Holgerrson to stay?

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Markus Holgerrson is one of several Latics players whose contracts expire this summer.

The big Swede, Markus Holgerrson, at last made his debut for Wigan Athletic, albeit coming on at Blackburn as a substitute after 72 minutes.

Holgerrson was signed as a free agent from New York Red Bulls in early February, with glowing references. His contract is until the end of the current season, which is impending.

Uwe Rosler took a gamble at Blackburn by surprisingly playing Ivan Ramis in a central back line of three. The Spaniard came off at half time, to be substituted by Leon Barnett. Knowing that Ramis could be a key player in the playoffs, Rosler took the gamble of playing him despite the risk of it being too early following the hamstring injury from which he has been recuperating. Only time will tell if Rosler was right to put Ramis in there. A fit Ramis could make a big difference to the promotion push. But will he make it?

At this stage Holgerrson’s future at Wigan is uncertain. Rosler has been able to assess him in training, in the development squad and in about 20 minutes of competitive league play.

Were Holgerrson not to be offered a further contract it would not be a surprise following previous occurrences at the club. At the beginning of last season Roberto Martinez brought in two young players from Spain who had represented their country at youth and schoolboy levels. Eduard Campabadal was an exciting young right back from Barcelona who had put in good performances for the development squad. Martinez gave him his league debut in the last match of the season against Aston Villa and he did not play badly. However, for some unstated reason the 20 year old left the club over the summer and is now back in Spain playing for Cordoba. The other young prospect, forward Guillermo Andres, signed from Villareal, remains in the development squad.

The fate of Nouha Dicko does not bode well for Holgersson and others struggling to get frontline experience. As has happened with other young players at Wigan, Dicko was never given a run of games in which to establish himself. Under Roberto Martinez he went to Blackpool on loan and played well, scoring 9 goals in 32 appearances. Owen Coyle’s arrival saw him shipped off to Rotherham where he once again gave a good account of himself and scored 5 goals in 5 appearances. Despite never giving him a chance in the first choice lineup, in January Uwe Rosler sold him to Wolves where he since has scored 13 goals in 19 appearances. Given Latics’ lack of a forward who can regularly score goals the Dicko transfer was hard to fathom.

The dearth of first team opportunities for young players in particular has been a sore point at Wigan for some time. Callum McManaman had to wait so long to get his chance, as did Lee Nicholls. Their contemporaries Danny Redmond and Jordan Mustoe still have not started in a single league match despite being 23 years old and successfully negotiating Latics’ youth system and the development squad. They still remain on Latics’ books.

During his tenure at Wigan, Roberto Martinez was loath to blood young players from within the club in league games. More surprisingly Martinez gave young midfielder Fraser Fyvie little opportunity outside cup games to prove his worth. Fyvie was certainly no raw recruit, having made more than 50 appearances for Aberdeen in the SPL up to the age of 20, when he joined Latics. The current season has been a disaster for the skilful midfielder with injuries and unfortunate loan spells at Yeovil and Shrewsbury taking their toll. He has now had three managers at Wigan who have not had the confidence to give him a further league start to add to the single one he received at the same time as Campabadal against Aston Villa.

Owen Coyle took Adam Buxton to the USA for pre-season, but the young defender soon disappeared from the limelight. Over recent months he has had loan spells at Burton Albion and Accrington Stanley .

The news came out today that Honduras coach, Luis Fernando Suarez, has named both Roger Espinoza and Juan Carlos Garcia in his squad of 23 players for Brazil. The Colombian has also included ex-Latics favourites Maynor Figueroa and Wilson Palacios. Given that Garcia has played only one senior game all season at Wigan, Suarez clearly has faith in the player’s abilities. It was a surprise that Rosler did not include Garcia in the squad for the Blackburn game on Saturday. The player still has two more years remaining on his contract.

Holgerrson is not alone in that he has a contract expiring in summer. He is joined by Jean Beausejour, Emmerson Boyce, Gary Caldwell, Stephen Crainey, Jordi Gomez and Mike Pollitt. Moreover the loan periods will expire for Jack Collison, Josh McEachran, Nicky Maynard and Nick Powell.

For the moment Rosler will be focusing on the playoffs, which will decide which division Latics play in next year. Should it be the Premier League he might well look at retaining some of those end of contract players who have proven experience at that level. Should it be the Championship, Rosler will look at bringing down both the average age and the salary costs of his squad.

It is going to be a very different Wigan Athletic squad we will see at the beginning of next season.

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BOB, DAVE AND YOUTH

The break-up of the Beatles, possibly the most successful and innovative group in pop history, probably received as much attention as the music they were creating. It was not so much a single event, but a long transition which had taken place over the years. It seemed inevitable – the question was not if it was going to happen, more when. It took a press release in April 1970 from Paul McCartney to provide final confirmation that it had happened. They had been formed in 1960.

So the Beatles spanned a decade, which will not be forgotten. Bob and Dave have been together running Wigan Athletic for 3 years. Whatever happens from now on Latics followers will retain unforgettable memories of the champagne football we have seen over these past  months. To see Wigan Athletic outplaying the rich and famous and beating them on merit is something we could not have dreamed of in the past. However, like the Beatles, it is inevitable that there is going to be a break up some time, even if we don’t know when.

Dave Whelan says Roberto Martinez is staying – for the foreseeable future at least. There has been nothing from Martinez at this point, but one hopes that the Chairman and he are in agreement. If Martinez is staying – then for how long? It would certainly calm our nerves if he were to make a statement indicating that he will be with us for at least a couple more years. He has done a wonderful job providing infrastructure and his long term vision for the club is to be admired. However, there is one area in which we really need to improve – youth.

According to the Daily Mail, Whelan told ESPN: ‘Roberto is staying with us and I’ve agreed to his request to up our spending on youth development and training facilities.” A full size indoor training ground makes good sense, but there is an acknowledgement that the club needs to spend more on youth development. So why does more money need to be spent on youth and where will it go?

The Wigan Athletic youth team lost 9-1 at Nottingham Forest in the FA Youth Cup. That our team lost is not a surprise, even if the scale of defeat was quite shocking. They played away to a team that plays in the Premier Academy League. There are 40 teams in that league, which consists of Premier League and Championship clubs. Latics’ youth team plays in the North West Division of the inferior Football League Youth Alliance. Among the champions of that league over the past five years appear clubs such as Rochdale and Wrexham. No other Premier League team has their youth team in Youth Alliance, only Wigan. I have been scanning the internet for tables and up to date information about the Youth Alliance, but to little or no avail. The Wigan Athletic official site gives the youth team results up to the end of March. There is a match report from the first game of the season – a 2-0 home loss to Port Vale on August 6th – but there is a gap until the next one, the Forest debacle on January 19th . Neither the Latics official site nor that of the Football League give end of season standings.

It was good to listen to interviews with Daniel Redmond and Jordan Mustoe on Latics Player. They have been offered further one year contracts. Redmond started at Everton and Mustoe at Liverpool, both Merseyside clubs having provided so many of our youth players over the years. The Liverpool area remains a breeding ground for footballers. Both players have benefitted from being sent out on-loan and getting regular first team football, albeit at levels well below that of the Premier League. The Premier Reserve League simply does not provide enough matches and there are periods without any game for weeks. Latics second string had just two matches in the whole of December and January. The move to send young players out to lower division clubs on loan is to be commended. In addition to Redmond and Mustoe add the names of Dicko, Golobart, Kiernan, and Nicholls who have also been out on loan. Callum McManaman had a successful period on loan at Blackpool until he recalled to Wigan in January, since then making only one brief appearance as a substitute. One wonders if he might have been better off staying at Blackpool?

Look at the profiles of youth players at the top Premier League clubs and you will see they come not so much from all over the country, but all over the world. Although Latics have some young professionals from abroad – Jeshua Angoy and Roman Golobart from Spain and Nouah Dicko from France – looking at the names in the youth team line-ups foreign names are few. Out of the 18 first and second year professionals we have Sheego from Somalia and Thompson from Florida. Waters comes from Neath, Bingham from Newham. The remainder come from the greater Liverpool, Manchester and Wigan areas.

Let’s hope that Bob and Dave will stay at Wigan Athletic for years to come. Expecting them to stay together as long as the Beatles might be asking too much, but every year we will see the club progressing under their leadership. They are a great double act. It is going to take money to attract higher quality youth players to the club. You simply cannot dump a 17 year old from overseas in a new cultural environment without providing the necessary support systems. Doing so costs money. Let’s get our youth team into the Premier Academy League, where they will be competing at a much better level, making a smoother transition to the Premier Reserve League. Roberto Martinez clearly recognises our shortcomings at youth level and the chairman is now giving his backing to increased spending on youth development. It looks like another step in the right direction!

The reserve team: An anachronism? What is the role of the second team?

Harry is his team’s outstanding striker. He can hit the ball with either foot with rocket-like precision. He can leap like a salmon and gets great headers. He has scored more goals than anyone has ever done for his club. He is an icon. But he is going through a bad spell. No goals for five games now and he is getting tense. The manager ‘drops’ him and it makes the headlines. Harry has to play for the reserves. A blow to his dignity. He is angry, but being a true professional, he accepts his fate. His first game for them is not a success: no goals and a poor performance. He scores a hat trick in his second game. But he is not recalled to the first team. Harry goes to see the manager. The manager tells him that he needs to do more: only then he will look at bringing him back to the first team. Harry responds and gets back into the first team. He continues on his successful career path.

Those times have gone. Let’s be fair: Harry’s career at the club could well have been waning, but in those days the reserve team was a different beast. They played on the same day as the first team. If you couldn’t make it to your first team’s away game you could go and watch the reserves. You could see the young players playing with some seasoned pros. Both benefited: the first team players could regain confidence, reap havoc against less experienced opposition. The younger players in the reserve team could learn exponentially through playing with the seasoned pros. A bygone era!

These days the reserve leagues serve a different function. The basic concept is that of the ‘development squad’ where young players are seemingly groomed for the Premier League. In reality, the players who play in the Premier Reserve League are from all over the world. Few of them make the jump to the Premier League. Worryingly fewer of them are English. The top clubs find ways to recruit the best teenagers worldwide, although their ethics can leave a sour taste in the mouth.

Take Wigan Athletic as an example. Twenty-one players have represented them — either started or come off the bench — in the 13 Premier League matches played this year. The development squad/reserve team have played 12 matches. 8 of those games were played without any of the aforementioned ‘first teamers’. James McArthur has played two games for the WADs; six others have played one game each. However, four of those were in one match against Everton Reserves. Hendry Thomas is still nominally a member of the first team squad, but he has not appeared on the pitch in the Premier League this year. In that time he has played one game for the WADs. An even more extreme case is that of Mike Pollitt who has not stepped on the pitch for either the first team or the WADs. How can these players possibly be match fit when they are playing no competitive football?

Wigan Athletic are not alone in having players who have been playing for neither their first or second strings up to this point. Reserve teams are regarded primarily as development squads for younger players, rather than as a means of keeping highly paid, underused senior professionals match fit. Wigan are one of the few Premier League clubs to have largely English players in their development squad. The club’s official site lists 17 ‘young professionals’ of whom only the young Spaniards, Roman Golobart and Abian Serrano, come from outside the UK. Looking at Manchester United’s reserve team lineup in the recent match against our WADs, they are largely foreign players. Last year was the best reserve team Wigan Athletic has ever had. They came close to winning the Premier Reserve League North, amid fierce competition, with a team largely composed of players born within a 40 mile radius of Wigan. Two of the outstanding performers – Callum McMananan and Roman Golobart – have since been sent off on loan in an attempt to give them a taste of first team football. However, seasoned development squad veterans such as Daniel Redmond and Jordan Mustoe must wonder whether they will ever make the jump to Premier League football. A make or break season for them.

Hats off to Roberto Martinez, Graham Barrow and the coaching staff for revitalizing our youth system, bringing in so many capable young professionals. Those young pros who are fortunate enough to play in the Premier Reserve League are meeting good quality opposition. Unfortunately this cannot be said of our third string team who play in the Football League Youth Alliance against the likes of Macclesfield and Tranmere. They have won only 2 of their 12 matches this season. Although it can be argued that results are not the key factor with this age range there is clearly a lot of work to be done by the new coach John Doolan. A pity that we cannot compete with the bigger clubs at this level.

My overriding concern is that of first team squad players who simply do not play enough competitive football to be match-fit. Our strikers cannot score goals but Rodallega and Sammon have each played only one game for the reserves and Di Santo has played none. Putting senior players into the reserve team helps them move toward match sharpness while their presence benefits the younger members of the squad. A balance needs to be achieved, between using the reserve team to maintain levels of match fitness among the senior squad, and providing a nurturing environment for the young pros. There is an imbalance in this respect not only at Wigan ,but at most clubs in the Premier League. It needs to be addressed.