Is it Caldwell’s fault?

blame

There are various views on why Wigan Athletic are in their current predicament. Some say that Gary Caldwell should have been given more time to get things right in the Championship. Others point to a woeful start by his replacement, Warren Joyce, with puzzling team selections and tactics.

But a view that has been gaining more and more ground on the social media is that it was the recruitment over the summer that is the principal reason. Put simply, some people say that the players just are not good enough.

In May 2015 Wigan Athletic chairman, David Sharpe, announced a change in the club’s player recruitment structure. He considered it “crucial for long-term benefit of Wigan Athletic”. We were told that the new recruitment team was to be led by the Head of Football Operations, Matt Jackson, who together with Chief Executive, Jonathan Jackson, and Academy Head, Gregor Rioch, had been involved in reshaping the club’s Academy.

As stated in an article we published last week “A mental amount of movement”, in the  2015-16 season, Latics had 31 incomings and 44 outgoings of players, loans being included. The figures for the first half of the 2016-17 season were 14 coming in and 20 leaving. Since the article was published there have been two more outgoings, with Craig Davies having joined Scunthorpe and Nathan Byrne sent off on loan to Charlton. There has been one coming in, goalkeeper Jakob Haugaard.

The figures alone provide food for thought and debate. Is the huge turnover in players over the past couple of seasons an indicator of recruitment strategies that just have not worked or is it an indication of a chasm between recruitment and coaching? More crucially, why is the club that won the League 1 title struggling in a position below the other two clubs that were promoted? Is the recruitment team capable of making the right kinds of decisions? But crucially, how does the manager fit into the scheme of things?

It has been said that at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger’s influence is total. According to an article in the Guardian, Wenger “… is the lord of the kingdom he has built over the past 19 years. His influence extends into every pore of the club and where transfers are concerned, the manager’s authority is total. Wenger always has the final say. The board have attempted to put support systems in place around him, such as their purchase of StatDNA, the football data analytics company, which can help to identify potential signings. But Wenger continues to rely on his own eyes, together with those of his scouts.”

A comparison of Liverpool in the Brendan Rodgers era makes interesting reading. The Guardian tells us that Rodgers, the head of recruitment Dave Fallows, the chief scout Barry Hunter, the head of performance and analysis Michael Edwards, the chief executive Ian Eyre and FSG’s president Mike Gordon comprised the group that decided Liverpool’s entire transfer strategy.

There is clearly no blueprint for successful recruitment at any club. The top clubs in England have recruitment teams, whose composition tends to vary, using an increasingly data-driven approach. Some managers have more autonomy than others in determining the players they want, although the chairman tends to have the final word on the financial side.

At the end of May 2016, Gary Caldwell told us Latics were looking at bringing in four or five new players. That did not happen. By the end of the transfer window 14 new players had been brought in. However, 20 had gone.  The inference is that Caldwell had realised between May and the end of August that many of the players he had were not up to Championship standard. But was this solely Caldwell’s call? What say did the recruitment team have in that higher than expected turnover of players in summer?

Caldwell surely had a say in the players who left. His decisions to break up the successful central defensive partnership of Craig Morgan and Jason Pearce and send midfielder Sam Morsy off on loan were certainly controversial. But the overriding criticism has been that the players who were brought in were no better than those the club already had. Whether that is down to Caldwell, the recruitment team or financial matters is something that as onlookers we cannot say. However, we can take a look at the players who were brought in over summer to make assessments.

Nathan Byrne was signed from Wolves near the end of the summer transfer window for a fee reputed to be around £400,000. Caldwell signed Byrne essentially a right wing back, although he can play on the wing. Although he has only been at the club for around 4 months he has been sent off on loan to Charlton. Byrne made 6 starts with 8 substitute appearances. Joyce has not yet shown any inclination to use a back three with wing backs.

Goalkeeper, Adam Bogdan, was brought in on a one year loan from Liverpool, after a tough time at the Merseyside club. Being an ex-Bolton player hardly endeared him to the Wigan public. Neither did taking the place of fan favourite Jussi Jaaskelainen, as he had done before at the Macron. Bogdan had been a fine keeper at Bolton, but despite often making excellent saves and keeping his side in games when the defence was under pressure, his high profile error at Brighton and a hesitancy to leave his area  were problematic. When injury curtailed his season many fans were not unhappy to see him go. Jaaskelainen regained his place after Bogdan’s injury but he too made an error which led to a home defeat by Huddersfield. The Finn was replaced by Jakob Haugaard last Saturday. In the meantime rumours suggest that Joyce is also trying to sign Rangers keeper, Matt Gilks.

Luke Garbutt was signed on a half season loan to provide cover for the left back position, with Reece James being unavailable due to long term injury. Garbutt had had a reputation as a player for the future at Everton, but had come to Wigan after an indifferent spell on loan at Fulham in 2015-16. Playing as a wing back, Garbutt started against Nottingham Forest and QPR in late August. However, he was substituted after 59 minutes against Sheffield Wednesday on September 10 and did not appear again until Joyce took over as manager. Garbutt was used in midfield or at right back before returning to Everton at the end of his loan period in early January. Although he showed considerable expertise in taking set pieces, Garbutt’s all round play often failed to convince.

Reece Burke was signed on a season-long loan from West Ham, following an outstanding stint at Bradford City last season. Given the departure of Jason Pearce and the marginalisation of Craig Morgan by Caldwell, it appeared that Burke would be a strong contender for a position in the centre of defence. However, Burke was used in the right back position and made 8 appearances before returning to his parent club due to a hip injury in December. We surely did not see the best of the 20 year old playing out of his best position.

Dan Burn and Jake Buxton were signed from Fulham and Derby County respectively. They have become the regular central defensive partnership. Burn had a difficult start riddled with hesitancy and occasional major errors, but has shown much more consistency in recent games. Buxton’s start to the season was punctuated by a suspension following a red card in the League Cup tie at Oldham. But since then he has shown himself to be a consistent, reliable performer. Neither Burn not Buxton is at his best passing the ball out of defence, a key aspect of play under Caldwell. However, under Joyce it is not so crucial.

Whether their partnership is better than that of Morgan/Pearce is open to conjecture. The question that remains is why the latter partnership was not given a chance at Championship level, allowing a more gradual transition as needed. But the way that Pearce was hastily dispatched to Charlton and Morgan stripped of the captaincy suggests that there were more than footballing issues involved.

Sam Morsy’s recent return to Wigan has opened up the debate as to why he was sent off on loan. Under Caldwell, Morsy played the holding midfield role in front of the back four, but on Saturday he was pushed further forward with Shaun MacDonald behind. MacDonald arrived without  a big fanfare. He had been instrumental in Bournemouth’s rise up the divisions, but his career had been stifled by limited first team appearances in the Premier League. Moreover he was taking over the Morsy role, inevitably inviting comparisons.

Like Morsy, MacDonald is strong in the tackle, and although he does not reveal the range of passing that Morsy possesses, he rarely wastes the ball. However, at 6 ft 1 in, MacDonald is strong in the air and has the ability to step back and become a third central defender. Like Buxton, MacDonald has become the kind of unsung hero whose name will be among the first on any team list. Should Joyce be able to persuade Morsy to stay, the two together would provide a ring of steel in midfield.

The 22 year old Alex Gilbey was signed after impressing for Colchester United and has shown himself to be a technically skilled player, willing to work hard. Gilbey was making a successful transition between League 1 and the Championship until an injury against Fulham in mid-September. A recent tweet from the player suggests he could be back in action by the end of this month.

When Jordi Gomez was signed on loan from Sunderland, hopes were high that he could repeat the kind of form that made him Latics’ Player of the Season in 2013-14. Although we have seen flashes of the true Gomez on occasions we have not seen him play with the same kind of consistency that we saw in his time under Uwe Rosler. Joyce will be hoping that the play-maker’s form will improve, his ability to keep hold of the ball in midfield being so important when the defence is under pressure. Moreover the Catalan has the ability to drift in from midfield to score goals.

Caldwell’s biggest gamble over summer was in signing the injury-riddled Nick Powell on a three year contract. It is a gamble that has not yet paid off. Powell has been unable to get any consistency to his game, being constantly niggled by injury. The hamstring tear received on Saturday looks set to keep him out for the rest of the season. Powell’s career continues to hang over the abyss, a sad situation for such a talented player.

Rumours suggest that Cardiff are to cut short Adam Le Fondre’s loan period at Wigan in order to sell him. Given that Bolton are one of the clubs who apparently want “ALF” it seems unlikely that Cardiff will gain much in transfer revenue. But Le Fondre has been given few opportunities during his time at Wigan and the player himself might well want to move on. The 30 year old has made just 3 starts, with 8 appearances off the bench, scoring 1 goal.

20 year old right back Kyle Knoyle was signed on loan from West Ham but suffered an injury in pre-season that kept him out for months. His only appearance so far has been as an 89th minute substitute at Cardiff at the end of October.

Kaiyne Woolery, 22, was signed from Bolton Wanderers for a small fee. His sole appearance has been as an 87th substitute at home to Derby in early December.

The summer signings involved a relatively small financial outlay. Five players were brought in on loan, four on free transfers (Burn, Gomez, Powell, Warnock), Byrne for around £400,000, MacDonald for reputedly £125,000, Gilbey for a compensation fee, Buxton and Woolery for small fees.

Wigan Athletic may have even made a profit on their summer transfer dealings, having recouped around £1m for the sale of Emyr Huws to Cardiff plus small fees for Tim Chow and Jason Pearce.

In hindsight should David Sharpe have given Caldwell more financial support in the summer market? Were Caldwell’s hands tied, to some degree, in making the kinds of quality signings he would need to strengthen his team to compete in a higher division?

The well-publicised signing that did not come off over summer was that of Hearts right back, Calum Patterson. Wigan’s bids fell well below the Scottish club’s evaluation. Latics went on to pay a significant amount to sign Nathan Byrne, but the player did not have the defensive qualities to play as an orthodox full back. In retrospect, would the extra money that would have been needed to secure Patterson have been well spent, given that the right back position has been so problematic this season?

However, another factor facing the club was the prospect of the parachute payments running out at the end of the season. An immediate return to the Premier League would be ideal, but to mount a promotion push would have involved a major financial outlay in terms of transfer fees. Moreover should the bid not be successful Latics would be left with players on big contracts without the financial support of parachute payments.

In fact the summer transfer activity suggested that Latics were looking for consolidation, both in terms of league position and in finances. In order to compete for players, free agents included, the club has had to offer salaries commensurate to the division. However, other than the case of Nick Powell, the highest earners are largely on loans or contracts that expire at the end of the season. They include Adam Bogdan, Jordi Gomez, Adam Le Fondre and Stephen Warnock. Should the unspeakable occur once again – relegation – the club would sell off its prime assets and drastically reduce its wage bill.

So, is it Caldwell’s fault that Wigan Athletic are in relegation mire?

Many would fault Caldwell for the premature departures of Morsy and Pearce at the beginning of the season. Some would say he should have preferred Jaaskelainen to Bogdan, although the Finn is now 42 years old and well past his best. Perhaps he should have kept the backbone of his League 1 title winning team in place, phasing in the newcomers. Momentum was probably lost as a result.

However, in terms of recruitment Caldwell was at the mercy of both his chairman and the recruitment team. Burn, Buxton, Gilbey and MacDonald are by no means bad signings. Gomez has struggled to impose himself, but he has enough quality to do so in the second half of the season. Whether Woolery will ever achieve his potential remains to be seen. The management will be praying that Powell can rid himself of the hamstring problems that have dogged his career in recent years. At his best he is one of the top players in the division.

Caldwell used the loan market to good effect last season, but the rules governing loan signings changed, stays of less than half a season not now possible. Summer’s loan signings have been largely disappointing.

Latics are in relegation dog-fight partly because of mistakes made by both managers, Caldwell and Joyce, but the incomings and outgoings of summer transfer market may have had a more major effect.

If anyone or anything is primarily to blame for Wigan’s current position it has been a lack of ambition on the part of the club. Let’s hope Sharpe will back his latest manager in the January transfer window. That means not selling off his most saleable assets and bringing in more quality.

 

 

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A case for Luke Burke and home grown talent

 

“Luke who’s back for Rotherham”

So said Paul Kendrick’s seemingly uplifting headline on the Wigan Today website. Was it a sign that Warren Joyce was showing faith in the club’s home grown young talent? Wasn’t that one of the major drivers in his appointment?

Alas, I was mistaken. The article referred to the return of Luke Garbutt, a 23 year old left full back on loan from Everton until January 2. In my mind it had been Luke Burke, the 18 year old right back who has been at the club since he was 13. Maybe my hopes were high because  Burke had appeared on the bench against Ipswich last Saturday. His last first team appearance had been on September 10 at Sheffield Wednesday.

Now I have nothing against Luke Garbutt, who was signed as a left back. The Yorkshire-born player has done well to force his way back into the team under Warren Joyce, after a couple of months on the sidelines under Gary Caldwell. Garbutt has a sweet left foot, his delivery from set pieces being particularly good. Joyce has played him in various positions, including right back.

The regular left back, Stephen Warnock, has been Wigan’s most consistent performer this season. But Joyce decided to switch him to the right against Ipswich to keep an eye on the Tractorboys’ winger Tom Lawrence. Warnock was not at his best, a left footer playing on the right.

Since Luke Burke’s last appearance Latics have used a myriad of players on the right of defence, none of whom are specialists at playing that position. Those who have played right back/right wing back include midfielders Alex Gilbey, David Perkins, Max Power and Yanic Wildschut, together with Andy Kellett who was a left back but is now regarded as a midfield player. Joyce’s first choice for the position had been 20 year old West Ham loannee, Reece Burke, who was signed as a central defender, before injury meant he had to return to his parent club. Nathan Byrne has also played there but was signed as a wing back or winger, lacking the defensive qualities of a natural right back.

Luke Burke was playing for Liverpool Schoolboys when he was spotted and brought to Wigan. He has had an impressive career within the club, playing for development squad when 16, forcing his way into the first team at 18 after an impressive pre-season. Last season, Burke was captain of arguably Wigan Athletic’s best-ever youth team which won the Youth Alliance and reached the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup, taking Manchester City into extra time in an inspired display. In the previous round they had beaten Derby County, a Category 1 academy team. Most of those players have now risen up to the development squad. Once they have got sufficient experience at that level their potential will be appraised. Some will be sent on loan in lower leagues to strengthen their competitiveness, others will be released. It is only the rare cases like Burke who leapfrog straight into a first team place.

Burke certainly impressed in this year’s pre-season, so much so that he had been likened by pundits to Leighton Baines, the most successful of Latics’ academy graduates in recent years. The resemblance to Baines showed itself to some degree in his competitive debut at Ashton Gate. Burke gave a fine performance before having to come off after 77 minutes due to a head injury. He continued in the 3-0 win against Blackburn, being withdrawn after 75 minutes. Burke started in the next match against Birmingham, but was withdrawn tactically after 48 minutes, an attacking ploy by Caldwell who brought on Michael Jacobs in his place. Burke found himself on the bench for Caldwell’s ill-judged venture of playing Yanic Wildschut as a wing back at Nottingham Forest. He was to be brought after 64 minutes after the manager attempted to tighten up his defence. Burke started in the 2-1 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday, but was withdrawn at half time for Adam Le Fondre.

Burke received the Michael Millett Award as youth team player of the year for 2015-2016. But sadly, receiving that award has hardly been a precursor for future success at the club. Only time will tell if Burke does better than his predecessors.

The winner in 2014-2015 had been Louis Robles with Gregor Rioch commenting that: “Louis is a shining example on and off the pitch of what everyone at Wigan Athletic is striving to achieve.He’s a leader in both senses too, wearing the armband and scoring 30 goals in the process, including a hat-trick in the recent Lancashire FA Youth Cup final.”

Sadly Robles was released a year later and is now playing college soccer in the south of the United States. The  previous winners  Matthew Hamilton (2013-2014), Joey Johnson (2012-2013) and Ryan Meadows (2011/2012) too were released without making the first team. But the 2010-2011 winner, Tim Chow, went on to make 18 senior appearances for Latics.  The 2009-2010 winner,Lee Nicholls, made 12. Both were released last summer.

It has been reported that Burke has had some injury problems this season that have impeded his challenge for a first team place.  But the right full back position has remained problematic and nobody has established himself in that position over a series of matches. Too many players have been played out of their best positions where they have looked less than comfortable on the right of defence. Four of them have been naturally left footed players, making things even more difficult for them. However, they have all been members of the senior squad, while Burke has been training with the development squad.

Luke Burke was injured prior to Joyce’s arrival, picking up a hamstring strain in a development squad match against Oldham Athletic on October 19. He was starting his recovery when Caldwell was dismissed on October 25. Following rumours that other Championship clubs were keen on signing Burke he was offered a new contract until the summer of 2018. Gregor Rioch commented that:

“Luke has made huge strides in what has been a whirlwind 12 months or so for him. He was one of the stand-out performers last season for the Under 18s and, having been offered pro-terms, to find himself in the first team picture so early on in his career was a great boost that has given him a knowledge of the standards he needs to reach. This is a recognition of all his hard work, so big congratulations to him and his family and I am confident he can continue to progress.”

Following the signing of the new contract  he  made development squad starts in the 3-2 win against Port Vale on November 23, the 1-1 draw at Fleetwood on November 29 and the 3-3 draw with Barnsley on December 6.

Burke also played for the development squad in another game against Fleetwood last Tuesday when Latics fielded a couple of trialists. However, on the same day an article appeared in Wigan Today where Joyce was quoted as saying:

“Luke’s been injured since I’ve been at the club, and he’s only just coming back.  I’ve not seen a lot of him, it’s only the last week or so that he’s been back involved.”

Joyce’s comments are puzzling to say the least.

It appears unlikely that  Burke will start at Rotherham, although he could get a place on the bench. The likelihood is that  Garbutt will start at right back.

The preference of recent Wigan managers to play young loannees over homegrown talent has been a bone of contention with so many fans. It is something that was particularly frustrating in the Malky Mackay era when the young loan players largely failed to deliver.

Latics confirmed their faith in  Burke by extending his contract. The player himself acknowledged the challenges ahead for him after signing his new deal:

“To get the chance to play in the first team was amazing. I know I have to work really hard to impress the new manager and show him what I can do. The leap in standards from Under 18s to first team was huge and I think I improved massively with the experience of playing at that level and against top professionals. It’s just given me a taste for more but I know that I need to work really hard to earn my chance again.”

Joyce’s appointment was very much influenced by his proven record of developing young players. Luke Burke promises to be the first of a talented cohort of 18/19 year olds at the club to establish himself as a first team player. Burke was joined on the bench against Ipswich last weekend by winger James Barrigan and defender Sam Stubbs, but there are other talented home grown youngsters also worthy of such an opportunity.

It will be interesting to see which route Joyce will set for Burke over the coming months. Will he send the talented youngster on loan to get more first team experience? Or is he willing to give him a chance of playing for a Wigan first team currently facing a relegation battle?

Much will depend on Joyce’s efforts to get hold of a quality right back in the January transfer window. The position has remained a problem for the past 18 months. Donervon Daniels would be an option, but remains some way away from full fitness. One can only wonder if Gary Caldwell would still be here if he had been backed in the transfer market when he went for Hearts’ exciting young full back Calum Paterson over summer. What a difference he might have made to the balance of the team.

Joyce’s immediate attention will be on the Rotherham game and the relegation dog fight that Latics currently face. Only time will reveal how his more long-term plans for developing young players within the club materialise.

 

Winning with kids

Gary Caldwell continues to lower the average age of his squad.

Gary Caldwell continues to lower the average age of his squad.

“You can’t win anything with kids”.

So said Alan Hansen after a young Manchester United side had been beaten by Aston Villa. United’s lineup had featured an 18 year old Phil Neville, plus 20 year olds David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes, together with the 21 year old Ryan Giggs. They went on to win the Premier League that same season. Hansen’s comment became infamous in English football history.

As did Alex Ferguson twenty years ago, Gary Caldwell too has put a considerable amount of faith in young players. In fact three of them rank in the top four this season as far as appearances are concerned. That trio of Donervon Daniels, Reece James and Max Power are all 22 years old.

Over the January transfer Caldwell has continued to lower the average age of his squad. Don Cowie (32) and Grant Holt (34) left the club by mutual consent. In came Ryan Colclough (21), Conor McAleny (23), Sam Morsy (24) and Reece Wabara (24). Goalkeeper Dan Lavercombe (19) replaced Richard O’Donnell (27), although for the moment he is back at his previous club, Torquay. Midfielder Danny Whitehead (22) was also signed and loaned back to Macclesfield Town. Yanic Wildschut (24) was signed on a permanent contract following his loan spell from Middlesbrough.

Caldwell and his recruitment team have done a fine job, bringing in no less than 29 new players since summer. Moreover there are signs that the players are starting to gel and the team is starting to approach the point where the whole is at least the sum of its parts. Hopes for automatic promotion have been raised, although it remains a difficult task given the consistency of the teams above them.

Wabara has filled the problematic right wing back position, with Kevin McNaughton now back in training. A few weeks ago losing Michael Jacobs to injury would have left the team short of creative input. But the emergence of Haris Vuckic and the arrival of the confident and accomplished Colclough have helped allay concerns. Morsy has come in to add some steel to the midfield, potentially the replacement for David Perkins, who is now 33. The squad now has a better balance than it did a month ago.

Whether Latics will achieve automatic promotion remains to be seen. But with the talent at Caldwell’s disposal they will pose problems for any team in League 1. The least Latics are currently heading for is a place just below the top two, but  getting promotion through the playoffs is a precarious business where confrontations can be tight and so easily effected by unexpected events. The worst case scenario is at  least one more year in League 1.

Next season Latics will receive around £12 million in parachute payments, the final instalment. If they remain in League 1 they will be able to continue operating a budget three times higher than most clubs in the division. However, if promotion is achieved they will face fierce financial competition from Championship clubs, some boosted by much larger parachute payments, others buoyed by funding from benefactor owners. Moreover when their own parachute payments run out they will be faced with competing on an uneven keel against almost all the clubs in the division.

It is for these reasons that having a quality recruitment programme is key to the club’s long term future. Scouting for bargains in younger players coming from clubs in lower divisions or those released by big clubs will be the order of the day.

At the same time the club will need to be able to attract top teenage talent into its academy. Gregor Rioch came with a fine reputation in building up an academy at Coventry and he has already produced results at Wigan. The under 18 team breaking a club record by reaching the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup and taking Manchester City into extra time is an indicator of how much progress has been made. As in previous eras many of the youngsters recruited have come from the greater Manchester and Liverpool areas, often after being at a Premier League club. The recent loan moves of the 18 year old Adam Anson and the 19 year old Louis Robles, both previously in the Liverpool academy, to Macclesfield continue to show that the club seeks to toughen up the younger talent it is nurturing by sending them to clubs in physically competitive leagues. Sam Cosgrove, 18, previously at the Everton academy, has already had loan spells at Barrow and Chorley.

Over the years Alan Hansen might have come to rue his assertion that “You can’t win anything with kids”. But Premier League stats suggest that there is some degree of validity in his statement. When Manchester United won that title in 1995-96 they had six players under the age of 23 who played in 10 games or more. But nothing of the kind has happened since. In fact the average number of under 23s playing regularly in Premier League title winning squads over the last 20 years is less than three.

The success of Manchester United’s young players those two decades ago was clearly exceptional. But perhaps more importantly those players were to stay at the club, providing the backbone of the team for years to come.

Gary Caldwell will be hoping that this will prove the case for the majority of the young players he has recruited over recent months. He and his recruitment team are striving to build the backbone of a squad to serve the club for years to come.

 

 

Wednesday will receive a Wigan Athletic in transition

It has not been a smooth transition for Wigan Athletic since Roberto Martinez, his coaching staff and swathes of players left over the summer.

But supporters are at least more optimistic about the future, given the arrival of Uwe Rösler and other appointments that might well prove key to the club’s continued development.

Only a few weeks ago the club seemed to be taking one step forward and two steps back. Losing to Brighton, Zulte Waregem and Derby in the space of eight days was hard to swallow. The team just was not going anywhere. The lack of ambition in their play was a sad sight, let alone the long ball tactics that were reminiscent of Bolton under Allardyce and Megson. Surely that was not the real Wigan Athletic?

Supporters know the club is going through another transition, but there is a lot more optimism now. Like Martinez – but unlike Coyle – Rösler has come in with a clear game plan, even if it could take time for the players to consistently put it into effect.

A lot has been happening this week. Brentford have announced the departure of assistant manager Alan Kernaghan and first team coach Peter Farrell. Nothing yet from Wigan side, but their arrival must be imminent.

One wonders what will happen with current first team coach Graham Barrow, who has a terrific record of service at the club. Barrow’s son James was brought in by Coyle as conditioning coach and he is taking a lot of flak from supporters about the lack of physical fitness of the squad, although to be fair he might have been overruled by Coyle.

Gregor Rioch’s arrival coincided with that of Rösler, so he did not come in as heralded as he might have been otherwise. Rioch has been appointed to run the Latics Academy, following an outstanding record in developing young players at Coventry City. His father Bruce was manager of Latics for a brief spell in the 2000-2001 season.

The simultaneous arrival of both Rösler and Rioch might well prove a landmark in the history of Wigan Athletic. Supporters can already see that long-term vision back at the club that was obscured by the mistake of hiring Coyle on a one year contract.

Latics even signed a player this week.

Patrick Antelmi was a teenage prodigy in Australia, well documented on YouTube. He has been playing for Latics’ development squad this season after spells at several English clubs over the past five years, the main ones being Portsmouth and Leeds. He is still only 19 and given the difficulty of finding quality strikers he appears to be well worth giving a chance.

Click here to see a YouTube video interview through ‘Aussies Abroad’ during his time at Leeds last year. So often kids can look outstanding in their early teens but don’t make it. However, Antelmi clearly has a wonderful technique, a great left foot and has already scored goals for the development squad.

The outcome of tomorrow’s match at Hillsborough is difficult to predict. Sheffield Wednesday are in the bottom three and Latics have won away games against the teams below them, Barnsley and Yeovil.

However, not only will it be Latics’ third match in a week, but they are also adjusting to a new style of play. The high pressing that Rösler expects is physically demanding for players who have not managed to keep up such a pace up till now. The question is whether the lineup Rosler puts out will be able to do what he wants most of the time.

Jordi Gomez, excellent in the Maribor game, is due for a recall. So too is Roger Espinoza, whose style appears right for the football Rösler is looking for. Other than that it is hard to predict the lineup the German will put out.

Rösler will hope to come out with a good result tomorrow, given a difficult trip to Reading at the weekend.

However, were the good result not to materialize the fans would not be overly upset.

There is now optimism for the future that had severely dissipated under the Coyle regime.

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