Garry Cook and the next chapter for Wigan Athletic

“I was both honoured and delighted to be asked to be part of the team developing the next chapter for Wigan Athletic. Returning to the UK and football was a careful decision and had to include supporting a chairman with a high level of ambition and enthusiasm to build the club for future success.”

Garry Cook’s arrival at Wigan was a bolt out of the blue. From 2008-2011 he was CEO of Manchester City, helping transform them into a major power in European football. He may have left City under controversial circumstances, but his prior accomplishments at the club were impressive.  On his departure the chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak stated that:

On every level, the club is unrecognisable from the organisation which he inherited and our staff and supporter services, community outreach and commercial activity have seen unparalleled growth under his direction with yet more projects to be realised on the horizon.”

Cook had worked for Nike in the USA from 1996-2008, becoming head of the “Brand Jordan” project alongside basketball mega-star Michael Jordan. On joining Manchester City in May 2008 he was given an annual salary in the region of £1.5 m. In September 2012 Cook was appointed Executive Vice President and Managing Director of Europe, Middle East and Africa for the mixed martial arts organisation, UFC. He rose to the position of Chief Global Brand Officer. He left UFC in October 2016 following a series of staffing cuts.

Cook is a highly experienced executive, used to working on a large scale, with equally large budgets. Put simply, why would he get involved with Latics?

According to the club site Cook is to be a non-executive director, assisting part-time, “helping the Board of Directors with strategic planning and long term objectives”. But what does that really mean? When Cook refers to “developing the next chapter for Wigan Athletic”, what is he referring to?

Even to the impartial observer, Cook’s appointment would appear to be a win-win for Wigan Athletic. Given a seeming reluctance to pay top whack to people involved in the running of the club, it is unlikely that Cook will receive the level of remuneration to which he has been accustomed, even allowing for the fact that it is a part-time position. However, following a six year absence from English football Cook might well want to get his foot back in the door, foresaking his normal monetary expectations. But what can we expect from Cook?

If Cook is given a fair crack of the whip – “if” being the operative word – we can expect some changes in the strategic direction of a club that has had too many ups and downs since that eventful day in May 2013. The turnover of managers in the past four years has been disturbing. That of players even more so.

Last season Wigan Athletic had the biggest turnover of players of any club in English football’s four divisions, mirroring what has happened too often in  recent years. Over those years the choice of managers has been haphazard, the more successful ones being sacked so little time after doing so well. Others have been appointed that the discerning fan could see were ill-suited from Day 1. Player recruitment has been an area of great concern. Too much money has been spent on players who have not made the grade, sometimes not entirely their fault. Long term contracts have been offered to players past their best, seemingly up-and-coming signings have so often disappeared from view. In a business sense the dealings in the transfer market, including money paid to agents, have left much to be desired.

Given this backdrop, Cook’s input would surely be valuable. Cook was heavily involved in player recruitment at City, albeit on an elevated plane, but he also had a major input on infrastructure and the commercial side. Even when Latics were in the Premier League commercial revenues  were low compared with other clubs in the division. They remain so. In terms of infrastructure, the development of an academy, potentially capable of providing players for the senior squad, remains a work in progress. The club’s purchase of the Charnock Richard golf course was upstaged by the Whelan family’s  acquisition of the ex-Bolton Wanderers training facility at Euxton. The club owns neither its main training ground nor it stadium.

When Dave Whelan took over the club in 1995 his vision of Wigan Athletic being in the Premier League was to provide direction for the club in the years that followed. Following the FA Cup win and relegation there has been no overriding direction. Put simply, the club needs to come to terms as to what it is and what it could be. A clearly defined, well -articulated vision for the future could provide the driving force for improvement in the operations of the club.

Garry Cook clearly has a lot of nous to bring to the table of the Wigan Athletic Board of Directors. However, it should be noted that Cook was appointed  at City by Thaksin Shinawatra and was instrumental in bringing in Sheikh Mansour’s money to buy the club, in poor financial shape at the time, for a figure around £150 m.

Latics supporters continue to speculate on the influence that Cook will have on the club. Is he there to provide the kinds of ideas that can move the club forward, developing  a strategic plan? Or is he there to make the club more marketable, then find suitable future investors? Is it a signal that the Whelan dynasty is nearing its end?

In the meantime we can but ponder on what the next chapter for Wigan Athletic enabled by Cook might be.

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Jack Byrne –the best of the January 2017 signings?

 

Warren Joyce must have been looking forward to the January transfer window. It presented him with the opportunity to bring in his own men. Joyce had been appointed in early November to take over a squad used to playing possession football under their previous manager. Joyce was determined to change that approach to a more direct style of play.

But by the time the window had opened he had won just one of the nine games he had been in charge. Getting the right players in during the January window was never going to be easy. Clubs are not keen to lose key players in mid-season and the pickings in January tend to be thin.

Joyce went on to contract six new players, plus another seven on loan. He had a fair amount to say about the new arrivals, but his words about Jack Byrne were kept to a minimum:

“Jack is one for the long-term, a really hungry player who we feel can develop here over the next few seasons, a real talent.”

It was almost as if he was playing down Byrne’s signing, although the player had been given a three and a half year contract and had excellent reviews as a young player at Manchester City. The sale of Byrne did not go down well with quite a few City fans, frustrated that another talented young player coming through the ranks had been sold off. The transfer fee was of the “undisclosed” category, but City were unlikely to let the player go for peanuts. They had sold another talented young player to Latics a couple of years earlier. Wigan paid them around £2.5 m for Emyr Huws, who was 20 at the time. City would expect something substantial for Byrne, also 20.

One wonders if Joyce himself was responsible for Byrne’s signing or whether it was someone else within the club. Patrick Vieira, Manchester City youth team coach, had said a year ago that: “If you want to play direct, Jack will be useless but if you want to keep the ball on the floor, and you need someone really creative, Jack will be the player who can do that.” Joyce’s preferred playing style was certainly “direct”.

Byrne did not set foot on the pitch for the senior team during Joyce’s reign which was prematurely terminated in mid-March. But he does seem to feature in Graham Barrow’s thinking, having come on off the bench in the recent wins over Rotherham and Barnsley.

Born in Dublin, Jack Byrne joined Manchester City as a 14 year old. Byrne has played for the Republic of Ireland at U17,U18 and U21 levels. In 2014-15 he was a key player in a  Manchester City team that reached the quarter finals of the UEFA Youth League, scoring 6 goals in 8 appearances, including two against Bayern Munich.

Last season Byrne was sent to Cambuur to play in the Dutch Eredivisie. He made his debut in mid-September against FC Twente after a 6 week layoff due to an ankle injury.

The Irish site SportsJoe spoke to the Chairman of  De Kern van Cambuur (the Cambuur Supporters Club), Kees Elzinga. Referring to Byrne he commented:

Jack reminds me of the Welsh player Gareth Bale but he could probably learn a lot from Wesley Sneijder is mostly playing midfield and is able to give long distance passes to his left and right wing teammates. He also tries to get forward and threaten the goal of the opponent and he tries to score with long distance shots. Jack is well known in our Premier League; Dutch television (mostly FOX Sport) shows quite a lot of his actions and other teams do their best to keep him out of the play.”

 

Byrne went on to play 27 games for the Dutch team, scoring four goals.

Following a successful season in Holland, Byrne was sent on a season-long loan to Blackburn Rovers  last summer. It turned out to be a bad move for him as Owen Coyle so often left him out of the lineup. Byrne’s loan was cut short and he returned to Manchester City in early January.

Wigan Athletic have been desperately short of creativity this season. Jordi Gomez was too often sidelined before leaving in January. Both Nick Powell and Alex Gilbey had long spells out through injury. Byrne appeared late in the 85th minute against Rotherham, but was brought on after 54 minutes against Barnsley. His Wigan Athletic career has now been kick started.

Of all the January signings Byrne was perhaps the least heralded. But given his talent he will surely play a key creative role for Latics over the coming season, if properly nurtured. He has the ability to become a top player. Only time will tell if he proves to be the best of the January 2017 signings.


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A Doncaster fan’s view of Reece Wabara

Reece Wabara. Photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Reece Wabara.
Photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Yesterday Wigan Athletic announced the signing of 24 year old Reece Wabara. He has signed a short term contract to the end of the current season. He was a free agent, his contract at Barnsley having expired at the end of December.

The 5 ft 11 12 in defender was born in Bromsgrove and played at Walsall’s School of Excellence until joining Manchester City as a 15 year old. He became captain of the City under 16 team and progressed to become a regular starter in their Elite Development Squad. Wabara made a first team debut for City in the last match of the 2010-11 season, coming on a substitute for Pablo Zabaleta against Bolton Wanderers. He left City by mutual consent in April 2014.

During his time with City Wabara had loan spells at Ipswich, Oldham, Blackpool and Doncaster. He was to return to Doncaster on a short term contract after leaving Manchester City. He made 43 appearances for Rovers in 2014-15, before moving on to another short term contract at Barnsley, where he made 19 appearances.

Wabara clearly looks an excellent signing for Gary Caldwell who has been anxious to strengthen the problematic right back/right wing back position.

In order to learn more about Wabara we contacted the Doncaster Rovers unofficial twitter fan site (@Donny_Rovers).

Here’s over to them:

Football is in Reece Wabara’s blood; his uncle is the former Rangers’ icon Mark Walters. Unlike his uncle, Reece is more of an attacking fullback rather than an attacking midfielder. However, this hasn’t stopped him from posing a similar attacking threat. Furthermore, he is a very versatile player that has been deployed as a right-back, centre-back and even right winger during his time at Rovers.

The first time I saw Wabara play was actually for Oldham Athletic against my Rovers and on that day he was fantastic; marauding down the right, utilising his pace and strength to power past our left back on the overlap. Back then he was a young and raw footballer but nowadays his performances are more measured. Since his Oldham performance I have witnessed him playing over 50 times for Rovers, once on loan and once as a permanent signing. Despite his final ball being much improved and racking up a few assists, he still doesn’t have enough final product to be a championship level player, scoring only 2 goals in his entire professional career.

Although, I must admit he is definitely a decent acquisition at this level as he retains possession well and is good on the ball. Where Reece falls down most is defensively; as a one on one defender he is quite poor and his positioning is often questionable. Luckily, his blistering pace is a useful tool to have in these scenarios and I, myself, have witnessed him recover well from many predicaments he’s left himself in.

In terms of attitude, he seems like a genuine bloke and a hard worker that wouldn’t upset or destabilise the dressing room; then again, he didn’t endear himself to any Rovers fans when he slated the club’s ambition (having left us) in an interview for our South Yorkshire rivals Barnsley. So don’t be surprised if he doesn’t sign a long term deal at the end of the season.

All in all, I wouldn’t mind seeing him back at Donny, if it weren’t for his comments, because he is definitely a good squad player to have in this division. The reason I say squad player and not first team player is because against the top teams I’d be tempted to put in a more defensively minded player. Plus, who’s to say he won’t develop into an even better player than he already is as after all, he is only 24.

Fan views – Part 1: Yanic Wildschut and Jordy Hiwula

Given that we now have a wider readership than in our earlier days we will occasionally republish articles from our archives, that some may not have seen. We ask our long-established readers will bear with us on this. We will continue to put out our stream of current articles.

Our site stats have shown that our readership has been particularly interested in perspectives of Latics players from fans of their previous clubs. Thanks to contributions made by bloggers on the fan sites of those clubs for these articles from our archives.

Yanic Wildschut – a Middlesbrough fan’s view

wildschut

Written by: Robert Nichols, Fly Me To The Moon fanzine fmttm.com.

Date: October 2, 2105.

 

 

Yanic Wildschut is the kind of player that draws the fans to games. He is fast, strong, powerful and direct. 

 When I say he is fast, let me qualify that by saying Yanic wears athletes compression socks under his football socks. He can give defenders ten yards start and tear past them. A good span of games at Wigan will help him sort out his weak spot, the finished product. Although get him running into the box and it doesn’t matter what he does with his final delivery he will cause mayhem and bag free kicks and penalties by the bucket load.

 If defenders can knock him off the ball. He is, as they used to say in Mark Lawrenson circles, a very big unit.

 Wildcshut has been desperately unlucky at Boro. He helped destroy Oldham away in the 1st round of the League cup. He scored a superb break away goal and was generally far too hot for the other Latics to handle. His promotion to first team action was only a matter of time and indeed we saw more of the same from him at home to Bristol City. Every time he got the ball and went on the run Bristol City were running scared. Yanic was subbed at half time in a tactical switch to allow Stewy Downing to go wide. It didn’t work but we have such a surplus of good wide players, wingers and overlapping full backs that no less than three are out on loan at present. 

 It was expected that Albert Adomah would be leaving but he settled his differences with the manager yet in the meantime we had brought in a talented Uruguayan called De Pena. Thus Carayol, Adam Reach and Wildschut have been allowed on loan. They need first team football rather than Development side starts.

 Wildschut’s debut was as sub at Anfield in the League Cup last season. He was thrown on as a centre forward. And he caused Liverpool threats running through the centre. He scored in League action in a win away at Rotherham. But needs more starts to get consistency.

I would be very excited right now if I was a Wigan fan. Wildschut will destroy defences with pace. He might need a few games to find a level of consistency to impact through 90 minutes. But he is worth the wait because he can split and sprint through a defence in a minute.

Watch him go. And watch Yanic grow.

 

 

Jordy’s arrival at Banks’s Stadium was greeted with something of a whimper, he’d had an nine game, almost goal-less loan spell with Yeovil Town which gave the impression of a player that wasn’t about to turn our campaign around.

However just three minutes into his debut Jordy proved all the doubters wrong as he slotted home, helping the Saddlers to a 2-0 win over Doncaster Rovers.

Following several solid displays Jordy went on to have his initial one-month loan deal extended to the end of the campaign and finished with nine goals in twenty appearances, including netting twice against Crawley Town and Bristol City.

Jordy is a very capable player, with bags of pace and, given the right formation will surely be a good acquisition for the Latics.

Click here to get a Manchester City view on Hiwula via the Huddersfield Daily Examiner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jordy Hiwula – a Walsall fan’s view

Hiwula

 

Wigan Athletic have announced the arrival of 20 year old striker Jordy Hiwula from Huddersfield Town on a season-long loan.

Jordy Hiwula-Mayifuila is a Mancunian who came through the Manchester City youth system. In 2013-14 he scored 20 goals in 31 appearances for City’s development squad, leading to him signing a two year contract at the end of the season.

In October 2014 he joined Yeovil Town on a three month loan, but he returned to City at the end of November having scored one goal in nine appearances for the Somerset club. Hiwula was to comment “I enjoyed my first spell with Yeovil and even though I don’t think I did that well. I learned a lot because it was the first time I’d been away from home and also played senior football, all of which made the second spell that much better.”

In February 2015 Hiwula joined Walsall on a one month loan. He scored after just three minutes in his first appearance, a 2-0 win at Doncaster. Hiwula’s loan was extended for another month after he had scored a couple more goals. He scored again in a 1-0 win over Yeovil in early March, later to come on as a substitute for Tom Bradshaw in the Football League Trophy final, which saw Walsall defeated 2-0 by Bristol City. Hiwula’s loan had been extended until the end of the season. He had scored 9 goals in 17 starts and two appearances off the bench for the Saddlers.

In July 2015 Hiwula signed a three year contract for Huddersfield Town for an undisclosed fee. He made his debut for the Terriers as a 65th minute substitute in a League Cup game against Notts County.

Hiwula has represented England at both under 18 and under 19 levels.

In order to find out more about Hiwula’s time at Walsall we reached out to the BescotBanter.net fan site (@BescotBanter). Our thanks to them for the fan’s view that follows:

Jordy’s arrival at Banks’s Stadium was greeted with something of a whimper, he’d had an nine game, almost goal-less loan spell with Yeovil Town which gave the impression of a player that wasn’t about to turn our campaign around.

However just three minutes into his debut Jordy proved all the doubters wrong as he slotted home, helping the Saddlers to a 2-0 win over Doncaster Rovers.

Following several solid displays Jordy went on to have his initial one-month loan deal extended to the end of the campaign and finished with nine goals in twenty appearances, including netting twice against Crawley Town and Bristol City.

Jordy is a very capable player, with bags of pace and, given the right formation will surely be a good acquisition for the Latics.

 

 

Click here to get a Manchester City view on Hiwula via the Huddersfield Daily Examiner.