What a difference results make. A couple of weeks ago Uwe Rosler was the flavour of the month and had almost universal support from the Latics faithful. But now after three disappointing performances dissent is becoming rife.
This is not unusual at a football club in England or any other part of the world. The manager is only as good as the team’s next performance and his time in the job is finite. If the results do not improve, he goes, as was the case with Owen Coyle at Wigan last year. But there are exceptions.
The long-term reigns of such as Ferguson and Wenger and their triumphs are well documented. You can add to that the likes of the unsung Dario Gradi and the miracles he worked at humble Crewe. All three had enough support from their chairmen to be undeterred by the naysayers and snipers who would undermine most managers at football clubs.
So it was with Roberto Martinez at Wigan. Martinez had to shield all kinds of criticism from a hostile minority who were uncomfortable with him as manager. The criticism came forth in his early days as in charge and continued for four years. It was based on the team’s style of play, but if the results had been better would there have been so much dissatisfaction?
Martinez was courageous and strong in his beliefs about the way football should be played. He never let the naysayers sway him, although it must have been tough for him. He had taken over at a time of austerity within the club after Steve Bruce had done a fine job at stabilizing Latics’ position in the Premier League, but at a financial cost. His achievement in winning the FA Cup will be hard for any future Latics manager to emulate.
It was Dave Whelan’s spoken and unspoken support that gave Martinez the backing to go ahead and continue to do what he considered right. Martinez not only won the cup, but kept Latics in the elite league until a cruel injury situation proved his undoing and led to him moving on from the club.
Dave Whelan has made Wigan Athletic into a dream come true. Who could have dreamed twenty years ago that Latics would have a superb stadium and compete with teams that were household names? Whelan’s success has been through appointing the right man at the right time and giving him support. Without Paul Jewell, Steve Bruce and Roberto Martinez where would Latics be now?
But then again, Whelan also appointed Chris Hutchings and Owen Coyle, both of whom he dispatched when he realized he had made the wrong decision.
So what of Rosler? Will he get the support from Whelan that Jewell and Martinez enjoyed?
Rosler maintains the support of the majority of fans who are not fazed by indifferent early season results. He did a remarkable job last season, lifting a team that was drifting down towards the lower layers of the league table. To go into extra time in an FA Cup Semi Final and reach a playoff spot would have beggared belief months before.
Like Martinez, Rosler has a clear view how football should be played. If he had been appointed to take over from the Spaniard the changeover might have been easier to handle. In appointing Coyle, Whelan damaged much of the legacy left by Martinez in one fell swoop. Football at Wigan took a nosedive and it still has not fully recovered.
At the risk of repeating myself from a previous article, it took Martinez some two and a half seasons to get his players to fully respond to his ideas. Fans will remember those wins over Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United for years to come, as they will Ben Watson’s header at Wembley. But it is not just the results, but the style in which Latics gained those victories.
Injuries in the pre-season have severely hampered Rosler’s plans. Critics will say the players were “overtrained”, leading to niggling injuries for too many. But only time will tell if Chris Haslam’s routines pay dividends over the coming weeks, with Latics physically outperforming the opposition.
The loss of free agents Jean Beausejour and Jordi Gomez over summer was a body blow for the German. Both were able to provide a certain poise that has been lacking since their departure. The lack of creativity in midfield is a cause for concern, although a fit Shaun Maloney would go a long way to solving those problems. It remains to be seen whether the Adam Forshaw saga will be resolved, but the Brentford player would also add creativity if Rosler could get him.
Rosler continues to scour the market for central strikers to add a third to his squad. Marc-Antoine Fortune remains an option in attack despite his poor goalscoring record. Oriel Riera just could not get into the game in the first half at Charlton, where there was a disconnect between midfield and the big forwards. One hopes he will not go the way of Mauro Boselli who was starved of service with Charles N’Zogbia on the right flank and Hugo Rodallega on the left, both of whom were going to go for goal themselves, rather than supply the central striker. Boselli’s demise is a chilling reminder of what can happen to central strikers at Wigan.
Rosler’s new signings will take time to settle in. Andrew Taylor was troubled by injury in pre-season and is clearly not at his best. Don Cowie made a useful contribution at Charlton and with time he will become an important player. Despite having a good technique, Cowie keeps things simple, harrying the opposition, tacking, intercepting, and making sure his passes reach his teammates. Emyr Huws has already made a positive impression. Strong in the tackle, with a cultured left foot, he is playing in the Chris McCann position. The young full backs, James Tavernier and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair will be gradually eased in, more often used as wing backs where the defensive duties are less onerous.
Rosler will continue to demand that his players embrace his high tempo, high pressing game. It has been unrealistic to expect a team that has been palpably unfit up to this point to perform at that level of intensity. The end result has too often been hoofing the ball out of defence, although football returned to their play at The Valley. The team was clearly playing under orders to play the ball out of defence and build up through midfield. With two new players in the middle of the park it is going to take time to develop the mutual understanding that will make the midfield tick like a well-oiled machine. Cutting out the hoofing is the important step.
Only two teams in the division – Bournemouth and Millwall – have won both of their opening league games. There are four teams who are pointless. Latics have not made the worst start, but expectations are high and they have disappointed so far. But there are another 44 matches to go.
Like any manager Rosler will be judged on results. With the signing of another creative midfielder and another central striker he will have a squad that will be the envy of most other clubs in the division. As the squad gets fitter and his key players raise their levels of performance the results will surely come.
For the moment Rosler needs the continued support of the fans and the owner. Latics are lucky to have such a talented and bright manager.
Despite the poor start, promotion remains a distinct possibility. Uwe Rosler is the man to lead Latics back into the Premier League.