Winning with kids

Gary Caldwell continues to lower the average age of his squad.

Gary Caldwell continues to lower the average age of his squad.

“You can’t win anything with kids”.

So said Alan Hansen after a young Manchester United side had been beaten by Aston Villa. United’s lineup had featured an 18 year old Phil Neville, plus 20 year olds David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes, together with the 21 year old Ryan Giggs. They went on to win the Premier League that same season. Hansen’s comment became infamous in English football history.

As did Alex Ferguson twenty years ago, Gary Caldwell too has put a considerable amount of faith in young players. In fact three of them rank in the top four this season as far as appearances are concerned. That trio of Donervon Daniels, Reece James and Max Power are all 22 years old.

Over the January transfer Caldwell has continued to lower the average age of his squad. Don Cowie (32) and Grant Holt (34) left the club by mutual consent. In came Ryan Colclough (21), Conor McAleny (23), Sam Morsy (24) and Reece Wabara (24). Goalkeeper Dan Lavercombe (19) replaced Richard O’Donnell (27), although for the moment he is back at his previous club, Torquay. Midfielder Danny Whitehead (22) was also signed and loaned back to Macclesfield Town. Yanic Wildschut (24) was signed on a permanent contract following his loan spell from Middlesbrough.

Caldwell and his recruitment team have done a fine job, bringing in no less than 29 new players since summer. Moreover there are signs that the players are starting to gel and the team is starting to approach the point where the whole is at least the sum of its parts. Hopes for automatic promotion have been raised, although it remains a difficult task given the consistency of the teams above them.

Wabara has filled the problematic right wing back position, with Kevin McNaughton now back in training. A few weeks ago losing Michael Jacobs to injury would have left the team short of creative input. But the emergence of Haris Vuckic and the arrival of the confident and accomplished Colclough have helped allay concerns. Morsy has come in to add some steel to the midfield, potentially the replacement for David Perkins, who is now 33. The squad now has a better balance than it did a month ago.

Whether Latics will achieve automatic promotion remains to be seen. But with the talent at Caldwell’s disposal they will pose problems for any team in League 1. The least Latics are currently heading for is a place just below the top two, but  getting promotion through the playoffs is a precarious business where confrontations can be tight and so easily effected by unexpected events. The worst case scenario is at  least one more year in League 1.

Next season Latics will receive around £12 million in parachute payments, the final instalment. If they remain in League 1 they will be able to continue operating a budget three times higher than most clubs in the division. However, if promotion is achieved they will face fierce financial competition from Championship clubs, some boosted by much larger parachute payments, others buoyed by funding from benefactor owners. Moreover when their own parachute payments run out they will be faced with competing on an uneven keel against almost all the clubs in the division.

It is for these reasons that having a quality recruitment programme is key to the club’s long term future. Scouting for bargains in younger players coming from clubs in lower divisions or those released by big clubs will be the order of the day.

At the same time the club will need to be able to attract top teenage talent into its academy. Gregor Rioch came with a fine reputation in building up an academy at Coventry and he has already produced results at Wigan. The under 18 team breaking a club record by reaching the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup and taking Manchester City into extra time is an indicator of how much progress has been made. As in previous eras many of the youngsters recruited have come from the greater Manchester and Liverpool areas, often after being at a Premier League club. The recent loan moves of the 18 year old Adam Anson and the 19 year old Louis Robles, both previously in the Liverpool academy, to Macclesfield continue to show that the club seeks to toughen up the younger talent it is nurturing by sending them to clubs in physically competitive leagues. Sam Cosgrove, 18, previously at the Everton academy, has already had loan spells at Barrow and Chorley.

Over the years Alan Hansen might have come to rue his assertion that “You can’t win anything with kids”. But Premier League stats suggest that there is some degree of validity in his statement. When Manchester United won that title in 1995-96 they had six players under the age of 23 who played in 10 games or more. But nothing of the kind has happened since. In fact the average number of under 23s playing regularly in Premier League title winning squads over the last 20 years is less than three.

The success of Manchester United’s young players those two decades ago was clearly exceptional. But perhaps more importantly those players were to stay at the club, providing the backbone of the team for years to come.

Gary Caldwell will be hoping that this will prove the case for the majority of the young players he has recruited over recent months. He and his recruitment team are striving to build the backbone of a squad to serve the club for years to come.

 

 

Rosler’s loan signings can make the difference

transfer window

An unknown third choice goalkeeper from Spain, an end of contract midfielder from Kansas City and a 32 year old unwanted by Hamburg. Such were the loan signings made by Wigan Athletic a year ago.

The feeling at the time among Latics supporters was of being “underwhelmed”. Was this the best that Roberto Martinez could do? Why wasn’t Dave Whelan opening his wallet and bringing in players that could really make a difference?

In the event Joel Robles, Roger Espinoza and Paul Scharner did make a difference. It was not enough to save Latics from relegation, but all three were to go on and play in the lineup that won the FA Cup for the club.

That same underwhelming feeling has surfaced again.

Who on earth was Tyias Browning? Why would Latics want to sign a crock from Cardiff, who had not started in a league game this season? Why go for a player from Chelsea who had already been on loan at three other clubs? But most confounding of all – why would Latics take a player who had never made it in a team from their own Championship division?

Nicky Maynard was sought by Roberto Martinez while at Bristol City. In the event he went to West Ham who sold him on to Cardiff City for a fee around £2.75m in August 2012. Unfortunately he tore his anterior cruciate knee ligament in only his third game at the Welsh club, which was to keep him out of action until May 2013.

The 27 year old central striker is a Cheshire lad who came up through the Crewe Alexandra academy. His most successful year as a goal scorer was in 2009-10 when he scored 20 goals in 40 starts for Bristol City in the Championship division.  Maynard has struggled since the injury, his appearances for Cardiff this year being two starts in the League Cup and eight times off the bench in the Premier League.

Maynard is clearly a player of some pedigree and a proven goal scorer at Championship level. If he can regain an optimum level of fitness he will be a threat to Championship defences. Maynard is likely to alternate with Marc-Antoine Fortune for the centre forward spot, although there will be times when Rosler will play them together.

Latics fans saw what Josh McEachran can do yesterday when his superbly judged pass put Fortune through for an 89th minute goal yesterday. He made his Chelsea debut as a 17 year old. Still only 20 he has played for Swansea, Middlesbrough and Watford on loan. McEachran can play as a holding midfielder but his best position is in the hole between the midfield and the central striker.

McEachran is not fully fit at this stage, but he has so much quality that he can add the cutting edge that has been lacking in Latics’ play in recent weeks.

Rosler’s signing of Martyn Waghorn has been questioned by many Latics supporters who were hoping the club would sign a player with a proven history as a goal scorer.  They are unimpressed that Leicester City are willing to let him go out on loan although they are challenging for automatic promotion to the Premier League. Moreover Waghorn will be a free agent in summer when his contract runs out.

However, Waghorn is still only 24 years old and can play in any of the three front positions. He played for England at both under 19 and under 21 levels.  Leicester paid a fee of around £3m when he arrived from Sunderland in a permanent deal in August 2010. He had been voted young player of the year at Leicester the previous season when he had been on loan with them. See his goals during that season here.

Waghorn has had his ups and downs and played for five clubs before coming to Wigan. However, he had a successful spell on loan at Millwall this season, making 12 appearances and scoring 3 goals. Millwall boss Steve Lomas wanted to sign Waghorn permanently, but it was not to work out.

Waghorn will be keen to impress at Wigan and show that his success at Millwall is not a flash in the pan. He has a good left foot and is no mean penalty taker.

The 19 year old Tyias Browning was signed on a one month loan from Everton on January 10th. A day later he made a strong impression after coming on as a second half substitute in the 3-0 win against Bournemouth. A week later he was to concede a penalty in the disappointing 3-0 defeat at Doncaster. Browning is clearly one for the future, but the value of having a young player join the club for such a short loan period is open to question.

Following the last-gasp victory over Charlton yesterday Latics remain within reach of a play-off place.  Only one player – Nouha Dicko – left permanently during the transfer window. Grant Holt has gone on loan to Aston Villa, but Ivan Ramis will be staying at least until the end of the season following his failure to pass medicals at Cardiff and Crystal Palace. It could be a blessing in disguise for Latics.

A fit Ramis would make a big difference to the promotion push. Not one of that skilful trio – Jean Beausejour, Jordi Gomez and Ben Watson – left during the transfer window, although their contracts terminate in summer.

All in all, Latics have a better squad now than they had before the January window began. Moreover if loan players like Maynard, McEachran and Waghorn were to reach their optimum levels they could swing the balance and get Wigan into that play-off place.

Like Martinez last year, Rosler seems to have made ‘underwhelming’ loan signings in the transfer window.

But then again maybe they are better than they seem at first glance.

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