A murky future for Latics – a Chinese buyout or Mike Phelan?

A murky time for Wigan Athletic.


These are unsettled times at Wigan Athletic. A team that has relegation staring in its face unable or unwilling to show the urgency needed to stave it off. The departure of the Head of Football Operations with barely a murmur from the fans. A new contract for a player who has hardly made an impact this season. The Sun newspaper telling us that another of Alex Ferguson’s men could be taking over as manager. Then the blockbuster rumour that Dave Whelan is looking to sell up, with a Chinese consortium visiting the facilities at Christopher Park, Euxton and the DW Stadium.

The players are surely caught up in this too. It has been an awful season with so many of last year’s squad finding the step up to the Championship division tough.

Some will say that the squad just has not had enough quality to compete in the higher division, but there were players of flair and high technical quality there at the start of the season. Nick Powell was always going to be a risky signing, given his horrendous problems with injury in recent years, and so it has proved. Saturday’s cameo appearance shows what a difference he could have made if he could have stayed fit. Jordi Gomez was another flair player and he had a great record in the Championship division with Latics and Swansea.  Gary Caldwell used him sparingly, Warren Joyce too, being seemingly content to shunt him off to Spain in January. Joyce also lost Latics’ most dynamic player and potential match winner, Yanic Wildschut, to Norwich City’s over-generous offer in January. Alex Gilbey too had shown flair early in the season before receiving a serious injury from which it took him months to recover.

Having had to make the massive shift from the possession football of Gary Caldwell to the hoofball of Warren Joyce the players have lost much of their ability to pass and receive the ball. Moreover with the end of the season approaching and League 1 beckoning, so many will be unsettled. Until the last couple of games a willingness to fight for the cause has rarely been lacking in the players, who have suffered so many heart-breaking defeats by fine margins. The seeming lack of urgency is surely a manifestation of a feeling of insecurity for so many of them. They know that the last time Latics were relegated there was a huge exodus of players, with 22 new players coming in.  Indeed some may have already been told to start looking for another club.

Matt Jackson’s departure was labelled as “the end of a consultancy period” on the club web site. After rejoining Latics in 2011 the ex-team captain had taken over as Head of Football Operations. Interestingly the club communique tells us that Jackson had not been involved in player recruitment for the past 18 months, although he was part of the newly formed Player Recruitment Department from the summer of 2015. Jackson was heavily involved in the Latics Academy and the switch to Euxton.

The announcement of a new two year contract for another ex-captain came as a surprise to many of us. Craig Morgan was a rock upon which League 1 was won last season, but has not had an easy time this year. Injuries and an infection have limited his availability and the 31 year old has made just 12 starts and 5 substitute appearances this season.  The contracts of Jussi Jaaskelainen, David Perkins and Stephen Warnock are also due to expire in June.

Given the results it is appears more and more unlikely that Graham Barrow will continue as manager next season. Indeed there are even rumours that a new manager may be brought in before the season finishes. Doing so would give a new incumbent the opportunity to decide on contracts and the players he would like to keep.

For weeks now we have heard rumours that ex-Hibernian and Rotherham manager and Bolton and Everton player, Alan Stubbs was a frontrunner. The rumours may have been fuelled by the fact that John Doolan, who was Stubbs’ first team coach at Hibs, has already rejoined Wigan. Moreover Stubbs will have been visible watching his son, Sam, play for Latics’ youth team and development squad. However, the assertion that ex-Manchester United assistant manager, Mike Phelan, might be taking the reins has already been met with concern by fans.  It also appears that a return for Gary Caldwell is a possibility.

To add to all of this uncertainty the alleged visit of a Chinese consortium is of even more import. The visit might well be tentative, but is this an indication that the 22 year Whelan dynasty will soon come to an end?

Much has been said and written about DW’s incredible success at the club. If he had not taken over in February 1995 what would have happened? Would another buyer have come in and made the investments that Whelan made? Not likely. The club was not an attractive proposition at the time, languishing in the fourth tier with attendances so often below 2,000. Its only real asset was Springfield Park. Whelan invested  with a mission to propel his home town club into the Premier League. Estimates vary as to how much he put into Wigan Athletic, but the figure appears to be somewhere between £90 m and £100m.

The club is surely more sellable in 2017 than it was in 1995. It has a more tangible “brand” after its successes in recent years – winning the FA Cup, reaching the final of the League Cup, eight years in the Premier League. But other than its players what assets does it have? Both the DW Stadium and the Euxton facility are owned by companies linked with the Whelan family, not the club itself.

Should the Whelan legacy continue we can expect continued financial backing for the near future at least. The club will be expected to be as financially self-sufficient as possible, although achieving that whilst maintaining success on the field of play will be a challenge. Wigan Athletic’s fan base has grown to maybe five times what it was in 1995, but still does not match those of the majority of clubs in the Championship. It is more akin to those of clubs in League 1. Moreover to maintain attendance levels the club has had to resort to cut-price season tickets. Put simply, the club will not have the revenue to seriously compete, even in League 1, unless there is backing from the ownership.

However, although Dave Whelan will surely provide a buffer for the club in the near future there appears to be no way that he will be making the scale of investment he has in the past. Given the club’s current predicament it is highly unlikely that it will reach the top tier of English football again in the foreseeable future.

Eleven of the twenty four clubs in the Championship are now owned by overseas investors. Aston Villa, Birmingham City and Wolves are Chinese owned.

In the long term it is unlikely that the Whelan family will continue to inject funds into Wigan Athletic. There will surely come a point where they will say “enough is enough”, but would anyone be tempted to buy a club that does not own its own stadium or training ground?

It is a time of uncertainty at all levels within the club. Ownership and management issues further cloud a murky near future.


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Man U duo for Wigan?


Two of Manchester United’s championship winning trio to Wigan Athletic?


The Manchester United duo of Mike Phelan and Rene Meulensteen are the bookmakers’ current favourites for the vacant manager’s job at Wigan Athletic.

What chance them both being appointed as a double act? Presumably with Phelan as manager and Meulensteen as assistant/coach?

The bookmakers still consider experienced managers, Owen Coyle and Steve McClaren,  being in contention, together with Karl Robinson. Interestingly the odds on Gus Poyet have been steadily lowering.

A return for Steve Bruce has not been ruled out by the bookmakers, although he has just got his Hull City side back in the Premier League. On Tuesday the Daily Mail reported that Bruce has been contacted about a return to the DW Stadium, but Hull deny any official approach having been made.

Graeme Jones’ future at the club remains unclear. Given his four years as Martinez’s assistant at Wigan he surely deserves consideration for the manager’s position. However. we will have to wait and see if Roberto Martinez will lure him away to Everton. Less than a year ago Jones was a hot favourite for the manager’s job at his previous club, Swansea.

One recalls that Martinez’s unveiling as Latics new manager had to be delayed until a wrangle over compensation for Swansea ‘s loss of Graeme Jones and Kevin Reeves was resolved. Would Whelan request the same for Jones and/or Reeves to leave Wigan for Everton?

It is a nervy time for Latics supporters. All the candidates have their strong points and there is not one who stands head and shoulders above the rest. It will not be an easy decision.

It is understood that Whelan is due to start interviewing tomorrow, expecting to make up his mind by the end of next week.

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Go for two, Dave


The classic double act was that of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor working in tandem. Together they won the First Division and two European Cups with an unfashionable club. What a duo!

As expected Roberto Martinez’s move to Everton grows closer and closer, despite the denials of the Liverpool club.

Rene Meulensteen and Karl Robinson are the bookmakers’ favourites. Either one would be a gamble, but an exciting one. It is refreshing to note that Dave Whelan is open to looking at alternative talent.

Experienced and very capable managers are available with the likes of Steve McClaren and Owen Coyle remaining in the running.

When Martinez goes he will almost certainly take Graeme Jones with him.

My message to Whelan is simple – appoint a duo from the applicants.

Agreed that this would be a burden on the wage bill, but compared with what players earn the salary of another senior manager is not so hard to afford.

The prospect of a Meulensteen/Mike Phelan or Meulensteen/Karl Robinson combination is mouth watering.

However, this columnist would ask Whelan to consider Gus Poyet. For me he is the natural successor to Roberto Martinez. The Uruguayan is not so skilled at public relations as the Spaniard, but his Brighton team have played champagne football this season. Moreover he has a fine pedigree as a top Premier League player.

In 1995 Dave Whelan signed the Three Amigos – Diaz, Martinez and Seba – to help Latics play more skillful football.

Now is the time for him to make another bold move.

The bonus is Whelan staying at the club – managers come and go, but his continuing presence is paramount to the club’s success.

Wigan Athletic would be languishing in the lower levels without Dave Whelan. He has made great appointments in the past and one hopes he can make another inspired appointment- or double appointment.

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Robinson for Latics?

Karl Robinson

Karl Robinson

What a frustrating time it is for Wigan Athletic and their supporters – stuck in limbo.

Roberto Martinez has not gone yet, but it looks like he is going whether it be to Everton or somewhere else. But until he does go his replacement cannot be named and the process of rebuilding cannot commence.

Whoever the new manager is he is going to have a busy summer.

According to transfermarkt Latics have 10 players leaving at the end of their contracts . They are – in order of deemed “market value” – Maynor Figueroa  (£4 million), Antolin Alcaraz (£2.2 m), Ronnie Stam (£1.8), Joel Robles (£1.8 m, on loan from Atletico Madrid), Paul Scharner (£1.3 m, on loan from Hamburg), David Jones (£1.3 m), Albert Crusat (£1.3m), Emmerson Boyce (£875,000), Adrian Lopez (£475,000), Mike Pollitt (£200,000). They do not include Ryo Miyaichi who has been on loan from Arsenal.

One continues to hope that Dave Whelan will avoid a fire sale of  star players remaining under contract. However, the sale of James McCarthy seems inevitable and Arouna Kone’s name is already being linked to various clubs.

When Martinez left Swansea he brought with him assistant manager Graeme Jones , chief scout Kevin Reeves, coach Dennis Lawrence, and goalkeeping coach Inaki Bergara. It would be no surprise if they followed him to his next move too.

Given the situation Dave Whelan will be hoping for a resolution of Martinez’s future as soon as possible. In the meantime he tells us that over fifty people have expressed interest in the position, including “some very high profile names”. Included in those will be ex-England manager, Steve McClaren, who is a front runner together with Rene Meulensteen. There have even been rumours of  an ex- Manchester United tandem of Meulensteen and Mike Phelan taking over.

Every time I look at the Oddschecker site I find the odds for Latics’ new manager have changed. The latest up and coming name is that of Karl Robinson. The 32 year old MK Dons manager played non-league football for teams that would be familiar to the more  senior of Latics fans, including  Oswestry, Rhyl and Prescot Cables.  He was a bustling centre forward. However, at the age of 29 he was the youngest ever to get the UEFA Pro coaching licence. His Dons teams are known for their good football.

In the past Dave Whelan has made inspired recruitments in managers who have taken Latics so far. Paul Jewell did an amazing job in getting them in to the Premier League and the League Cup final, Steve Bruce saved a sinking situation and kept them afloat, Roberto Martinez did a great job against the odds.

The short-lived appointment of the unfortunate Chris Hutchings, assistant to Paul Jewell, might well have put Whelan off promoting from within. Graeme Jones certainly deserves due consideration and one hopes that previous history will not count against him.

There are experienced managers up for the job – Steve McClaren and Owen Coyle topping the list. But then again Whelan took a gamble with the young Roberto Martinez and it significantly extended the club’s time in the Premier League and won them the FA Cup.

Tony Pulis is also a candidate according to the bookmakers. There are Darksiders among the Wigan Athletic faithful who would not be averse to his appointment. However, the majority of Wigan fans are unlikely to want to see his kind of football at the DW. Wigan have built up a reputation for good football and it is something that people would want to continue.

The next manager will have a hard act to follow. Let’s see if Whelan will play the wild card again and appoint somebody like Meulensteen or Robinson. However, it is still early days and the likes of Roberto Di Matteo and Gus Poyet still remain possibilities.

One thing for sure is that Wigan Athletic have never before had such a strong field of managerial candidates.  We might all have our preferences, but Dave Whelan will make the final decision. Let’s hope he can keep us his record of good appointments and put in someone who can lead the club to even greater glories.

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