Bramble and Burn


Dan Burn’s inept back pass to his goalkeeper gave Nottingham Forest a flying start at the City Ground. The home team centre forward Britt Assombalomba snuffled it up to give his side an early lead. It was the kind of error a Sunday League defender would be embarrassed by. Soon after the boos started to come from a small section of the away support when Burn touched the ball again. Thank goodness the jeering subsided and it did not rear its ugly head again.

A couple of weeks earlier a Latics fan, who had been to the pre-season games and had made a frustrating journey to watch his team play at Bristol said that Burn was “an accident waiting to happen”. Another went further by saying that he looked like a second Titus Bramble.

But is it fair to compare Burn with Bramble? Was the fan referring to the Titus Bramble who was famous for his high profile errors or the one who was Player of the Season for Steve Bruce’s Latics in the 2008-09 season?

Titus Bramble arrived at Wigan on a free transfer from Newcastle in the summer of 2007. Although he had made over 100 league appearances in his time at the north east club, he had become more well known for his errors than his considerable attributes as a Premier League central defender. Bramble had a superb physique with the requisite skills to be a top class defender. But it was his gaffes that had given him notoriety. Bruce was sticking his neck out by taking in the big Ipswich-born defender, but the manager himself had been a central defender. Could he and his coaching staff help Bramble become a more complete player?

It was not easy for Bruce or Bramble and the player continued to make those same kinds of errors in his early days at Wigan.

But Bruce maintained his belief in the player. The result was Bramble being voted both Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year near the end of the 2008-09 season. Bramble was to spend three years at Wigan, before following Bruce to Sunderland.

Dan Burn’s poorly hit back pass at Nottingham hardly places him in the category of Bramble. But Fulham fans will tell you he was prone to the odd howler and his pre-season performances for Latics were riddled with occasional errors that one would not expect from a player who has made more than 70 appearances in the Championship.

Having a very tall central defender can be a prerequisite for success in the Championship. At 6 ft 6 in Burn can dominate in the air. Tall defenders like Burn are not always strong in their distribution, an important feature in Gary Caldwell’s style of play, but Burn is capable of launching precise passes with a sweet left foot. Moreover he can be effective on the ground in making interceptions and breaking up play.

However, Burn needs to work on his heading of the ball. Being tall is not sufficient. He needs to work on developing more power and control of his headers. His arrival in the opposition penalty area should provoke concern for their defenders, but he remains unconvincing.

More than anything else he needs to work on his concentration.

When Bramble arrived at Wigan he was 24, the same age as Burn. Direct comparisons are futile. Their attributes and experience differ. But there are analogies.

Titus Bramble was a success at Wigan despite his precedents. His manager clearly believed in him and inspired him to give his best.

Like Bruce, Caldwell too is an ex- central defender. Can Caldwell help Burn cut out those errors, those moments of uncertainty which can blight his performances?

Dan Burn and Titus Bramble are different types of player from different eras. Moreover Bramble operated in the Premier League, not the Championship. But some parallels exist. Will Burn become one of the first names on Caldwell’s team sheet as was Bramble in the Bruce era?

Burn has the attributes to become a dominant central defender in the mould of Fulham legend Brede Hangeland. As such he could be invaluable to Latics. Although he can sometimes be uncertain in his play he has not committed the quantities of high profile errors that had plagued his predecessor Bramble’s early career. But can he win over the doubters in the Wigan support as Bramble did?

Caldwell was clearly unhappy with Fulham’s first goal at the weekend. With Jake Buxton’s suspension period over will he recall the ex-Derby player at Burn’s expense for the QPR game coming up on Saturday?

Or will he find a way to include both, giving Burn a vote of confidence?



Splashing money on a striker and the SCMP

Does the SCMP penalise the smaller clubs?
Does the SCMP penalise the smaller clubs?

Bristol Rovers were in dire straits in late January 2002. It was their first-ever season in the 4th tier of English football and they were doing badly, occupying the 87th place of the 92 league clubs.

A trip to a Premier League club in the FA Cup sounded like a recipe for disaster. But Rovers’ 3-1 victory at Pride Park was to prove the showcase for a young striker whose hat-trick destroyed Derby that day. Nathan Ellington was only 20 at the time, but was heading towards twenty goals for the season in a struggling side.

At the time Wigan Athletic were hovering around mid-table in League 2, the 3rd tier. Latics had finished in the top six the previous three seasons and manager Paul Jewell had spent freely in a bid to get promotion.

In summer he had paid Dundee United £500,000 for Jason de Vos, £750,000 to Wolves for Tony Dinning and £300,000 to Watford for Peter Kennedy. He had followed that up in December with the signings of John Filan from Blackburn for £600,000 and Gary Teale from Ayr United for £275,000.

However, Latics were just not scoring enough goals. They had scored a paltry 53 in 46 league matches the previous season and desperately needed someone who could put the ball in the back of the net.

Jewell’s signing of Ellington for £1.2 million a couple of months later raised eyebrows in the English football world at the time. It was an enormous fee for a club in the third tier, with an average attendance of around 6,000, to pay to one in the tier below them. However, in the following season Ellington’s 22 goals propelled Latics to winning the division. Ellington was to go on to form that wonderful partnership with ex-Bristol Rovers teammate, Jason Roberts, that was to help Latics reach the Premier League.

It had been Wigan’s sixth season in the third tier when Ellington was signed in 2002, but just over thirteen years on Wigan Athletic are contemplating life back there. But it is a different club now than it was then and the Financial Fair Play protocol has come into play. Can Latics once again get out of the third tier, albeit within a differing economic climate?

There have been many theories put forward as to why Latics were relegated this season. But, no matter what was going off the pitch, scoring only 39 goals in 46 league games was the main contributory factor. Dave Whelan had splashed some £8 million during the summer transfer window in signing strikers Andy Delort and Oriol Riera together with Adam Forshaw and Emyr Huws, who were expected to provide some creativity in midfield.

Sadly the gamble did not come off and none of the four was to play in the second half of the season. Forshaw was sold, Huws injured and the two strikers sent back to their home countries on loan. Given the failed investment made by Whelan, will his grandson and new chairman, David Sharpe, be brave enough to follow a similar path this summer by making major investments in players?

Whelan had splashed money around in both the 2001-02 and the 2014-15 seasons in bids for promotion. However, in 2001-02 there was little hope of a return on his investment. Over two decades he was to pour around £100 million into the club with little hope of getting any of it back. Not only was getting promotion to the Premier League at a considerable financial cost to him, but he had to keep pouring money into for the club to stay there.

In 2007 following the departure of Jewell and an unfortunate spell under Chris Hutchings, Whelan brought back Steve Bruce to steady the ship. Bruce did exactly that. Hutchings had presided over six successive defeats, taking Latics into the bottom three. Bruce arrived in November and managed to steer Latics into 14th place, well clear of relegation. In the 2009-09 season that followed they finished 11th. But Bruce’s success had come at a financial cost. The result was Wilson Palacios and Emile Heskey leaving in January and Antonio Valencia in July. Nevertheless Latics had made losses of £11.2 million and £5.8 million over the two seasons with Bruce in charge.

Roberto Martinez was appointed in the summer of 2009 with the brief of slashing the wage bill, but maintaining Wigan’s Premier League status. Even before the season had begun Lee Cattermole had been sold for £3.5 million. Martinez was to guide Latics into 16th place, with the operating loss for the season cut to £4 million.

The 2010-11 saw Latics finish in 16th place once again, with a loss of £7.2 million. But in the 2011-12 season they were to turn things around financially, finishing 15th with a profit of £4.3 million. A profit of £822,000 was made the following season when they won the FA Cup but were relegated from the Premier League.

Relegation to the Championship saw the club cut its cloth according to its changed circumstances. Wages for 2013-14 were cut from around £50 million the previous season to £30 million. A profit of £2.6 million was announced.

However, profit and loss statements do not tell the full story of a club’s finances. Accountancy uses the concept of amortisation, which tends to distort the picture.  In simple terms transfer fees are spread over the term of a player’s contract.

Let’s say that Wigan paid a £2.8 million transfer fee to sign Andy Delort in 2014, who was given a four year contract. The amortised value is therefore £700,000 per year. On the accounts for this year the transfer fee would therefore appear as an amortisation of £700,000. Delort’s amortised book value after one year would therefore be £2.8 million, less £700,000, equalling £2.1 million.

Now let’s say that Delort is sold for £2.0 million after being at the club for two years. After two years his amortised book value is £1.4 million, so the accounts for 2016-17 would show a profit on the sale of £2.0 million less £1.4 million, that is £0.6 million. Let’s also say Delort’s annual salary was £1million. For that year’s accounts Latics would actually show a profit improvement of £2.3million due to lower wage costs of  £1 million, lower amortization costs of £0.7 million and the £0.6 million profit on the transfer.

The use of amortization in accounting for football club profits and losses is an art unto itself. However, the declared profits shown by Wigan Athletic in the last three years of reporting suggest that the club has been heading in the right direction. In simple terms its long-term sustainability depends on nothing less than making sure that incomings outweigh outgoings.

The higher than usual level of transfer activity and changes in wage costs over the course of the season just finished will certainly keep the club’s accountants busy. However, in layman’s terms the transfer fees received through the sales of such as James McArthur and Callum McManaman outweighed those spent.  Moreover the January sales and departures enabled the club to drastically its wage bill.

Wigan Athletic today announced its new season ticket prices, David Sharpe stating that:

Gary Caldwell and his staff will work tirelessly to get things right on the pitch, and I’m sure that our loyal supporters will support the players as they always do. We want to reward our supporters after a difficult season and by reducing prices by 5% we are demonstrating how much we appreciate the support we have received. Our fans will play a massive part in the new era of the club. Our season cards continue to be the most cost effective way of watching Wigan Athletic and remain extremely competitive compared to other clubs. We are committed to making the cost of watching football affordable to all.”

The club’s admission prices were among the lowest in the Championship division, where average attendance dropped to 12,882 from 15,176 the previous season. A further drop in attendance would appear inevitable, even if the club has a successful season. The prospective fall in attendances, together with reduced admission prices, means a significant further drop in gate receipts.

The average attendance in League 1 this year was 7,061. It was the larger city clubs – Sheffield United, Bradford City and Bristol City – who averaged over 10,000. Over their previous six seasons in the third tier Wigan Athletic averaged 5,841, with the highest yearly average of 7,287 in the promotion season 2002-03 and the lowest yearly average of 3,967 in the first season 1997-98.

With gate receipts becoming a more critical factor, Sharpe will be hoping he can maintain average attendances at least around the 8,000 mark. After their successes in the past decade in particular, Latics now have a greater fan base than before. However, he will be aware that he has to keep admission prices relatively low to compete with the local rugby club for support and not alienate fans who have loyally stuck by the club in the most horrendous of seasons that just passed.

For the next couple of years gate receipts will not be the main source of revenue, given parachute payments of £8 million per season. On the face of it Latics will have a significant financial advantage over the other 23 clubs in the division, none of whom have parachute payments. However, FFP protocols differ greatly between League 1 and the Championship. The Salary Cost Management Protocol (SCMP) system, operated in League 1, allows owners to inject funds in ways that would not be possible in the Championship.

League 1 winners Bristol City have been losing money steadily over recent years. In 2013-14 they lost £3.9m after being relegated to League 1. They had lost £12.9 million in the Championship the previous season, with big losses in the years prior to that. In January 2014 their major shareholder, Steve Lansdown, turned £35 million of debt into equity to keep the club afloat. Despite their lack of profitability they have been able to put funds into the redevelopment of their Ashton Gate ground, due to be completed in 2016-17.

In contrast Yeovil have not had that kind of financial support from their owners. Sadly they have suffered successive relegations and will play in League 2 next season. In March chairman John Fry claimed that their budget of £1.4 million was the 14th highest in League 1, the highest they had ever had in that division. They had started the season with a loss of £5 million hanging over them from the previous year in the Championship division. Fry has repeatedly stated his view that the SCMP penalises smaller clubs like his own, whose gate receipts cannot compete with those of bigger clubs.

David Sharpe continues to reiterate his desire to get immediate promotion back into the Championship.  Parachute payments notwithstanding, is he willing to give Gary Caldwell the kind of financial backing that his grandfather gave Paul Jewell more than a decade ago?

If he is then maybe we will see a young striker coming into the club who can make a difference in the way that Nathan Ellington did from 2002-2005.


Man U duo for Wigan?


Two of Manchester United’s championship winning trio to Wigan Athletic?


The Manchester United duo of Mike Phelan and Rene Meulensteen are the bookmakers’ current favourites for the vacant manager’s job at Wigan Athletic.

What chance them both being appointed as a double act? Presumably with Phelan as manager and Meulensteen as assistant/coach?

The bookmakers still consider experienced managers, Owen Coyle and Steve McClaren,  being in contention, together with Karl Robinson. Interestingly the odds on Gus Poyet have been steadily lowering.

A return for Steve Bruce has not been ruled out by the bookmakers, although he has just got his Hull City side back in the Premier League. On Tuesday the Daily Mail reported that Bruce has been contacted about a return to the DW Stadium, but Hull deny any official approach having been made.

Graeme Jones’ future at the club remains unclear. Given his four years as Martinez’s assistant at Wigan he surely deserves consideration for the manager’s position. However. we will have to wait and see if Roberto Martinez will lure him away to Everton. Less than a year ago Jones was a hot favourite for the manager’s job at his previous club, Swansea.

One recalls that Martinez’s unveiling as Latics new manager had to be delayed until a wrangle over compensation for Swansea ‘s loss of Graeme Jones and Kevin Reeves was resolved. Would Whelan request the same for Jones and/or Reeves to leave Wigan for Everton?

It is a nervy time for Latics supporters. All the candidates have their strong points and there is not one who stands head and shoulders above the rest. It will not be an easy decision.

It is understood that Whelan is due to start interviewing tomorrow, expecting to make up his mind by the end of next week.

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Steve Bruce is a name that most Wiganers will regard with respect. He kept Wigan Athletic afloat during difficult times in the Premier League in his return to the club. In his previous spell he got his team into the playoffs, where they were unluckily defeated. He left Wigan to join a club willing and able to spend so much more cash, hungry  for improvement. Sunderland got major cash windfalls through the sales of Kenwyne Jones and Jordan Henderson, but Bruce  has also spent a lot of money, has  a high wage bill  and has to deal with high expectations from the fans. Poor results are putting him under increasing pressure. Bruce won 32% of his Premier League games at Wigan. At Sunderland he has won only 28% so far, despite major capital outlays. Sunderland stand 15th two points above the drop zone. Bruce’s job is under threat: a bad result this weekend could be the final straw.

Sunderland, like the Wigan team in Bruce’s time, will not be pretty to watch. It will be fight-ball, rather than football, with the ball in the air, looking for knock-ons and deflections. Strong tacking will be the order of the day. It was a successful formula at Wigan and probably will be at Sunderland , if he is given the time to persevere. Latics have gone nine games without a win; Sunderland have won one in their last seven. Sunderland have won only two of their Premier League games against Wigan, whereas Latics have won five. Latics have taken seven points out of fifteen at Sunderland over the past five years.

So the portents suggest Latics have a decent chance of getting of getting a result against Sunderland. However, a certain amount of steel will be needed to do so. That was not evident last year when they capitulated 4-2 to an injury ravaged Sunderland team. If Latics are to be successful this time around they will need to stop Sunderland playing the way they like to play. Moreover they will need to avoid red cards and convert a much higher percentage of their goal scoring attempts into goals. More than anything they are going to have to have the mental steel and concentration required to beat the hosts. Hopefully Martinez will stick with his enlightened new tactical formation. Having three central defenders would help cope with the aerial threat, but the wing backs will need to play an important defensive role on the flanks. Cutting out the crosses is key to containing Sunderland.

Latics’ formation in the Blackburn match was a revelation. The result was disappointing, but a victory would have been well merited. Let those wing backs attack Sunderland and put quality crosses over. Oh, for a couple of central strikers to put the ball in the back of the net! Remember that Steve Bruce’s teams, like him deserve respect. They are never easy to beat. But it can be done!

Go Wigan: we can beat them!