possession football. But once again Caldwell fielded a lone centre forward, albeit with two wide players. It is not only the keyboard warriors who advocate playing with twin strikers. Some would say it is essential in League 1.

Like Uwe Rosler and Roberto Martinez and so many managers at the top level of English football, Caldwell appears to be a follower of the lone centre forward setup. When he plays 4-3-3, as he did on Tuesday, there will be two wide players, supposedly moving inside to shoot and ghost in to scoring positions from the flanks.

Caldwell’s version of playing with three central defenders and wing backs differs from the 3-4-3 that was the hallmark of Martinez’s success at Wigan. Caldwell plays what could be broadly described as 3-5-2, or 3-5-1-1. His preference could well be the latter, with the second striker playing a free role akin to that of Victor Moses in the Martinez era. Last season Malky Mackay bowed to pressure to play a 4-4-2 system that was not particularly effective, although it would be fair to say that he did not have outstanding twin strikers at his disposal. Caldwell is unlikely to cave in to such pressure, although the pragmatic side of his footballing philosophy might lead him to playing twin strikers when the occasion might demand.

In May, David Sharpe had said that the club would be looking to sign “young, hungry players between the ages of 24-27, ones who have done it before, who know what it’s like to win promotion, who are willing to learn and put in the hours, and buy into Gary’s brand of football.”

Today’s announcement of the loan signing of the 20 year old Tottenham forward, Shaq Coulthirst, brings the number of new players signed over summer to sixteen. Nine of those are aged 23 or under. Only two – Will Grigg and Richard O’Donnell – are between 24 and 27.

Caldwell certainly has one of the youngest squads that Latics have had in recent years. Other than the new signings can be added the names of Tom Chow (21), Jordan Flores (19), Ryan Jennings (20) and Lee Nicholls (22) who have come up through the development squad. Louis Robles (18) is also on the fringe of challenging for a spot in the senior squad.

Although burdened by the pressure of his chairman’s statement of “smashing League 1” Caldwell has made a significant start in building a squad that will serve the club for years to come. Unlike many of his predecessors he cannot be accused of not giving youth a chance. Both Reece James and Max Power are only 21 years old and will surely have bright futures within the game. Will Grigg (24) and Michael Jacobs (23) are likely to be the main strikers, while the powerful Donervon Daniels (22) is an option in the centre of defence. Moreover he has waved the olive branch towards the development squad through giving first team opportunities to players developed within the club.

Only time will tell if Caldwell’s signings prove to be a success at Wigan. But his willingness to give youth a chance may prove the key for the club’s long term prospects.

In the meantime he faces the here and now. A win against Doncaster on Sunday would certainly help nervous fans feel better about what is to follow.