From scapegoat to hero – A look at Jordi’s five years at Wigan

“My time in Wigan was unforgettable.”

 

 

So said Jordi Gómez after he had cut his five year tie with Wigan Athletic by agreeing to join Sunderland.

The myriad of Latics fans that for months had been campaigning for him to stay through the social media were to be disappointed, although in their heart of hearts they probably knew it was not going to happen. The player who was transformed from scapegoat to hero is packing his bags for the north east. Emotion apart, a return to the Premier League and a lucrative three year contract makes sound sense to a player who is 29 years old.

It is ironic that Gómez should be leaving Wigan with his popularity ratings being at their highest point during his five year stay. His final season proved to be easily his best. The Spaniard had started to win over fans through playing a key role in the FA Cup run of the previous season. Moreover he had shown before what a force he could be playing in the Championship division. However, it took the departure of the hapless Owen Coyle to allow Gómez the chance to show what he was capable of. He was to shine under Uwe Rösler.

After suffering continual verbal abuse from sections of the crowd for so many years, Gómez had won over so many of them through his performances over these past months. Ice cool penalties dispatched in the cup run against Manchester City and Arsenal thrust him once again into the eye of the media. Spectacular goals from long range in open play and from free kicks, matched with a high work rate added to the impression of the Spaniard being a changed man under the management of Uwe Rösler.

In the end his displays managed to convince the majority of Latics fans that he was a player the club should keep if they were to keep pressing for promotion. The inability of the club to keep him leads supporters to worry about who next will jump ship.

But was it more than just financial security that helped the Spaniard decide to leave Wigan after five years?

If it had not been for an end of season rally,  Sunderland would have been joining Latics in the Championship next season. Gus Poyet must have known it would be an uphill task to turn things around when he replaced Paolo Di Canio at Sunderland in October last year. Poyet had come in with a reputation for good football from his time at Brighton and the Mackems are a much more attractive side to watch now. It is a playing style that Gomez should find relatively easy to fit into.

Although the majority of Latics fans will be sad to see Gómez go, there will be others who won’t.

Jordi Gómez was a player who divided Latics fans. He was derided by those who preferred the more traditional English approach of “up and at ‘em” . His admirers would say he was a skilful player who could bring order to a game through his cultured technique, keeping the ball while under pressure, drawing fouls. It was sometimes said that we would never see how good Gomez could be until Latics were playing the level of skilful football that Roberto Martinez sought.

The anti-Gomez lobby was strong during Martinez’ reign at Wigan. Jordi Gómez was identified as a player in whom the manager had faith beyond the norm. When the crowd lost their patience with the tiki-taka style of Martinez’ teams it was so often Gomez who suffered the brunt of their frustration .

I retain a vivid memory of the first match of what proved to be the last season for Martinez at Wigan. Latics had lost 2-0 at home to Chelsea. At the end of the match I was sheltering from the pouring rain outside, when I overheard a conversation where a group of Latics supporters came to the consensus that having Gomez in the team was like playing with ten men. These fans were  infuriated  by the team’s apparent unwillingness to go at Chelsea after falling behind. Jordi had come on in the second half for crowd favourite Shaun Maloney. Once again Jordi Gómez had become the scapegoat of a section of fans, who were above all frustrated by the manager’s tactical approach.

In those days, when Wigan fell behind there would be little increase in tempo, contrary to what one would expect in English football. In this particular game Latics had so often seemed languid after giving away a soft opening goal. In such circumstances the Englishman in me would get frustrated, even if I  knew that Martinez’s teams would not follow the usual English pattern. Watch Barcelona fall behind and you would see no change in their brand of football: they would eventually grind you down and beat you. The Barcelona style was clearly an inspiration for Martinez, but he was savvy enough to know that Latics did not have the wherewithal to go with it fully.

Jordi had come through the youth ranks at La Masia, with the likes of Messi and Pique. The Barca style of play was in his blood and it was probably for that very reason that Martinez first signed him. Martinez espoused possession football and for Gómez had grown up playing that brand of tiki taka.

It was anathema  for Gómez to waste the ball with a speculative pass. He would infuriate fans by passing the ball backwards or sideways, rather than risk losing possession. His detractors would label him as lazy, too slow and unwilling to go into 50/50 challenges.

If one looked at the stats for ground covered during his time on the pitch the ‘lazy’ tag would he hard to justify. When Latics’ defence or midfield was under pressure Gómez was invariably there to receive the ball, so often drawing free kicks which gave his side a breather. But too often Martinez would play Gómez in a role wide on the right where he did not have the pace to get past the full back on the outside. Inevitably he would have to cut the ball back inside, once again testing the patience of the fans. The manager was doing the player no favours using him in that position.

Over four years in the Premier League Gómez had mixed success. In the minds of many Wigan Athletic supporters Jordi Gómez never quite proved that he could handle the transition from the Championship to the Premier League. Too often he would get himself into great scoring positions, but not have the composure to put the ball in the net. However, Martinez continued to have faith in Gómez and the player persevered with the support of his manager, despite hostility from elements of the crowd, but never establishing himself as a regular starter.

In the 2012-13, his last season in the Premier League, Gómez scored three goals in 32 appearances However, those goals were memorable as they came in the same game, a thrilling  3-2 home win over Reading in November.

In that very game Gómez was booed early on following misplaced passes and poor finishing. A few minutes later he slipped an incisive short pass through to Kone who should have scored. But Gómez was back to showing his frustrating side just before half time, maneuvering past defenders with considerable skill in before shooting wide. Who would have thought that he would come to the rescue, winning this game for the Latics with a brilliant hat trick of second half goals? Even the most fair and open-minded of Latics supporters had been getting to the point where they would wince to see his name on the team sheet.

The game would be remembered as the day that Gómez showed the Wigan fans that his manager’s faith in his abilities might be justified after all. In the second half of this match he had looked a class act, threading through good passes and taking his chances with great aplomb. Sadly Gomez was unable to add to his goal tally in the league after that.

That hat trick against Reading really was something special, but Gómez’ outstanding contribution in the 2012-13 season was in the FA Cup. Gomez was pivotal in that cup run, scoring three goals and making four assists. His assist for Callum McManaman’s goal in the semi-final against Millwall will stick in the minds of Wigan supporters for years to come. In the FA Cup Final Gomez had played remarkably well in a midfield holding role, but as fate would decree, he was the one to go off after 81 minutes to allow Watson to come on.

Given his previous success in the Championship with Swansea, Gómez appeared to be a key player for Owen Coyle on his arrival at Wigan. However, the Scot did not get the best out of the player, sometimes following Martinez’s habit of playing him wide on the right.

The low point for the player under Coyle was in the Europa League home game against Zulte Waregem in early December. Coyle had put out a well-balanced starting lineup, omitting his two out-of-form central strikers and playing Nick Powell upfront. Callum McMananan and James McClean were on the wings and this time Gómez was played in his natural advanced midfield role.The four were to link up very well at times in the first half, showing the kind of movement and mutual understanding that had been sadly lacking for big chunks of the previous game against Brighton. Although he made mistakes at times, Gómez was a key link player in the first half.

Gómez had a bad start to the second half, with poor deliveries from set pieces followed by the crowd voicing their frustration with him after being caught unawares as an opponent robbed him of the ball.  He was to be substituted soon after. Taking him off after the crowd got on his case was not going to help the player’s confidence. He needed a better level of support from a manager who had put him in the starting lineup.

However, the arrival of Rösler was to enable Gómez to play the football he was always capable of at Championship level, resulting in him being voted ‘Player of the Year’. But if fans would have voted for the  award in December, Gómez would have been nowhere near the top of the charts.

Ironically Gómez only became a regular starter under Rösler in March. Prior to that he was in and out of the lineup, only once completing a full 90 minutes. However, following serious injuries to Ben Watson and Chris McCann,  Gómez’s  name was to become one of the first to be written on the teamsheet. Spectacular and crucial goals, great assists and a willingness to cover every blade of grass of the pitch were to help Gómez win that ‘Player of the Year’ award. In doing so he leapfrogged over stalwarts like Emmerson Boyce and James McArthur who had played far more games and provided a real backbone for the team. However, given the abuse that Gómez had taken over the years, few would begrudge him the award.

In the minds of many Wigan Athletic supporters Jordi Gómez never quite proved that he could handle the transition from the Championship to the Premier League. He had a rare ability to drift in, seemingly unnoticed by a defence, but too often he would get himself into great scoring positions, but not have the composure to put the ball in the net. There had been so many times over the those years when Gómez had done everything right until his final touch has let him down, whether it will be a header, a shot or a defence-splitting pass. He just did not seem to have had the self-belief to deliver in the Premier League.

The stats show that in four years playing in the Premier League Gómez scored 7 goals in in 46 starts and 25 appearances as a substitute. He made no assists.

As Swansea’s ‘Player of the Year’ in the 2008-09 season he scored 12 goals in 38 starts and 6 substitute appearances, making 5 assists. As Wigan Athletic’s  ‘Player of the Year’ he scored 12 goals and made 10 assists in 37 starts and 13 substitute appearances, in all competitions. The stats reveal the gulf between the player’s performances in the Premier League and the Championship.

However, whatever shortcomings he might have had at Premier League level, there could be no doubting his determination and commitment to the club. Gómez has learned to hassle and harry the opposition, and to cover a large number of yards of the pitch in each game he plays. At Swansea he played in a newly promoted team that was on the up. His role was to orchestrate the midfield and to score goals. When he arrived at Wigan he moved into a struggling team that was too often unable to get the lion’s share of the possession.

Latics fans will surely wish Jordi Gómez well at Sunderland. Despite constant abuse from some sections of the crowd he has maintained a positive and professional attitude. He will be long remembered for his role in helping Wigan Athletic win the FA Cup.

Jordi’s next challenge will be to prove, once and for all, that he is a true Premier League player. Sunderland might not be the best side in the elite division, but with Gus Poyet at the helm the Spaniard  should be able to slot seamlessly into the style of play.

 

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From the Archives: Fan views of Latics players – Part 1 – Roger Espinoza and James McClean

The first posting on our Amigos site was made by Ned on August 11, 2011. It received less than 10 views that first day. But by the end of the month the site had received over 700 views.

Our readership has continued to steadily grow. In this current month of April the site has already received more than ten times the number of views than in that inaugural month, from viewers in more than fifty countries. The growth has been particularly significant in recent months.

Given that we now have a wider readership we plan to occasionally republish articles from our archives, that many may not have seen. We ask our long-established readers will bear with us on this. We will continue to put out our stream of current articles.

Our site stats have shown that our readership has been particularly interested in perspectives of Latics players from fans of their previous clubs. Thanks to contributions made by bloggers on the fan sites of those clubs for these articles from our archives.

Let’s start with fan views on Roger Espinoza and James McClean.

 

A Sporting Kansas City fan’s view of Roger Espinoza.

Espinoza

Written by: James Starritt, who writes and speaks about Sporting on the web and local radio, on sportingtimes.net and kicktheball.us

Published: December 6, 2012

 

 

A frenzy of crunching tackling and combative running

Roger is a fantastic player who has shown enormous capacity to grow over the last few years. As is typical for MLS he was played out of position for a while — on the flanks early — before being converted to full-back. He didn’t do well, and was a fairly average presence until Honduras popped him into central midfield, and he immediately carved out some fantastic performances. An injury crisis in the middle in 2011 forced a similar move shortly afterwards from Sporting Kansas City, and in his first game he simply dominated the entire midfield, scoring a goal, and breaking up opposition possession in what I can only describe as a frenzy of crunching tackling and combative running. He has never looked back.

If you watched Paul Ince, David Batty or Roy Keane back the days, he is cut from that mold. He is passionate and dominant when he is on his game, and he leaves everything he has on the field. He thrives on the competition, and seems to get stronger as games go onwards. He is very, very consistent. If he can play … he is on.

He is very dangerous around either area, breaking up possession in front of his defense and winning it back around the top of the opponents box. He is ideal sitting right between a defensive midfielder and an attacking/creative one — at least at this level. He can drop back into defensive midfield comfortably, however. He is not terribly dynamic going forward but he does create chances for other players to play around him simply by winning the ball and pressuring people into mistakes, he won’t make goals, you’ll still need players to capitalize on the possession he wins for that. If he can raise his game to BPL levels, Wigan should see more of the ball just having him out there. He is a decent passer, he won’t score many goals, but I think he will only improve with better players around him.

The transfer will go through, goodbyes have been said – I see no reason that he will not pass the medical. He may be a little beaten up after a long season but nothing stands out as problematic long-term that should prevent this going through. Pay will not be an issue either as he is on less than £80,000 currently … annually. The only question is whether he can handle the step up in level … what you get with Roger is a guy who will die trying. He is 26 now but players start later in MLS (they go to college/university and then play…) he is still learning and growing and doesn’t have 8 years of time on his legs. He’ll earn his share of yellows and reds… it is just the nature of his play, he isn’t malicious or dirty but if he dives in, he is going all in. You’ll get no histrionics, no diving – he goes down and bounces right up and gets right back into the game, not much complaining, no drama off the field, and he is a nice guy to talk to – he won’t have problems fitting in with the squad unless he struggles to feel at home within Wigan itself.

If he can handle the BPL I think he has the capacity to be a bit of a fan favorite, maybe not a huge star but a good solid pro who you’ll miss when he isn’t out there. We certainly will.”

A Sunderland fan’s view of James McClean

mcclean

 

Written by: Matthew Wear of Sunderland fan site “A Love Supreme”.

Published: August 19, 2013

In his time with Sunderland, there was a lot of side-taking for the Irish International. He was a little like marmite, either you love him or you hate him. He signed for us for a mere £300,000 from League of Ireland side Derry City, and under Steve Bruce it was seemingly a signing for the future.

However, due to his impressive performances in the reserve side he was placed on the bench but didn’t appear till Martin O’Neill’s first game in charge, which wasn’t until December, and many credited McClean for changing the game around in our favour.

For the rest of the 2011-12 season, McClean was in fantastic form as it seemed he had no fear taking on defenders from the top teams in the land and not being put off by them. Many SAFC fans believed we had unearthed a gem in McClean who would shine for us for years to come.

 In his first half-season he played 29 games, scoring 6 goals and putting in some fantastic displays. With a great season behind him McClean was called up to the Republic of Ireland squad for Euro 2012 but only making a substitute appearance against champions Spain. Many fans criticised Giovanni Trapattoni as they felt McClean warranted more game time than what he actually got during the tournament.

As the 2012-13 season rolled about fans were expecting as good as, if not better performances from McClean. But throughout the season, his off-field antics overshadowed his time on the pitch. The controversy surrounding the poppy situation lead to death threats from many fans across the country as he refused to wear the Sunderland shirt with a poppy sewn into the kit and instead chose not to. A lot of our fans then turned their backs on the Irishman, which subsequently lead to a loss of confidence on the pitch.

However it was later revealed that 6 people from the estate he grew up on, were shot by the British Military in 1972. But despite this he was unable to shrug off the booing, which despite what he has done, wasn’t warranted in my opinion.

This all culminated with a very, very poor season by the whole of the SAFC  team, but the majority of the blame fell onto McClean as he was in the middle of the controversy with the poppy. However, his form did drop dramatically in comparison to his debut season as he was labelled a ‘one trick pony’ by many fans and in 41 games he scored 5 goals. Lots of SAFC fans believed he had been found out and his success in the previous season was only because no one knew who he was or how to defend against him.

But despite all this, personally I wish all the best to the lad as I feel that in a new club like Wigan, who themselves still have some quality players who have played in the Premiership, he will thrive and possibly help them push for a place back in the top flight.

 

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A Sunderland fan’s view on James McClean

McCleanAs the Owen Coyle revolution continues so too does our coverage of Wigan Athletic’s new signings. This week’s insight comes thanks to Martyn McFadden and Matthew Wear of Sunderland fan site “A Love Supreme”.

Matthew shares his views on most recent signing James McClean. He likens the player with Marmite- an interesting comparison!

Here is Matthew’s article:

In his time with Sunderland, there was a lot of side-taking for the Irish International. He was a little like marmite, either you love him or you hate him. He signed for us for a mere £300,000 from League of Ireland side Derry City, and under Steve Bruce it was seemingly a signing for the future.

However, due to his impressive performances in the reserve side he was placed on the bench but didn’t appear till Martin O’Neill’s first game in charge, which wasn’t until December, and many credited McClean for changing the game around in our favour.

For the rest of the 2011-12 season, McClean was in fantastic form as it seemed he had no fear taking on defenders from the top teams in the land and not being put off by them. Many SAFC fans believed we had unearthed a gem in McClean who would shine for us for years to come.

 In his first half-season he played 29 games, scoring 6 goals and putting in some fantastic displays. With a great season behind him McClean was called up to the Republic of Ireland squad for Euro 2012 but only making a substitute appearance against champions Spain. Many fans criticised Giovanni Trapattoni as they felt McClean warranted more game time than what he actually got during the tournament.

As the 2012-13 season rolled about fans were expecting as good as, if not better performances from McClean. But throughout the season, his off-field antics overshadowed his time on the pitch. The controversy surrounding the poppy situation lead to death threats from many fans across the country as he refused to wear the Sunderland shirt with a poppy sewn into the kit and instead chose not to. A lot of our fans then turned their backs on the Irishman, which subsequently lead to a loss of confidence on the pitch.

However it was later revealed that 6 people from the estate he grew up on, were shot by the British Military in 1972. But despite this he was unable to shrug off the booing, which despite what he has done, wasn’t warranted in my opinion.

This all culminated with a very, very poor season by the whole of the SAFC  team, but the majority of the blame fell onto McClean as he was in the middle of the controversy with the poppy. However, his form did drop dramatically in comparison to his debut season as he was labelled a ‘one trick pony’ by many fans and in 41 games he scored 5 goals. Lots of SAFC fans believed he had been found out and his success in the previous season was only because no one knew who he was or how to defend against him.

But despite all this, personally I wish all the best to the lad as I feel that in a new club like Wigan, who themselves still have some quality players who have played in the Premiership, he will thrive and possibly help them push for a place back in the top flight.

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Expecting the unexpected

Wigan - down, but not out.

Wigan Athletic – down, but don’t count them out.

Aston Villa’s amazing 6-1 scoreline against Sunderland last night was certainly unexpected. One single result has lifted the midland club level on points with both Newcastle and Sunderland, only one point behind Norwich who they play on Saturday. Moreover their previously poor record for goal difference has been transformed by the +5 they got last night.

Villa’s win will send shock waves among Wigan Athletic supporters, who were hoping their team could overtake the midlanders. However, Latics are now 5 points behind the pack that Villa have now joined. Things are looking pretty grim.

Around the 85 minute mark of the Tottenham game on Saturday,  I was beginning to believe in my heart that Latics were going to come away with the three  points. Wigan’s second half display was quite superb. A wonderful goal from Callum McManaman had put Latics ahead. Roberto Martinez’ tactics were spot-on and Tottenham just didn’t look like scoring.

However, my head told me something different and I had to brace myself for what was to follow. Could Wigan keep up this vast effort  in those tired closing minutes? Stifling a Tottenham team brimming with talent is a not easy and takes its mental and physical toll.

Latics supporters have come to expect the unexpected from their team and Tottenham’s lucky late goal was probably not a surprise to many of them. So many times this season Latics have not had luck on their side and they have come away short-changed.

Despite much focus being on Aston Villa as relegation rivals, Roberto Martinez has constantly said that other teams will get dragged down into the fray. Let’s hope he is right. At the moment Wigan just do not have enough points, but with good results in the next two matches against West Bromwich and Swansea they can narrow the gap.

Maynor Figueroa’s injury in the Tottenham game will put him out for the rest of the season. A bitter pill for Latics to swallow, given that they were already without key central defenders, Antolin Alcaraz and Ivan Ramis.

Martinez resisted the urge to put in Gary Caldwell, when the Honduran went off injured. His decision to put in the faster Ronnie Stam proved to be tactically justified, as Tottenham’s speedy forwards were repelled. However, Caldwell will surely return for the upcoming matches, when a back three is likely to be used.

Things are looking bleak. But with Wigan Athletic, one can continue to expect the unexpected. Wigan may be down, but don’t count them out at this stage.

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Down to the last match again?

Leaguetable

‘Remember that our last game is against Aston Villa at home. It could easily go to the last day of the season.’  These were the words of Roberto Martinez in a recent interview.

Wigan Athletic are not strangers to the concept of surviving on the last day of the season. They have done it twice before.

Goals from Paul Scharner and David Unsworth helped Wigan keep afloat in 2006-2007, when they won their last game at Sheffield United. The win put them level on points with the Blades, but Wigan prevailed by a margin of just one in goal difference. In 2010-2011 it was Hugo Rodallega’s header that gave them a win in their last game at Stoke, although a draw would have sufficed, given the eventual results of other teams at the bottom.

Is it again going to come down to that last match? Or will it be all over before then?

Monday night’s 3-0 defeat for Aston Villa at Old Trafford opens up that possibility. Wigan Athletic – with a  match in hand – have 31 points to Villa’s 34. Reading and QPR remain anchored at the bottom with 24 points. If either club were to win all of its remaining four games – most unlikely, but not impossible –  it could reach 36 points.

The probability is therefore that Reading and QPR will get relegated, together with either Latics or Aston Villa. However, there  remains a possibility  that one of those clubs currently on 37 points – Sunderland, Stoke and Newcastle – could also go down if their last four matches were to produce no yield. Very unlikely, given the squads at their disposal, but stranger things have happened.

Aston Villa’s next game is scheduled for Monday at Sunderland, when they will play knowing the result of Latics’ game with Tottenham on Saturday. If Wigan could manage a positive result against Tottenham it would put a lot of psychological pressure on Villa prior to the Sunderland game. Conversely a defeat on Saturday, followed by a win for Villa,  would open up a 6 point gap, which would be hard to surmount.

Martinez  has talked about the need for Wigan to win three out of their last five matches, not an easy matter when two of those are against teams in the top five. But not impossible.  If Wigan and Villa were to eventually finish level on points it would get down to goal difference. Latics currently hold the advantage at -23, compared with Villa’s -27.

For the moment Wigan are waiting anxiously to get an assessment of the damage done to Antolin Alcaraz’ hamstring, which caused him to limp off at West Ham after only 15 minutes. The return of the big Paraguayan after a long-term groin injury has really helped shore up a leaky defence. A prompt return from Alcaraz could make a big difference to Latics’ chances of survival.

The pressure is on for all the teams in the relegation zone, but especially so for Wigan Athletic and Aston Villa. It is the time of the season where you are looking for a little luck to go your way. Just one lucky goal or one bad refereeing decision could tip the balance.

Given the horrendous injuries Latics have had this season they are due some luck. It’s never too late for a bit of luck to come your way.

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