A History Lesson

history

“Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”
Winston Churchill

Uwe Rosler was the toast of Wigan in the summer of 2014. But within three months he was gone – his prior achievements counting for nothing. Dave Whelan had sacked him, in the hope that a strong Latics squad could still get promotion back to the Premier League. Little did we know what a disaster the German’s dismissal would turn out to be.

Had Rosler not been dismissed, would Wigan Athletic have been relegated? Granted, they were not playing well and Rosler’s new signings were taking a long time to gel with their teammates. Whelan had backed his manager in the transfer market. Hopes were high when he made the signings. Despite losing three of his best in Jean Beausejour, Jordi Gomez and James McArthur, Rosler had apparently strengthened his squad, bringing in a host of players who had good reviews. Not least of those were two exciting strikers from Europe.

Andy Delort and Oriol Riera were never bad players. The former has recently joined Universidad de Nuevo Leon, known as Los Tigres (the Tigers) for a fee over £6m, of which Latics received a portion, having put a sell-on clause in his contract when he was returning to Caen. Riera returned to La Liga and continues to enjoy the top division in Spain with Pamplona side, Osasuna, after time with Deportivo La Coruna. Neither player was given an extended run at Wigan, nor were they played as twin strikers. Marc Antoine Fortune had thought his first team chances were limited when the two arrived, but he was to see them off in January. MAF went on to score just 2 league goals in 37 appearances under Rosler and his successor, Malky Mackay.

We can only speculate about the futures of other Rosler signings. Midfielder Adam Forshaw is now playing in the Premier League after a slow start at Middlesbrough. James Tavernier and Martyn Waghorn have had a wonderful time at Rangers, albeit in the lowly standards of the Scottish Championship division. Emyr Huws has gone to Cardiff, his undoubted talent overshadowed by a consistent ankle problem and questions over his commitment to the club. Aaron Taylor-Sinclair’s time at Wigan was marred by injury: he remains at League 1 Doncaster. Don Cowie and Andrew Taylor, both signed from Cardiff, were to become the scapegoats of a relegation season. They had been successful in Wales but it was not to be in Wigan. Free agent signing William Kvist was captain of his national side, but could not reckon on a place in the starting lineup, Kvist went back to Denmark, where he continues to play for FC Copenhagen.

Like Rosler, Gary Caldwell also felt the need to bring in a swathe of new players to meet the demands of the Championship this season. Most are struggling to adjust to their new club and their manager’s preferred style of play.  Caldwell had brought in even more last season, when it took months for the sum of the parts to approximate to the whole. But in the end the quality of the players he could bring in gave him the divisional title.

Latics currently have 5 points from 8 league games. At the same stage two years ago Rosler’s team had 8 points. However, expectations differ greatly. Rosler was looking at promotion, whereas Caldwell will surely be looking at consolidation. But is Caldwell under the kind of pressure that prevailed upon Rosler at this time a couple of years ago?

Both managers had excellent records in their previous seasons. Caldwell’s achievement of winning League 1 is more than matched by Rosler’s success in revitalising his squad into reaching the playoffs and the FA Cup semi-final. But, given Rosler’s precipitous fall from grace, could Caldwell suffer a similar fate?

Looking back on the 2014-15 season one can only reflect in what might have happened. When Rosler was dismissed we continued to think about promotion. Perhaps we were being overoptimistic, but the woeful appointment of Malky Mackay put paid to that. He oversaw a January fire sale, including elements who had undermined his predecessor, leaving the squad threadbare. Relegation was the consequence.

Much has been said about Rosler being dictatorial with his players, that he brought in too many new faces, leading to discontent. But he was faced with an old guard from the eras of both Martinez and Owen Coyle. Modern football managers recruit players who will be loyal to them, rather than those whose fealty lies with predecessors. If Rosler made a key mistake, it was that of bringing in too many of his own men, bruising the egos of the status quo. Moreover his squad got so large that he had too many discontented players starved of first team football. Is Caldwell heading the same way?

There is a viewpoint that Caldwell should have stayed loyal with the players who helped him win the League 1 title. The departures of Sam Morsy and Jason Pearce were certainly controversial, the loaning out of Ryan Colclough was a surprise, and the stripping of the captaincy from Craig Morgan, following an abortive move to Sheffield United, suggests he will struggle to claim a place in the starting lineup. Moreover goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen, another key element last season, is now playing second fiddle to Adam Bogdan. It had been the introduction of the big Finn, in place of Richard O’Donnell who was struggling to meet Caldwell’s demands of a goalkeeper, that coincided with an upturn in performances. Jaaskelainen provided an aura of confidence to his defence and his ability to distribute the ball became an important cog in Caldwell’s possession football.

However, although Pearce has gone to Charlton on a permanent transfer, Morsy and Colclough have been sent out on season-long loans. Caldwell has inferred that Colclough remains in his plans although his lips have been sealed regarding Morsy. Colclough has already made three league starts for MK Dons, whereas ex-Latics goalkeeper Lee Nicholls and Jack Hendry, on loan until January, have not made any. One of the criticisms of Colclough’s loan was that it meant he was going back to League 1, whereas Morsy was going to a Championship club in Barnsley. In fact Morsy has made just one appearance so far with the Tykes, as a 65th minute substitute.

Long term injuries have robbed Caldwell of Donervon Daniels, Reece James and Andy Kellett from last season’s squad.  Moreover both Craig Morgan and David Perkins have recently been unavailable through niggles.

As it was during the second season under Rosler, new players brought in have been under the spotlight. None more so than Dan Burn and Shaun MacDonald, seen by some as replacements for Pearce and Morsy. Burn’s fateful error at Bristol saw him warming the bench for a couple of matches, but he has performed well in the last two games since his return to the starting lineup. Moreover MacDonald, who has played little first team football over the past two seasons, inevitably started slowly, but showed his worth on Saturday with a good display against Fulham.

It was bad news for Caldwell to see Alex Gilbey stretchered off the field on Saturday, after being an ever-present in league games up to that point. The ex-Colchester player has already made the transition from League 1 to the Championship, his fine technique providing him with a solid foundation. Jordi Gomez, back after a two year stint at Sunderland, has already showed what class he can bring to the team in three appearances to date.

Jake Buxton’s sending off in the League Cup led to a three match suspension and he has made just three appearances in the league so far. However, by naming him vice-captain Caldwell clearly expects Buxton to be a mainstay in the centre of defence. Reece Burke, arriving with the highest of recommendations following last season’s loan at Bradford, will most likely compete with Burn for a central defensive position, although he was employed in the troublesome right back position at Norwich. Nathan Byrne has looked lively in his two appearances off the bench so far, although there are questions about his defending skills as an orthodox right back. Byrne will best employed as a wing back in 3-5-2 or a winger in 4-3-3.

Nick Powell’s signing was a gamble by Caldwell, following a couple of seasons bereft of first team football and niggling injuries. Powell showed his exciting capabilities as a midfielder in the 3-0 defeat of Blackburn, but fitness concerns continue to dog him. At his best, Powell is a top player in this division, but he clearly has a long way to go in terms of achieving match fitness.

Adam Bogdan was an excellent goalkeeper at Bolton, but his difficult experiences at Liverpool will surely have damaged his confidence. At times this season he has looked dominant in his box and has made fine saves that kept his team in the game. However, his fatal error at Norwich shows that he is still coming to terms with Caldwell’s requirement for a goalkeeper to use his feet to build up moves from defence.

Luke Garbutt has not shown his best form yet. He had an indifferent loan spell at Fulham last season, not being helped by an injury early on. Garbutt’s loan is up to January, when he will most likely return to Everton where expectations were that he would be the successor to Leighton Baines. Caldwell will be hoping Reece James will regain fitness by the time that Garbutt’s loan is due to end.

On Saturday, Caldwell withdrew Will Grigg after 71 minutes, bringing on Adam Le Fondre. The manager’s dilemma will be in giving Le Fondre sufficient game time to keep him sharp. His preference for a lone central striker means that he is unlikely to play the two together, except near the end of games where his team needs to pull a goal back. Craig Davies already knows what it is like to be the backup striker, having had to be content with late appearances off the bench.

Caldwell’s starting lineup against Fulham contained six players signed over the summer. Moreover three more made appearances off the bench. Caldwell is familiar with the challenges of bringing in new players and weaning them into playing his style of football. He did it successfully in the past, but at this stage last season his team had 13 points, having won half the league games they had played. Caldwell’s current team has a solitary victory so far.

It is to be hoped that David Sharpe will heed Winston Churchill’s warning. His grandfather’s decision to dispense of Uwe Rosler’s services in November 2014 was compounded by the jettisoning of so many newly recruited players a couple of months later. The result was horrendous.

As with Rosler’s new recruits, Caldwell’s latest signings need time to adjust and to gel with their teammates. Caldwell himself will need time to get his squad up to speed. Sharpe needs to back the manager, who in turn needs to back his players. New players need time to adjust and to buy into Caldwell’s style of play.

There are testing times ahead. Latics are currently in the relegation zone, but as the new players gel results will surely improve. The question is when this will happen.

It could be later, rather than sooner.

 

Negotiating for Riera

 

Oriol Riera

Oriol Riera

The ongoing saga over Oriol Riera’s transfer to Deportivo La Coruña continues.

According to the Spanish media, the Deportivo coach Víctor Sánchez del Amo was pleased with Riera’s performances during the loan spell that started in January. The 28 year old Catalan made 21 appearances, scoring four goals as Deportivo managed to avoid relegation from La Liga. They eventually finished in 16th place. Sánchez del Amo is keen to finalise his squad before training resumes on July 2nd.

Reports suggest that Riera and Deportivo have agreed terms, but the clubs have still not agreed the transfer fee for the player whose contract at Wigan runs to 2017. Two other La Liga clubs, Granada CF and Levante, are also reported to be interested in the player, but he has made it clear that Deportivo is his preference.

Latics reportedly paid Osasuna  €3m for Riera last summer and are keen to cut their losses by asking €2.5m. Deportivo have offered €2m.

The heyday of the Galician club has clearly passed. Despite the population of the city being only around 200,000 they were competing with Barcelona and Real Madrid, just over ten years ago. They won La Liga in 1999-00 with a star studded team including Diego Tristan, Djalminha, Roy Makaay and Mauro Silva. In fact from 1992–93 to 2003–04, apart from their title win, they finished in second place four times, and another four times in third place. They competed in the Champions League for five consecutive years, being defeated by Mourinho’s Porto in  the semi-final of 2004.

Their period in the top flight came to an end in 2011, but they went back up the following season only to be relegated again in 2013. However, they once again bounced back to the top flight the following season.

Deportivo are clearly not in a position to splash the cash as they might have done in their heyday. Neither will Latics be keen to take a significant loss on their original outlay. Although some reports suggest that the talks have stalled it is in the interests of both clubs to reach an agreement.

Latics have clearly made a decision not to try to persuade Riera to return to Wigan, where his salary would be out of tune with most of his League 1 teammates. They will probably have to settle to a figure closer to what Deportivo have been offering.

Neither are Granada CF nor Levante likely to want to pay too much for Riera. Levante are the poor relations in the city of Valencia, their last contact with Latics being in Arouna Kone’s transfer in 2012. The Granada franchise is owned by Giampaolo Posso, who also owns Udinese and Watford. His usual mode of operation is in using a superb scouting network across the world to buy young, up and coming players, turning them into stars, then selling sell them for a good profit.

The likelihood is that Riera will be staying in Spain, most probably in Galicia.

 

Getting the best out of the strike force

Will Billy Mckay go the same way as his predecessors, Delort and Riera?  Photo courtesy of BBC Sport.,

Will Billy Mckay go the same way as his predecessors, Delort and Riera?
Photo courtesy of BBC Sport.,

When the lineup was announced prior to the Leeds match on Saturday it was a sadly depressing moment. The mood had been positive and people had started to “Believe” again. But a look at the team sheet was enough to send many of us into despair. How can you keep faith in a manager who just does not seem to realize that some things just do not work?

The dampener on the proceedings was the selection of a strike force of Marc-Antoine Fortune and James McClean.

This is not to suggest that the two players do not have their merits.

Despite scoring only one league goal in 24 appearances the controversial MAF continues to get his place in the team. His holding up of the ball, commitment and willingness to sacrifice for the team make him a good team player. He has played under three managers at Wigan, all of whom have appreciated his attributes. In fact since signing in summer 2013 he has made 35 league starts and 25 appearances off the bench, scoring 5 goals.

McClean is on his way to be being voted “Player of the Season”. Fans have been impressed by his willingness to run himself into the ground for the cause, in a season when so many of his teammates have not shown that level of desire and commitment. Malky Mackay clearly believes he can become a bona fide central striker, through his speed, physicality, a powerful left foot and willingness to run at defences. As a left winger he has always been a committed team player, so often running back to help out his left full back. He is the club’s top scorer with six goals.

However, McClean has always had his critics. They will say he lacks the “trickery skills” that the best wingers possess, that he runs around like a headless chicken, not lifting his head, not providing the level of assists to be expected of an experienced Premier League practitioner. As a central striker he is too often caught offside and does not make the kind kinds of runs off the ball that are needed.

The Derry-raised forward deserves commendation for his commitment and enthusiasm to help the cause. He is the leading scorer with 6 goals this season, but as a central striker he has a lot to learn.On Saturday he was to be switched to the left flank during the course of the game.

Neither Fortune nor McClean are what might be called “natural strikers”. Those are the kinds of players who are in the right place at the right time to get the tap-ins to those balls fizzing across the box. Moreover their combined goalscoring records do not suggest they are going to do so.

The likelihood is that neither will be at the club at the end of the season. Fortune is now 33 and it would be a surprise if he were given a further contract. According to reports, McClean is one of the highest wage earners at the club (some suggest he is on £30k per week) and is likely to be released whether or not Latics stay in the Championship.

However, Latics do have other strikers. The big centre forward Leon Clarke – who has played for 14 clubs – is very much a “journeyman”. Nevertheless his physical presence has added to the forward line and his commitment has been excellent. Add to that a debut goal against Bournemouth.

Billy Mckay and Martyn Waghorn continue to be marginalized by Mackay.

Waghorn was Uwe Rosler’s first permanent signing and made a positive impact in the latter half of last season. Often played wide he nevertheless scored 5 goals in 15 appearances. Moreover he was a consummate team player, strong defensively, so often dropping back to defence to help his full back. During that period Waghorn was never a spectacular player, but one who fitted into the framework of the team, a very useful asset. Many of us expected Waghorn to continue to be one of Rosler’s mainstay players, but injury combined with the signing of new strikers pushed him out of contention. He has made just 6 starts this season, with 12 appearances as a substitute, scoring 2 goals.

Like Oriol Riera and Andy Delort who preceded him, Mckay is a proven goalscorer. He had scored 10 goals in 23 appearances for Inverness Caledonian Thistle this season, prior to joining Latics. In his two previous seasons in the SPL he scored 18 and 22 goals respectively.

Sadly it looks like Mckay is going the same way as his predecessors. The woeful treatment of Delort and Riera has continued with Mckay, albeit under a different manager. Is there a disconnect between recruiting and coaching at the club? Under Rosler good performance in training was paramount to his process of team selection. It continues with Mackay. Is Mckay not fit enough for the demands of the Championship or does he just not impress the coaching staff on the training field?

Mckay will have arrived with confidence, after banging in the goals in Scotland. But being given no starts and six appearances off the bench, his confidence will surely have already dissipated. Granted, he has failed to impress so far, but players need a run of games in the starting lineup to show their worth. Surely he must soon be given that opportunity?

Since Malky Mackay’s arrival Latics have not won a single home game, drawing two and losing eight. They have only scored 5 goals in those 10 matches at the DW Stadium.

Given his woeful record, it is a wonder that Mackay continues to be employed by the club. But it looks like he will continue at least until the end of the season.

In the meantime his coaching staff need to take a long hard look at themselves to explain how so many players with genuine talent have fallen by the wayside this season. It is their role to help players adjust, to make them into effective performers at the appropriate level.

Let’s hope that Mckay does not get consigned to the same level of mismanagement as Delort and Riera.

Selling off the crown jewels – but who cares?

Photo courtesy of royal.gov.uk

Photo courtesy of royal.gov.uk

The exodus has all but begun. What seemed almost inconceivable just a few months ago is well underway. The crown jewels are about to be sold, but nobody seems to care.

Shaun Maloney will surely depart over the coming weeks. The media tell us that there are at least four clubs interested in signing him and that Latics are asking for a fee of £1.5m, which they are unlikely to get unless they can instigate a bidding war. It is said that Leicester City have already offered £750,000.

Maloney is an icon at Wigan, largely through his marvelous performances in the latter part of the 2012-13 season and his role as an FA Cup winner. He was the playmaker, the one who would make himself available to receive a pass, able to slot through incisive balls to his forwards. He was excellent on set pieces and would use his dribbling skills to great effect.

However, through reasons of injury or illness or lack of form, the Scot has started in just nine league matches this season. He has starred for his country, showing those kinds of attributes. But for Latics he has not consistently shown that keenness to receive the ball and make things happen. He did those things in Mackay’s first game at home to Middlesbrough, scoring a spectacular free kick and going so close with a previous effort. But since then he has not reproduced such form.

His fans would say that he remains the best midfield player at the club, but is playing in a team that does not know how to play good football. Too often his fellow midfield players will pass the ball behind for the defence to hoof up front. The case comes to mind of Dutch international midfielder Denny Landzaat who got himself into hot water during the Steve Bruce era. Landzaat’s performances at Wigan had been disappointing. When asked about his form by the Dutch media he told them that most of the time the ball from defence went over his head, not to his feet. Landzaat was undoubtedly a skillful player, but he just did not fit in to the Bruce style of play, so he moved on.

At 31 years of age, Maloney will be keen to safeguard his future. Despite having been dogged by injury he has shown that he has the quality to be a better than average player at Premier League level.

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Maloney was a key cog in the machine that played the best football in Wigan Athletic’s history. However, under the Mackay regime he just does not fit.

Most fans will accept the need for Maloney to move, but the case of Oriel Riera is something different. The latest reports suggest that he is about to join Deportivo La Coruña on loan until the end of the season. Promoted last season from the segunda division they are in 16th place in the primera division of La Liga.

Riera’s case contrasts with that of Maloney. The Scot is about to move to a higher league after an unsuccessful spell in a lower one. The Spaniard is about to do the reverse.

Following the recent news of Grant Holt’s long term injury, many of us expected Riera to stay, but it appears that negotiations for his release have been going on for some time. Mackay and his coaching staff have clearly written off the Spaniard and it looks like he will not be coming back after his loan.

Critics will say that Riera lacks the physicality to be successful as a central striker in the Championship. At times he has been anonymous on the field of play, not being able to stamp his mark on the game.

However, most fans will say that he has never been given a fair chance. Riera came to Wigan three years too late. He would have most likely thrived playing in Roberto Martinez’s team. However, the role of the lone centre forward this season has been largely taken up in trying to make something of the long hooves launched by goalkeeper and defenders. One wonders if even the likes of Diego Costa or Robin Van Persie could have done any better receiving that kind of service.

Rather than include Riera in the starting lineup Mackay has resorted either to the goal-shy Marc-Antoine Fortune or James McClean, a left winger playing out of position. The result has been that Latics have only scored one goal from open play since the manager’s arrival.

The club will be keen to bring in funds gathered from Maloney’s transfer and Riera’s loan deal. Andy Delort will surely be among the next to go. The transfer fees paid for Riera and Delort together amounted to around £5m, big money for Latics these days. They will be keen to cut their losses. Further economies will be made shortly when Roger Espinoza will be taken off the wage bill, sadly on his way back to Kansas after a frustrating time at Wigan.

The need for a physically uncompromising defender has been standing out over the course of the season. Media reports suggest that Mackay is about to sign a player who fits the bill. Liam Ridgewell went to Portland Timbers in the MLS in June after being released by West Bromwich Albion. He is an experienced Premier League defender, who can play at centre half or left back.

However, in a time when the club are under attack from the national media they are about to make themselves vulnerable again. Moreover fans have become disillusioned by the attitudes of players who earn more in a couple of weeks than most of them do in a year. Ridgewell will come with the baggage of his antics of a couple of years ago which were reported on the national media. Such behaviour will hardly endear him to the fans at Wigan.

These are trying times for Wigan Athletic supporters. The club seems to have gone into free-fall and there is little light at the end of the tunnel. Fans have grown so disillusioned with the lack of performance of the players that most no longer care about who gets sold off in the transfer window.

There is a general malaise that is dragging the club down. Players who have proved themselves in the past have been pulled down into the mire.

The likelihood is that the players leaving during Mackay’s fire sale will be successful at their new clubs.

The crown jewels of old will most likely be sold off – but what will take their place?

Holt injury opens door for Riera

Previous articles on Oriol Riera:

It’s time for Riera

An Osasuna fan’s view of Oriol Riera

It looked distinctly possible that Oriol Riera might go back to Spain within the month of January. His ex-manager from his time at Cordoba, Lucas Alvarez, is in charge at Levante and reportedly wants Riera on loan. Levante are currently in 15th place in La Liga, having scored just 12 goals in their 16 matches.

The Valencia club have done business with Latics before, Arouna Kone arriving at Wigan in August 2012 for a fee of €3.5m. Allowing Riera to go on loan would reduce Latics’ wage bill, with the possibility of a permanent deal to follow.

However, the cruciate knee ligament injury suffered by Grant Holt could force Malky Mackay’s hand into retaining Riera.

Mackay’s credibility as Latics manager continues to plummet. His record in seven games in charge reads W1 D1 L5. The arrival of a new manager so often coincides with an immediate upturn in results, but it has not been the case for Mackay at Wigan. Uwe Rosler was dismissed because of a run of bad results, but in his last seven games in charge he had a record of W1 D4 L2.

Mackay’s credibility has been undermined in the eyes of fans by his team selections. Marc-Antoine Fortune has many attributes, not least his ability to salvage something out of long punts from the defence. However, he has scored only 5 goals in 53 appearances for the club. James McClean too has attributes – his enthusiasm is important in a struggling team and his direct running can trouble opposition defences. But McClean is essentially a winger, not a lone centre forward in a 4-3-3 formation or a twin striker in 3-5-2.

Fortune and McClean make a hardworking front two, but both lack the instinct to make the incisive runs needed to split opposing defences. Neither are they the type to be in the right place to put away the tap-ins.

Mackay went some way to appeasing fan pressure by switching to a 3-5-2 formation with twin strikers.

Would he even consider using Riera and Andy Delort as an upfront partnership? Or could it be that one or both will have departed the club by the end of the month?

Of the two, Riera is the more experienced and has proved himself in the Primera Division of Spain. Delort is a raw diamond from Ligue 2 of France.

Has Mackay already passed judgement on the two? Are they still in his plans?