Another Cup or League dilemma?

Can Paul Cook emulate Gary Caldwell by winning League 1? Or will the FA Cup get in the way?
Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail.

 

Wigan Athletic have a habit of giving the media something to feed upon. Dave Whelan certainly gave them plenty of ammunition when he appointed Malky Mackay and consequently made politically incorrect comments that the press lapped up. But he also appointed Roberto Martinez, who brought home the biggest prize in the club’s history amid worldwide media acclaim.

That FA Cup win will remain in our collective memories for years to come. Moreover it created a story that the media found irresistible. As a result Wigan Athletic became known on the world stage and it is no surprise that they are now about to be taken over by a Far East consortium.

Prior to that fateful day in May 2013 there were debates among Latics fans about what was more important – the league or the cup. There were two extremely difficult games coming up within the space of a few days: Manchester City at Wembley and Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. The bookmakers did not think Wigan Athletic could win either game.  In the event Roberto Martinez managed to fashion a team out of an injury-ravaged squad which went on to win the FA Cup on merit. It was a dream come true, especially for those of us who had seen the club rise from its humble origins over the years. That old debate is now settled – who would want to put the clock back and swap a cup win for a longer stay in the Premier League?

Almost five years later and a parallel debate is opening up following Monday’s remarkable win against the same club. Some in the media are saying Manchester City are the best team in the world. It remains to be seen whether they can win the Champions League, then the World Club Cup to justify that label. But they have certainly been outstanding up to this point in all competitions bar the FA Cup. That a club from the third tier could knock them out beggars belief, even if they played half of the game with ten men.

It was the third FA Cup giant-killing act by Wigan Athletic against Manchester City in five years. In that 2013 Cup Final, Wigan had 48% possession, equaling City in shots with 11 and committing 5 fouls to their opponents’ 11. A year later Uwe Rosler’s team won 2-1 at the Etihad in the quarter finals, the stats perhaps being reflective of Wigan’s status as a Championship division team, having 32% possession, 5 shots to City’s 12, each team committing 10 fouls. The stats from Monday’s game reflect what a remarkable performance it was from a side currently in League 1. City had 82% possession and 29 shots to Wigan’s 4 , but could not get a goal. Wigan conceded 11 fouls, although a number of those decisions were debatable, City committing 6.

The application, effort and discipline required to hold off the continuous waves of City attacks was remarkable and reflects on the mentality Paul Cook has instilled into his players. It was another unforgettable day for Latics fans.

So, Wigan Athletic have reached the last 8 of the FA Cup for the third time in the last half decade. A sixth-round home tie with Southampton beckons. What chance do Latics have of beating the Saints?

“Believe” remains the Wigan Athletic theme. Lots of fans will say that Latics have already beaten three Premier League sides, including the champions-elect, so why not Southampton too?

The realists will point out that Bournemouth, West Ham and Manchester City fielded weakened teams. If Southampton play their strongest lineup then they are likely to overcome third tier Wigan.

But will the victory over Manchester City, followed by another tie with Southampton in mid-March have an impact on Wigan’s quest to get back to the Championship division? Is the FA Cup a distraction that could cost Latics promotion?

The defeats at Southend and at home to Blackpool were an unwelcome surprise for a team that had seemed to be cruising towards the League 1 title. Some suggested that the impending takeover might have something to do with what was happening on the pitch. Others pointed to the upcoming game against Manchester City being a major distraction for the players. Or was it simply a matter of time until that good run would come to such a resounding halt?

Moreover, Monday’s heroic performance could carry a heavy toll. The sheer exertion of running for 90+ minutes with just 18% possession is something that should not be dismissed. In addition to the next FA Cup encounter, Latics have played three games less than their promotion rivals, leaving them 15 league games to play in a 10 week period. Fans will recall the long run-in that Uwe Rosler’s side faced in 2013-14, which left them jaded for the Championship play-offs. However, that season not only included a run to an FA Cup Semi Final but also six games in the Europa League.

Paul Cook’s team will be on a psychological high after that amazing performance. The question is whether they will have the stamina to cope with the bread-and-butter events of League 1. Cook is not a man who likes to rotate his squad, but he will surely have to do so over the coming weeks if Latics are to keep up their momentum for promotion.

Cook’s main challenge is to keep his players firmly focused on League 1. A win against Southampton would put Latics in the FA Cup semi-final once more, but a return to the Championship is surely the club’s main focus.

In the meantime, reports suggest that both Cook and David Sharpe travelled to Spain this week. Not surprisingly it is being linked to the change in ownership, which appears due to be completed by the end of this month. But perhaps it was to celebrate Cook’s birthday (February 22)?

Following the cup tie Cook’s popularity ratings have reached an all-time high at Wigan. He has done a wonderful job up to this point but there remain considerable hurdles to cross  over the next couple of months.

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An Amigo View – Wigan Athletic 0 Charlton Athletic 0 – five talking points

 

On paper it looked like a home banker, but a low-energy Latics struggled to find their way around Karl Robinson’s parked bus. With his squad ravaged by injury the normally more positive Charlton manager decided to make it as difficult as possible for Wigan to score.

After the game Paul Cook opined that:

“We have to respect that when teams come to the DW now, they are going to come with different ways to frustrate us. Tonight was no different to Plymouth and Northampton, but in those games we managed to get a goal, unfortunately tonight we didn’t and that can be football. If we would have won tonight and it would have been 1-0 we’d have all been euphoric and we would have been delighted.”

Sam Morsy had almost given Latics that crucial goal in stoppage time, but his deflected shot hit the post. It just was not to be Wigan’s night.

Let’s look at some talking points arising from the game:

A need for some degree of rotation

Cook decided to rest Reece James, bringing in Callum Elder. But despite playing their third game in a space of six days, there were no other rotations.

So many players looked jaded and the high-energy approach that has produced Wigan’s best performances of the season was sadly absent. In its place was a ponderously slow build up, interspersed with hopeful long crosses.

Uwe Rosler might have been nicknamed “Tinkerman” for his constant squad rotations, but Cook goes to the other extreme. Not only did he fail to freshen up his starting lineup, but he introduced his second and third substitutes five minutes before the end.

Home entertainment

Given the way so many visiting teams this season have “parked the bus”, the entertainment value for home fans at the DW Stadium has not been the best. An early goal for Latics can open up the game, but that does not always happen. A flying start is crucial and it is important that Wigan employ the high press from the start, putting the visiting defence under intense pressure. But high pressing requires a physical demand that the players were not up to yesterday.

Away games have generally been more entertaining this season. Latics have scored 28 goals on the road and 21 at home, although they have played two more games at the DW than away from home.

The other night I was watching Newcastle parking the bus in a home game against Manchester City. I felt sorry for the home crowd. Heaven help us if League 1 sides consistently do that when hosting Latics.

Too many games

As Paul Cook would say, League 1 is an endurance, a marathon. Each team plays 46 games, which means that they always have their eyes on the next one coming up. A team that is two goals up in a game will so often look to consolidate its lead, rather than extend it. Moreover, key players might be removed from the field of play before the 90 minutes are up.

The Christmas/New Year period highlights the issue. In a space of eight days, between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, Latics will have played four games. Historically the holiday season has been the one in which attendances soar, but with so many fixtures condensed in a short period few teams will be able to excel in all the matches.

Wigan have won one and drawn two since Boxing Day. A win at Northampton would be welcome in maintaining the momentum at the top of the table.

Two strikers

Cook is no fan of a twin striker formation, but he brought Ivan Toney on for a jaded Gavin Massey after 59 minutes, putting him up front with Will Grigg. It allowed the option of launching long balls to the two. It was a gambit worth trying and they did get heads on to some of the long balls, but with no end result. Despite Grigg’s uplifting hat trick against Oxford, he has not delivered in the last couple of games.

So many Latics fans remember the days of Ellington and Roberts with affection. Since then the game has changed, although some teams still play 4-4-2. But would you give a duo of Toney and Grigg  preference over the 4-2-3-1 system that has served Latics so well under Cook?

Parking the bus

Playing with ten or eleven men in massed defence is, unfortunately, a far too common sight in the modern game. Professional football is basically an entertainment sport, but such tactics detract from the game. Roberto Martinez’ men showed in the 2013 FA Cup Final that a team of underdogs can beat the most expensively assembled squad in the world by sticking to their principles and trying to play good football. But how many managers have the bravery and belief of Martinez?

Paul Cook deserves to be commended for his comments on “parking the bus”:

“With the greatest respect, Christian hasn’t made a save again, but the emphasis…and we’re seeing it a lot in the modern game…and we’ll never do it, I don’t care who we play, we’ll never park the bus. While I’m manager of this club, I don’t care who we play, at home or away, we won’t do it.”

If only there were more like PC and RM…….

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A look at the stats for Wigan Athletic manager candidates

Odds according to skybet.com

“Our immediate priority is to identify and appoint a first-team manager or head coach. That recruitment process is already well underway, and we will focus on ensuring that we appoint a manager who fulfils the criteria we have set in terms of the type of person we wish to employ and someone who has the ambition, drive and intelligence to enhance and help develop the structure we have created over the last few years. It’s important to appoint someone who will create a culture for success, which is something we have failed to do this season.”

The words of David Sharpe published in Wigan Today this Monday.

Sharpe is clearly following a different route than he or his grandfather, Dave Whelan, have taken over recent years. He has been looking at a host of potential employees, hoping that he will make the right decision. The stats show that Wigan Athletic have had seven managers in the last five seasons. Too many rash decisions have rocked the club back on its heels. The end result has been turmoil, with a massive turnover in players as new managers have come and gone.

But the process of selecting the “right” manager is a slow, deliberate process. In the meantime the club is without someone at the helm as players contracts come to an end. It seems inevitable in football that when a new manager comes in he wants to bring in his own backroom and coaching staff and his own new players.

However, according to Sharpe’s recent comments we will not be seeing the kind of turnover of players that we have seen in recent summers:

Unlike in 2015, when we had to significantly rebuild the squad, the basis of a very strong group of players is already in place. We may see some movement in the transfer market, and we want players who are prepared to achieve success in League One next season. But compared to previous transfer windows, we will not have the same level of movement. Stability is important, and we will stress that to any new manager.”

Names of potential managers for Latics have been constantly bandied around the social media and message boards. Moreover supporters have claimed that some of those candidates have been spotted at the DW Stadium. But Sharpe is holding his cards close to his chest, possibly waiting for the playoffs to be completed before coming to any decision.

The bookmakers’ odds change rapidly. Previous favourites disappear down the list and new names appear. Moreover it depends on which bookmaker you choose to consult.

For the purposes of this article we will take a statistical look at the top seven candidates according to the current odds offered by SkyBet.

It was the American writer, Mark Twain, who attributed that famous comment on statistics to ex-British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli: “There are lies, damned lies and statistics”.

However, in this modern football age stats are enjoying an increasing use. Here, for better or worse,  are the WDL stats for the candidates (supplied by Wikipedia):

Paul Cook

Odds: 5/4

Age:  50

Born: Kirkby

Current club: Portsmouth

Managerial statistics:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nathan Jones

Odds: 2/1

Age: 43

Born: Rhondda

Current club:  Luton Town

Managerial statistics:

 

 

 

Alan Stubbs

Odds: 7/1

Age: 45

Born: Kirkby

Previous club: Rotherham United

Managerial statistics:

 

 

 

 

Michael Appleton

 Odds: 8/1

Age: 41

Born: Salford

Current club: Oxford United

Managerial statistics:

 

 

 

 

 

Darrell Clarke

 Odds: 10/1

Age: 39

Born: Mansfield

Current club: Bristol Rovers

Managerial statistics:

 

 

 

 

Uwe Rosler

 Odds: 12/1

Age: 48

Born: Altenburg, East Germany

Current club: Fleetwood

Managerial statistics:

 

 

 

 

 

Gary Caldwell

 Odds: 14/1

Age: 35

Born: Stirling

Current club: Chesterfield

Managerial statistics:

 

 
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A Director of Football for Wigan Athletic?

Mark Warburton was Brentford’s director of football when Uwe Rosler was manager.

 

“We want to be a modern football club, and we see that sometimes when managers leave a lot of the structure leaves with them. That is no use. You put a lot of time, a lot of investment and a lot of resource into developing that side of the business and you can’t have that changing every time a manager changes.The director of football gives you that continuity. They oversee the overall football department, all aspects of it, including the academy, performance and preparation, analysis and everything as well as the first team. It means that if a manager or a coach does leave, you are only replacing that one person and the club’s philosophy continues unbroken if you have that director of football in there.”

The words of a member of the Latics hierarchy? Jonathan Jackson or David Sharpe maybe?

The statement summed up what has been happening at Wigan over the past four years. The calamitous appointments of Owen Coyle, Malky Mackay and Warren Joyce destroyed what their predecessors had set up, leaving the club’s philosophy in tatters. Both Coyle and Joyce made not only wholesale changes in the playing staff, but their style of football was diametrically opposed to that of the previous managers. In both cases possession-based football was replaced by a physical approach embracing the long ball.

Ex-manager Uwe Rosler has been quoted recently as suggesting that Wigan Athletic need a period of stability. He was referring largely to Latics having had three managers this season and the instability it has caused. But it brought to mind another aspect of instability: that of player turnover. Alan Nixon’s “A mental amount of movement” tweet in January sticks in the mind. The Sun journalist had mentioned Latics’ interest in 5-6 new players. But by the end of the transfer window no less than 12 new faces had been brought in.

Few could disagree with Rosler’s comment. There is a clear need for continuity and stability at the club. Too many managers and players have come and gone. In the 2015-16 season there were 31 incomings and 44 outgoings of senior squad players at Wigan Athletic. The stats for the current season show 26 coming in and 29 leaving.

Strangely enough Rosler himself contributed to the lack of continuity and stability by bringing in a swathe of new players in the summer of 2014, despite the fact that his previous squad had reached the semi-finals of both the FA Cup and the Championship playoffs, due to his fine efforts. Sadly the majority of the new players could not make their mark and the manager was surely undermined by senior players from previous administrations. His departure in November 2014 was to lead to the appointment of Malky Mackay, a January fire sale and an avoidable relegation.

In his previous position at Brentford, Rosler had worked in tandem with Mark Warburton, who was Director of Football. Our Brentford sources tell us that it was Warburton who was largely responsible for the recruitment of players. One wonders what might have happened at Wigan if a Director of Football had been in charge to deal with recruitment with Rosler giving his input. It was sad to see a manager who had done so much to bring Wigan Athletic back into prominence the previous season being dismissed in a matter of months.

Although it might appear that the context was that of Wigan Athletic the preliminary comment came not from Wigan, but from Glasgow. The speaker was Rangers’ managing director Stewart Robertson talking to Sky Sports just a couple of months ago.

Although in continental Europe many clubs have sports directors, akin to the general manager role in American sport, the role of director of football in England has yet to be clearly defined. Essentially the director of football acts as an intermediary between that the board and the manager, but clubs have tailored job descriptions according to their own requirements. An experienced and competent director of football can advise both the manager and the board. The role seems to inevitably involve tensions between the director of football and the manager, especially in the area of player recruitment.

At this stage we are not advocating the appointment of a director of football at Wigan Athletic, but the concept merits due consideration. Stewart Robertson’s comments might have been made about Rangers, but they ring true to us supporters of Wigan Athletic.

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Joyce has gone – time to BELIEVE again

Do we BELIEVE that Latics can get out of this predicament? Table thanks to Statto.com

David Sharpe did the right thing today by dismissing Warren Joyce and his close associate Andy Welsh. Some might say the chairman deserves praise for swallowing his pride and realising he did the wrong thing in November. But Sharpe is pragmatic enough to know that if he had kept Joyce in charge, Latics would surely have been doomed to relegation.

One of the fundamental building blocks in Wigan Athletic’s rise from the fourth tier to mingle for so long with the elite clubs of English football was sheer BELIEF. It was the belief of Dave Whelan in his managers – Paul Jewell, Steve Bruce and Roberto Martinez – that led to the club to an FA Cup, a League Cup Final and eight years in the Premier League. Whelan backed them, not only with his chequebook, but with his driving ambition to hold Wigan Athletic up there.

There were certainly sticky moments along the way, but there was always the hope that things would turn out alright in the end. They did apart from that fatal night at the Emirates, just three days after Ben Watson’s unforgettable goal had won them the Cup. But Whelan had chosen his managers wisely.

Jewell’s teams were built on solid defence, but always had flair players in attack. Whelan opted for continuity when Jewell left, giving the post to his assistant, Chris Hutchings. Sadly it did not work out and Hutchings was gone after barely three months in charge. Bruce came back to the club, Whelan backed him in the transfer market and he righted a foundering ship. His teams were based on a solid defence protected by a rugged midfield, but with a good smattering of flair players to provide balance.

Martinez was brought in to keep Latics in the Premier League on a much reduced budget. He went on to produce the best results in the club’s history, away wins at Arsenal and Liverpool, the club’s one and only victory at home to Manchester United, that epic victory on cup final day. Martinez was a great ambassador for the club, through his insistence that his teams compete against star-studded opposition by sticking to the principles of skilful possession football. The FA Cup victory against Manchester City was no fluke: Wigan had played the better football on the day, with not a hint of skulduggery.

Was Whelan just lucky with his appointments of Jewell, Bruce and Martinez or did he have a vision of what they would do? If he was lucky with those three, he certainly was not with his appointment of Owen Coyle. Neither was he in appointing Malky Mackay and his grandson made a similarly woeful appointment in Warren Joyce. None of those three names – Coyle, Mackay, Joyce – became synonymous with good football at Wigan Athletic. Indeed it was quite the reverse.

But Whelan did make a good appointment in Uwe Rosler, who picked up the mess left by Coyle and got Latics to the FA Cup Semi Final and the Championship playoffs. Sadly the going got rough in Rosler’s second season, but rather than showing faith in a manager who had achieved so much, Whelan showed him the door, bringing in the hapless Mackay. Sharpe did a similar thing with Gary Caldwell, who had only months before won the League 1 title. His replacement was the inept Joyce.

Sharpe has done the right thing for the moment. The odds are that Latics will not be able to avoid relegation, but without the shackles imposed by Joyce the players can make things happen. Few of us really and truly believed that Joyce was the right man for Wigan. To BELIEVE that Joyce could save the club from relegation was asking too much, given his obsession with the defensive side of the game and the hoofball we were witnessing.

Graham Barrow has been appointed caretaker manager again. Barrow is a survivor who has seen six managers come and go since rejoining the club in 2009. Barrow is not the kind of coach who will throw caution to the wind, but we can expect him to field line ups that are more balanced that we saw under Joyce. Due attention will be paid to the offence, as well as the defence.

With Barrow in charge we at least have a hope that we can BELIEVE our team can avoid the drop.

Courtesy of Statto.com

 

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