Caldwell’s Christmas Shopping List

shopping

Time is marching on and the January transfer window is creeping up on us.

Gary Caldwell has worked wonders so far in the transfer market, his dealings having kept Latics balance sheet out of the red. Moreover he has put together a squad strong enough to reach a playoff position by early November, despite their underperformance in the FA and League Cups.

Gaining promotion must be Caldwell’s main priority, despite the debacle at Bury on Saturday.  It was interesting to see that three of the four teams above Latics in the League 1 table – Gillingham, Burton Albion and Coventry City also suffered ignominious defeats in the FA Cup this past weekend.

Caldwell will go into the January market with limited funds available for transfers and will be constrained by the club’s salary policy. That will rule out higher profile signings Once again Caldwell will be looking out for bargain buys whose salary demands are realistic.

Latics currently stand in 5th place in League 1, only five points from the top two teams, Gillingham and Burton Albion. If they can continue in this vein they will be in a good position to mount a realistic promotion challenge. Moreover Caldwell has the chance to bring in new blood to cover the squad’s weaker areas through the transfer window.

By January the futures of short-term loanees Francisco Junior, Donald Love, Sean Murray and Yanic Wildschut will have been determined. Despite his talent Murray has yet to shine at Wigan and unless he can really force his way back into the team with some outstanding performances it looks like he will be returning to Watford. However, there are ten league fixtures on hand until Murray’s loan period is due to end in mid-January. Time remains for Murray to make an impression.

Junior remains inconsistent and his fitness a concern. At his best he can influence the course of a game, his positional and passing abilities adding an extra dimension to Latics’ play. But he has failed to establish himself as a regular starter and has been frequently substituted when he has started. Junior continues to adapt to the physicality of life in League 1. He can rush into rash challenges and can be outmuscled by bigger opponents. So many fans will be hoping Junior will stay. At his best he can look a class above League 1, but he has yet to fully convince Caldwell, and if even if he does there is the matter of dealing with Everton over his future.

Love is only 20 years old and is one for the future. He has the attributes to become a good full back, but like many young players at big clubs, his long-term chances at Manchester United are limited. Caldwell paid United around £1m for Reece James. Would he and David Sharpe be willing to fork out another significant transfer fee to land another Old Trafford youngster who has potential, but has little experience outside the youth and development squad levels?

Although his recent performances might have been less convincing Wildschut has made a great impression since arriving at Wigan on a two month loan from Middlesbrough. The Dutchman has had a frustrating career, seeming to promise so much but so often lacking vision in his delivery. However, his pace is electric and he has the physical presence to not easily be knocked off the ball. The other League 1 managers may seek to nullify his influence by assigning multiple markers but this will serve to create space for other Wigan players. The questions to be asked are whether Wildschut’s early form was a flash in the pan and whether Middlesbrough would be willing to release him. Caldwell will be keen to keep the player whose sheer pace and directness can cause panic in opposition defences.

So what are the areas that need strengthening?

Grant Holt’s departure on a short term loan to Wolves leaves Caldwell with just two target men to play up front, Craig Davies and Will Grigg. Should Holt’s time at Wolves not be extended Latics will look towards offloading his salary on another Championship side until his contract terminates in summer. Should Holt not return we can expect Caldwell to look for another front man in the January window.

Much will depend on decisions yet to be taken on the players who have come in on loan. However, there remains the possibility that Latics will continue their efforts in shedding players on Championship level salaries.

Chris McCann continues to command a place in the starting lineup and his ability to play in the back three or midfield allows Caldwell the possibility of changing his team’s shape during a game without making substitutions. The manager clearly likes to play McCann in the back three, where his distribution from the back adds an extra dimension. However, critics will say that the Irishman is not a natural defender and is not assertive enough within his own penalty area. Many would prefer to see Jason Pearce return to that position on the left in the back line trio. However, Pearce is another who signed a contract while Latics were in the Championship. Moreover he has not even featured on the bench recently. Leon Barnett is now back on the bench after regaining his place for a while.

The situation with loan players and those on higher salaries will surely be the subject of much review by Caldwell and his coaching staff over the next couple of months. However, Caldwell might want to consider bringing in a couple of players in the central defence and holding midfield who can add an extra touch of steel.

Given the style of play based on aerial bombardment favoured by so many League 1 teams a big, rugged central defender who is strong in the air would give Caldwell extra options. Someone of the ilk of Harry Maguire would seem to fit the bill. Moreover a combative holding midfielder who can be brought on when the going gets tough would also aid Latics’ cause. Perhaps someone who can perform the same kind of role that Graham Kavanagh fulfilled in Paul Jewell’s Championship promotion team?

January might well be another busy time for incomings and outgoings at Wigan Athletic.

 

The Jettisoning to continue

jettison

The term “jettison” dates back to the early days of aviation, when goods were cast overboard to lighten the load and make an aeroplane more stable.

Jettisoning goods comes at a cost, but stability is necessary for survival.

The imminent departure of both James Tavernier and Martyn Waghorn from Wigan Athletic will be no surprise. They will be following in the paths of former teammates Scott Carson, Andy Delort, Rob Kiernan, James McClean, and Oriol Riera. All jettisoned in the quest to bring the wage bill down to a level more appropriate to a club that is to play in League 1.

Of the seven mentioned above only McClean fetched a transfer fee of note. The combined sales of Delort and Riera probably brought in around 20% of the revenues used to initially sign them. The rumours that Tavernier and Waghorn are to be sold for a joint fee of only £300,000 have come as a bit if a shock to fans, but could well be based on the truth.

Wigan Athletic had 18 senior squad players under contract to 2016 or beyond when last season concluded. Assuming the sale of Tavernier and Waghorn will go ahead they will have jettisoned seven of the eighteen. In return eight new players have been recruited – Donervon Daniels, Craig Davies, Will Grigg, Craig Morgan, Sanmi Odelusi, Richard O’Donnell, David Perkins and Max Power.

Certainly the departure of the seven has provided a means of making way for new players coming in. But it is not the number of players under contract that is the crucial issue at the moment, but more the need to get the highest wage earners off the books. Eleven players remain from last season, some are younger players on more manageable salaries, but the majority will be receiving Championship-level wages.

Over the coming weeks we can expect the departures of the likes of Leon Barnett, Chris McCann, James Perch and Andrew Taylor. All are marketable, being experienced Championship players who have Premier League experience. Significantly neither Barnett not McCann has enjoyed much playing time so far in the pre-season.

Don Cowie and Emyr Huws are injured. It looks like Grant Holt’s return to competitive football will be no earlier than October, as he recovers from a serious ACL injury. The three can be expected to stay, at least until January.

Billy Mckay’s spectacular strike against Altrincham brought positive comments from Gary Caldwell which implied that the Northern Ireland international might stay after all. It looked like David Ball was going to sign, but the player has now gone off for a trial at Barnsley. Maybe it is not only Mckay’s superbly taken goal, but also the situation with Ball, that has swayed Caldwell. However, Caldwell’s talk might well be window dressing, with Dundee United keen to acquire Mckay’s services. Given the woeful lack of opportunity the player has been given since his arrival from Inverness in January, who could blame him for wanting to return to the rich pastures of the SPL where he previously thrived?

What we are witnessing at the moment is a major reengineering of a playing staff and a wage structure. Many fans will argue that Latics have let go players of genuine quality who can do a good job at Championship level or higher. Moreover they have let them go for a pittance in terms of potential transfer value.

There remained a possibility of retaining some of those players, taking the risk in absorbing their “high” salaries, in a bid to get promotion back to the Championship at the first attempt. It was indeed a viable option, but fate has decreed that other higher earners will remain because of injuries. In the case of Huws it could be a blessing in disguise providing the player can rid himself of a possibly career-threatening ankle problem. Given Holt’s age, his serious injury and the abuse he has taken from fans, one wonders if he can make any impact on the season. However, Holt is a resilient character and can never be counted out.

Although the restructuring is largely based on financial parameters there also remains an element of “clearing out the dead wood” from a squad that hugely underachieved last season.  Moreover a wholesale clear-out gives the new manager the opportunity to largely work with his own men.

Caldwell has already imposed his stamp on the style of football the team is playing, which could already be described as “Martinez-esque”. However, Caldwell has already used different formations in pre-season, 4-3-3, 3-4-3 and 3-5-2. It provides the kind of flexibility that was not the norm under Martinez, although Uwe Rosler used it to effect. By varying his tactical approach from game to game, Caldwell will make it difficult for the opposition to stifle a Latics side that will not have the pure style of the Martinez era, but will seek a blend between style and effectiveness. Like Rosler the Scot will also employ the option of changing the formation as the game progresses.

Up to this point Caldwell and his recruitment team have scoured the market for bargains, making a major financial outlay in the reported £1m paid for Will Grigg. That is likely to largely remain the pattern for the acquisition of further players, although there probably remains another £2m in the coffers from outgoing transfers that can be used to make a couple more big signings.

Reports suggest that Sam Clucas of Chesterfield remains on Caldwell’s radar and he is likely to cost in excess of £1m. Moreover Caldwell will almost certainly need a new right back and Swindon’s Nathan Byrne, 23,  could fit the bill, at a price. In the meantime he will look at signing more free agents, such as the 32 year old Kevin McNaughton, ex-Cardiff City, and a full back who can also play in midfield. Rumours have also linked Latics with the ex-Everton 21 year old holding midfielder John Lundstram and 26 year old winger Paul Anderson from Ipswich.

The jettisoning will continue, with at least three more of last year’s squad likely to leave.  In the meantime Caldwell will continue to meld together his much changed squad, liberally sprinkled with bargain basement signings. With less than three weeks to go before the start of the season he faces a considerable challenge in inculcating his style of football into players who will be largely unfamiliar to it.

 

Goalscoring drought to end against Derby?

George Graham once said: “The goalkeeper is the jewel in the crown and getting at him should be almost impossible. It’s the biggest sin in football to make him do any work.”

His comment reflects the old adage that if the opposition doesn’t score then you don’t lose. But what Graham did not mention is the corollary “If you don’t score you can’t win.”

Wigan Athletic have failed to score in four of their last five home games. All four ended up in defeats. In fact their home record this season of W2 D8 L10 is arguably the worst in the club’s history. They have not won a single home game since Malky Mackay’s arrival in November.

Despite the lack of goals in those home games, Mackay has stuck to the same formula. A 4-4-2 system that is attacking in intent, but ineffective in its execution. Too often the central strikers have not looked remotely like scoring a goal and the wide men have not only been poor in their delivery but also negligent in their defensive duties. The best wide man, James McClean, who both attacks and defends with gusto, has been largely played out of position as a central striker. One can only hope that Mackay will let the Irishman play what will most probably his final six games at Wigan in his natural position.

The 4-4-2 formation has just not worked in home games, but Mackay has stuck with it. On his arrival he had played with a lone centre forward system, which many fans thought was attributing to a low scoring record. Perhaps Mackay’s main concession to the fans was to introduce the 4-4-2 for which many canvassed through the message boards and social media.

However, with just two men in central midfield Latics have too often been outnumbered by the opposition. Moreover the repeated failure of wide men to provide adequate defensive cover has left the defence too often open to counterattacks. Two of the wide men Mackay has used are still novices in first team football, young players learning their trade. Joining a team in a relegation struggle is far from ideal for either them or the club.

Derby County come to the DW Stadium hungry for points following a disappointing run of results. Having been challenging for an automatic promotion spot they now find themselves struggling to maintain a place in the playoff zone, currently occupying sixth position on goal difference ahead of Ipswich and Wolves.

The run has coincided with the absence of leading scorer Chris Martin, although he made a comeback as a substitute in their 2-2 draw against 10 man Watford on Good Friday. It looks like he will make the starting lineup tomorrow.

Derby coach Paul Simpson has let it be known that he expects it to be a scrappy game tomorrow. Given the recent state of the DW pitch and that there was a rugby game on it on Friday he is likely to be right. Derby are a footballing side who resist the long ball that can be the wont of too many Championship teams.They will find the pitch frustrating. But so too will Wigan.

The bad state of the pitch can hardly have helped Wigan Athletic over recent weeks. The old phrase “It’s the same for both teams” rings true in many ways, but to play on a surface like that regularly surely wears you down. So often this season we have seen experienced and capable players fail to control a ball or make an accurate pass. Much of that in the past was down to a lack of confidence in a team with low morale. Now the pitch also plays a part.

Is Mackay capable of making a paradigm shift in terms of his tactics and personnel at this late stage of the season?

The midfield needs to be stiffened up with an extra player if Derby are going to be denied possession. William Kvist surely deserves a place in the starting lineup. Chris McCann is almost a forgotten man but was a lychpin of Rosler’s success last season. Providing he is over his injury niggles he could have an important role to play. A trio of Kvist, McCann and Kim Bo Kyung could provide the balance needed to counteract a strong Derby midfield. Emmerson Boyce has given his all in recent games, but needs a rest. James Perch would drop back to replace him.

McClean should be played in his natural position on the wing and Martyn Waghorn might finally get the nod from Mackay to team up with the controversial MAF.

Whether the unbending Mackay is up to such changes is open to debate. The worst case scenario is that he continues with the same formula that has not worked at the DW for months.

A win tomorrow would put Latics back into contention. A draw or defeat would be a sign that relegation is around the corner.

Watford (A) aftermath – how can Malky stop the rot?

Chris McCann's 45th minute goal gave Latics hope, but sloppy defence was their downfall.

Chris McCann’s 45th minute goal gave Latics hope, but sloppy defence was their downfall.

Another defeat by a single goal. The Darkside pessimists had suggested that Latics would get badly beaten at Watford. That was not the case, but it is another bad result for Malky Mackay. He has an unenviable record for a new manager of one point gained in four games in charge. Can Mackay turn things around or are Latics heading for League 1?

Seeing the lineup for today’s match gave many of us a sense of foreboding. Not a single recognized central striker on the field, but two on the bench. Was Mackay planning to keep things tight and maybe steal it from a set piece?

In the event Mackay chose to deploy James McClean in the lone striker role. McClean’s strengths are his energy and his pace, but finishing is not his forte. Has the manager already written off the other strikers at the club when he has not seen most of them play in the Championship during his time at the club? Andy Delort might well think that. The Frenchman was brought on in the 86th minute. It would seem rather late but at least it was two minutes earlier than his entrance against Norwich. It can hardly be good for the player’s self -confidence.

Once again Mackay relied on the old guard, shunning the Rosler signings with the exception of Don Cowie and Andrew Taylor who played for him at the two clubs he previously managed. Up to this point it is not bearing fruit and the fans’ patience is wearing thin.

Fans who had been unhappy about Uwe Rosler’s team selections and formations are now seeing a similar pattern with Mackay. Many will say that nothing seems to have changed since Mackay arrived. The team is playing in the same way as before so what was the point of dismissing Rosler? The central striker has continued to be “lone” in the true sense of the word and sloppy defence has given away games which Latics might have won.

In 2012 Wolves had come down to the Championship division after three years in the Premier League. Over the summer they had sold Steven Fletcher (£14m) and Matt Jarvis (£11m) and paid around £2.4m for Bjorn Siguroarson, £2.7m for Bakary Sakho and £2m for Tongo Doumbia. Stale Solbakken had been brought in as manager.

By early October Wolves were in third place, with promotion looking within their grasp. Keen to get rid of the culture remaining from the days of Mick McCarthy as manager, Solbakken had sought empower the players. However, over the next three months Wolves started to drop down the table. There was a lack of discipline, training had become less than stimulating and the manager was largely unprepared to read the riot act when things went wrong on the field of play. Solbakken was sacked in early January after his team got knocked out of the FA Cup by non-league Luton. Dean Saunders was appointed to become Wolves’ fourth manager in twelve months, but he was unable to stop the slide and a 23rd place finish saw them relegated.

What happened to Wolves is a sobering prospect for Wigan Athletic followers. The situations differ but there are certain parallels. Unlike Wolves being relegated in their first season back in the Championship, Latics did well. Reaching the playoffs, the FA Cup semi-final and being robbed of progress in the Europa League by a dubious refereeing decision was quite an achievement. However, the rot was setting in in the latter stages of last season and it has continued up to now. Wolves had a wage bill of £25m with lots of players seasoned in the Premier League, but could not hack it in the Championship. Changing managers did not help Wolves, as Saunders could not better Solbakken in terms of results. Latics fans will be hoping that is not going to be the case with Mackay following Rosler.

In March 2013 ex-Wolves winger and BBC pundit Steve Froggatt was quoted as saying: “The team had been on an irreversible slide for a long period of time and Deano had identified what needed changing. I think the board must have thought: ‘If we can get by to the end of this season, then we’ll rebuild for next.’ But having seen the team all year, they should have seen that it was bereft of confidence and ideas. It’s almost that they’ve now decided to bring in one or two players well after the horse has bolted.”

It is to be hoped that Dave Whelan will take note of the board’s fateful decisions at Wolves. Mackay has already talked about offloading players in the January transfer window and bringing in at least a couple of new ones. More than anything else Mackay needs to build an organizational culture upon which he can bring things forward. Each of the previous managers – Martinez, Coyle and Rosler – had their own ideas about how football should be played. There has not only been turnover at managerial level but also in coaching and support staff. Latics are once again in the midst of a culture change within the club.

The result at Watford could have been a lot worse. Moreover Latics had been the more dominant team in the second half until sloppy defence enabled the Hornets’ winner after 82 minutes. But it is yet another defeat.

Mackay has hardly impressed in his brief stay up to this point. However, changing the mentality of a group of players who have got used to not winning is not an easy matter. It is going to take time. It is to be hoped that arrivals and departures over the January transfer window will catalyse the change in culture that Mackay seeks.

In the meantime we will have to see if Mackay will continue to rely on an old guard which has largely let him down.

Players who don’t seem to care – Norwich (H) match reaction

Can Mackay turn it around?

Can Mackay turn it around?

Over the years we have seen some abject performances from Latics with woeful scorelines. Too often when they were in the Premier League they would play a top of the table team and hold their own until the opponents scored their first goal. The confidence would sag and the legs would start to go. The exertion required to hold back the tide had taken too much out of the players, both physically and mentally. It almost looked like the players didn’t seem to care. It was akin to capitulation.

But those players did care. It was a learning experience for so many of them, but they would bounce back and get the most amazing results against those same elite clubs. One always felt with Roberto Martinez that he was trying to do something special, despite the very limited resources he had to work with. It was the mental side of things that he was building up. The players had to be mentally tough to compete against teams with so much more individual quality than they had.

After five decades of watching Latics I have rarely felt as depressed as I was after yesterday’s Norwich game. The stats show that Wigan committed just 5 fouls, to the Canaries’ 12. Neither side received a yellow card. Did those players really care? Where was the passion?

It was sad to see Uwe Rosler’s demise. It was inevitable, given the awful results that his team was getting this season. But Rosler at least had a vision of the kind of football he wanted, even if the players were unable or unwilling to produce it.

The football we saw yesterday was reminiscent of the worst days of Rosler’s predecessor, Owen Coyle. The goalkeeper and the defenders hoofing the ball upfield to a lone centre forward. To his credit Fortune did actually defy the odds and win some of those balls yesterday. But the possession he gained was too often squandered by teammates.

Despite his reputation as a motivational manager, Mackay was unable to motivate his players yesterday. His team selection and tactics surely did not help.

The local newspaper had got us excited about Shaun Maloney coming back after illness. When the team was announced it looked like he would play in the attacking midfield position, in front of Chris McCann and Ben Watson. But Maloney was to be confined to the left wing and James McClean occupied that role. McClean was like a fish out of water. He has a repertoire of skills,  but not those needed for that position. Maloney never got into the game and was substituted after 47 minutes.

Mackay left Emmerson Boyce on the bench and neither Gary Caldwell nor Thomas Rogne even appeared there. Instead Mackay brought in Maynor Figueroa at centre back. Figs rarely played for Latics as a centre half in a conventional back four in the Martinez days. When he did it was not particularly successful. He could be excellent playing on the left of a back line of three central defenders, but that is quite distinct from the position he played yesterday.

Mackay took most of us by surprise when he named both of the previously long-term absentees, McCann and Watson in the team to play at Sheffield. It was even more of a shock to see them paired together again yesterday. McCann had actually performed well in his first two matches, but he and Watson were unable to turn it on yesterday. The two are crucial to Latics turning the season around. Mackay is taking a gamble in playing the two so much after their long recuperations from injury. He runs the risk of losing them with their bodies taking a toll of not playing for 8-9 months.

As expected, Don Cowie made his first appearance under Mackay, who had been his manager at both Watford and Cardiff. Cowie went to right midfield where he performed as he has before in that position. Pedestrian to be sure, but Cowie will at least make the effort. The result was Callum McManaman being pushed inside and not seeming to know where he was playing.

The hard-working Fortune was taken off after 82 minutes to be replaced by Roger Espinoza. Given the insipid, characterless stuff we had seen up to that point it was a pity Espinoza had not been brought on earlier. The player has many qualities, not the least of which is to fight for the ball and run forward with enthusiasm. But, even then, he was a midfielder replacing a central striker with Latics a goal behind.

Mackay was to make his biggest gaffe of the afternoon by bringing on Andy Delort after 88 minutes for Chris McCann. Fortune can rarely be faulted for effort and he often does a remarkable job of bringing down and controlling Scott Carson’s long kicks. But he is rarely a threat to the opponents’ goal. Delort has been scoring goals for the development squad. Admittedly there is a gulf between the Final Third Development League and the Championship, but the Frenchman also has a fine goalscoring record in Ligue 2, not light years away. Bringing Delort on so late is hardly going to help his confidence.

Mackay has a difficult task ahead of him. However, for the last two games his players have not competed as they need to. Moreover he has made baffling team selections.

He needs to get his act together soon, or Latics will be in deep, deep trouble.