A couple of weeks ago an article hit a couple of web sites that Wigan Athletic were looking at signing another striker in January. The player was interesting other clubs, including some from the Championship, but Latics were thought to be in pole position to sign him.
But why would Latics want to sign another forward with Craig Davies and Grant Holt coming back into the reckoning? Moreover Shaq Coulthirst and Haris Vuckic were getting closer to fitness and Gary Caldwell already had Will Grigg, Jordy Hiwula, Michael Jacobs, Sanmi Odelusi and Yanic Wildschut available for his front line.
Grant Holt’s departure for Wolves yesterday was no surprise, even if its timing might have been. He was one of five players on Championship-level salaries still remaining at the club. Emyr Huws, Billy Mckay and Andrew Taylor had already been sent out on season-long loans, together with Lee Nicholls until mid-December.
Between the end of last season and the beginning of this one, the club did a remarkable job in moving so many players from the previous regimes, allowing “hungry” new players to come in. At the end of last season loanees returned to their clubs and none of the seven players at the ends of their contracts were to stay. Nine players were sold, many for give-away prices.
Holt’s departure means that 13 players who would have been on Championship salaries are not currently at the club. Rough estimates place Wigan’s playing staff wage bill at around a third of what is was in the first season back in the Championship division. However, three players still remain on salaries that are possibly double what many of the newer signings are earning.
Caldwell has done a wonderful job in transforming the squad despite being under financial constraints. The 21 “new” players in his squad have largely shown that they can adapt to the style of football he seeks and the team has a genuine chance of promotion back to the Championship.
However, the financial reality is that Latics have suffered a very significant loss in earnings in being relegated from the Championship to League 1. There are still further adjustments to be made.
There are five players in the squad who are on short term loans which will expire before mid-January. Moreover the January transfer window presents an opportunity for players remaining on Championship-level salaries to move on. This includes Holt, whose loan to Wolves expires on January 2nd.
The timing of Holt’s departure is by no means ideal for Caldwell. He now has only two players – Grigg and Davies – naturally suited to the centre forward position. Given Davies’ vulnerability to injury it looks likely that Caldwell will seek another central striker either through the loan market or as a permanent signing in the January window. Hence those rumours of Wigan’s interest in the 23 year old and 6 ft 2 in tall Vadaine Oliver of York City might not be far off the mark.
Should Holt manage to stay fit and show some form at Wolves there are possibilities of him not returning to Wigan. His contract is up at the end of the season and even if he does not stay at Wolves there may be other Championship clubs interested in a striker of his experience.
Two of the three players remaining on Championship salaries have had significant injury problems over the past months. However, Chris McCann has shown that he has overcome his injury and has been in fine form. But Don Cowie has only recently returned and has made just one substitute appearance. Earlier in the season there were rumours linking the third of those – Leon Barnett – to Preston North End. However, with injuries to key central defenders Caldwell would have been loath to let him go at that time. Barnett had a nightmare 2014-15 season, but his form has certainly improved over the past weeks. All three players have contracts which expire at the end of the season and might be interested in moving on in January were a good offer to come through.
January could well be another busy time for Caldwell. In the meantime Coulthirst’s loan from Tottenham expires tomorrow. Donald Love has another month to go on his loan from Manchester United. The loans of Francisco Junior, Shaun Murray and Yanic Wildschut expire in January.
Just as it seemed Caldwell had a settled squad and things were starting to click, Holt’s departure came out of the blue. The likely reality is that the squad will not be finally settled until the end of January at the earliest.