Francisco Junior’s future at Wigan

Francisco Junior has started in just five games for Wigan Athletic and only finished the full ninety minutes in one of those. He has spent a large proportion of his time at the club injured and is involved in another scandal involving his behavior off the field.

Junior has had a troubled past and some of those demons just don’t seem to go away. But he has nevertheless captured the hearts of so many Wigan Athletic fans with his humility and his sheer footballing ability. His 95th minute winning goal against Swindon on Saturday brought the house down.

I had never even heard of Junior when he made his first appearance in a pre-season friendly against Partick Thistle at Firhill. For me he was the best man on the pitch that night. But I just could not understand at the time why a footballer with such talent would not be well known.

However, I did some research and contacted Everton fan site Toffeeweb for a fan view. The player has clearly had a chequered past. His move from street football in Guinea-Bissau, a country whose per-capita income is one of the lowest in the world, to Benfica was one for the story books. Playing in that Benfica academy led to him representing Portugal at under-19 and under-21 levels. Still only 23 years of age, he retains those silky skills that one associates with the best of Portuguese players. But Junior has still not been able to convince a club that he is worthy of a regular place in their starting lineup. As a footballer he remains “a work in progress”.

Gary Caldwell initially signed Junior from Everton on a one month loan, which was extended to January. The question is whether Latics will seek prolonging his loan or making him a permanent signing. Junior’s contract at Everton is up at the end of the season and he is unlikely to be offered a renewal. The question is whether Caldwell and Latics are willing to take a gamble on the player.

Despite not being able to command a regular place in the starting lineup of a League 1 side, Junior as a footballer cannot be written off.  He is still young and has genuine talent. Can he be steered towards achieving his potential? Could it happen at Wigan?

Despite his lifestyle difficulties, Junior’s humble approach is admirable. A couple of weeks ago he opened his heart – not for the first time – in the guest column for Wigan Today.

However, emotion apart, one of his key comments was “If I can keep my fitness up and avoid injury, I can do my best to help the team and achieve my goals”.

Francisco Junior has the pre-requisites to play at a level well above that of League 1. When he comes on the field for Latics he invariably alters the style of play. His ball skills and movement make him look a class above many of his colleagues. However, he remains largely unable to stamp his authority on to the 90+ minutes of a regular match. Fitness remains a major issue.

Caldwell and his recruitment team have been keen to try to sign the “right kind” of player. Junior is certainly “hungry” for success on the football field, even if his lifestyle excesses provoke questions.

Over the next couple of months Francisco Junior needs to show Gary Caldwell that he merits the club making the effort to negotiate with Everton for his release.

Up to this point he has made five starts, playing beyond the 55th minute on just two occasions. He has made four appearances off the bench.

So many Wigan Athletic supporters are willing Francisco Junior to succeed on the field of play and to overcome his lifestyle problems. He has endeared himself to them through his openness and honesty and his determination to be a better footballer.

But the burning issue for Caldwell is whether the player can reach fitness levels commensurate to challenging for a regular place in the starting lineup.

If that is not the case, it is unlikely that Latics will endeavour to seek his services beyond January.

However, the prospect of a Francisco Junior at the height of physical fitness and revealing his undoubted potential is a mouth-watering prospect for Wigan Athletic fans.

Economics and Grant Holt’s departure

Grant Holt has signed for Wolves on a short term loan deal.

Grant Holt has signed for Wolves on a short term loan.

A couple of weeks ago an article hit a couple of web sites that Wigan Athletic were looking at signing another striker in January. The player was interesting other clubs, including some from the Championship, but Latics were thought to be in pole position to sign him.

But why would Latics want to sign another forward with Craig Davies and Grant Holt coming back into the reckoning? Moreover Shaq Coulthirst and Haris Vuckic were getting closer to fitness and Gary Caldwell already had Will Grigg, Jordy Hiwula, Michael Jacobs, Sanmi Odelusi and Yanic Wildschut available for his front line.

Grant Holt’s departure for Wolves yesterday was no surprise, even if its timing might have been. He was one of five players on Championship-level salaries still remaining at the club. Emyr Huws, Billy Mckay and Andrew Taylor had already been sent out on season-long loans, together with Lee Nicholls until mid-December.

Between the end of last season and the beginning of this one, the club did a remarkable job in moving so many players from the previous regimes, allowing “hungry” new players to come in. At the end of last season loanees returned to their clubs and none of the seven players at the ends of their contracts were to stay. Nine players were sold, many for give-away prices.

Holt’s departure means that 13 players who would have been on Championship salaries are not currently at the club. Rough estimates place Wigan’s playing staff wage bill at around a third of what is was in the first season back in the Championship division. However, three players still remain on salaries that are possibly double what many of the newer signings are earning.

Caldwell has done a wonderful job in transforming the squad despite being under financial constraints. The 21 “new” players in his squad have largely shown that they can adapt to the style of football he seeks and the team has a genuine chance of promotion back to the Championship.

However, the financial reality is that Latics have suffered a very significant loss in earnings in being relegated from the Championship to League 1. There are still further adjustments to be made.

There are five players in the squad who are on short term loans which will expire before mid-January. Moreover the January transfer window presents an opportunity for players remaining on Championship-level salaries to move on. This includes Holt, whose loan to Wolves expires on January 2nd.

The timing of Holt’s departure is by no means ideal for Caldwell. He now has only two players – Grigg and Davies – naturally suited to the centre forward position. Given Davies’ vulnerability to injury it looks likely that Caldwell will seek another central striker either through the loan market or as a permanent signing in the January window. Hence those rumours of Wigan’s interest in the 23 year old and 6 ft 2 in tall Vadaine Oliver of York City might not be far off the mark.

Should Holt manage to stay fit and show some form at Wolves there are possibilities of him not returning to Wigan. His contract is up at the end of the season and even if he does not stay at Wolves there may be other Championship clubs interested in a striker of his experience.

Two of the three players remaining on Championship salaries have had significant injury problems over the past months. However, Chris McCann has shown that he has overcome his injury and has been in fine form. But Don Cowie has only recently returned and has made just one substitute appearance. Earlier in the season there were rumours linking the third of those – Leon Barnett – to Preston North End. However, with injuries to key central defenders Caldwell would have been loath to let him go at that time. Barnett had a nightmare 2014-15 season, but his form has certainly improved over the past weeks. All three players have contracts which expire at the end of the season and might be interested in moving on in January were a good offer to come through.

January could well be another busy time for Caldwell. In the meantime Coulthirst’s loan from Tottenham expires tomorrow. Donald Love has another month to go on his loan from Manchester United. The loans of Francisco Junior, Shaun Murray and Yanic Wildschut expire in January.

Just as it seemed Caldwell had a settled squad and things were starting to click, Holt’s departure came out of the blue. The likely reality is that the squad will not be finally settled until the end of January at the earliest.

Strength in depth?

Coulthirst

Shaq Coulthirst – his short term loan is soon to expire.

Even with five changes from Saturday, the team played the same way – they had the same control of possession, they attacked with a real threat. It’s good to know you’ve got that back up sitting waiting to come on when necessary.”

Gary Caldwell quoted on Wigan Today regarding the 3-2 victory at Crewe on Tuesday.

Caldwell had made the maximum five changes from the previous match that he was allowed according to Johnstone’s Paints Trophy rules. The players brought in to the starting lineup were Jack Hendry, Francisco Junior, Andy Kellett, Sanmi Odelusi and Yanic Wildschut. He went on to bring Don Cowie and Grant Holt off the bench for their first starts of the season. Tim Chow also came on as a substitute, with Richard O’Donnell staying on the bench.

A total of no less than 21 players played in the last two matches for Wigan Athletic out of a squad of 29. Some players were unavailable – Jordan Flores (suspension) and Shaq Coulthirst, Craig Davies, Haris Vuckic, Kevin McNaughton and Jason Pearce due to injury. Richard O’Donnell was on the bench for both games, with Ryan Jennings and Sean Murray not making the squad for either.

The departure of Jonjoe Kenny left Caldwell’s squad looking bare at right back/wing back, but the signing of Donald Love and with Donervon Daniels showing he can do a good job in that position has eased anxiety. Moreover Coulthirst has returned to the club from Tottenham and Yanic Wildshut has been signed on loan.

Caldwell’s comment indicated his satisfaction of having strength in depth. This is certainly the case, at least in the short term.

However, having a large squad can create complications as Uwe Rosler found out last year. Is Caldwell going to run into the similar problems, having to regularly rotate his squad in order to give all of them game time?

The lessons learned from last year are still ringing in the ears of Latics fans. Is Caldwell going to have to deal with disgruntled players left out in the cold? The logistics of rotating a squad of 29 players are mind boggling, let alone not having a settled team.

It appears that Coulthirst, Davies and Vuckic are close to returning from injury. Providing no further injuries or suspensions impact upon the squad before their return it will leave Caldwell in the position to choose his strongest starting eleven from a pool of 27.

Of the 29 in the squad there are 6 players on loan. Two of those – Jordy Hiwula and Haris Vuckic – are on season-long loans. The other four – Junior, Love, Murray and Wildschut – are on short-term loans. Coulthirst’s loan expires on November 1 and Love’s a month later, those of Junior and Wildschut in January.

Bringing in players on short-term loans is a relatively new experience for Wigan Athletic. Last season Rosler brought back Maynor Figueroa for a brief spell, followed by Malky Mackay bringing in seven. Moreover many of Mackay’s loanees were young players, causing a controversy among fans whether they should be given priority over home-grown young talent.

Up to this point Caldwell has been able to manage the two. He has given opportunities to the likes of Tim Chow, Jordan Flores and Ryan Jennings within the club, whilst bringing in the short-term loanees. Caldwell got a rude surprise when Everton recalled Kenny, although the same club had allowed Junior to extend his loan period.

Kenny is clearly an up-and-coming player at Goodison and will be there long-term. Junior’s contract will be up at the end of the season and at this stage it is unlikely that Everton will renew it. Junior has impressed in the relatively few appearances he has made so far. Fitness has been an issue. Junior has made five starts, being taken off in three of them within the first 56 minutes. However, it is to be noted that Junior completed the full 90 minutes at Crewe. He has already picked up three yellow cards.

Junior has clearly struggled to attain the levels of fitness necessary to make him a permanent choice in Caldwell’s team. Moreover he has had to make a major adjustment to the physicality of League 1. Come January Caldwell will need to make a decision whether to pursue the permanent signature of the player. Junior oozes class in a League 1 setting and were he to be fit and fully adjusted to the pace of the play, he would surely be an asset Caldwell would want to keep.

Caldwell certainly has a squad with strength in depth. But he will be challenged to name a settled team on a regular basis, given the size of the squad. He might even look at reducing its size over the coming months. The strength in depth could prove to be a millstone around his neck.

An Everton fan’s view of Francisco Junior

junior-1

When Wigan Athletic took the field at Firhill a week ago there were a couple of faces in the starting lineup that I just could not recognise. One of them was to play in front of the back four, in a style reminiscent of Claude Makelele. He looked a cut above most of the players on the pitch.

Francisco Junior had only just been signed on loan from Everton, together with Jonjoe Kenny. During the course of that match against Partick Thistle he must have come close to covering every blade of grass on the pitch, such was his work rate. Moreover he was strong in the tackle and remarkably successful in his distribution given that he had never played with his teammates before. Junior constantly made himself available to receive the ball, even when under pressure. He seemed to float past the Thistle midfieders’ challenges.

To be honest I had never even heard of Francisco Junior. But how could a player of this quality be so relatively unknown? Checking his credentials on the internet after the game made fascinating reading. Junior had clearly had a chequered past – a player with the quality to play at a high level, but one who has failed to do so up to this point in his career.

On completing the loan move Junior was quoted as saying:

“It’s a brilliant opportunity for me to be here to show people what I can do, and most of all to show the gaffer that he can trust me and believe in my talent. I want to learn different things here, and I’ll take any chance they’re going to give me to play in the team in the first team…..My usual position is a forward role in midfield, but on Tuesday I played behind the two other central midfielders.  I feel comfortable in any position in midfield, so it all depends on where the manager wants me to play.”

Francisco Santos da Silva Junior was born in Bissau, capital of the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony. Junior signed for Benfica of Portugal as a 15 year old in 2007. He went on to play for Portugal’s under 19 and under 21 teams.

In 2011 Junior was loaned to U.D.Leiria, a lower division team in Portugal. However, he never showed up to play for them, instead training and playing with Manchester City’s development team, unbeknown to Benfica. The end result was City having to pay €1.5million in compensation to Benfica, where the player returned.

Junior signed for Everton in July 2012 on a free transfer, telling the Guinea-Bissau media that was he was “tired of the impasse between Benfica and Manchester City and businessmen who wanted to win more than they should.” He immediately featured in the pre-season and made his debut for Everton in a 1-0 League cup defeat against Leeds United that September. He was to be sent off on loan to Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem in September 2013, where he went on to make just two appearances as a substitute before moving on to Stromsgodset in March 2014. He went on to 9 starts and 2 appearances as a substitute, scoring one goal for the Norwegian club.

Junior returned to Everton in August 2014, being sent on loan to Port Vale In March 2015. However, he was to make just one start after receiving a hamstring injury on his debut.

Junior has clearly had adjustment problems living overseas and adopting the kind of lifestyle one would expect of a professional footballer at a Premier League club. He is in the final year of his contract at Everton. He has not made it at the club and the likelihood is that he will not be offered a new contract. He has signed for Latics on a month’s loan but reports suggest it can be extended.

If he can display that same brand of commitment and skill that we saw on the Scotland tour on a regular basis, Junior will be a player that Gary Caldwell will want to keep. He is still only 23 years old and has the talent to become a highly accomplished professional footballer.

We asked Lyndon Lloyd of Everton fan site Toffeeweb  (http://toffeeweb.com/) for his view on Junior. Here’s over to Lyndon:

To be honest, we know very little about Junior as he’s become one of the forgotten men of our U21s setup.

 He arrived at Everton with a promising pedigree, having come through Benfica’s youth academy and then joined Manchester City, but the furthest he got was a solitary senior appearance under David Moyes in the League Cup three years ago when we lost at Leeds with half the reserves playing. He was hauled off at half time — somewhat harshly in my view, but I know many Blues don’t agree — and hasn’t been seen since.

 It came to light last week that he has been battling the temptations of the party scene and the bad influence of some people he says he thought were his friends following the loss of his mother in 2012 which has clearly affected both his development and his standing at Everton. He says he is determined to put it right and is determined to “make it for sure”, in his words.

On July 20thI I made the following post on our site about the player and his career:

Francisco Junior has opened up on social media about how he almost let drink and partying wreck his career and his belief that he is now focused again on trying to make it at the top level.

Signed from Manchester City’s reserve set-up as a promising midfield prospect, the former Benfica academy graduate has been with Everton since 2012 but remains a largely forgotten figure, as far away from first-team contention as ever.

In that time he has just one senior appearance to his name, a 45-minute showing at Leeds United as one of half a dozen young players thrown into an ill-fated League Cup tie in David Moyes’s final season with the club.

He has been farmed out on loan to Port Vale, Vitesse Arnhem and Stromsgodset while opportunities to push for a place in the first team under Roberto Martinez, like the dead rubber against Krasnodar last December and this summer’s pre-season trip to Singapore, have passed him by.

As David Prentice uncovers in the Liverpool Echo, the 23-year-old has admitted to plenty of reasons for why on his Instagram account, not least the loss in 2012 of his last guiding force in the form of his mother and the distracting influence of people he mistakenly believed were his friends.

“Sometimes is always better later than never,” the Guinea-Bissau-born player wrote in occasionally broken English. “After I lost my mum three years ago I lost my world. I been nearly nine years now living alone with no family and zero support off no-one.

“I stop be profisonal (sic), (party, sleep later, alcohol) because I always think talent is enough. But I was wrong. And that people I call friends now they talk shit about me in my back because am not that person any more and sold history about me.”

Junior has a season remaining on his current contract and has the coming year to get himself back in shape and focused enough to persuade Martinez that he has a future with Everton.

If not, the former Portuguese U21 international is hopeful of doing enough to persuade another club to give a chance to finally make it.

“But just to let you guys know,” he concluded, “am gona (sic) make it for sure. Can be here [at Everton] or somewhere else. thank god for always be there for me and my family and Nojan.”