How many more loan players for Latics?

Maguire on loan at Wigan.

Hull City’s Harry Maguire signs for Leicester City on five-year deal” ran the headline.

The fee associated with the move is reported to be some £12 m rising up to £17 m.

I must admit: it took me by surprise. Granted Leicester could probably use another powerhouse centre half in the ilk of Huth and Morgan. But has Maguire’s game improved that much since his spell at Wigan a couple of years ago? Is the price inflated?

Harry Maguire was signed on a short term loan from Hull City in February 2015. He was without doubt Malky Mackay’s best loan signing, forming a rugged central defensive partnership with Jason Pearce. He was excellent in the air, powerful in the tackle, but does he have the passing skills to make it as a top Premier League defender? Only time will tell.

Over the past three seasons Wigan Athletic have brought in no less than 30 players on loan. They have often been young players from higher placed clubs, being sent out for experience. Only 3 of those 30 went on to permanent contracts at Wigan: Emyr Huws, Stephen Warnock and Yanic Wildschut.

A statistical analysis shows that the average age of the loanees has been around 24, the odd 30-pluses such as Alex Bruce, Alex Revell and Liam Ridgewell being balanced out by teenagers such as Marcus Browne, Callum Connolly, Jonjoe Kenny and Sheyi Ojo.

The influx of loan players, particularly over the past couple of seasons, has been subject to much debate by Latics supporters. The clubs sending their players to Wigan on loan can make stipulations about first team opportunities for their players, with financial implications if they are not met. The situation with goalkeepers near the end of last season was perhaps the straw that broke the camel’s back as far as many fans were concerned. Moreover it has been felt that the presence of too many loanees has deprived the club’s own young talent of opportunities.

However, a new manager has come in. Will we see any change in the use of loan players under Paul Cook?

Last summer Cook made two summer loan signings for Portsmouth. The 36 year old goalkeeper David Forde was acquired for a season-long loan from Millwall, going on to make 47 appearances. Dominic Hyam, 20, was loaned from Reading, but made no appearances. Interestingly the January loan window saw Cook pick up Eion Doyle, 28, from Preston, who was to make 12 appearances. But the 19 year old Aaron Simpson, from Wolves, suffered the same fate as Hyam, making no appearances.

Among the theories put forward by Portsmouth supporters regarding the manager’s surprise exit was that the new ownership would appoint a director of football. It was an idea mooted at Wigan too, but did not come into fruition. However, as manager at Wigan he will need to take a look at the link between the recruiting department and the coaching staff. Not only have experienced players been signed who have not made their mark, but those who could be loosely labeled “players for the future” have been given minimal opportunities on the field of play.

The present squad includes players like Jack Byrne, Josh Laurent, Dan Lavercombe, Mikael Mandron, Sanmi Odelusi and Kaiyne Woolery. All were seemingly signed for the future but have made hardly a handful of appearances between them. They are in their early twenties and were bargain signings from other clubs. Danny Whitehead also falls into that category, although he no longer appears in the first team squad on the club website. Yesterday’s new signing Terell Thomas, 19, will hope that he will receive more opportunity than his predecessors have had.

The current first team squad also contains six players who have come through the academy and the development squad – Luke Burgess, Callum Lang, Owen Evans, Josh Gregory and Christopher Merrie and Sam Stubbs. Last season Luke Burke made the transition to the first team, making an immediate impact at the start of the season. Sadly he was underutilized as the season progressed.

The futures of the “players for the future”, both homegrown talent and those brought in from other clubs, will depend on them being given opportunity to develop. Some will be sent off on loan to other clubs to get more experience, but far too often in recent years such players have not come back to have an impact on the first team. So often loan players from other clubs have been given opportunities in their stead.

An article from the Portsmouth News entitled “Pompey deny Wigan to retain coaches” has informed us that Robbie Blake nor John Keeley will be leaving Portsmouth, although physios Nick Meace and Andy Proctor may be on their way to Wigan. It says they are confident that head of player recruitment, Nick Howarth, will be staying.

Cook is gradually putting together his coaching and backroom team at Wigan. With the pre-season looming he will be keen to get that sorted as soon as he can. We can only hope that there is a better connection between recruitment and coaching than we have seen at Wigan in recent years. Moreover that there will be a planned strategy towards the recruitment of loan players from other clubs, bearing in mind the presence of the club’s own young talent.

The departure of Matt Gilks to Scunthorpe this week is indicative of the club being unwilling to offer him a contract as good as that put forward by the Irons. It appears that Gilks had a get-out clause in his contract in case relegation occurred. Having spent much of his career in the higher divisions he would have been accustomed to the kinds of salaries offered at those levels. Given such a scenario it is unlikely that Paul Cook will either be handed a large war chest for potential transfers, nor be able to offer salaries that give him a competitive advantage over other contenders in the division.

Yet again it is a time of change at Wigan, this time involving wholesale changes in coaching and backroom personnel. Moreover we can expect considerable player turnover over the coming weeks, with an exodus of the higher earners.

Of all 30 loan players at Wigan in the past three years it can be argued that Stephen Warnock and Yanic Wildschut made the greatest impact at the club. But Harry Maguire did a solid job and it remains to be seen whether he will ultimately be the most successful of those loan players in his career that follows.

Will Cook’s loan signings play an important role this season? Or will he prefer to utilize players he already has at the club?

Or will it be a healthy balance between the two?

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A lifeline for Malky? Reading 0 Wigan Athletic 1

Jason Pearce celebrates hsi goal with james Perch.  Photo courtsey of Daily Mail.

Jason Pearce celebrates his goal with James Perch. Photo courtesy of Daily Mail.

‘It’s a brand new group over the last three weeks. It closes the gap. There are a lot of points to play for. It’s about personality and character and we’re beginning to show that”.

So said Malky Mackay after his team of scrappers had thrown him a lifeline, with the reemergence of Dave Whelan breathing down his neck. The beleaguered Wigan Athletic manager was delighted – not just with the 1-0 win, but with the fight that his players showed.

After seven games without a win it had looked like Latics were going to be marooned in that relegation zone, with little indication that a lifeline would appear. They are now six points behind Brighton in 21st place and the Seagulls are due to visit the DW on April 18th. Will that be a crunch match or will things have changed significantly by then?

There are now 15 games remaining. They include four away ties for Wigan against clubs hovering close to them in the relegation zone – Blackpool, Fulham, Millwall and Rotherham.

Once again Mackay did not include new striker Billy McKay in the starting lineup, the goal-shy Marco Fortune being preferred. Another hamstring injury to Leon Barnett and the departure of Liam Ridgewell led him to introduce a new central defensive pairing in the combative Harry Maguire and Jason Pearce. They are the types of uncompromising defenders that bless so many Championship clubs. At 6 ft 4 in the 21 year old Maguire is not surprisingly good in the air and he was given lots of practice last night. For once the centre of defence looked solid.

Ironically Latics’ other 6 ft 4 in central defender, Thomas Rogne, has not played in a single league game this season. Rogne might not be as physically imposing as Maguire, but he is certainly good in the air and his presence might have prevented some of the “soft” goals that Latics have given away to high crosses. One wonders what the Norwegian has done to upset the powers that be at the club. He continues to languish in the development squad

Maguire and Pearce are not going to allow burly opposition strikers to dictate play, as has been too often the case for Latics this year. One wonders if Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson would have been able to run round them in the way he did at the DW ten days prior. The test for the partnership will come when they play the more skillful teams and Latics have a home encounter with Derby County and an away game at Middlesbrough to negotiate still.

McKay was once again brought on in the second half, this time in the 81st minute. What is it at the club that has them treat their strikers this way? Fortune has his attributes and plays his part as a tireless worker. However, goal scorer he is not and never has been. However, he has already seen off the challenges of Andy Delort and Oriol Riera. Will McKay be the latest in the line of Wigan Athletic strikers who have been badly handled? He has come into the club in good goalscoring form in the SPL, as did Delort and Riera in France and Spain, so why not put him in the starting lineup?

The victory at Reading still leaves Latics a steep hill to climb. A win against Charlton at the DW on Friday night would give cause for genuine hope of avoiding relegation. Last time Latics won a game – a 2-0 win at Leeds on Boxing Day – they followed it up with an abject 1-0 home defeat by Sheffield Wednesday.

Fans will therefore be wary of building up their hopes too high for Friday. However, the win at Leeds could be described as somewhat fortuitous, with a bizarre own goal putting Latics ahead. Most Latics fans who saw last night’s match would say that the victory was well earned, despite some of the reports on national media. They hope it will be the springboard for a genuine rally.

Who knows – another win on Friday might even provide the impetus for the “Believe” motto to blossom again.

But at the same time it could be another false dawn. Let’s hope not.