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.

Much depends on Grigg

Grigg

I guarantee we will have a 20 goal a season striker this season

So said David Sharpe in June. Was the young chairman suggesting Latics would have a striker who would score 20 goals in the season ahead? Or was he saying that they would be signing a player who had already scored 20 goals in a season?

Less than two weeks after Sharpe had made his statement free agent Craig Davies was signed from Bolton on a two year contract. A week after that Latics paid Brentford around £1m for Will Grigg, who penned a three year deal.

Both had been 20 goal strikers. The 29 year old Davies scored 23 goals for Chesterfield in their promotion season from League 2 in 2010-11. Despite still only being 24 years old Grigg had done it twice. In the 2012-13 season he scored 20 for Walsall, then last season he scored 23 for the MK Dons in their promotion from League 1 to the Championship.

Davies remains a formidable force and has already impressed Latics fans with his all-action performances. Sadly the hamstring problems that haunted him at Bolton have returned, this time in his left leg. The big striker is now back in training, but even the most optimistic of fans will need to cross their fingers that he can stay away from further such problems. Given the likelihood of him receiving further injuries few would bet on Davies being a 20 goal striker this season. Up to this point he has made five starts, with one appearance as a substitute, scoring two goals.

In Davies and Grigg, Latics had signed players with proven goalscoring records in the lower divisions of the Football League. However, they already had another on their books. Grant Holt is now 34 years old and has recently recovered from a serious injury, but will nevertheless be feared by League 1 defences because of his superb goalscoring record in the lower divisions. Holt has reached the 20 goal mark on four occasions, once for Rochdale, once for Shrewsbury and twice for Norwich. Holt is being gradually eased back into playing a full 90 minutes and Latics will surely not rush him. The big man from Carlisle could have a big part to play in the remainder of the season, providing he can stay fit.

However, if Latics were to have a 20 goal striker this season, the odds would surely be on Grigg. On signing him Gary Caldwell said “Will is the one we were after. He’s a goalscorer, that’s what he does and why we’ve signed him. There were other clubs in the chase, including from the Championship, but he’s chosen to come to us and we are very happy about it.

But with the season at its first quarter Grigg has struggled to reach the goalscoring form that Caldwell would have hoped for. He has scored three goals up to this point, two of which were penalties. After starting in the first six games he missed the Chesterfield match through being on international duty for Northern Ireland. He came back as a 66th minute substitute at Port Vale, but was to pick up an elbow injury which kept him out of the next two games. He made his return as a 77th minute substitute, scoring the equalizer during added-on time against Millwall. Grigg returned to the starting lineup for the next game against Walsall, but was substituted after 70 minutes. However, international call up knocked on the door again and Grigg has missed the last two matches at Crewe and Bury.

Grigg’s season at Wigan has therefore been stop-start up to this point. Caldwell has experienced the frustration of the player being unavailable for three matches without getting on the field of play for Northern Ireland on top of his elbow injury.

At this point last season at MK Dons, Grigg was playing as a lone centre forward in Karl Robinson’s preferred 4-2-3-1 system, alternating with Benik Afobe in that position. He had made six starts, with four appearances as a substitute, scoring six goals including two in the Don’s League Cup victory over Manchester United.

Up to this point Grigg has played in the lone striker role and as a twin striker at Wigan. Caldwell has talked with enthusiasm about the Grigg-Davies partnership. They have started together three times, the most memorable being in the 3-0 destruction of Scunthorpe. The physical presence of Davies creates more space for Grigg and they are Caldwell’s optimal striking duo. The manager also has Holt at hand to play a similar kind of role to Davies and it will be interesting to see if he links the two together at some point in tomorrow’s game against Colchester.

Caldwell also has the option of linklng Grigg together with the physically less imposing, but pacy, Jordy Hiwula. The enigmatic Sanmi Odelusi remains another possibility in a partnership with Grigg.

Up to this point Latics have scored 17 goals in 13 games. Grigg ties with Hiwula and Michael Jacobs in being leading goalscorer with three goals. Recent loan signing Yanic Wildschut has really caught the fans’ attention with two exciting performances, including a blockbuster that will be a contender for goal of the season at Crewe. Hopes are high that the Dutch winger can terrify League 1 defences and score goals. However, the player’s career record reads 16 goals in 132 appearances, a goalscoring ratio similar to that of Jacobs who has also played a s winger during most of his career.

If any Wigan Athletic player is to reach the 20 goal mark this season, it will most likely to be Grigg. He has done it before on two occasions at League 1 level. But Grigg is much more than a goalscorer, his intelligent play and passing enabling him to create chances for others.

Caldwell will surely be counting on Will Grigg as being a cornerstone of his bid for promotion back to the Championship.

 

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Fan views of Holt – Jekyll or Hyde?

Holt's response on Twitter to criticism of being overweight.

Holt responds on Twitter to criticism of being overweight.

The novella Jekyll and Hyde was published by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886. It is about a lawyer who investigates strange happenings between his old friend, Dr. Henry Jekyll, and the evil Edward Hyde. The phrase Jekyll and Hyde has since come to signify a person who is vastly different in moral character from one situation to the next.

It can be fun trawling the fan forums on the internet. You can unearth exceptional posts, the quality of which can put professional journalists to shame. But you will also find the other extreme, those that are off the wall, often products of anger and frustration. As fans we rarely get a real glimpse into what is happening behind the scenes at a football club. We make most of our judgments based on what we have seen on the pitch and the sifted information that reaches us from the media.

But whatever the rights or wrongs of the fans forums, they act as a barometer, reflecting upon issues which are of concern to fans. The number of responses to a particular thread can give an indication of the degree of concern in that area at the time.

Some topics really get Latics fans contributing their thoughts. The Latics Speyk forum on Vital Wigan Athletic started a thread on Grant Holt on August 10th. At this moment in time it has had 276 replies and 28,754 views. More posts on Holt might well be raining in as I write this article. Most are highly critical of the player, questioning his commitment. Many of the earlier posts questioned his fitness, suggesting he was grossly overweight.

“Holt won less headers in his time at Wigan (..) than Riera did on Saturday (and i think Riera only won 2 or 3!). Clearly he isn’t bothered and hopefully we can move him on. I was hoping maybe we could get him fit and firing but he obviously doesn’t care enough.”

He’ll be happy to rot in the reserves on his last contract, probably doing his coaching badges or his media work for radio Cumbria in his spare time. The 2.5 million quid he’ll make from us will set him up nicely. Would you leave?”

As to other loan signings being as bad – at least they actually moved on the pitch occasionally. Holt’s singular lack of effort (or perhaps it was lack of fitness) stands out as something that I seldom remember in 35 years of watching Latics.

Some questioned the treatment of Holt by Uwe Rosler and by fellow fans. His home base was also an issue:

Grant Holt has not helped himself with one thing and another but I am on record as saying the stick and personal criticism is nothing short of disgraceful and serves no purpose in motivating a player who could do a job for us.

Rosler either came to WAFC with a preconceived opinion of Holt or he is working to orders from Whelan/Jackson to force him out, Rosler’s first game in charge was Maribor away less than a week after he was appointed, for that game he alienated Holt by leaving him at home, he publicly announced it was to work on his fitness, that isn’t exactly the way you would go about it if he was going to be part of your imminent plans, three weeks later he was shipped out on loan.

“Things with Holt for me was that the manager who bought him wanted to use him up front on his own & it’s not a role that he is able to play to any great effect. Yes he picked up a couple of injuries but either side of those he was poor. His weight was also an issue & whilst I don’t go to every game it always seemed that his shirt was getting tighter & tighter every time I saw him.

So by the time Rosler arrived he saw an unfit, out of form player who couldn’t play the type of role that Rosler likes his centre forwards to play. On top of that it now appears that Rosler asked him to move nearer to Wigan & he refused. Not criticising Holt for that coz I’ve now doubt that it was part of the deal that bought him here but I know plenty of managers who have insisted on that in the past for a combination of making them feel closer to the club/community & probably more importantly that sitting in a car for 1.5-2 hours then training for 3 hours then going back into a car for another couple of hours isn’t good for the body & maybe that’s why he was picking up niggling injuries.

But to many Huddersfield fans Holt has been more of a Jekyll than a Hyde:

Holt is what we have needed for over a year now. His experience, leadership and the way he bullies defenders is great to watch. Lots of people on here were crying out for this signing for a long time and it still amazes me that it took so long to sort this out.Whilst I understand the need to have a budget, on this occasion we should sign him up at ALL costs.

“Exactly the kind of player we’ve been missing. The guy is absolute class. Still crazy to think we got him in, and it would surely be even crazier to think he’d want to be here for a bit longer.

The little back heel he hit to play in Scanz was superb. Much more than just a big centre forward, the fella’s got great awareness of what’s around him and he annoys the hell out the opposition, wins aerial balls and holds it up wel and got an eye for goal too, a proper old school centre forward.
I like him…..A lot.

The comments are taken from the forum of the Down At The Mac fansite.

Clearly Holt has been a very different player at Huddersfield than he was at Wigan. Almost a Jekyll and Hyde situation.

The above fan comments were made a month or two ago. Since then the Huddersfield fans have cooled down a little on their seemingly desperate need to sign Holt and the hostility towards him in Wigan has diminished somewhat, although there are fans who really do not want to see him come back.

However, Malky Mackay has opened the door to the big Cumbrian’s return by stating: “Grant Holt is absolutely a Wigan Athletic player, make no mistake about that……There’s an understanding from me of what he brings in terms of goalscoring ability.”

Holt has made 10 starts for Huddersfield, making one appearance off the bench. He has scored two goals and made three assists. Since his arrival the Terriers have moved out of the relegation zone.

Holt’s history at Wigan makes sad reading. Owen Coyle brought him in as the centre forward who would get the goals needed to propel Latics back to the Premier League, even if fans questioned him giving a three year contract to a 32 year old. After scoring in the first game at Barnsley he found more goals hard to get. and managed only one more, a penalty against Middlesbrough. He came back too early from a nasty knee injury and from then on he had elements of the crowd on his back. The change of manager from Coyle to Rosler exacerbated his problems. Holt left in January having scored that brace of goals from 13 starts with 8 appearances off the bench.

One of Rosler’s first moves had been to leave Holt out of the squad that travelled to Slovenia to play Maribor. Then in January the player was sent on loan to Aston Villa until the end of the season. When he came back he was consigned to training with the development squad and he was not given a squad number. Moreover his face was conspicuously absent from the squad photograph at the start of the season. Being shipped off again on loan seemed inevitable

Rosler’s treatment of Holt might well have contributed to his own demise. But Holt was not the only player alienated by Rosler. Mackay’s recent pronouncement that all players will be given a fair chance will be music to the ears to such as Ali Al-Habsi, Fraser Fyvie and Thomas Rogne.

The centre forward position at Latics has certainly been problematic over the past year or so. The goals have been sparse. Only two of Wigan’s twenty league goals this season have been scored by the central striker, a disturbing statistic.

Marc-Antoine Fortune is a fine player in terms of his hold-up play, but a record of 7 goals in 61 appearances (including 31 starts) for the club hardly suggests that he will be a threat in the penalty box. Andy Delort and Oriel Riera have struggled, with only one goal between them. Media reports about both of them going back home may be mere speculation, but Latics might cut their losses in the January transfer window should a good offer come in for either.

A little over a couple of years Grant Holt was being tipped for an England place. But now at 33 years of age he is surely past his best. After a great start at Huddersfield his performances have become less productive. Moreover if he were to come back to Wigan would those fans who have been so critical of him in the past be willing to give him a fresh start? Or would he be subject to jeering?

Should either Delort or Riera be leaving in January it will surely open the door for Holt’s return. Does Mackay believe that Holt could turn things around at Wigan and win the crowd over?

Can Holt put back the clock and play like he did in his glory days at Norwich?

Where will Latics’ goals come from?

goalcartoon

The transfer market is destroyed this year, in terms of the money that has been paid for certain positions. We have a strong team but where we lack is up front so we need to strengthen in that area. It’s not easy, especially when you’re driving a football club in a responsible way like we do.”

Uwe Rosler was making a valid point. Fulham recently paid £11m for Ross McCormack , a 28 year old forward who has never played in the Premier League. Then Nottingham Forest paid £5.5m for League 1 striker Britt Assombalonga.

As Rosler said, Wigan Athletic are certainly being driven in a responsible way. Fulham have clearly decided to splash a significant portion of their parachute payments on McCormack in an effort to get back to the Premier League as soon as possible.

In Wigan’s case the parachute payments have been used to payroll a large squad. Despite not being involved in the Europa League this year, Latics maintain a squad size comparable with that of last year. With so many players having been out of action over the past couple of years, maintaining a large squad can be seen as a safeguard in case the abnormal injury load continues.

A lack of funding continues to stymie Rosler in his efforts to provide balance to his squad. He is overburdened in the areas of goalkeepers and central defenders, but short on creative midfield players and strikers.

It appears that Latics have now given up their quest of signing creative midfielder Adam Forshaw from Brentford, with the London club continuing to ask £6m for a player who is unproven outside League 1. Wigan already have Shaun Maloney, who is as good as any creative player in the Championship division. However, to rest the main responsibility for the creation of goals on the shoulders of someone with Maloney’s injury record would be folly.

Wigan Athletic are not the only club who need a goal scoring centre forward and those who are available from English clubs are either prohibitively expensive or no better than what Latics already have.

Should Rosler not be able to get the new striker he seeks he will have to persevere with those already at the club. What kind of conversion rates (goals per appearance) do they have?

Looking at a player’s conversion rate through the course of his career and comparing it with that at Wigan provides food for thought.

Up until the start of the current season, Grant Holt had scored 180 goals in 467 appearances throughout his career, a conversion rate of 39%. Last season he scored 2 goals in 16 appearances for Latics, a conversion rate of 13%. Holt has played in all four divisions, but his conversion rate stayed around the same level in each. In two seasons of Premier League football with Norwich he scored 25 goals in 76 appearances, a conversion rate of 33%.

Holt tops the chart of career conversion rates for the current Wigan squad. But like Marc-Antoine  Fortune and James McClean his figures at Wigan compare unfavourably:

Goalchart3

Stats from Wikipedia. McManaman’s career stats include his loan spell at Blackpool.

It was rumoured that Latics were interested in Cameron Jerome from Stoke City, but the player has now signed for Norwich for a fee of around £2m. He has a career conversion rate of 22%.

Grant Holt is now 33 years old and although he is probably past his best he is a proven goalscorer. But not only has he become the object of abuse among fans on the social media, but he has been ostracized by his manager. Despite being among the highest wage earners at the club he has been sent to train with the under 21 squad and has no assigned team shirt number according to the club’s official website.

With his financial constraints Rosler may be unable to secure the services of a new player who has a proven goal scoring record. He may also be unable to offload Holt to another club before the transfer window ends at the end of the month.

If this becomes the case will Rosler consider waving an olive branch in Holt’s direction?

The big Cumbrian might not fit into the mould that Rosler requires, but a few goals over the coming months might well make him a target for other clubs in the January transfer window. Holt has made efforts to lose weight and surely would not want to be left out in the cold indefinitely.

Could Holt have a part to play over the coming months, even if only as an impact substitute?

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Is Latics’ squad lacking in quality?

 

Some say that results in pre-season matches are not important. But then again, a 2-1 loss at Rochdale was hard for Wigan Athletic supporters to swallow, let alone a 4-1 drubbing in Dusseldorf yesterday.

Latics’ worst ever pre-season performance will surely be that of five decades ago, when fourth division Southport smashed non-league Wigan 10-2. My father told me at the time that friendly matches can produce strange results and do not really have much bearing on the season to follow. Strangely enough the same two teams met again four days later at Springfield Park and Latics went on to win 3-0. In the event it turned out to be a mediocre season for Latics, who finished in mid-table in the Cheshire League. That 10-2 scoreline proved to be an indicator of defensive weakness as Latics were to concede 82 goals in 42 league matches.

Following the 2-1 win over Besiktas, thanks largely to Ali Al-Habsi’s brilliance, we seemed to be looking forward to a good season ahead. Granted there were concerns over the departures of two of Latics’ most creative players – Jordi Gomez and Jean Beausejour – but Uwe Rosler had been moving shrewdly in the transfer market and was building up a stronger squad. Most fans have now accepted that Dave Whelan is not going to wave his cheque book around in the way he did to get Latics into the Premier League last time. Austerity has not yet set in, but stringent financial management is the order of the day at the club.

Rosler is used to working under tight budgets, through his experience with his previous clubs. He will bring in a mixture of youth and experience. The experienced Andrew Taylor and Don Cowie have played in the Premier League and been part of a Championship division winning team. James Tavernier and AaronTaylor-Sinclair are clearly the kind of youngsters who have the potential to develop into quality players. The 19 year old loanee, Emyr Huws , is an exciting young player who can play in the creative midfield role that Gomez used to enjoy. A good central striker at an affordable price is something that hardly exists in modern day English football, but Rosler has done well to bring in Oriel Riera from Osasuna. Riera scored 13 goals in La Liga last season for a team that was relegated, making an interesting comparison with Arouna Kone who scored 15 for Levante before arriving at Wigan.

In order to sign another central striker Rosler will need to raise funds by selling off one of his assets. Stories of Latics courting another goalkeeper might seem far-fetched, but both Ali Al-Habsi and Scott Carson are likely to be transfer targets for other clubs. A possible scenario is for one of them to be sold, with the exciting, but inexperienced, Lee Nicholls once more sent out on loan.

Rosler’s squad is not yet complete. We can expect more incomings and possibly outgoings over the coming weeks. But when the squad is finally completed will there be sufficient quality there to mount a serious challenge for promotion?

After playing for ten clubs in six countries in over a decade, Jean Beausejour has gone home to Chile. He will play in Santiago for Colo-Colo, the country’s historically most successful club. When Roberto Martinez signed him from Birmingham City in January 2012, Latics were struggling. Moreover fans were disappointed with Martinez’ lack of activity in that January transfer window. However, the arrival of a specialist left wing back blew fresh air into Latics’ play, helping them to produce the best quality of football and the best results in their history over the next three months. He was the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle that Martinez was putting together. A team player, he was solid in defence. When Latics had the ball he was always available, hugging the touchline, stretching the opposition defence. He rarely lost the ball and had a few tricks up his sleeve with quick footwork. Beausejour is probably the best crosser of a ball who ever played for Latics, although some more senior supporters might also cite Walter Stanley whose sublime crosses helped Harry Lyon become a household name in Wigan.

Last season was not a good one for the Chilean, except for a memorable goal in the World Cup finals. Beausejour was frequently played at left back, rather than his natural wing back position. Like Gomez, he is another player who never got the recognition that he probably deserved from sections of the DW crowd.

During that late season rally in 2011-2012 and the FA Cup run in 2012-13, Latics beat the top teams in the country on merit, through playing quality football. The stats show that in winning the FA Cup final they committed only 5 fouls, compared with their opponents 11. Is it possible that they will ever be able to raise their football to that level ever again?

Since then lots of quality players have left the club. However, Emmerson Boyce, Shaun Maloney and James McArthur still remain. They are the pillars upon which Rosler will build this season’s team. Boyce is getting no younger, but at centre back he still has years ahead of him. The fitness of the two Scots will be of paramount importance and Rosler is nurturing them very carefully through the pre-season physical conditioning programme. Moreover the skilful Ben Watson and Chris McCann are making good progress in their recuperation from major injuries.

On the tactical front Rosler continues to demand the high tempo, high pressing style that he espouses. They did it for half an hour at Dusseldorf, but once again could not keep it going. It remains to be seen whether Rosler will ever enjoy that level of intensity he seeks from the players at his disposal.

In the meantime Rosler will scour the loan market to complete his squad. Maybe even that additional central striker will be a loan player? A return for Nick Powell continues to be touted by the media.

The name of Grant Holt continues to pop up in the social media and fan forums, the comments usually being derogatory. If no other club is willing to take the player off the club’s hands will Rosler be able to turn him into an asset? Would Holt be able to fit into Rosler’s style of play if he could regain full fitness?

Holt has proved in the past that he can deliver the goods by scoring key goals that win matches, but last season was one he will want to forget. During the reign of Owen Coyle he was used in a similar way that Bolton used Kevin Davies for so many years, a human battering ram posing a physical threat to the defence. That probably did Holt no favours and moreover it led to defenders constantly launching long balls in his direction. Given Rosler’s preferred style of play Holt would not be a regular starter, even if fully fit. However, he could have a role to play as an impact substitute.

Providing his ventures in the transfer market go well over the coming weeks, Rosler will have a squad good enough to challenge for promotion. Enough quality players remain, but the moot point is whether they can they stay fit.

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