Five things the new man must get right

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It has been a whirlwind couple of days since the news broke that Dave Whelan had sacked Owen Coyle (sort of), and the rumour mill has been churning out names ever since.

Football certainly has both a sense of timing and humour, after the eventful week that led to Coyle losing his job also saw Rene Meluensteen accept the Fulham position and Steve McClaren supply the damage that ultimately sealed the former Bolton and Burnley manager’s fate.

There have been murmurs that Whelan regrets the short-term mentality of his latest appointment, after witnessing how little time it took Coyle to dismantle the three years of club ethos-building groundwork of his predecessor. One newspaper stretched this rumour to suggest he is specifically looking for his “next Roberto Martinez” — a young and ambitious manager with a long-term view and a twinkle in his eye. What seems more likely is the appointment of someone who, regardless of age, is thinking not just of how to get Wigan out of the Championship, but stay out of the Championship. The popular favourite at the moment is Mike Phelan — more on that here.

In the meantime, our top five recommendations for the new man:

1) No need for a revolution

Coyle could be forgiven for feeling that he was inheriting a disjointed squad after the relegation-fueled exodus at the end of last season. He acted swiftly and admirably to bring in a number of new faces, most of whom on paper, were excellent Championship signings. But it was a huge mistake to try and re-invent the club’s ethos and actively reject the work Martinez had done before him. Even if he felt the tikki-takka stuff wasn’t for him, there was simply not enough time to completely transform the way the team played, gel new signings, and obtain results. In Jordi Gomez, Ben Watson, James McArthur, Emmerson Boyce, Roger Espinoza, Callum McManaman, Jean Beausejour, and Sean Maloney before his injury, he had a set of players who performed key roles in an FA Cup winning squad. He also had Gary Caldwell, Ivan Ramis and Ali Al-Habsi to return from injury, and settled young talents Frazer Fyvie and Nouha Dicko ready to push for first team football. In the end, he rotated the squad so much that the established players at the club who knew each other and had chemistry on the pitch, were rarely in the lineup together.

If there is a concrete lesson for the new man in charge, it is to embrace the strengths the club already possesses and tweak rather than rebuild. Swansea is fantastic example when it comes to such smooth transitions, from Martinez to Paulo Sousa, to Brendan Rodgers and Michael Laudrup.

2) Get the fans back onside

Injuries or not, one got the sense that fan favourites such as Ali Al-Habsi and Sean Maloney were on their way out of the club. Add to this the limited playing time afforded to Roger Espinoza, despite repeated clamouring from the crowd to see him, and it was clear he was losing the supporters.

It would be a very good move to publicly talk up the returns of Al-Habsi and Maloney, give Espinoza a chance, and focus on getting the best out of the club’s established players such as Emmerson Boyce, James McArthur, Ben Watson, Jean Beausejour and the returning Ivan Ramis, who himself was gaining something of a cult following before that terrible knee injury at Fulham last January.

It would also be wise to praise the work of his predecessors. Coyle deserves immense credit for his work assembling a strong squad of players in a short period of time. Even more important, however, is public acknowledgement of what Martinez did, not only delivered the club’s greatest achievement, but investing hugely in the club’s long-term future. It is difficult to replace an icon, but acknowledging his work puts everyone on the same side.

3) Get the best out of Grant Holt

He was the marquee summer signing — the proven goalscorer at this, and just about every other level in English football — but it all seems to have gone wrong. An instinctive finish against Barnsley on day one promised great things, and he’s shown flashes of talent (his setup play for Marc-Antoine Fortune’s winner at Yeovil stands out), but it’s largely been frustrating for the big centre-forward, and in recent weeks, Wigan Athletic supporters. His confidence is clearly low, and he doesn’t appear fully fit after being rushed back from a knee injury several games back, but the biggest problem was tactical.

A striker who scores the vast majority of his goals from crosses was all too frequently playing with the wrong supporting cast. Beausejour — the finest crosser of the ball at the club — was rarely in the lineup at the same time. His starts seemed to coincide with matches in which Latics failed to control possession of the ball, limiting him to counter attacks for which his talents were ill-suited.

With the less-than-prolific Fortune and young, unproven Will Keane the other options in the striking department, it is clear that the new manager needs to get the best out of Holt if Wigan are to stand a chance of being promoted this season. That means providing service.

4) Fill the gaps

The other option, of course, is to spend time and money on another proven striker.

And a left-back, assuming Juan Carlos Garcia needs more time to adapt and Stephen Crainey doesn’t dramatically improve under new leadership.

If Graham Barrow’s 3-5-2 formation in yesterday’s loss against Leeds was anything to go by, neither is deemed one of the club’s best XI. If the new manager goes the same route, a backup for Boyce on the right flank will be a priority.

5) Improve away form

Another loss, this time to Leeds, means Latics have now lost five out of eight away games — the same number as Yeovil and more than Sheffield Wednesday, both in relegation places. Only Barnsley, bottom of the league, have lost more.

Think we missed one? Please leave us a comment below.

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Phelan for Wigan?

Mike Phelan

Mike Phelan

Mike Phelan is the bookmakers’ current favourite for the vacant manager’s job at Wigan Athletic.

The bookmakers consider Ian Holloway to be in close contention, followed by Paul Jewell and Karl Robinson.

Both Phelan and Robinson appeared in the odds with an outside chance of the same job in July.

Phelan is clearly a strong candidate. He had a hugely impressive record as assistant manager at Manchester United from 2008-13, when they won 3 Premier League titles, 2 League Cups, a World Club Cup and they reached two Champions League finals.

The 51 year old Phelan is a Lancastrian, being born in Nelson, starting his playing career at Burnley, before moving on to Norwich, Manchester United and West Bromwich. He played once for England.

The question is whether Phelan can be successful as a manager in his own right. However, similar questions were asked about Steve Clarke, who was one of the most highly rated right hand men in English football before successfully taking the reins at West Bromwich.

Were Phelan to be appointed it would be interesting to see who he would bring as his assistant manager, but it would be a surprise if it were not someone with an Old Trafford connection.

The 50 year old Bristolian Ian Holloway is well known, not only for his wacky quotes, but also for taking two clubs through the Championship playoffs into the Premier League. He took Blackpool up in 2009-10, and although they could not stay up he made lots of admirers through his positive footballing approach. He actually took the Tangerines back into the Championship playoffs in 2011-12 where they were beaten by West Ham.

Last season Holloway’s Crystal Palace were to defeat Brighton and Watford in the playoffs to reach the Premier League. However, he left by mutual consent on October 23rd.

Like any experienced football manager in England Holloway has had his ups and downs. He started his managerial career in 1996 as player manager of Bristol Rovers. He suffered relegation with Queens Park Rangers in 2000-01 and Leicester City in 2007-08. In between he was manager at Plymouth, whom he left under acrimonious circumstances for Leicester.

There have been rumours that Paul Jewell – now 49 years old –  might return to Wigan on a short term contract. Dave Whelan brought back Steve Bruce for a successful second spell at Wigan in November 2007, so there is precedent to suggest that a return for the ex-Latics icon is a possibility.

Karl Robinson is the 33 year old MK Dons manager. He played non-league football and was a bustling centre forward. However, at the age of 29 he was the youngest ever to get the UEFA Pro coaching licence. His Dons teams are known for their good football.

In the meantime Dave Whelan has been less than generous in his comments about the departing Owen Coyle.

Whelan is quoted as saying that “You can be lucky and get a great guy and get the right man like I got Roberto (Martinez) or you can be unlucky and get somebody who doesn’t get on with you, doesn’t get on with the team and doesn’t get on with the fans and that is actually what happened with Owen.”

Moreover the Daily Mirror alleges that Graham Barrow was told he would be taking temporary charge before Whelan and Coyle met for their fateful meeting in which the Scot offered to resign.

It is to be hoped that the new manager will receive the kind of support from the Chairman that Roberto Martinez received.

Owen Coyle certainly did not receive that level of support. He took over a playing staff that was decimated at the end of the Martinez era, having to keep transfer fees to a minimum. Moreover he was given a one year contract.

This is not to suggest that Coyle was the right man for Latics, but the dice were loaded against him from the start. Being an ex-manager of local rivals Bolton Wanderers was certainly not in his favour.

The new manager needs to be given adequate time and resources to be able to prove himself.

A couple of good signings in the January transfer window might suffice in bolstering up the current squad into making a genuine challenge for promotion.  That will depend on Whelan trusting the manager’s ability to make good decisions where largish transfer fees are involved.

Dave Whelan is like any other club owner in that sometimes he gets things right in his appointments, but other times he gets them plain wrong.

Paul Jewell, Steve Bruce and Roberto Martinez all did a fantastic job for Latics. Chris Hutchings and Owen Coyle were less successful.

Let’s hope Whelan gets it right this time around.

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