Do Latics really need Adam Forshaw?

Forshaw

Rarely can a football club get as inflamed as Brentford have done these past few days. Wigan Athletic have made bids for Adam Forshaw that Brentford just don’t seem to appreciate.

“Warburton fumes as Brentford reject second ‘unacceptable’ bid from Wigan for Forshaw” was the headline in the London 24 newspaper a couple of days ago. So what is it about Latics’ bid for the ex-Everton youth player that has touched a raw nerve at the west London club?

Forshaw is clearly a key player for the Bees in their attempts to hold their own in a higher division. A 22 year old midfield player with a degree of elegance and skill, he was named League 1 Player of the Season. With Chris McCann and Ben Watson recovering from major injuries it is going to take a matter of months before they will be fit enough to challenge for a first team place again. Moreover Shaun Maloney did not play one minute in the pre-season matches. Rosler clearly likes to have a balance of experienced and young players in his squad and would see Forshaw as a good long-term investment for the club, given his age.

Manager Mark Warburton is quoted as saying “A bid is only a bid when it’s realistic. When it comes in and unsettles a player – that’s unacceptable. There’s been a second bid which is totally unacceptable.” He left Forshaw out of a pre-season friendly at the weekend against Crystal Palace because “the bid was unsettling for the player” and “he needed to go away for a couple of days to get his head straight.”

Wigan Athletic fans know all about their top players being courted by bigger clubs who do not hide their interest in the player they seek. It does not seem so long ago that Latics were receiving derisory bids for Victor Moses, but they hung in there until Chelsea eventually came in with a more realistic figure. A similar case happened with Charles N’Zogbia, who was certainly unsettled by interest from other clubs, but eventually stayed for another year and helped keep the club in the Premier League.

In effect all clubs outside the elite handful that dominate the Premier League are selling clubs. It is unsettling for a player when a bigger club takes interest in him because he wants to improve himself professionally and big clubs pay bigger salaries.

Being Player of the Year in League 1 is a great achievement for Forshaw, but there is no guarantee that he can perform to the same level in the Championship or the Premier League. Latics will be loath to pay out a big transfer fee for a player that is of yet unproven in their tier. Reports suggest that Everton will receive a sizeable chunk of the transfer fee if Forshaw does leave, having built an agreement into the deal they made with Brentford. It is rumoured that Brentford want £6m for the player, but Wigan’s first bid was £1.5m. Somewhere between the two figures would apppear realistic, but it is doubtful that Latics would stretch that far for a midfield player, given the need to strengthen other areas in the squad.

Clearly much of the Brentford venom has been aimed at Dave Whelan. He was the one who snatched Uwe Rosler from them at a time when they were on a high, with the announcement of a new stadium coming through. This time it is the Wigan chairman again, who in their eyes is trying to poach away their brightest young player without adequate compensation. Whether it is Whelan, Rosler, Jonathan Jackson or whoever else at the club who has been making the bids is academic. In the real world opening bids tend to start on the low side and gradually build up until a consensus is reached. Whelan might be a tough negotiator, but other labels currently being attached to him are clearly unfair.

But then again, do Latics really need Forshaw?

Much depends on the injury situation. Rosler tends to play with three box-to-box midfielders. Don Cowie has been brought in from Cardiff and can be expected to adopt the role previously held by Ben Watson, as an anchorman sitting in front of the back four. James McArthur is an automatic choice. In pre-season Rosler played new signing James Tavernier in midfield and his shooting, his quality crossing of the ball and ability at set pieces makes him an attractive proposition in the long term. However, Tavernier arrived at the club as a full back and only time will tell if he will develop into a quality midfielder. Should Tavernier not become a regular in midfield, Roger Espinoza is the obvious candidate for that third position. Rosler also has a revived Fraser Fyvie, loan signing Emyr Huws and under 21 player Tim Chow as possibilities in midfield.

The media has also reported Latics’ interest in Chelsea’s George Saville, who was on loan at Brentford last season. Were they to sign both Saville and Forshaw it would be interesting to see how Brentford reacted. Many Latics fans consider that Warburton over reacted to the bid for Forshaw, when it is not unusual for a manager to go back to his previous club for a player. They will also cite Whelan’s oft stated view that should any player want to move on to higher things from Wigan, he would not stand in his way, providing the price were right.

Two questions remain. Would Latics be willing to pay £3m-£4m for an extra midfield player and one who has not proved himself at Championship level? Is Rosler seeking more midfield cover because one of his current squad might be leaving?

If there is a number one priority for adding to the squad it surely lies in the acquisition of another central striker. Would those funds be better used in that area rather than spending it on Forshaw?

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Blind optimism and Latics’ new season

One of the lads in my class at school was called Brian. He claimed to be an Horwich RMI supporter.  I thought I was remarkable enough at the time, being a Latics fan, in a town dominated by the cherry and white. There were few of us Latic fanatics at school and if we dared to utter words of blind optimism about our club, our classmates were quick to shoot us down.  The message was – how can you support a measly little non-league football club? Don’t even dream of reaching the heights of our wonderful local rugby team or the football giants in neighbouring cities. However, I considered myself an optimist as far as Wigan Athletic were concerned. It was in my blood – and still is. I trust that those classmates are eating their words now.

To be honest, Brian was even more of an optimist than me. Horwich Railway Mechanics  Institute was in fact a much older football club than Wigan Athletic, having been formed in 1896. Their only major  success over those years was in winning the Lancashire Combination championship in 1957-58.  Coming up on Saturday afternoon at Springfield Park was a Lancashire Junior Cup tie between our two teams. It was akin to David and Goliath. Brian saw it differently — an epic tussle between two of Lancashire’s outstanding non-league clubs. He reeled off the names of RMI’s starting eleven, declaring each player a “good-un”, although it was clear from the intonations of his voice that some were more good than others. He had faith – I thought foolishly so – that RMI would get a good result.

Brian was right that day, the match ended in a draw. My Dad was so furious he said he wouldn’t go and watch the replay in the coming week. Their ground was a freezing, a God-forsaken place on the top if a big hill where the wind ruled the roost, he said. Their pitch was going to be rutted and would make good football impossible.

Fortunately, he relented and we took the short bus ride, and walked up to RMI’s ground at Grundy Hill.  Latics won 5-0, and Brian avoided me at school the next week, although I did quietly admire the genuine faith and optimism he seemed to have in his little club. Later, I became disillusioned to find out that he went to see Bolton more than Horwich.  But then again —  why would he announce himself a  fan of Horwich RMI rather than First Division Bolton? Strange how it turned out that Bolton now play home games  in Horwich, whereas the latest incarnation of RMI plays in Leigh.

So what would an optimist make of Wigan Athletic’s chances this season? That Bob and Dave are still here and therefore the club is continuing to move forward.  The appointment of the admirable Matt Jackson to spearhead the much needed youth system upgrade is to be commended. Boselli  is back and so far has averaged a goal a game in pre-season, having only played a half in each. He remains our potentially most clinical finisher, if not the silky skilled player that Di Santo has become. Both Fyvie and Ramis look like excellent signings. Roberto has also brought in two 19 year olds from elite Spanish clubs, each with good credentials. Assuming no major injuries or loss of form, a place in the top half of the table is a distinct possibility.

So what of Victor Moses? Why are Chelsea putting in such derisory bids for him? The odds are that he will go. He is far from the finished article, mainly with his decision-making in goal-scoring opportunities. He wasted a lot of chances last season. However,  there is a need for  a flair player like Moses, or N’Zogbia before him, to do the unpredictable and unsettle defences. Providing he can avoid injuries I expect Albert Crusat will make more of an impact this year. He is pacy, intelligent and David Silva has shown that slightly built players can flourish in the physical Premier League. It would be a mistake, however, to view Crusat as the replacement for Moses  — they are different types of player – and Dicko and McManaman will also compete for that spot.

Latics’ superb end of season performances, however, were built from the back. The three central defenders — Alcaraz, Caldwell and Figueroa – were outstanding, but one lived in fear of any injury to any of them. There was always the possibility of slotting Boyce into the centre but he was playing possibly the best football of his career at wing back. The signing of the experienced and highly capable Ivan Ramis is therefore welcomed. In fact, Figueroa might miss the first part of the season after being on Olympic duty for Honduras. Expect Ramis to slot in for him – if not it will be Lopez or Golobart.

In goal we have the outstanding Ali Al Habsi. The promising  young goalkeeper, Lee Nicholls, is clearly one for the future, but needs to get more experience before stepping in for the Omani. The 40 year old stalwart, Mike Pollitt, will be the first choice backup ‘keeper. There is newspaper talk about a promising young Australian coming on trial.

Latics are well served for wing backs. Ronnie Stam was in excellent form last season before being left out for Emmerson Boyce, who did spectacularly well. Jean Beausejour was the piece in the jigsaw puzzle that made a big difference in the latter part of last season. Wing back is not a position most clubs use, but Beausejour played in that position for Chile under Marcelo Bielsa. Both he and Stam are specialist wing backs. Ramis’ arrival allows Figueroa to serve as emergency wing-back in the event of injury to Beausejour.

Despite losing Diame and Thomas the midfield looks strong. The classy Ben Watson will fight to get his place back from James MacArthur, although he will face competition from Fraser Fyvie. The excellent James McCarthy is potentially as good as most midfield players in the Premier League and is likely to be our sought after by the big clubs before the end of the season. It may be that Fyvie is seen as his long-term replacement. He is a complete player and the goals that have been missing over the past season are likely to return. All he lacks is a little self belief.  David Jones remains a useful squad player able to play in a variety of positions. He has a great left foot and is an intelligent footballer. Hopefully he will steer clear of injuries this year.

Shaun Maloney was a revelation in the latter games of the season as the playmaker.  He has that kind of quality that can make a difference. His experience in a Celtic team that dominated the SPL has given him the level of self-confidence that most of his teammates lack. His career has been blighted by injury and one doubts his ability to make it through a full season unscathed. Jordi Gomez, the butt of some fans, remains a good footballer, able to play that role. Jordi has learned that he has to work hard off the ball and now covers a lot of ground. He is not a natural tackler, but does a lot of harassing of opponents to complement his considerable skills on the ball. Both Maloney and Gomez are likely to score goals, be it from open play or the penalty spot.

There has been talk of Conor Sammon going out on loan, although he does not seem to know anything about it. Sammon needs regular first team football if he is going to develop further. He is not likely to get it with Di Santo and Boselli ahead of him in the pecking order for the centre forward position. Speaking of loans, Lee Nicholls is already fixed up for a spell at Northampton.  One wonders how many more of last season’s loanees –  Golobart, Kiernan, Mustoe and Redmond – will be sent off again for more first team experience.

Perhaps I am being a blind optimist like my friend Brian, but with Bob and Dave still at the helm this club is going to be steered towards a bright future.  They are a great double act and deserve to succeed at the club. Whether Wigan Athletic have a good season in 2012-13 depends on the players. Shaun Maloney summed things up at the end of the season by suggesting that the great revival was brought about by hard work. We have a pretty good squad this year and with the full commitment of the players a mid-table position is a distinct possibility. Forget about the friendly loss to Real Mallorca. We are in for  a good season. Believe and keep the faith!!

QUEENS PARK RANGERS 3 WIGAN ATHLETIC 1 – A SENSE OF FOREBODING

An hour before any Wigan Athletic game is due to start I like to trawl along to the official club website and look for news of the team lineup. I did it last weekend and got an immediate sense of foreboding. Gohouri in for Alcaraz and only one winger in the lineup. A return to playing Jordi Gomez on the right wing? A question of pack your team with midfield players to stifle the opposition? Then maybe bring on another attack minded player later? Was this to be the way to get a good result against another struggling team?

My sense of foreboding was to be temporarily lifted in the first few minutes with Latics going close to scoring on a couple of occasions. However, this was to be only a temporary respite. Wigan were playing without any attacking player on the right. Gomez would track back to help Boyce when the opposition attacked on their left, then move back to a central midfield position to receive the ball. As the half progressed a nervy QPR started to get on top. Their nerves were calmed after 32 minutes when James McCarthy idiotically palmed the ball away from a Barton corner. Helguson scored the resulting penalty with ease. The situation was exacerbated in the 45th minute when Gohouri ‘s trip on Campbell gave Buzsaky the chance to curl a wonderful free kick in off the post.

Martinez brought on Conor Sammon after the break for McArthur – an attacking move but still leaving Wigan with only one real wide player, Victor Moses. However, Albert Crusat was to be brought on the 61st minute, with Latics scoring four minutes later. Set pieces really have not been Wigan’s speciality in the Martinez era and when I saw Hugo Rodallega stride up to take a free kick it did not ease my sense of foreboding. I had visions of his kick hitting the spectator on the back row of the stand behind the goal, but had a pleasant surprise as he stroked the ball home with aplomb from 25 yards. Well done, Hugo! However, after 73 minutes the referee gave QPR a ridiculous second penalty, once more against Gary Caldwell, but Al Habsi pulled off a wonderful save. Once again the goalkeeper had been Latics best player and kept us in the game. The nail in the coffin came when Tommy Smith hit a beauty from 30 yards from open play in the 81st minute.

The Good

Another goal for Hugo Rodallega who is regaining his form. Yet another excellent goalkeeping display from Ali Al Habsi.

The Bad

The last time I had that same kind of foreboding feeling was when I saw the team sheet against Bolton in mid October. We had only one wide player – with James McCarthy nominally on the left wing – and the end result was a 3-1 defeat to a struggling team. This was like déjà vu.

Who knows what might have happened had James McCarthy not palmed away the ball after 32 minutes. It changed the game, giving QPR that confidence that they did not have before. However, let’s not beat about the bush here. When you play with a lone central striker you need two natural wide players to provide an attacking threat and to give balance. The sight of Emmerson Boyce moving into the opponent’s half and putting in long crosses was depressing. No blame attached to Boyce here – what else could he do with nobody else supporting him on that side of the pitch?

During the Martinez era we have seen some good football mixed with farcical errors. More often than not individual errors have lost us matches, or their mistakes have proved to be turning points in converting potential victory into defeat. It is hard to blame the manager for individual errors. This is largely down to the players, probably related to their lack of self confidence. Martinez has to operate a relatively low budget, being unable to bring in the kind of experienced, hardened Premier League pro who demands exhorbitant wages. This means developing players within the club and getting others from overseas leagues or the lower divisions in England. Given the club’s financial restraints – and I applaud Dave Whelan on his insistence on coming close to balancing the books – it means that the club needs to operate a “farm system” to survive. Put simply we need to develop players and sell the odd one each summer to keep the whole thing going. The trick is to have the replacement player groomed to take over from the one due to depart. Last year Charles N’Zogbia was to be the departing star, Victor Moses his potential replacement. Unfortunately Moses struggled with injury for part of last season and just did not get enough appearances under his belt. The result has been that this season he has shown huge promise, but so often the final pass or shot has been lacking. Centre forward has been a problem position under Martinez. This season Rodallega has been off form and has not signed a new contract. Neither Di Santo not Sammon has shown sufficient consistency or self belief to command a regular place.

The manager has a difficult job in terms of the tight budget he has to work within and in getting players to come to what is perceived to be a small club. The irony of the situation is that this year we have probably as good a squad as we have had in the past seven Premier League seasons. It is that self-belief that remains lacking among the players, following an accumulation of horrendous thrashings against top four clubs and the frustrations of individual errors giving the points away against average, and often less than average, teams. A few weeks ago I commended Roberto Martinez on his tactical innovation of playing with three central defenders. It was a welcome change from a manager who had not shown such tactical flexibility in the past. If he has an Achilles heel as a manager then it is in this area.

So Martinez has shown that he is able to adapt his tactics to suit the players he has at his disposal. He will almost certainly continue to pack his midfield and play with a lone centre forward. That is something I do not love, but which I can live with. However, I have to admit my frustration at his repeated tactic of playing either a centre forward or central midfield player on the flanks. Hugo Rodallaga has time and time again shown that he is not a left winger. He simply does not have the dribbling skills or the pace to play in that position. Neither do I want to see Franco di Santo or Conor Sammon assigned to the wings. If we have a lone centre forward let’s at least have two genuine wide players to pose an attacking threat on each side of the pitch. Please, please, please – let’s not see Jordi Gomez nominally on the right wing! Play him in his natural position in the centre of midfield.

Player Ratings

Ali Al Habsi: 9 – Another excellent display. Kept Latics in the game.

Emmerson Boyce: 5 – Had to go off after 69 minutes. Has made too few appearances in the past two seasons. Let’s hope he can get back to the match fitness that is required for him to be a regular fixture.

Steve Gohouri: 5 – Lacks confidence. He has never had a long run inn the team in his natural position as a centre half.

Gary Caldwell: 5 – Is this controversial player a target for referees? I doubt whether the second half penalty given against him would have happened with most centre halves.

Maynor Figueroa: 5 – Once more tried hard but was left exposed at times.
James McCarthy: 5 – Giving away the penalty was not typical of him. He is a mature player for his age, but maybe the nerves are getting to him too.

Ben Watson: 5 – Solid, but uninspired.

James McArthur: 6 – Industrious as usual. Taken off at half time.

Jordi Gomez: 5 – Ineffective in his hybrid role. Substituted after 61 minutes.

Victor Moses: 6 – Tried hard despite the lack of good service coming to him.

Hugo Rodallega: 6 – Worked hard, scored an excellent free kick.

Substitutes


Conor Sammon: 5 – Huffed and puffed, but no end result.

Albert Crusat: – Did not get a lot of the ball. What a shame he was not on at the start.

Ronnie Stam: – took over from Boyce, but had a frustrating time.