High turnover but what’s changed? A perspective on Wigan’s latest window

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Management hates it, the media loves it, fans have little choice but to be glued to it in hope and trepidation. Transfer deadline day is bigger business every year that goes by. It’s one of the ways – the lack of a winter break being the other obvious one – in which the British game likes to make things that bit more complicated (and profitable) than the rest of the world.

For clubs that swapped managers during the first half of the season, the January transfer window has become an opportunity for the new regime to stamp its authority on the squad. Ship out players that don’t fit the tactical model; replace them with players that do; balance the books by shedding big earners and reinvesting in problem positions. It’s a pattern that has become all too familiar at Wigan, with last year’s success in League 1 the notable exception.

There are a couple problems with this approach. First, you have less time in January than in the summer, not only to recruit good players and find a home for high-earning misfits, but just as importantly to provide incomings the tactical and personal adaptation period they need to succeed. On top of that, you have to navigate an inflated market to negotiate fair prices for players, which can be particularly challenging if you appear desperate, as one does in a relegation fight, for example.

Another unpleasant feature of the January transfer window well known to Latics, particularly in the Premier League days, is the risk of losing your most successful players. It tends to be instigated by agents or players themselves, and to materialize in the dying hours of the window, preventing the club from finding an adequate replacement. Sometimes, these decisions become of huge financial importance to the club, and their approval is beyond the manager’s control.

Add to this Wigan’s very limited spending power compared to its Championship competitors – and you realize what a big ask we as fans are making of the manager. It’s worth pausing to put oneself in Warren Joyce’s shoes. There are plenty of arguments claiming the manager should only be judged after a window. I’d take them a step further to suggest that’s still nowhere near enough time. The new players haven’t had a pre-season with him; many will need to adjust to playing at a higher level; all will have to adapt to new surroundings and teammates; and Joyce himself will need to adapt his tactics, having lost his most valuable player.

The counter argument, of course, is that Joyce brought some of these challenges upon himself. Too much turnover is bad for any organization, specially in a short period of time, and the high number of ins and outs will breed instability. Was it really necessary to bring in so many people, so many loanees in particular? Right when the team was gaining some consistency and producing results on the pitch? Plenty to debate. In the meantime, here are some ups and down on another busy window:

Good News: The whopping fee received for Yanic Wildschut (£7.5 million according to Sky,£7 million elsewhere.) It’s hard to take, given his status as Latics’ best attacking threat, with pace and strength to burn, and room to improve. But his finishing was often frustrating, he was inconsistent, and very much rough around the edges. If he had to go, credit is due the club for gaining such a huge profit on their investment.

Bad News: Yanic again. Being gone so late in the window. It’s hard to ignore that Wigan have scored three goals fewer than Rotherham, and yet just sold their most effective attacker.

Good News: In Gabriel Obertan, the club have found as close to a direct replacement as could be expected. We’ll be left to imagine what Joyce’s team might have looked like with two pacey wingers on the pitch. But at least Obertan’s defining attributes are similar to Wildschut’s: pace and strength, some trickery, abundant potential yet inconsistent finishing. He should be entering his peak years, has something to prove, and lots of experience at a higher level. Joyce knows him, he’s apparently a good professional, and they have said encouraging things about each other. The term of contract is short, therefore financial risk is too. All in all, a gamble worth taking.

Bad news: The squad feels unbalanced and bloated. There are a lot of midfielders, but few wingers or attacking playmakers given Nick Powell’s absence. With Obertan almost certain to start, it’s likely Michael Jacobs (in desperate need of a goal) on the other wing, with Colclough, Weir and Browne all unproven backups. Meanwhile, in the centre of midfield, Joyce has Power, Morsy, Perkins, MacDonald, Gilbey, Tunnicliffe, Hanson, Byrne, and Laurent to keep happy. Perhaps some of these players will be used in different positions (Hanson as defensive cover, etc.), but it’s a bloated, uneven squad that Joyce may have a hard time keeping happy.

Good News: Welcome Omar Bogle! He may need time to adapt. But the club beat out competitors to get him, and on paper, he has everything he needs to succeed at Championship level. A lot of hope is resting on his inexperienced shoulders, but if his teammates can provide him service, there is reason to believe. The option of a little-and-large Grigg and Bogle parternship is also intriguing. He’s left-footed, too.

Bad News: Banking on lower division signings is playing with fire. If Grigg is to become injured, Latics are left with Bogle, and Mikael Mandron to lead the line. Both have potential, but their success has come in League 2 and the Conference, respectively. They are completely unproven at this level, and playing with new teammates.

Good News: Alex Bruce appears an astute short-term signing, with potential for a longer stay. Dan Burn and Jake Buxton have developed a useful partnership in recent games, but Bruce is a dependable and experienced head to provide backup, who should also be good to have around the place.

Bad News: He hasn’t played all season due to an Achilles injury.

Good News: Keeping Sam Morsy and Max Power. Much of the attention has been on keeping Morsy, who has performed very well since his return. Power may not have started strongly, but has been steadily improving and remains a player of undoubted potential. Had rumours of his departure materialised, Latics would have lost an opportunity to reap the rewards of blooding him at this level. Good things should come of establishing Power and Morsy as a partnership.

Bad News: Too many loanees. In order to secure loan signings, managers often have to pledge a certain number of game time to the players’ parent clubs. Given the maximum of five loan signings per match-day squad, it looks an impossibility Latics’ recent loan signings will all get their wish to show what they can do. Jakob Haugaard may find himself sacrificed given the arrival of Matt Gilks. Callum Connolly is certain to play. That leaves Jamie Hanson, Marcus Browne, James Weir, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Bruce and Haugaard to vie for the other berths. Presumably, borrowing players and not giving them a game reduces the chances of players being borrowed from the same clubs in the future. Given many of these players are expected to be fringe players anyway, might Latics have been better off without a few of them?

Good News: Joyce appears to have both a short-term, and long-term plan. Signings like Gilks, Bruce and Obertan point to survival needs, while the signings of Jack Byrne, Mandron, and Josh Laurent show a continued desire to invest in youth and capitalize on Joyce’s wealth of experience in the area of player development. Byrne, in particular, was highly rated at City and appears a good long-term signing.

Verdict

Despite the high turnover, it doesn’t appear likely there will be immediate, dramatic changes to the starting lineup – Obertan in for Wildschut, perhaps the goalkeeper, and a new striking option in Bogle off the bench. This should prove a blessing, given the progress made in recent weeks. But it also calls into question the need for such a high number of incomings and outgoings. Joyce would do well to resist the urge of upsetting the players who have recently given him good commitment and results.

As supporters, patience is going to be important. Demanding instant impact from players adapting to a higher level is unfair, as is demanding instant adjustment from a team that became dependent on Wildschut to create for it. But if the new signings can add to the promising form shown of late and provide cover for injuries, we can be cautiously optimistic that, with a new crew of Joyce-loyal players and relative stability in the starting XI, we’re better off than before the window.

Full squad can be seen here

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Perchinho arrival heralds in a new style

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Yesterday, a player known in some circles as Perchinho became the latest of  Wigan Athletic’s new signings. He could well become a key piece in the jigsaw puzzle that Owen Coyle is putting together to get Latics back into the Premier League.

Despite the nickname, Perchinho is not a flamboyant Brazilian who will help Latics maintain the style of champagne football that Roberto Martinez’s teams could produce on big occasions. Quite the opposite. He is James Perch, a fairly ordinary-looking footballer, given the nickname affectionately, though ultimately ironically, by Newcastle fans. His critics would say he cannot accurately pass the ball more than 10 yards.  So how  can such a player  play a key role  in a promotion-challenging team?

Born in Mansfield, Perch came up through the youth ranks at Nottingham Forest, making his league debut against Wigan in 2004 and amassing 190 appearances in six years before earning a move to Newcastle United. During this time, he had been used as a utility player, appearing in the right, left and centre of defence and as  a ball winner in midfield, and was eventually trusted with the captain’s armband.perchinho

Perch was to create an unenviable Premier League record on joining Newcastle after receiving consecutive yellow cards in his first five games at that level. Despite the rocky start, the ex-Forest captain went on to make 65 appearances for the north east club over the past three years, including promotion from the Championship and a Europa League campaign.

The signing of a player like Perch is something that Roberto Martinez would have been unlikely to contemplate. He just would not have fitted into the style of flowing football the Spaniard sought. But then again, this is a new era. Owen Coyle has a more pragmatic approach and we are not going to be seeing that mixture of champagne football, interspersed between periods of innefectiveness and defensive mediocrity, that we witnessed  in the Martinez era. So what kind of football will we see during Coyle’s tenure at the club? perch1

James Perch may not be the most skillful player around, but he is a great tackler and a consummate team player and professional. A recent posting on Squawka News offers an interesting insight into Perch’s capabilities, describing him as a “Toon cult hero”, with stats to back up their argument. Another interesting article on Newcastle fan site  Blog on the Tyne lauds Perch’s professionalism.

Wiganers have always appreciated players who are willing to battle for the club and Perch looks destined to become a fan favourite, as he was at Forest and Newcastle. Perch’s career has probably been held back by his ability to slot into different positions. Coyle might get the best out of the player by using him in one specific role.

With so many new players coming into the squad it is important that Latics begin the season with a backbone of last year’s players in the starting lineup. The mutual  understanding between players who have played together for a period of time should not be undervalued. The newcomers can be gradually weaned into the team. However, I would not be surprised to see James Perch’s name on the teamsheet for the season opener at Barnsley.

Owen Coyle’s team will not provide the silky approach we have got used to, but we can expect them to be attacking and entertaining. Professionals  like James Perch can be a really positive force in the club, as well as on the pitch. It will be the hard work of players like him that will enable team mates to get the ball and challenge the opposition.

The Martinez era is over , but Coyle’s squad is quickly taking shape and we can continue to look forward to watching good football, albeit in a different style.

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Meet Roger Espinoza — the inside scoop on Latics’ Honduran target

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As today’s news reports have all but confirmed the signing of Honduran Roger Espinoza, we thought we’d seize the opportunity to introduce him through a Kansas-tinted lens. Though familiar on this side of the pond for his star turn in the summer olympics, the midfielder is a far cry from Wigan’s typical Latin American recruits.

Born in Puerto Cortes, Honduras, Espinoza moved the United States at the age of 12, where he has resided since — becoming a citizen in the process. He played collegiate (university-level) football for Yavapai College before transferring to the much bigger Ohio State Buckeyes, where he was identified as a talent and selected in the “draft” by the Kansas City Wizards.

He has since made more than 100 appearances over a four-season span for the club — now known as Sporting Kansas City — and amassed 25 for his native Honduras since his first call-up in 2009, not including the four for the olympic squad this past summer.

Not only will Espinoza become the fourth Honduran to don Wigan Athletic colours — strengthening the ever growing bond between our club and the central american country — he also arrives with fluent English, a huge advantage over his countrymen. As one Wigan supporter humorously, if somewhat inaccurately pointed out, he will be the first “American-sounding” player at the club since Jason de Vos.

When I reached out to the independent supporters club, the KC Cauldron, their response was warm and swift. Latics supporters know a thing or two about losing quality players for little or no money, and the feeling in Kansas is not unlike what we have experienced so many times in the past — sadness and resignation, mixed with pride and genuine wishes for the player to succeed on the big stage.

Without further ado, the words of James Starritt, who writes and speaks about Sporting Kansas City on the web and local radio, on sportingtimes.net and kicktheball.us — and has been thoroughly impressed by Roger in his four years at the club.

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.”

Best transfer window yet? Crusat, Maloney, Van Aanholt strengthen Wigan

With another dramatic deadline day safely behind us, I daresay Wigan Athletic has enjoyed its most successful transfer window yet. While other clubs wheeled and dealed and were ultimately forced to re-shuffle their packs to cover for unexpected losses, Roberto got the two wingers he had been looking for all summer to replace N’Zogbia and Cleverley, plus a much-needed alternative at left-back, something the team has lacked for a couple years. The squad not only looks competitive, it looks large. There is cover for everyone in the squad, no one is indispensable. It’s another mark of how far the club has come under Martinez.

So, lets recap the summer’s activity. It is an unfortunate truth at a club of Wigan’s size that one must sell to stay afloat — at least until the club’s fan base has grown enough to fill the DW week in and week out, sell shirts around the world, and be competitive enough to bring in television and prize money from European tournaments.

Given this fact, and the probability that the player would have forced the transfer anyway, N’Zogbia’s sale was unavoidable. Nine million was underwhelming for a player of his ability and Premier League experience, but from a strictly business perspective, the club paid six for him, got two-and-a-half excellent seasons out of him, and made a three million profit. And they almost certainly replaced him with a player on half his wages.

Meanwhile, seven million has been spent to bring in four players permanently, plus a very promising season-long loan. Last year’s player of the season, Ali Al-Habsi, should prove to be worth every penny of the four million Latics paid for him earlier this summer. Despite his first-match blunder, he was absolutely outstanding last year and at 29, is just entering his best years as a keeper. He seems to really love the club and I could see him playing out the rest of his career at the DW.

Albert Crusat, also 29, arrives from Almeria, where he spent six “magnificent” seasons. An Almeria fan site says he was one of the most loved players at the club, and should be a success in the Premier League based on his style of play. We understand he is a skillful, fast left winger, small but with good strength.

Shaun Maloney, 28, arrived from Celtic, where he spent most of his career. He is a right-footed winger, also quite small but tricky and with a dazzling highlight reel of direct free-kicks. He has had some injury trouble but has been fit for a while. He was chosen as the Scottish Player of the Year in 2006 and has played for his country 20 times. Celtic fans sound sad to see him go, and Aston Villa fans, who had him for a season and a half, reckon we have done tidy business for a “talented little player.”

Dave Jones joined the club during pre-season after failing to agree a new contract at Wolves. The 26-year-old is a left-footed central midfielder, much loved by Wolves fans for his efforts at Molineaux. This goal gives you an idea about the type of player he is. He hasn’t featured yet, but seems destined to play in an advanced role in the midfield diamond. His eye for a through ball and shooting threat make him a more than useful replacement to the current starting midfielders.

Nouha Dicko came in on a free after financial difficulties forced Strasbourg to release some of their players. He looks to be one for the future, but has already been lighting up the reserves with his pace and dribbling from the wing.

Patrick Van Aanholt is a 21-year-old left back, on a season-long loan from Chelsea, where he moved from PSV Eindhoven in 2007. He has been out on loan spells at Coventry, Newcastle and Leicester City since joining the London club. Hard to get a game with Ashley Cole and Yuri Zhirkov ahead of him in the pecking order, but he has represented his country at U-19 and U-21 levels and was even close to the senior squad on a few occasions. He should provide excellent cover for Maynor Figueroa at left back.

In Conclusion:

The deepest squad the Latics have ever had. Roberto already had a young, promising team and has added several players at the peak of their careers. Crusat and Maloney should not need a lengthy adjustment period (although they probably won’t go straight into the starting lineup either, given the strong performances by Rodallega and Moses on the wings last time out), and are proven players. There is now cover in every position. Kirkland for Al-Habsi. Stam for Boyce, Gohouri/Lopez for Alcaraz/Caldwell, Van Aanholt for Figueroa. Jones/McArthur/Thomas for Watson/Diame/Jordi/McCarthy. Sammon for Di Santo. Crusat/Maloney for Moses and Rodallega. And that’s not to mention young players knocking on the door like McManaman, Dicko and Redmond.

The starting lineup may not be any stronger, on paper, since N’Zogbia and Cleverley’s departures. But the depth is something we’ve never seen. And options. Looking forward to watching the new boys soon.