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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Profiles from the Archives – Part 1: Jean Beausejour and Chris McCann

In April we stated our intention of republishing articles from our archives from time to time. It takes a long time for a fan site to get established and Amigos has been no exception. We are now in our third year. Our readership grew slowly in the first year, steadily in the second, but much faster in this third year. Given that we now have a wider readership we decided to occasionally republish articles from our archives, that many may not have seen.

The republishing of the  “Fan View”articles – perspectives of Latics players from fans of their previous clubs – went particularly well, according to the viewing stats.

We now plan to look back to some of the player profiles that we have have written and published over the past couple of years. Once again we ask our long-established readers will bear with us on this. We will continue to put out our stream of current articles.

Let’s start with Jean Beausejour and Chris McCann.

 

Bend it like Beausejour – first published October 9, 2012.

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Some say he looks a little pudgy. Others complain he doesn’t have the speed to take on defenders. That Birmingham would not have let him go if he were that good. Something of an international journeyman, he has played for ten clubs in a space of ten years, spanning six different countries. Why then did Roberto Martinez continue to pursue Jean Beausejour, following the 2010 World Cup, until finally signing him in January 2012?

After just 15 minutes had gone at Sunderland last Saturday, a sublime cross came over from the left wing that Arouna Kone should have buried to put Latics 1-0 in front. It was the kind of precision pass that David Beckham might have provided in his heyday, curling away from the goalkeeper with pinpoint accuracy. Pure artistry. Neither player is the type to run down the wing and beat a defender for speed. But both somehow are able to get in pinpoint crosses from the tightest of situations, an ability that few players possess. Although Beausejour only joined Latics in January, he led the squad for assists last season.

Let’s not forget his defensive qualities either. Forming a strong partnership with Maynor Figueroa on the left hand side of the defence he provides key defensive cover. Ask Theo Walcott what it is like having Beausejour trail you – the Chilean rendered him totally ineffective in the memorable 2-1 win at the Emirates Stadium in April. Beausejour is not elegant, but is a complete player, the classic wing back – able to defend and create goals.

Jean André Emanuel Beausejour Coliqueo was born in Santiago in June 1984, of a Haitian father and mother from the indigenous Mapuche ethnic group. Beausejour remains a hero with the downtrodden Mapuche people. He started his professional career playing for leading Chilean club, Universidad Católica in 2002 before moving to provincial Concepción where he played for a year. Within the following three years he’d serve stints at Servette of Geneva, Grêmio of Porto Alegre, Brazil, and Gent of Belgium. After returning to Chile for a couple of years he spent the 2009-2010 year playing for Club America, Mexico City’s biggest club.

Beausejour has made 40 plus appearances for Chile, playing under flamboyant Argentinian coach Marcelo Bielsa for almost three years. Not only did he score the winning goal against Honduras that helped Chile to qualify for the knockout stages of the 2010 World Cup, but he was to play in a classic Bielsa system that had three central defenders and two wing backs. In November 2011, he and four other players were suspendedby Chile FA for 10 matches after arriving in “poor physical” condition, allegedly drunk, before a World Cup qualifying match against Uruguay.

Given Beausejour’s career record of lack of continuity at any one particular club and his suspension from the Chilean national team it was therefore a calculated gamble taken by Roberto Martinez to bring him to Wigan from Birmingham City. However, Beausejour has become a key player in the tactical system adopted by Roberto Martinez. His start to the current season has been marred by a niggling injury but he remains one of the players whose name would be penciled in first on the team sheet. He is 5 ft 11 inches tall and physically strong, not easily deterred.

Jean Beausejour has certainly settled into the Wigan Athletic lineup. A team player, he is solid in defence. When Latics have the ball he is always available, hugging the touchline, stretching the opposition defence. He rarely loses the ball and has a few tricks up his sleeve with quick footwork. His crosses can create havoc in even the best of defences, whether from open play or set pieces. Given his technique one might expect him to more often take direct shots on goal, especially from free kicks. He has proved an excellent signing up to this point and one hopes that his years of wanderlust are over. At 28 years old he is nearing the peak of his career. The best is yet to come, especially if he is encouraged to go for goal from free kicks.

 

McCann silences his critics – first published November 5, 2013

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When managers change clubs they often take with them players from their previous club. Roberto Martinez is a prime example in taking Antolin Alcaraz, Arouna Kone, James McCarthy and Joel Robles from Wigan.

It was therefore no surprise when Owen Coyle’s first signing was one of his former players. Most Wigan Athletic fans would have expected it to be someone from Bolton, but it turned out to be a tall Irishman who had played under the Scot at Burnley.

Not many of us had heard much about Chris McCann, who had spent nine years at Burnley after being signed from Dublin club, Home Farm. When we found out more about him, it looked as if maybe Coyle had made a mistake.

McCann’s best season with them was in their promotion year, 2008-09. A cruciate knee injury  early in his first Premier League season proved a severe blow for McCann. He made only eight appearances that season and four in 2010-11, being plagued by injury.

However, the Irishman was to come back to start in 83 Championship matches over the next two seasons.

Owen  Coyle had taken over a fragmented squad at Wigan following Martinez’s departure. There was shortage of players in various positions, particularly the centre of defence and up front. But central midfield was the one area where Latics were well supplied – with James McArthur, Roger Espinoza,  Fraser Fyvie,  Jordi Gomez and Ben Watson – plus James McCarthy, who was to be sold.

McCann’s  performances in his early starts for Latics at home to Doncaster and Middlesbrough and at Zulte Waregem were solid, if uninspiring.

Cynics said that Coyle had brought in an ex-player who was not up to par, but who was ahead of both Espinoza and Fyvie in the pecking order. It looked like Coyle was snubbing  players from the previous regime to bring in his own men.

However, McCann was to come back to the starting lineup with a fine display against Rubin Kazan. That night he was tireless in defence and his cultured passing when under pressure helped Latics keep possession. He followed that up with a fine performance at Charlton, being unlucky with a flick header that hit the crossbar. In the subsequent match against QPR he once again put in a hardworking stint, being denied by the woodwork with a far post header. On Sunday against Huddersfield he once again put in solid defensive shift and this time saw a fine long range shot palmed over the bar by the keeper.

Coyle has so far relied heavily on McArthur and Watson in the midfield holding roles. They bring Premier League quality to the Championship. Both have excellent technique and work tirelessly to win the ball back and support their defence.

However, McCann has already shown that he too is a player of such attributes and will be challenging them for a place in the starting lineup. He too has a touch of quality. At 6’1” he also poses an aerial threat to opposition defences.

Chris McCann has already silenced most of his critics through a series of good displays. He is still only 26 years old and could prove to be a key player for Latics for years to come.

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Wigan Athletic v Aston Villa Preview

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It was billed as the grand finale to a topsy turvy season for Wigan Athletic.  The home match with fellow strugglers, Aston Villa, was to be crucial in determining Latics’ future in the Premier League. But sometimes things just don’t work out as you hope they will.

Wigan Athletic go into their last match at the end of  a remarkable eight year stay in the Premier League. They come out of it stronger than when they went in. Latics now have a strong identity, a sound infrastructure and a much increased fan base. The wonderful cup final victory has gained them millions of admirers all over the world, not just through the result, but by the style with which they played.

The encounter with Aston Villa allows the opportunity for fans to celebrate those eight years and to savour the incredible achievement of winning the FA Cup. The match also gives Roberto Martinez the opportunity to blood young players outside the pressure-cooker atmosphere that has prevented him doing so in these past years of fighting relegation.

Despite looking a poor side for most of the season,  Villa have maintained their Premier League status through an end of season rally. Much of that upturn in results  was down to  goals from the striking partnership of Gabriel Agbonlahor and big Belgian striker, Christian Benteke, who has netted a remarkable 19 goals in his first season in England’s top league. Moreover Agbonlahor’s pace has often proved a thorn in the side for Wigan – he has scored 5 goals against them in previous encounters.

Benteke will not be lining up at the DW Stadium on Sunday due to a red card received in the home loss to Chelsea. However, Villa do have Darren Bent ready to step in. Bent has been frozen out by Paul Lambert, making only seven starts all season, scoring two goals.

Like Wigan Athletic, Aston Villa are making every effort to keep a balanced budget and it looks like Bent – who reportedly earns £65,000 a week – could be playing his last match for the club. Villa’s problem is that he still has a couple of years left on his contract. Other high wage earners, Stephen Ireland and Shay Given, also remain under contract and will be difficult to budge.

Aston Villa have a fine record at the DW Stadium having won four matches and  drawn two over the previous six seasons. Latics will be keen to break this pattern.

The pressure is off for both teams in Sunday’s encounter. It promises to be a good match, with either team capable of winning.  Reports suggest that Jean Beausejour will make a welcome return from a hamstring injury and that Adrian Lopez has a chance of making the game after an injury plagued season. Lopez could well become an important player in the Championship next year and Martinez might be tempted to give him a run out.

It is conceivable that up to a half of the players who play for Wigan Athletic on Sunday will not be with the club next season.  In terms of team selection Martinez faces the dilemma of whether to stick with the nucleus of his cup  winning team or to look to the future. The match provides a great opportunity to give youth a chance.

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Wigan Athletic v Swansea City Preview

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Following a nail-biting win at West Bromwich, Wigan Athletic entertain Swansea City at the DW Stadium on Tuesday evening. Since the Welsh team’s return to the top flight, Latics have been unable to beat them. The Swans won their last match at the DW with two beautifully taken goals from Gylfi Sigurdsson in March 2012.

Wigan desperately need to win this game, but can expect to meet resistance from a stubborn Swansea outfit. Michael Laudrup has kept up the good work of Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez at the Welsh club. They continue to play that silky kind of football the Latics boss put in place there, but under Laudrup they can also play with a more pragmatic and direct approach.

The Swans have had some difficult recent fixtures against top teams and have not won for the last seven league matches. However, they still remain in 9th place and will be hungry to get a good result.

Both Latics and Swansea go into this game without key players due to hamstring injuries. Jean Beausejour is a major loss for Wigan, an unsung player  who covers huge distances each game, covering his defence and stretching the opposition defences by receiving the ball wide. He has provided an amazing 7 assists this year, putting him on a par with attacking midfield players like David Silva and Santi Cazorla.

Miguel Perez, better known as Michu, is unavailable for the visitors, probably for the remainder of the season.  Previously a midfield player, Swansea have converted him into a striker to such effect that he has scored 17 league goals in his first season in England.

Latics fans will be hoping that Antolin Alcaraz will be able to make his return  following the hamstring injury he picked up at West Ham. He has been badly missed in the Latics rearguard over the past couple of weeks.

Roberto Martinez’ dilemma will be who to play on the left of his defence. With both Maynor Figueroa and Jean Beausejour unavailable, he does not have a natural replacement.  Roger Espinoza substituted for Beausejour in that position on Saturday. Espinoza is always brimming with enthusiasm and he has no mean level of skill, but the left of defence is not his forte.

One wonders if David Jones might be available to take over now that his loan spell with Blackburn has been completed? Jones has played in the position before and his height can be useful when defending set pieces.

Given  the absence of an orthodox left back, Martinez will probably opt for a back three and wing backs.  If Alcaraz is back he will join Paul Scharner, plus one other in central defence. Young Roman Golobart came on in the second half at West Bromwich, although he looked nervous in that pressure cooker atmosphere.   Emmerson  Boyce could play in the centre of defence, allowing Ronnie Stam to return as right wing back. Stam continues to promise as an attacker, but his defensive work can leave much to be desired.

Gary Caldwell should not be forgotten. Although said to be continuing to struggle with his hip injury, the captain made a return at West Ham, only to be consigned to the bench for the past couple of games. He might well be back before the end of the season, but one wonders if he will be risked against a pacey Swansea side.

Given the congested fixture list coming up, Martinez might use more of his squad players. Ben Watson made a return on Saturday, following the broken leg he suffered in November. Martinez used him in a hybrid role, part holding midfield and part central defender. Watson did not do badly, but his lack of pace was exposed when the midlanders broke away for their first goal.

If Martinez does opt to play someone in that position he might go with the more speedy James McCarthy. Moreover he might not want to risk Watson for a second game in three days, following his long lay-off.

Martinez will be wary of burnout for young Callum McManaman and it can be expected that Franco Di Santo will either start or come on at a key stage in the match.

Robert Martinez is hopeful of winning his 150th Premier League game at Wigan on Tuesday. His challenge will be in finding the right lineup and in getting the best out of his players with Wembley coming up on Saturday.

This is not an easy match and the nerves will be jangling. The support and patience of the home crowd will be crucial. It could go down to the wire.

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