A Brighton Fan’s View

Photo courtesy of Visit Brighton

Photo courtesy of Visit Brighton

Less than a year ago Brighton and Hove Albion were playing a style of football akin to that of Wigan Athletic under Roberto Martinez.

A lot has happened since then.

Both clubs lost their managers at the end of the season. Brighton sought a replacement who would build upon the style of play established by Gus Poyet, bringing in ex-Barcelona youth coach and ex-player Oscar Garcia. Latics chose a manager who prefers a more direct approach.

The two clubs are neck and neck in the Championship, with Latics in tenth place, one point and one position above Brighton. Both clubs have had bad luck with injuries so far this season. Both come into the match with two consecutive league victories under their belts.

Let’s get up to date with Brighton through the eyes of one of their keenest supporters.

Tim Attree’s love of the club dates back to when he was a kid and he would help his father sell jackpot tickets on matchdays outside the old Goldstone Ground. His father had watched Brighton from an early age and for decades would volunteer to help out selling programmes and jackpot tickets. Tim has kept up his father’s love of the club and hardly misses a single Brighton match.

Tim first came to Wigan in the mid 1970s, when I invited him to join me at Springfield Park to watch a Northern Premier League game with Stafford Rangers. Since then he paid repeated visits to Wigan to Springfield Park and the JJB/DW Stadium.

Over to Tim to answer some questions.

Does anybody know why Gus Poyet was pushed out after taking his team to the playoffs ?

Nobody seems to know or wants to say anything about it, but he told chairman Tony Bloom that he wanted to leave just before we beat Crystal  Palace back in March. According to Bloom at ‘Fans Forum’ things deteriorated after that.

 Did Albion’s fans like the tiki-taka style that your team played last year?

 Yes we loved the way they played. Some of us think it’s the best we’ve ever seen!

 How is the team performing? Has the style changed from last year?

Injuries have hit us hard, but we try to close down teams very quickly after losing the ball within 5-10 seconds – a bit like Barcelona. Oscar Garcia  was at Barca and has brought that philosophy with him.

In addition there is the feeling that we do not keep the ball as long as we did with Gus and try and cross the ball a bit earlier. If we lose it we press high to get it back whereas with Gus we would all have gone back to defence as quickly as possible.

 Latics made a decision to replace Roberto Martinez with a manager whose football is ‘more direct’. There are mixed feelings among fans about Coyle’s appointment. What do the Brighton fans think about Garcia?

The jury is still out on Garcia, but most fans think he is doing OK particularly having had so many injuries.

 Who are the players in the Brighton team Latics will have to watch?

 Goalie Tomas Kuszczak is very good. Liam Bridcutt (ex Chelsea youngster) is a strong holding midfielder and last week played his first 30 minutes or so after being out through injury. Will Buckley (ex -Watford) is a fast player who plays out wide, mainly on the right wing.

In defence we have Gordon Greer who has just won his first Scotland cap and Matthew Upson. We miss Wayne Bridge at left back but now have Stephen Ward on loan from Wolves who has just got back into the Irish team.

 Who   is going to finish higher in the table at the end of the season – Brighton or Wigan?

 Don’t know! Suspect it will be close if both clubs can get all their players fit for the New Year!

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The next Latics manager


The latest bookmakers’odds for the vacant Wigan Athletic manager position put Karl Robinson and Gus Poyet neck to neck. One never knows how much inside information the bookmakers can get their hands on, but you can bet your bottom dollar they have something to go on.

When I first heard of Robinson’s candidacy I was skeptical. A non-league journeyman who took over at MK Dons. But the more I hear about him, the more impressed I am. In  terms of coaching qualifications few in England can match him. His teams are renowned for their good football. The appointment of a 32 year old Liverpudlian might go down well with Latics supporters.

For me, Gus Poyet is an outstanding candidate. He only came to the Premier League in his latter years as a player after having great success as a midfield goalscorer  over seven years for Real Zaragoza. He was to go on and become a top player for both Chelsea and Tottenham in his late twenties, early thirties.

The Uruguayan lacks the sublime PR skills of Roberto Martinez, but in so many ways would appear to be his natural successor. His Brighton team played “Latics-like” football last year. My great old university friend, Tim Attree, a Brighton fanatic, first talked about with me about Poyet coming to Wigan a year ago, when Martinez  was courting Liverpool.  He told me how much Poyet had transformed Brighton and how he loved the football they played. He is devastated that Poyet might leave.

Poyet lead his team to the League 1 title, then to the mid table in the Championship, then to the  play-offs.

During the past four years Roberto Martinez insisted on a level of football that many other  clubs in the Premier League made no effort to strive for. The culmination was a wonderful FA Cup Final win, against the odds, but without negative tactics, playing stylish  football.

Steve Bruce has been mentioned as a possible contender for the position. In his first two spells at the club he did a great job. His football was pragmatic, not pretty to watch,  but was the order of the day.

The prospect of someone like Robinson or Poyet coming to Wigan and continuing where Martinez left off is mouth-watering.

Whatever his faults, Martinez left a legacy of good football at Wigan. It is something to be built upon, rather than destroyed for the sake of expediency.

Both Robinson and Poyet represent the opportunity for Martinez’s wonderful football legacy to continue.

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Go for two, Dave

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The classic double act was that of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor working in tandem. Together they won the First Division and two European Cups with an unfashionable club. What a duo!

As expected Roberto Martinez’s move to Everton grows closer and closer, despite the denials of the Liverpool club.

Rene Meulensteen and Karl Robinson are the bookmakers’ favourites. Either one would be a gamble, but an exciting one. It is refreshing to note that Dave Whelan is open to looking at alternative talent.

Experienced and very capable managers are available with the likes of Steve McClaren and Owen Coyle remaining in the running.

When Martinez goes he will almost certainly take Graeme Jones with him.

My message to Whelan is simple – appoint a duo from the applicants.

Agreed that this would be a burden on the wage bill, but compared with what players earn the salary of another senior manager is not so hard to afford.

The prospect of a Meulensteen/Mike Phelan or Meulensteen/Karl Robinson combination is mouth watering.

However, this columnist would ask Whelan to consider Gus Poyet. For me he is the natural successor to Roberto Martinez. The Uruguayan is not so skilled at public relations as the Spaniard, but his Brighton team have played champagne football this season. Moreover he has a fine pedigree as a top Premier League player.

In 1995 Dave Whelan signed the Three Amigos – Diaz, Martinez and Seba – to help Latics play more skillful football.

Now is the time for him to make another bold move.

The bonus is Whelan staying at the club – managers come and go, but his continuing presence is paramount to the club’s success.

Wigan Athletic would be languishing in the lower levels without Dave Whelan. He has made great appointments in the past and one hopes he can make another inspired appointment- or double appointment.

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CONTEMPLATING LIFE WITHOUT BOB

After the joy and euphoria of recent weeks we are now rocked  by Liverpool’s approach to Roberto Martinez. How can we  contemplate a Wigan Athletic without Bob? What is going to happen if he leaves us for  Liverpool in the next 7 days?

Roberto Martinez came back as club manager in 2008, having been an old favourite of those fans who saw him play 188 matches for Latics from 1995-2001. His assistant was to be  Graeme Jones, who scored 44 goals in 96 appearances for Latics from 1996-1999. Another ex-Latics icon – Graham Barrow – was brought in as  coach. Barrow scored 35 goals in 179 appearances for Wigan Athletic from 1981-1986, not bad for a defensive midfield player. He later came back as manager in 1994-95, saving Latics from relegation to the Football Conference.  If you look at the backroom staff at the club you will find the names of other familiar names from yesteryear. Alex Cribley –  club physiotherapist – made 268 appearances for us in the 1980s and has been at the club for 30 years . We even have an executive manager, Jonathan Jackson, whose father was a great servant for the club at board level.

That all these people with strong previous associations  with the club are on the payroll is no coincidence. It is part of a concerted effort to recruit people who love the club. Roberto Martinez has been the orchestrator, melding together his staff to provide an infrastructure for the future. The model is not unlike that of Liverpool in the 1980’s when Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan moved up from the “bootroom” staff to take over the club after the departure of Bill Shankly. It was an incredibly successful model. Paisley won 6 league titles and 3 European Cups during his 9 years as manager.

Roberto Martinez might be offered the Liverpool job this week. If he does he might well take it. No Latics fan would begrudge him such an opportunity. Liverpool FC is not the club it was in the 1980s but its fans still often have unrealistically high expectations. Not an easy place to work, especially if John W. Henry wants instant success. Henry took over as principal owner of the Boston Red Sox baseball team in 2002. They won the coveted World Series in 2004. It is unlikely that Roberto Martinez – or any other manager – could perform a parallel feat at Liverpool FC in two years, given the squad of players currently at the club. What Martinez would do is build for the future and have the team play aesthetically pleasing football, something Liverpool have not been able to do for some time.

If the Liverpool thing does not work out – and we Latics fans have to admit we hope it doesn’t – we will probably have Martinez for another year. The problem is that the more success Wigan Athletic have under his direction, the more likely it is that he will be poached away by another club. We therefore need to think ahead. Are there people on the “bootroom” staff who are capable of replacing him? The obvious candidate is Graeme Jones, but we seldom get a glimpse of him through the media. Does he lack eloquence or is it that Martinez is a control freak and likes to deal with the media? Eric Black was a very well-spoken assistant to Steve Bruce and we saw more of him. If Martinez did move would he take Jones with him? Graham Barrow remains a capable force within the club and might even be a candidate. After the Heysel disaster in 1985 Kenny Dalglish took over as Liverpool player-manager, going on to win three league titles. Would it be within the realms of possibility that Gary Caldwell could perform that same dual role for Latics?

So let’s think ahead. Roberto Martinez will leave sometime, whether it be during the next week or the next year. He has built an infrastructure that we need to keep. If he were to leave he should not be allowed to take away key members of our coaching and backroom staff. The players he has recruited now know how to play the kind of champagne football we could not have dreamed about three years ago when he took over. We also have a tactical formation that really suits the players we have. We do not want a new manager to come in and put us back to square one. Let’s not revert to the physical, long-ball stuff that characterized Steve Bruce’s teams. Very few managers in England could step into this situation and build on what we already have. Only Swansea and Brighton come to mind as teams that play our style of football. Brendan Rodgers has done a great job at Swansea because he has built on the structure that Martinez provided during his time in Wales. Like Martinez he is now in the shop window, with the big clubs admiring the kind of football his team are playing. Gus Poyet has done a fantastic job in bringing Brighton to midway up the Championship playing our kind of football. He might well be a possibility for Latics.

Let’s hope that Roberto Martinez does not go to Liverpool and stays with us at least one more year. It is an exciting prospect! If he does go then we need to make the right appointment. Let’s not bring in somebody who tears apart the coaching and backroom staff to bring in his own men. We don’t need upheaval, we need continuity. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we just need to keep it rolling. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.