How many more new faces for Caldwell?

At least three new faces coming in for Caldwell?

At least three new faces coming in for Caldwell?

“We’re probably looking at bringing in four or five new players”

So said Gary Caldwell at the end of May.

The manager has since brought in Adam Bogdan, Jake Buxton, Dan Burn, Alex Gilbey, Kyle Knoyle and Nick Powell, in addition to signing Stephen Warnock on a permanent contract. He also has Emyr Huws and Andrew Taylor back from season-long loans.

Yesterday Caldwell was quoted as saying that:

“I think you can see we still need certain players to come into certain positions”. Hopefully before next Saturday we can add not just one but a few new faces to the group.”

So why has the manager changed his mind about how many new players he needs? Is he saying it to rouse those players who have failed to impress during the close season? Or does he feel that there are not enough players in his squad up to challenging the best in the Championship?  Given the club’s short-term financial situation is he going to be able to be able to offer the salaries necessary to recruit players of such quality?

The pre-season has been less than impressive. There are worrying parallels between it and that of two years ago under Uwe Rosler. In the latter case too many players came out of the pre-season injured and others were palpably unfit to play a full ninety minutes of Championship football. There have been a number of injuries in this pre-season too, although managers tend to err on the side of caution by leaving out players who have niggling injuries who would otherwise have played if it were a league game.

In the past we had come to expect managers to play their first choice players as close as possible to a full 90 minutes in the final game of the pre-season.  But last summer Caldwell used 20 players in the game at Blackburn, with only Craig Morgan, David Perkins and Max Power playing the full 90. For the Fleetwood game last Friday he used only 15 players, with 7 playing the whole game.

Latics announced the players’ squad numbers today. The name of Andrew Taylor did not appear in the list of 25 senior squad players.  The squad includes four goalkeepers, one of whom will be leaving, on loan or by permanent transfer, within the coming weeks. The most likely is Lee Nicholls and rumour suggests that MK Dons will bid for him. Speculation surrounds the future of Emyr Huws, who has once again has picked up an ankle injury, making him unavailable for the last three warm up matches. Latics are reputed to be looking to offload the player for a fee of around £2m, with Leeds United being the latest suitors. Jason Pearce is almost certainly on his way, probably to Charlton.

Should those four players depart, Latics will be down to a squad of 21, hence making room for at least three new players. Given the excellent form of the 18 year old Luke Burke in the pre-season, Caldwell could take up the option of bringing him up to the senior squad. .

Caldwell has pinpointed the need to bring in players in “certain positions”. One of those will be at right back, following Kyle Knoyle’s long term injury. Another will be in midfield, given Huws’ expected departure. Latics have been linked with Sheffield United full back, John Brayford, although the Yorkshire club would expect a sizeable fee. Rumours persist that they are seeking the services of Leon Osman, born locally, who made over 350 appearances for Everton over 16 seasons. The midfielder is 35 years old and is accustomed to a Premier League salary. However, a one year contract might well be in the offing.

There are reports that Caldwell is also chasing Millwall centre forward Lee Gregory, who was a major force in the London club reaching the League 1 playoff final last season.  The 6 ft 2 in ex-Halifax Town player is pacey and scored 27 goals last season. However, strikers don’t come cheap and Millwall will ask for a fee of around £1.5 m.

But if Latics were to sign Gregory how would it affect Will Grigg? Caldwell is loath to play with twin strikers and some fans see the hunt for Gregory as the prelude to the departure of Grigg for a hefty transfer fee. Interestingly Craig Davies’ squad number has been changed from number 10 to number 21. It may be of minor significance, but could it signify a new player coming in to take the number 10 shirt? Moreover is Davies’ stay at Wigan nearing a close? Would Caldwell be looking at Grigg and Gregory alternating in the central striker position?

The signings of players of the quality of Brayford, Osman and Gregory would add to the squad. David Sharpe is certainly not averse to putting up money for key transfers, but will want to keep tabs on what will be happening to the wage bill one year from now when parachute payments cease. Given that proviso the arrivals of the three players would be a distinct possibility.

Caldwell has certainly changed his mind over the quality of the squad that won League 1. He now recognises the need to reinforce it more profoundly than he was thinking at the end of May. He needs a squad strong enough to establish itself in the Championship, with a mid-table position by the end of the season being a likely goal.

There are likely to be at least three new faces coming in, but there could be more, depending on outgoings.

It is going to be an interesting week.

 

 

 

McCann out and Huws in?

Things are hotting up as the new season approaches. The news comes in, but questions continue to pop up.

Is Will Grigg really on his way to Scotland for a big transfer fee? Surely not.

Will Latics be losing Emyr Huws as well as Chris McCann? Maybe.

Why are Latics due to host Liverpool and Manchester United on consecutive days? Will the big clubs  be sending their senior squads? Will it be largely youth players or maybe a mixture of the two? Or was it an offer the young chairman just could not refuse?

SharpeManULiv

David Sharpe has shown himself to be an excellent communicator who has made an effort to reach out to the fans. He uses the social media as a vehicle to keep people informed and to raise morale. However, the social media is a double-edged sword and Sharpe has to field comments such as this:

Athertontweet

However, other fans can have a different perspective:

HumphreystweetA month ago we published an article Can Latics afford to keep Chris McCann?  Our question has now been answered by the announcement that the Irishman has signed for MLS expansion team Atlanta United. However, it appears that McCann will go out on loan until January. After his good form last season there are Latics fans who are already clamouring for McCann to spend his loan at Wigan.

There remain hopes among fans that Sharpe and Gary Caldwell will bring in Jordi Gomez and Leon Osman, but is it likely to happen?

McCanntweetMcCann announced his departure on the social media, giving due thanks to the fans.

For most of us, McCann’s departure is no surprise. One can bet that Sharpe just was not willing to offer the kind of salary the Irishman wanted, likely have been around £15-20K per week.  The departure of Reece Wabara was also most likely due to the club not meeting the player’s wage demands.

Sharpe has set the tone on keeping a ceiling on the wage bill as Latics enter their final season of parachute payments. Most of the players who previously played for Latics in the Championship, receiving relatively generous salaries, have now left the club. However, some still remain and Sharpe and his recruitment team will once again look at getting as many as possible off the wage bill. Included in those are the three players sent off on loan last season – Emyr Huws, Billy Mckay and Andrew Taylor.

Given that Caldwell already has Reece James and Stephen Warnock to compete for the left back position it is likely that Taylor will be seeking other pastures during the final year of his contract. Mckay did well to score 12 goals last season for a Dundee United team that finished bottom of the SPL. But he barely received a chance in his previous spell at Wigan and it appears unlikely that he will stay. The principal question mark hovers around the subject of Huws.

The mere mention of Huws can invoke anger in Wigan Athletic supporters. In late August 2015 Caldwell talked about the player’s unwillingness to play in League 1.

“I tried very hard to keep him to say that you have to help the club back to the Championship and to the Premier League – that’s the aim at this club – and we want people who are committed to that and doing everything they can to help us. He didn’t want to do it – that’s football – but we had to let the fans know that it wasn’t us that had decided to let him go – it was Emyr that wanted to go…I feel that is disrespectful to his team mates, myself, the chairman and the supporters.”

Caldwell’s comments certainly impacted upon fan opinion of the player. There remain some who would not like the player back at the club even if Caldwell decided on taking up that option.

However, it can be argued that Latics did well out of sending Huws  to Huddersfield. He gained further first team experience at Championship level, making 31 appearances and scoring five goals. The Yorkshire team paid his wages and the player’s value in the transfer market was maintained.

There are arguments to suggest that Caldwell made the comments to avoid criticism that might have come his way by allowing the player to leave. Moreover that it was early in Caldwell’s days as Wigan manager and with more experience he might not have criticised a player publicly. The word ‘disrespectful’ can stir up emotions in football circles. However, even in that heated time last August the manager did not close the door on a possible return of the player in the future.

Despite the furore Caldwell said last week that He (Huws) wanted to be in, he wanted to be back with the group on day one, and that tells me everything I need to know. We’ve always known the quality that Emyr has, and for him to want to be here is great. You want good players at your club, he’s a good player, and we’re delighted to have him back.”

However, rumours were circulating about a possible move for Huws to Fulham who might be willing to stump up a fee in the region of £2m for his transfer.

The likelihood is that Latics will be losing two very capable midfield players in Huws and McCann. They will not be short in that area with Alex Gilbey having arrived from Colchester and Danny Whitehead from Macclesfield. However, neither has the experience  at Championship level of Huws and McCann:  they are clearly players for the future.

If Latics can sell Huws for a price close to that they paid Manchester City a couple of years ago they will almost certainly do so. It would not only bring in revenue but they would be shedding another player on the level of the Championship salaries during the Rosler era. But questions remain over fans’ support for the player in the aftermath of Caldwell’s  previous comments. Moreover statements made by the player during his time at Huddersfield hardly improved Wigan fan views of him.

However, Huws has the potential to be a top player. He is tough in the tackle, with a high workrate, a great left foot, strong on taking set pieces. Together with the likes of Max Power he could form a formidable central midfield for Latics.

If Caldwell really were willing to bury the hatchet with Emyr Huws would the majority of supporters get behind the player? He is still only 22 years old and represents one of the club’s most potentially valuable assets. Moreover with another full season under his belt, injuries notwithstanding, he would surely be in the shop window for the big clubs.

Put simply, are Latics willing to take a gamble on Huws? Then how about Gomez and Osman?

A busy week ahead for Caldwell in the transfer market

Will Jordi Gomez be willing to take a pay cut to rejoin Latics?

Will Jordi Gomez be willing to take a pay cut to rejoin Latics?

 “We tried to sign players last year who would not only do well in League One, but who were really Championship quality and I’ve got real confidence that they’ll be able to do a job at this level.”

So said Gary Caldwell, giving a public show of support to the players he signed. But the question is: how many of them will be a success in the Championship?

One player who has been a success in that division is Jordi Gomez. He was voted Player of the Season for Latics in 2013-14 after scoring 11 goals in 43 appearances. Gomez had received a similar award at Swansea in 2008-09, when the Welsh club was in the Championship division.

Rumours of a return for Gomez surfaced several weeks ago, but Gary Caldwell has now confirmed it as a possibility. However, whilst being keen on a return for the Catalan the manager stated through Wigan Today that “If it doesn’t make sense financially, then we’re not going to do it. We have to work within certain budgets, and we have done that.”

Should Gomez return he will have to take a sizeable pay cut. He is on Premier League wages at Sunderland and any offer from Latics is likely to fall short even of the figure he had been on when he left Wigan in the summer of 2014. However, it could be that Sunderland are willing to continue to pay Gomez a fraction of his wages for the coming season in a bid to move him on.

In his heart of hearts Caldwell surely knows that some of his current squad will fall short in the higher division. With the players due back for training in just over a week he will be keen to finalise deals for new players who he believes can be successful in the Championship. But his problem is doing so within a tight budget for a wage bill that will not be supported by parachute payments a year from now.

One year contracts for experienced players in their thirties is a viable option, providing Caldwell can beat off opposition from other clubs willing to offer contracts of longer duration or of more money. The latest rumour is that Latics are looking at the 35 year old Leon Osman, released by Everton.

Transfer rumours abound at this time of year and it is never easy to sift through them to ascertain which are realistic. However, given Latics’ recruitment policy it is unlikely that they will look at signing two other Sunderland players whose names have been mentioned through the social media. Caldwell will be searching for another centre forward but is unlikely to be able offer the right kind of terms for Danny Graham (30) or Steven Fletcher (29).

Last season’s recruitment process involved largely focusing on players out of contract or available at knock-down prices. Indeed the Player of the Season, David Perkins, was recruited when his contract with Blackpool terminated. Moreover Max Power, who finished in second place in the voting, was also a free agent although Latics had to pay compensation to Tranmere Rovers because of his age. Rumours suggest that Latics are currently interested in free agents John McGinn (23, right back, Dundee), Curtis Nelson (25, central defender, Plymouth Argyle) and Alex Gilbey (21, midfielder, Colchester United).

However, David Sharpe has backed Caldwell in paying serious money when a player has become available who could serve the club for years to come. Around £900,000 was spent on Will Grigg and £600,000 for Yanic Wildschut, both in their early to mid-twenties. Latics have reputedly made bids over £500,000 for 25 year old Barnsley midfielder Conor Hourihane and 28 year old Aberdeen winger Jonny Hayes. The latter would be a surprise, given the player’s age.

Last summer Caldwell had a budget advantage over rival managers in League 1. The reverse is the case this summer, with so many Championship clubs having parachute payments exceeding those of Latics in terms of size and longevity. Moreover the budget that Caldwell has is not sustainable beyond one more year.

Caldwell and his recruitment team will continue to focus on picking up younger players who are out of contract or available at bargain prices. But funds will be available for signing young players who represent good value for the future and can add value in the coming season. Caldwell will also ensure that an age balance is maintained by bringing in quality players in the latter stages of their careers on shorter contracts.

We can expect Caldwell to be increasingly active in the transfer market over the coming week as the pre-season training date comes closer and closer.