Lang signs new contract – but who will be the next?

The announcement of a new two-year contract for the 19-year-old Callum Lang came at an opportune time. It left Wigan Athletic time to consolidate their investment in a player who has the potential to play in the upper tiers of English football. Lang is to be sent off on loan until January to Oldham Athletic, who were last season relegated to League 2.

It was in mid-May that the media reported that Everton were interested in signing Lang, who was in the Liverpool academy until he joined Latics at the age of 14. He made his Wigan debut in a League Cup game against Blackpool in August 2017 before being loaned to Morecambe for the season.

The 5 ft 11 in tall Lang had a successful loan with the Shrimps, making 14 starts, 16 substitute appearances and scoring 10 goals. Although regarded as a centre forward at Wigan, Lang would often play behind the central striker at Morecambe.

In modern football the majority of the clubs in the top tiers rarely give their young players an extended run in their senior team. The norm is that they are sent on loan to clubs in lower divisions, giving them first team experience in a competitive environment, thereby maximising their value in the transfer market. It is a minority who go back to their parent clubs and establish themselves as first team regulars. So, what are the chances of Lang becoming a major player for Latics?

Wigan Athletic has sadly been a graveyard for young players over recent years. The most recent success story was Leighton Baines and he left for Everton in 2007. So many youngsters have shown promise at youth level and looked destined for higher things, only to depart to clubs in the lower tiers. Latics managers, under pressure for results, have been reluctant to throw youngsters into the fray. But finding suitable loans for young players has never been easy for Wigan.

Last season saw Latics sending six homegrown youngsters on loan to non-league clubs. Three of those have since left the club. Sam Stubbs went to Crewe Alexandra until January, then to AFC Fylde. He too has departed the club. On the club website Callum Lang is listed with the development squad, but the 16-year-old Joe Gelhardt listed with the senior squad.  Gelhardt is clearly a bright young talent, already on the radar with big Premier League clubs.

Providing Gelhardt is not snapped up can we seriously expect him to contend for a place in the senior team? Admittedly, he came on as a substitute in the League Cup defeat at Rotherham, but would Cook even think of giving him an opportunity in a league game?

Lang clearly benefitted from his time in League 2, playing at a club that was struggling to avoid relegation. At the time it was at a level just one tier below where Latics were. Should he make a success in the first half of the season at Oldham, could he contend for a first team place at Wigan in January?

Latics currently have four centre forwards in their senior squad. Given that one is likely to leave there would remain three who would be above Lang in the pecking order. If Lang were to become a candidate for the number 10 role he would compete with Nick Powell, Gary Roberts and possibly Jamie Walker. The probability is that Lang would be sent off on loan again in January.

Given that Lang has been offered an extended contract, what will happen with the senior squad players whose current deals expire next summer? They include Nathan Byrne, Gavin Massey, Shaun MacDonald, Sam Morsy, Nick Powell and James Vaughan. Having already lost Dan Burn in the last year of his contract, can we expect more departures via the loan-to-buy route? Why are the futures of these players still left hanging?

Some fans will cite the change in the ownership as the main issue involved in the contract renewals, but it could amount to more than that. There is a possibility that at least one of those players will leave in the next couple of weeks, together with loans and loan-to-buy deals for those on longer contracts. Cook’s squad is currently unbalanced with a wealth of midfielders and forwards, but a lack of experienced defenders. He can be expected to rebalance the squad.

On the other hand, Will Grigg and Michael Jacobs were in a similar position this time last year. Both went on to sign contracts to bind them to the club until summer 2020, Grigg’s deal being announced in early September and Jacobs’ in mid-October 2017.

Offering Callum Lang, a new contract was a good move by the club. We can only hope they can be equally judicious in their dealings with those key senior squad players whose contracts are winding down.

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Latics fans react to recent events on the social media

The social media and message boards have been particularly busy recently following a trio of signings the day before the first game of the season, each doing well in a wonderfully entertaining win over Sheffield Wednesday. But a lot more could happen before the transfer window closes on Thursday, with speculation abounding in the media. Moreover there has also been a rumour that the takeover will be announced on Thursday too.

Once again we trawled the social media following Saturday’s game. Our thanks go to the Cockney Latic Forum, the Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum, The Boulevard of Broken Dreams on Facebook,  and also Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen. Thanks go to all whose contributions are identified below.

Will Jones picked up Alan Nixon’s tweet about who was sitting behind Dave Whelan in the directors’ box on Saturday:

Studds40 on Latics Speyk commented:

If that’s not Cheng it’s his spitting image.

If it is him, and his family still own a minority stake in IEC, it can only be a positive to see him taking in a Latics game. Better still by all accounts he enjoyed it. Whether it’s direct involvement, or a passing interest, these things can lead to other business associations such as sponsorships and what have you.

It was also good to see all of the current owners and board members sat with the prospective owners. At the very least it suggest a cordial working relationship. Same goes with seeing Royal and his son in the directors box. Better to have a smooth transition.

Hampton on Latics Speyk stated:

It was Cheng (straight fm the owners suite horses mouth) he is not fronting up the transaction but is underwriting it hence some of the corporate validation delays. How much he will lump on tics is of course open to question.

Pemblue1932 on the Cockney Latic Forum commented:

Been in wigan all week, and at the training ground, already paid for the new pitch (6 million), moved the worriers out of the offices and into Robin Park, initially investigating 80 million to get us in the prem, was behind Cook signing new contract.

Horc responded to Pemblue:

Nobody will shoot the messenger pemblue, I just hope you are right on the third part.
BTW, I heard it will be announced before the deadline and there could be further additions to the squad.

Trent_Wigan on the Cockney Latic Forum commented on player performances on Saturday:

Gibson was MoM for me today. His 1st touch passes were excellent. Always made himself available for the ball.

Robinson gave him a run for MoM. If he carries on like that he will be the best left back we have had since Baines. Not only can he cross a ball he can do it with both feet.

HudWiganFan on Latics Speyk commended the players:

Excellent performance – its great to see players like Jacobs and Massey proving their critics wrong and showcasing their skills to great effect.

A fast-paced, enthralling attacking performance that produced countless chances against sturdy championship opposition and easily warranted more goals than the three scored.

Not bad for a team filled with ‘League One players’ that allegedly lack the quality to play at the level above!!

Bigroy on the Cockney Latic Forum commented:

Lots of reasons to be optimistic. For his first professional game Reece James was fearless and settled well despite the odd mishit pass, Kipre was a revelation and like a rock at the back, Robinson looked quick on the break, set up the first goal and has bags of potential whilst Gibson controlled the midfield, played some great balls, broke up play and made a terrific goal saving block in the second half. Jacobs was MOTM, scored two good goals, hit the bar with a cracking effort and got an assist for the third and you couldn’t say any of the players didn’t play well. All round a great game and thought the scoreline flattered the opposition given the chances we created. If we keep that level this season should be a cracker.

GazLatic on Latics Speyk opined:

Kipre is only 21, a million is a snip of he develops. It’s a good example of the business plan buying young players to look at selling on for a profit.

Studds40 on Latics Speyk expects further turnover:

I imagine 4 or 5 will be on the way out to streamline the squad and make room on the wage bill. Even if we are flush with cash you don’t want established players never in with a chance of making the bench. Cole, Colclough, Walker, MacDonald, plus Flores & Lang, maybe on the market.

Apparently we’ve left the No.10 squad number free. So that could be for an outright striker or someone to sit just behind. At this time all clubs are open to in’s and out’s. Quality players may become available we weren’t in for that we take an interest in.

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WafcHarvey on Latics Speyk revealed:

I was chatting with Walkers family in Glasgow. They was saying that Jamie wasn’t happy with his involvement and had asked his agent to speak with the club. He was told that he was too small and weak when he arrived which he has been working on. I can only imagine Cook has been miffed by his agents involvement and decided to freeze him out. His Instagram showed him at the training ground Saturday and he has removed Wigan Athletic from his Instagram and changed his picture to him in a Hearts top. Shame as I thought he would do well this season, but I also said Gilbey would be one of our best players last season and he left on deadline day so what do I know!

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Points more important than entertainment – Walsall 0 Wigan Athletic 3

 

“The game was a bit bitty and the pitches are what they are at this stage of the season so it is difficult to play a certain type of game. We have been adapting a little bit more with Vaughany up top and going a bit longer, quicker, in our pursuit of trying to get points on the board.”

Paul Cook once again summed it up well. It was the dullest of games with two teams playing the long ball, on a surface that was cutting up quickly. If football were purely a form of entertainment some 4,000 or so spectators would have been within their rights to claim a refund for their admission last night.

But for Wigan Athletic supporters at this stage of the season, winning was more important than entertainment. The win puts Latics within a point of Shrewsbury and two of Blackburn, with two games in hand.

To be fair there were a few memorable moments, before the game came to resemble a training match for Latics. Nick Powell looked by far and away the most cultured player on the pitch, even before his sublime pass with the outside of his right foot was excellently converted by Michael Jacobs after 31 minutes. It was reminiscent of the memorable pass Powell made at Plymouth, but this time from the left, rather than the right.

To all intents and purposes the game was all over within the next ten minutes. Jay Fulton justified his first league start with a beautifully struck shot from the edge of the box following a goalmouth melee from Max Power’s free kick. Chey Dunkley added a third from close range after the home goalkeeper had come out to intercept a corner kick but fluffed it.

Modern football has become more about winning more than anything else. Whereas in a bygone era a team that was three goals up by half time would go out to try to add to its tally, the modern team has its eye on the next match and looks to conserve its energy.

Following on the Southampton game on Sunday we had wondered if Cook’s team would have the stomach to fight a team close to the relegation zone on a difficult pitch. But Wigan came in with a determination to get a good result, albeit sacrificing the quality of their football to get it. Strangely enough Latics had not played well in the first half, despite going into the half time break with a three-goal cushion.

The second half seemed more like a training game for Wigan, sadly lacking in entertainment. The mystery was why Cook chose not to bring on his substitutes earlier. He switched James Vaughan for Will Grigg after 70 minutes but left it until 81 minutes to introduce Gary Roberts for Fulton. He brought on Devante Cole after 89 minutes, begging the question why it had not happened when Vaughan went off.

Paul Cook has shown us before that he can be a pragmatist. Although he clearly prefers his team to play attractive, expansive football he is realistic enough to know how hard it can be on a pitch like that at the Bescot Stadium. The long-ball approach led to an important win.

Despite their new manager, Walsall could not produce the goods. They lacked not only technique, but also aggression. It was  the easiest game of the season to referee a Wigan league encounter. Nick Powell was able to stroll through the game largely unscathed, not something to which he has been accustomed over these months. The foul count read 12 fouls by Walsall, 8 by Wigan. There was just one yellow card, that being received by Max Power.

It is unlikely that Bury will respond like Walsall when Latics visit Gigg Lane on Saturday. Although the Shakers are in bottom place, with a relegation practically a certainty, we can certainly expect some fireworks from them. Some will say that it is better to face a mid-table team with little to play for at this time of the season, rather than a team in the relegation dog-fight, even if Bury look dead and buried.

Cook’s team will surely be prepared for a scrap on Saturday. They would have expected it last night, but hardly got it.

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The transfer window – a sign of things to come for Latics?

 

“Of course Luis wants to work and play at the top level. But unless something drastic happens, he will be staying here.”

Brendan Rodgers’ hapless quote did not go down too well with the fans. The Luis Suarez saga dragged on for so long, but the end-result was that the player got what he wanted with a move to Barcelona.  Suarez had been pivotal in Liverpool’s challenge for the Premier League title. His departure seriously weakened a team that had come so close to winning the Premier League.

Nick Powell’s departure from Wigan Athletic over the January transfer window would also have seriously weakened a team striving to win their division. The media was awash with stories telling us that other clubs were bidding for him. We had to hold our breath until the window closed on Wednesday evening.

Powell’s case is remarkable among modern day footballers. Indeed, it was so refreshing to get away from the media hype of Alexis Sanchez and Manchester United, instead hearing how a player did not want to go a higher division to earn a much bigger salary. Powell quite simply told his chairman that he wanted to stay at Wigan and consecutive bids from Brighton were turned down by the club.

January transfer windows have been depressing affairs over recent years at Wigan Athletic. The decimation of January 2015 immediately comes to mind, when Dave Whelan had Malky Mackay boot out so many household names, together with players who had only been signed in summer. It was a matter of reducing the wage bill more than anything else. Relegation was not a surprise consequence of those actions. Add to that the woeful comings and goings in 2017 under the inept Warren Joyce. None of the 13 players he signed were at the club when the current season began. But the January 2018 dealings were by no means depressing, and if anything, they were positively uplifting. So, what has changed at the club?

First and foremost is the manager. Paul Cook has shown the kind of shrewdness in hiring and moving-on of players that has been lacking at Wigan in recent years. When Lee Evans left to join Sheffield United, early in the transfer window, it looked like a case of David Sharpe not being willing to put up that extra money to keep the player. Evans had been excellent and wanted to stay at the club.

But the signing of Jamie Walker from Hearts looked like a step forward, a player who can play the number 10 role that Nick Powell currently occupies. Within a few days James Vaughan was signed from Sunderland, an experienced player who has not only played most of his football in the upper two tiers of English football but has a superb goalscoring record in League 1. The loan signing of Jay Fulton from Swansea was to follow, then on deadline day Devante Cole was signed from Fleetwood for reportedly £400,000 and Donervon Daniels brought back from Rochdale.

Cook has brought in largely younger players, together with the 29-year-old Vaughan. Walker is 24 years old, Fulton 23 and Cole 22.  Daniels is still only 24. His contract runs out in summer. Cole’s signing was a bit of a surprise, a third central striker to challenge Will Grigg and James Vaughan. However, Cole might well be used on the flanks when needed.

Only time will tell if the players brought in during January 2018 will make a success of it at Wigan. But their profiles certainly look promising and the blend seems right. What is surprising is that David Sharpe has spent more money over January when the club are heading for a financial loss for the season. It is not what we have come to expect in recent years.

Reports suggest that the current wage bill is around £10 m, which cannot even be met half way by gate receipts and EFL subsidies. Part of the funds paid out in January will be offset by a 30-40% share of the £1.5 m transfer fee of Jack Hendry from Dundee to Celtic. However, the takeover by the Asian consortium appears imminent. Has this influenced the transfer window dealings? Moreover, will David Sharpe continue when the takeover happens?

Does Sharpe’s tweet give us a clue?

 

An Amigo View – Plymouth 1 Wigan Athletic 3 – talking points

 

The trip to Home Park to meet a Plymouth side unbeaten in their last eight matches was not going to be easy. Moreover, the home support had come out in numbers for the Pilgrims’ best crowd of the season of 11,942. But Wigan’s clinical finishing was to enable them to come away with a valuable win that puts them five points ahead of Shrewsbury, who could only draw at home to Doncaster Rovers. In truth, Latics had not played particularly well and the home side’s approach work surely merited a better scoreline than the 1-3 result.

Will Grigg had a good opportunity as early as the 6th minute, but could not show the sharpness needed to put the ball away. Chey Dunkley’s ill-judged tackle Plymouth’s on Graham Carey on 27 minutes led to a home team penalty that the same player converted. But Latics equalised a couple of minutes later when Grigg this time showed the sharpness required to deflect home Nick Powell’s sublime cross. A superb counterattack saw Gavin Massey grab the second on 45 minutes. Although Plymouth continued to threaten Dan Burn’s header was deflected into his own net by a Plymouth defender on 69 minutes. Wigan’s two goal lead was to prove a mountain that the home side could not overcome.

Paul Cook so often displays a refreshing kind of fairness and openness, rare among football managers, in his post-match comments. He was spot-on in his depiction of this match:

I thought it was a very difficult game; Plymouth were excellent in the game, they kept knocking on the door and started well. We never got into our rhythm like we normally do away from home and didn’t dominate the ball and Ryan Taylor caused us a lot of problems.

I felt the second goal came at such a crucial time because we weren’t the better team on the pitch and, makes no bones about it, Plymouth were the more aggressive team and caused us problems but for them the third goal was a hammer blow and they definitely didn’t deserve that on the day. That’s football, though, the lads had to dig in today, which they did, show a lot of character after a tough game on Wednesday and it was great to come down here and go back with the three points.”

Let’s take a look at some talking points arising from the game:

Latics showed physicality

Being unable to impose their customary midfield control, Latics had to fight for possession and to keep Plymouth out of the danger areas. The way they did this did not go down too well with the Home Park crowd, who were unhappy with their physical approach. However, the home team certainly fuelled the crowd’s anger by going down on occasions as if poleaxed, followed by teammates pressurising the referee. It was a difficult game for the official, but although he booked four Latics players to Plymouth’s none, it could have been much worse if he had buckled to the roaring of the crowd.

Latics had that extra quality

Although this was by no means a top performance from Latics, there can be no doubting the team’s willingness to work hard to get a result. But added to that were flashes of real quality that were to prove the difference between the two teams.

Nick Powell had a good game and his pass using the outside of his foot for Grigg’s goal was a pleasure to behold. He also had a hand in the second, winning a tackle around the half way line to pass inside for Max Power who ran forward to put in a slide-rule pass for Gavin Massey to neatly score.

Power is becoming a better player under Cook. Too often in the past he has looked for sideways or backwards passes, but now his play has more emphasis on going forward and he has the technique to thread through quality passes. Moreover, his crossing, from open play and set pieces, has been a joy to behold in recent weeks.

Graham Carey – worth considering

Playmaker, Graham Carey, has been inspirational in Plymouth’s rise up the table. On Saturday he caused problems for the right side of the Latics defence, with his close control and ability to dribble past the opposition. Fortunately for Latics he was moved to the rother flank in the second half where he was less effective, although he was still able to whip in some quality balls with his cultured left foot.

Carey is a 28 year old Irishman who spent four years in Scotland with St Mirren and Ross County before joining Plymouth in 2015, where he has scored 32 goals in 110 appearances. Carey’s best position is in the Nick Powell role, behind the centre forward, but he is often played out wide. Saturday’s goal put him on a total of 11 for the season, the same as Nick Powell.

Paul Cook recognised Carey’s performance by saying: “Credit to Graham Carey, though, he is an excellent player, he is a constant threat and he will cause problems.”

Would Cook consider an approach for the player in the transfer market?

Reverting to three central defenders

Alex Bruce was brought on for Nick Powell after 78  minutes, Cook once again opting for a back line of three central defenders plus wing backs. It could be argued that it was primarily a defensive tactic, but the presence of a third central defender gives the full backs more scope to attack, as we saw in the days of Roberto Martinez.

The manager has been criticised in the past for a lack of tactical flexibility, but this is a  very viable option that he has decided to employ. Bruce might lack the pace of his younger days, but in the centre of a back line of three central defenders, he has the kind of positional sense and reading of the game that can make him a major asset.

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