Wigan Athletic: why is there still so much uncertainty?

The uncertainty about the future of Wigan Athletic has posed a challenge for us all: both supporters and those within the club. The message boards and social media have been awash with concerns about the impending takeover with performances on the field of play getting progressively worse. The loss to Chorley was a bitter pill to swallow and the probability that John Sheridan will be taking over at Swindon this week adds to the uncertainty that prevails.

Last night I had watched an excellent first half performance at Tranmere by the youngest side in memory fielded by Wigan Athletic. They scored two cracking goals: a Will Keane header from a cross by Tom Pearce and a rasping drive from outside the box by the 18-year-old Charlie McHugh. The performance was slightly tainted by a schoolboy error that gifted the home team a goal, but the level of movement and accuracy of passing was way above what we have seen in recent weeks. During the half time interval I checked Twitter to see if anyone had posted an opinion on the game so far.

However, the tweets from Latics fans were almost exclusively related to a communique from the EFL regarding the takeover. They once again indicated the concerns of the fans over the stalling of the takeover process that the EFL need to ratify.

The conspiracy theories suggested that the Garrido group’s bid was contingent on Supporters Club (SC) funds helping them to meet the asking price for buying the club. Another train of thought was that the EFL was being careful to be seen that it is doing due diligence and did not want to exclude the possibility of supporter representation on a new board of directors. The cynical line was that the EFL will do whatever it can to make things difficult for Latics.

Discerning the truth of what is happening is very difficult. However, communications over the past couple of months provide some indicators.

On September 30 the SC indicated that:

“We are pleased to share the news that an unnamed bidder has now progressed to the next stage of exclusivity with the joint administrators. Although there remains a long way to go in this process, the Supporters Club has made contact with the bidder and we are currently in discussions regarding the future involvement of the supporters at Wigan Athletic, should their bid be successful.”

On the same day the administrators stated that:

“We are pleased to announce that we have reached agreement with a preferred bidder from Spain. The offer that has been accepted deals with not only the sale of the club but also allows the payment to non-football creditors to avoid the 15-point penalty this season. In addition, a substantial deposit has been received. We are now working with our lawyers and the bidder to produce all of the necessary paperwork to submit to the EFL so that successful transfer of the football share can be made at the earliest opportunity. The preferred bidder who has experience in football has made it plain that they do not wish for their details to be made public until such time as the sale is completed and we are respecting this anonymity. No further details will be released until EFL approval has been obtained.”

Over the next month the paperwork was being put together by the bidders and administrators, although no definitive statement arose regarding the use of the crowdfunder monies in the Spanish consortium’s bid.

The Garrido group representatives and the administrators were to meet with the EFL to clarify the takeover bid on November 3. However, on that same day the SC put out another communique indicating that the bidders had invited them to invest crowdfunder monies as part of the bidder’s purchase of the club but that they felt “unable to move forward with the proposed deal at this time.”

The SC had met with the EFL on October 29, being advised on November 2 that afinal decision was needed regarding the investment by no later than 12noon on Tuesday 3rd November. They added:” The timescales have been insufficient to enable us to investigate the outcomes of that meeting and to hold the proper discussions with our wider committee.”

The SC also stated that:

“We are keen to invest the funds in order to secure equity in Wigan Athletic and a voice for the supporters. However, we must be sure that the proposed bidders have the wherewithal to purchase and fund the operations of the club and stadium successfully independently of our funds based on acceptable financial forecasts. We have been assured by the bidders that this is the case, however we feel it is important that proof of sufficient funds is confirmed by the EFL prior to any supporters’ funding being committed.”

Given these statements it appears that the Garrido group and the administrators went to meet the EFL on November 3 knowing that they could not count on the crowdfunding monies could be used in the purchase of the club. They would have gone into the meeting knowing that they had to provide sufficient proof of funding in their own right for the takeover to be confirmed.

Prior to the EFL communications yesterday evening the administrators had issued an update on the club’s site:

“We have not as yet had a final decision from the EFL regarding the transfer of the Football Share. Both the bidders and ourselves together with our legal team have had regular and ongoing discussions with the EFL regarding their requirements.  Our exclusivity agreement with the bidders, which runs out on the 11th November, has been extended for a further period to try and ensure that we reach a satisfactory conclusion. At this stage we cannot say when that will be as matters rest with the EFL. Whilst we fully understand the fans frustration and the effect generally on the club we must adhere to the procedures set down if we are to be successful.”

The exclusivity agreement has been extended to allow further time for the bidders and administrators to iron out what the EFL describes as “outstanding issues” that need to be resolved.

Jose Miguel Garrido has made his intentions clear through the local press as to what to expect if the takeover is approved. Some fans brought up in the days of the Premier League and Dave Whelan’s patrimony might be less than enthusiastic about the takeover by the Spanish consortium. The club would not rack up the debts that were incurred in recent years in the reigns of David Sharpe and Darren Royle. Money would be invested but with caution, with some £4m-£5m invested into the academy over a period of years to bring it to category 1 status.

For those fans who are concerned about the long-term sustainability of the club Garrido’s plans have great credibility. Latics could remain in the lower divisions for some years. In order to get out of League 1 on the last two attempts the club put itself in financial difficulties through paying player salaries that were hugely disproportionate to the norm in the third tier. However, if the academy continues to grow and a manager is appointed who will nurture young players the club can more than make ends meet.

Let’s hope that this saga ends up in a more satisfactory end result than what happened at Prenton Park last night where we witnessed a penalty shootout in which both teams performed as poorly as I can remember. The final shootout in the takeover proceedings needs to go in Wigan Athletic’s favour!