McCann out and Huws in?

Things are hotting up as the new season approaches. The news comes in, but questions continue to pop up.

Is Will Grigg really on his way to Scotland for a big transfer fee? Surely not.

Will Latics be losing Emyr Huws as well as Chris McCann? Maybe.

Why are Latics due to host Liverpool and Manchester United on consecutive days? Will the big clubs  be sending their senior squads? Will it be largely youth players or maybe a mixture of the two? Or was it an offer the young chairman just could not refuse?

SharpeManULiv

David Sharpe has shown himself to be an excellent communicator who has made an effort to reach out to the fans. He uses the social media as a vehicle to keep people informed and to raise morale. However, the social media is a double-edged sword and Sharpe has to field comments such as this:

Athertontweet

However, other fans can have a different perspective:

HumphreystweetA month ago we published an article Can Latics afford to keep Chris McCann?  Our question has now been answered by the announcement that the Irishman has signed for MLS expansion team Atlanta United. However, it appears that McCann will go out on loan until January. After his good form last season there are Latics fans who are already clamouring for McCann to spend his loan at Wigan.

There remain hopes among fans that Sharpe and Gary Caldwell will bring in Jordi Gomez and Leon Osman, but is it likely to happen?

McCanntweetMcCann announced his departure on the social media, giving due thanks to the fans.

For most of us, McCann’s departure is no surprise. One can bet that Sharpe just was not willing to offer the kind of salary the Irishman wanted, likely have been around £15-20K per week.  The departure of Reece Wabara was also most likely due to the club not meeting the player’s wage demands.

Sharpe has set the tone on keeping a ceiling on the wage bill as Latics enter their final season of parachute payments. Most of the players who previously played for Latics in the Championship, receiving relatively generous salaries, have now left the club. However, some still remain and Sharpe and his recruitment team will once again look at getting as many as possible off the wage bill. Included in those are the three players sent off on loan last season – Emyr Huws, Billy Mckay and Andrew Taylor.

Given that Caldwell already has Reece James and Stephen Warnock to compete for the left back position it is likely that Taylor will be seeking other pastures during the final year of his contract. Mckay did well to score 12 goals last season for a Dundee United team that finished bottom of the SPL. But he barely received a chance in his previous spell at Wigan and it appears unlikely that he will stay. The principal question mark hovers around the subject of Huws.

The mere mention of Huws can invoke anger in Wigan Athletic supporters. In late August 2015 Caldwell talked about the player’s unwillingness to play in League 1.

“I tried very hard to keep him to say that you have to help the club back to the Championship and to the Premier League – that’s the aim at this club – and we want people who are committed to that and doing everything they can to help us. He didn’t want to do it – that’s football – but we had to let the fans know that it wasn’t us that had decided to let him go – it was Emyr that wanted to go…I feel that is disrespectful to his team mates, myself, the chairman and the supporters.”

Caldwell’s comments certainly impacted upon fan opinion of the player. There remain some who would not like the player back at the club even if Caldwell decided on taking up that option.

However, it can be argued that Latics did well out of sending Huws  to Huddersfield. He gained further first team experience at Championship level, making 31 appearances and scoring five goals. The Yorkshire team paid his wages and the player’s value in the transfer market was maintained.

There are arguments to suggest that Caldwell made the comments to avoid criticism that might have come his way by allowing the player to leave. Moreover that it was early in Caldwell’s days as Wigan manager and with more experience he might not have criticised a player publicly. The word ‘disrespectful’ can stir up emotions in football circles. However, even in that heated time last August the manager did not close the door on a possible return of the player in the future.

Despite the furore Caldwell said last week that He (Huws) wanted to be in, he wanted to be back with the group on day one, and that tells me everything I need to know. We’ve always known the quality that Emyr has, and for him to want to be here is great. You want good players at your club, he’s a good player, and we’re delighted to have him back.”

However, rumours were circulating about a possible move for Huws to Fulham who might be willing to stump up a fee in the region of £2m for his transfer.

The likelihood is that Latics will be losing two very capable midfield players in Huws and McCann. They will not be short in that area with Alex Gilbey having arrived from Colchester and Danny Whitehead from Macclesfield. However, neither has the experience  at Championship level of Huws and McCann:  they are clearly players for the future.

If Latics can sell Huws for a price close to that they paid Manchester City a couple of years ago they will almost certainly do so. It would not only bring in revenue but they would be shedding another player on the level of the Championship salaries during the Rosler era. But questions remain over fans’ support for the player in the aftermath of Caldwell’s  previous comments. Moreover statements made by the player during his time at Huddersfield hardly improved Wigan fan views of him.

However, Huws has the potential to be a top player. He is tough in the tackle, with a high workrate, a great left foot, strong on taking set pieces. Together with the likes of Max Power he could form a formidable central midfield for Latics.

If Caldwell really were willing to bury the hatchet with Emyr Huws would the majority of supporters get behind the player? He is still only 22 years old and represents one of the club’s most potentially valuable assets. Moreover with another full season under his belt, injuries notwithstanding, he would surely be in the shop window for the big clubs.

Put simply, are Latics willing to take a gamble on Huws? Then how about Gomez and Osman?

Caldwell’s summer shopping list

Will Grigg has been on fire but the dust has now settled on Wigan Athletic’s achievement of winning League 1. Now it is time to look ahead to the start of the Championship season on August 6th.

shoppingGary Caldwell will surely be relieved that he will not have to go through the massive restructuring of last summer. But at the same time he will know that the current squad will need strengthening if Latics are to hold their own in the higher division. At least half a dozen reinforcements are likely to be brought in.

Caldwell’s immediate priority will be to deal with players out of contract and players who have come in or gone out on loan.

Caldwell has already secured the services of Stephen Warnock for the next couple of seasons following a very successful loan from Derby County. Warnock has looked a class act in League 1, whether playing as a left back or on the left side of a back line of three. However, he is 34 years of age and it comes as a surprise that a contract of more than a year was offered.

Rumours also suggest that Caldwell is trying to tie up a deal with Everton for Conor McAleny. The 23 year old scored 4 goals in his 9 starts and 4 appearances as a substitute since joining Wigan on loan in January. McAleny’s career has been dogged by injury, but Caldwell must feel reasonably confident that the player can maintain a good level of fitness. McAleny can hit the ball as hard as anyone, as evident on the screamers he scored at Walsall and Shrewsbury.

Haris Vuckic is the third loan player who finished the season for Latics. The 23 year old Slovenian has a great left foot and can both score and create goals. The question mark over Vuckic has been his fitness. He made 5 starts for Latics, but never completed the 90 minutes. Vuckic has reportedly gone back to Newcastle and given his inability to establish himself at Wigan it is unlikely he will be sought after by Caldwell.

Caldwell has the option of bringing back three players who were packed off on loan to other clubs at the start of last season. With Reece James and Stephen Warnock, Latics do not need another left back, so it is likely that Andrew Taylor will once again be sent away on loan until his contract expires in June 2017.

Billy Mckay was given minimal opportunities at Wigan, but has scored 12 goals in 28 starts for Dundee United who finished bottom of the SPL. However, it is reported that there is interest in him from other Scottish clubs and it is unlikely he will return.

The prospect of Emyr Huws playing in midfield with the likes of Max Power is mouth-watering, but it appears that he might have burnt his bridges at Wigan. Huws is a combative midfielder who oozes class, but comments attributed to him as not wanting to play for Latics when they were going down to League 1 were unfortunate to say the least. Moreover it appears that the ankle problem the player suffered at Wigan has continued to plague him. Huws has another two years to run on his contract and the likelihood is that Latics would accept any reasonable transfer fee put forward.

There are seven players out of contract. Both Leon Barnett and Chris McCann were recruited by Owen Coyle in the days when the club’s annual salary bill was well above what we can expect for the near future. Barnett is an experienced ex-Premier League player, but has found it difficult to adjust to the possession football that Caldwell demands. McCann on the other hand has thrived under Caldwell. The Scot has not only called on him to play in the centre of defence as he did at times under Uwe Rosler, but has reinvented the big Irishman as a wing back. Although Barnett’s stay at the club looks to be coming to a close, Caldwell will be keen to retain McCann, although he will have to ask the player to take a significant salary cut if he wants to stay.

Reece Wabara was signed on a short term contract in January, since when he made 14 starts with 3 appearances off the bench. Although Wabara has by no means played badly, neither has he convinced us that he must stay. Wabara is already being linked with other clubs and rumours suggest he is on his way out of the club.

Kevin McNaughton missed most of the season out through injury and although the 33 year old Scot is an accomplished full back it is unlikely Caldwell will offer him a further contract.

The positions of three younger players who are out of contract are unclear. The 23 year old goalkeeper Lee Nicholls has amassed nine league appearances over his five years or so at the club. He has had loan spells at six clubs, his most successful being in 2012-13 when he was an ever-present for Northampton Town. Fan opinions on Nicholls vary. Some say that he is the kind of commanding keeper that Latics need and that successive managers have never given him the chance he has deserved. Others cite a lack of concentration, that some of the goals he has conceded should have been easily saved. Rarely has the rift in fan opinion been more apparent than in the last game of the season. On the Vital Latics forum 18% of readers voted him ‘’Man of the Match’’ whereas others slated him for all four Barnsley goals. The signing of young Dan Lavercombe from Torquay in January could prove a key factor in the decision whether or not Nicholls will be offered a new contract.

The other two young players whose contracts are due to expire are Jordan Flores and Ryan Jennings, both 20 years old. It was always going to be hard for young, inexperienced players to break their way into a team aiming for promotion. Both have certainly showed promise, although only Flores played in league games this past season. He made two league starts, both in September, scoring a fine goal against Fleetwood but getting sent off at Oldham a week later. Flores has had injury issues, but he has a great left foot and shows some silky skills. Jennings made his senior Latics debut as a substitute in the League Cup game against Bury and has been on loan at Grimsby and Cheltenham, making a total of 9 starts and 9 appearances as a substitute.

So what are the areas that need strengthening?

David Sharpe has recently made it clear that Latics will not be spending big money to bring in players in their late twenties or beyond. However, that does not preclude money being spent on young players who have already shown what they can do at other clubs. Any more experienced players coming in are likely to be free agents or those available at knockdown prices.

With Jussi Jaaskelainen now 41 years old, Caldwell is likely to seek an experienced goalkeeper to challenge the Finn for his place. Rumours suggest that they will once again try to sign the 32 year old Andy Lonerghan. The ex-Preston and Bolton man has a wealth of experience and is midway through a two year contract at Fulham.

Right back was a problem position last season and Caldwell will be keen to recruit someone who can fill the bill. Donald Love (21) could be that player should Latics be able to persuade Manchester United to part with him for a reasonable fee. Love’s loan spell at Latics was interrupted by injury and call-ups from the Scotland under-21 team, but he did enough to suggest that he would be a good investment for Wigan.

Caldwell will also be looking for a quality central defender with the speed to cope with pacey Championship forwards. With the likely departure of Barnett it will be a priority.

Rumour suggests that Latics are interested in the 31 year old Darren Pratley, a holding midfielder with a wealth of experience with over 300 appearances under his belt at Swansea and Bolton. Together with the 22 year old Danny Whitehead, signed from Macclesfield Town in January, Caldwell would be adding a balance of youth and experience to his midfield if he were to sign Pratley.

Caldwell will also seek another centre forward. Much depended on Grigg last season and Latics need alternatives in case he is called up for international duty or injured. Craig Davies had his most injury-free season for some time, but was only used as a substitute in the second half of the season. Caldwell will broaden his options by going for a third central striker.

Should Vuckic not be returning, another left footed winger/creative player would help maintain a balance. Ryan Colclough, Michael Jacobs, Conor McAleny and Yanic Wildschut are all right footed although Andy Kellett can play a left footed role on the right of midfield.

Caldwell and his recruitment team have done a fine job over the past year. Their next challenge is to find half a dozen new recruits who can add further balance to a squad that is going to have to come to grips with playing at a higher level this coming season.

Warnock – a great signing for Latics

Warnock

The “New Era” recruitment team at Wigan Athletic already had an impressive record, but the announcement of the signing of Stephen Warnock is really the icing on the cake. Warnock turned 34 in December and his loan signing might be short term, but with over 200 career appearances at Premier League level he will surely have much to offer in League 1.

The long term injury to Reece James and a two game suspension  for Chris McCann left Gary Caldwell short of options at left back/left wing back. Against Peterborough on Saturday he moved Reece Wabara across from the right to play there, while McCann was rested on the bench.  The 22 year old Andy Kellett had been signed as the back-up left sided defender, but in most of his appearances he has been played further forward. Moreover Kellett has been dogged by injury. His last first team appearance was against Gillingham in early January.

Warnock was born in Ormskirk and has two caps for England. He came through the Liverpool youth system, going through loan spells at Bradford City and Coventry City when in his early twenties. He went on to make 40 Premier League appearances for Liverpool before moving on to Blackburn and Aston Villa, subsequently dropping down to the Championship in 2012 with a loan move to Bolton. He was then to move on to Leeds United before signing for Derby County in January 2015.

Warnock has made 30 appearances in the Championship for the Rams, but the arrival of a new manager in January has seen his first team opportunities become limited.

With James still injured and McCann serving a two match suspension we can expect Warnock to go straight in the team for the visit to Colchester on Saturday. Moreover his arrival gives Caldwell more flexibility in being able to use McCann in the centre of defence or midfield.

The performance on Saturday was surely affected by losing three players to injury by half time. Jussi Jaaskelainen and Jason Pearce are key players in the promotion push and Caldwell will be hoping they will be back for Saturday. He will also hope that Conor McAleny will be back soon, although he has an obvious replacement in Haris Vuckic. Kevin McNaughton is getting closer to full fitness and will surely challenge Reece Wabara and Donervon Daniels for the right back position over the coming weeks. A back four of McNaughton, Craig Morgan, Pearce and Warnock would rank among the most experienced and accomplished in the division.

When Michael Jacobs was in injured at Crewe at the end of January it looked like Latics would be short on creativity, although the signing of Ryan Colclough has certainly helped. However, Jacobs was one of the main driving forces in the new era side until his injury, one of the best attacking midfielders in the division.

The return of Jacobs, apparently still a couple of weeks away in terms of fitness, together with the advent of Warnock could be crucial in the bid for promotion.

Warnock is a terrific addition to the squad, albeit with just 11 league games to go.

A Doncaster fan’s view of Reece Wabara

Reece Wabara. Photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Reece Wabara.
Photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Yesterday Wigan Athletic announced the signing of 24 year old Reece Wabara. He has signed a short term contract to the end of the current season. He was a free agent, his contract at Barnsley having expired at the end of December.

The 5 ft 11 12 in defender was born in Bromsgrove and played at Walsall’s School of Excellence until joining Manchester City as a 15 year old. He became captain of the City under 16 team and progressed to become a regular starter in their Elite Development Squad. Wabara made a first team debut for City in the last match of the 2010-11 season, coming on a substitute for Pablo Zabaleta against Bolton Wanderers. He left City by mutual consent in April 2014.

During his time with City Wabara had loan spells at Ipswich, Oldham, Blackpool and Doncaster. He was to return to Doncaster on a short term contract after leaving Manchester City. He made 43 appearances for Rovers in 2014-15, before moving on to another short term contract at Barnsley, where he made 19 appearances.

Wabara clearly looks an excellent signing for Gary Caldwell who has been anxious to strengthen the problematic right back/right wing back position.

In order to learn more about Wabara we contacted the Doncaster Rovers unofficial twitter fan site (@Donny_Rovers).

Here’s over to them:

Football is in Reece Wabara’s blood; his uncle is the former Rangers’ icon Mark Walters. Unlike his uncle, Reece is more of an attacking fullback rather than an attacking midfielder. However, this hasn’t stopped him from posing a similar attacking threat. Furthermore, he is a very versatile player that has been deployed as a right-back, centre-back and even right winger during his time at Rovers.

The first time I saw Wabara play was actually for Oldham Athletic against my Rovers and on that day he was fantastic; marauding down the right, utilising his pace and strength to power past our left back on the overlap. Back then he was a young and raw footballer but nowadays his performances are more measured. Since his Oldham performance I have witnessed him playing over 50 times for Rovers, once on loan and once as a permanent signing. Despite his final ball being much improved and racking up a few assists, he still doesn’t have enough final product to be a championship level player, scoring only 2 goals in his entire professional career.

Although, I must admit he is definitely a decent acquisition at this level as he retains possession well and is good on the ball. Where Reece falls down most is defensively; as a one on one defender he is quite poor and his positioning is often questionable. Luckily, his blistering pace is a useful tool to have in these scenarios and I, myself, have witnessed him recover well from many predicaments he’s left himself in.

In terms of attitude, he seems like a genuine bloke and a hard worker that wouldn’t upset or destabilise the dressing room; then again, he didn’t endear himself to any Rovers fans when he slated the club’s ambition (having left us) in an interview for our South Yorkshire rivals Barnsley. So don’t be surprised if he doesn’t sign a long term deal at the end of the season.

All in all, I wouldn’t mind seeing him back at Donny, if it weren’t for his comments, because he is definitely a good squad player to have in this division. The reason I say squad player and not first team player is because against the top teams I’d be tempted to put in a more defensively minded player. Plus, who’s to say he won’t develop into an even better player than he already is as after all, he is only 24.

Wabara the next on Caldwell’s latest wish list?

Reece Wabara. Photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Reece Wabara.
Photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Wigan Athletic currently stand in 5th place in League 1, just 5 points behind second placed Gillingham. They are desperately seeking an automatic promotion place.

On November 9th we posted “Caldwell’s Christmas Shopping List”. At that time Latics were coincidentally 5th in the League 1 table, 5 points behind the Gills in second place. We advocated the need for another central striker (Alex Revell was brought in soon after), a right back, a central defender and an influential central midfield player.

Since then short-term loanees Francisco Junior, Donald Love and Sean Murray have left the club, with Yanic Wildschut being signed on a permanent contract. Revell was recalled early by Cardiff City from his loan spell. Moreover Richard O’Donnell has joined Bristol City on loan.

Since November 9th Latics have a record of W5 D3 L2. Statistics supplied by www.statto.com show them lying 8th in the form table for games played between then and now.

Statto

Wigan’s average of 1.8 points per game over the period has helped then maintain their position in 5th place, but the teams that were above them in November remain above them now.

Both Burton Albion and Walsall have had managerial changes since then.  Since Nigel Clough took over from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink at Burton on December 4th he has had a record of W4 D1 L0. Sean O’Driscoll succeeded Dean Smith at Walsall on December 18th, his record so far being W3 D1 L1.

Latics clearly cannot rely on the teams above them defaulting over the remainder of the season. History tells us that teams who have gained automatic promotion from League 1 have amassed a minimum of 90 points. To achieve that minimum target Latics would need 45 points from their remaining 20 games, an average of 2.25 points per match.

The January window is crucial to Wigan’s quest for automatic promotion. Caldwell’s squad is strong, but somehow the team rarely fires on all cylinders. The chemistry just does not seem quite right. The question is whether Caldwell can bring in the types of players who can provide an appropriate balance.

A right back/right wing back is surely high on Caldwell’s wish list. Donervon Daniels can excel when attacking, but can be suspect when up against a speedy wide player. Daniels is basically a central defender who has been helping the team by playing out of position. Rumours are that Latics are about to sign right back Reece Wabara whose short term contract at Barnsley has come to an end. Wabara is a 24 year old  ex-Manchester City youth player.  He made 43 appearances for Doncaster Rovers last season before joining Barnsley for whom he appeared 19 times.

According to press reports it appears that Aberdeen are interested in taking Don Cowie on loan for the remainder of the season. With the departures of Junior and Murray and a possible exit from Cowie, Caldwell will be keen to bolster his central midfield.

For some time now Latics have looked short of a midfield enforcer who can close down opponents when the going gets tough. Sam Morsy of Chesterfield is certainly that, being known for his toughness in the tackle. Signed by Paul Cook from Port Vale in summer 2013, the 24 year old  captain has made 97 appearances for the Spireites. His contract expires at the end of the season, suggesting that a relatively small transfer fee could secure his services.

Latics have also been linked with Oldham Athletic captain Liam Kelly. A 25 year old Scottish international, who started his career at Kilmarnock, Kelly is a holding midfielder that Oldham fans don’t want to lose.

With the departure of Junior, Latics look short of variety in midfield. Although dogged by injury during his stay at Wigan, Junior could offer alternatives when coming off the bench. Michael Jacobs is the main creative force for Latics, but there is a need for another player of his type.  So many teams will “park the bus” when they come to the DW Stadium and someone is needed who can help unlock visiting defences.

Grant Holt is now back at Wigan after his loan spell at Wolves, but it seems most likely that he will loaned out to another club. Should that happen Caldwell will surely seek another centre forward. The latest name to be mentioned is Lukas Jutkiewicz who has played for 9 clubs even though he is only 26 years old.  Jutkiewicz is a big target man, but his career strike record is not particularly impressive and he has not scored for his current club, Burnley, in 30 appearances.

Leon Barnett’s contract is up at the end of the season and he might well be looking for a move in January.  Previous rumours linked him to Preston North End. Should Barnett leave then Caldwell will seek to bolster the centre of defence with a new signing. Given the long ball approach that can prevail in League 1 he might well look for a tall player who is strong in the air. Good passing of the ball is not Barnett’s strength and it is an attribute that Caldwell will look at from any incoming player.

Latics have already announced the signings of 19 year old Torquay goalkeeper Dan Lavercombe and the 22 year old Macclesfield midfielder Danny Whitehead. Both players will continue playing for their former clubs for the remainder of the season. They are clearly players for the future.

However, Caldwell’s main priority is to recruit new players for the 20 games that remain this season. How many will be able to recruit will largely depend on the departures of players on Championship-level salaries whose contracts expire in summer.

Given the difficulties he has faced with the right back position Caldwell will be keen to bring in a new player as soon as possible. Reece Wabara might well be a Latics player within the next couple of days.