A visit to Brentford and a look at a disastrous season

With the final game of the season coming up at Brentford on Saturday, Billy Grant  (@billythebee99) of beesotted.co.uk asked us to respond to some topical questions. The article is also posted on the Beesotted site.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

When we touched base for the first time this season around the time of the Forshaw saga, we had no idea our season would end up like this. We (and the world) thought we would be battling against relegation and you thought we would be battling for promotion with Uwe Rosler making his much awaited return to Griffin Park. Where did it all go topsy turvey?

Things had already started to go awry by the time that Brentford visited in mid-October. Just over a week later, with only three victories in seventeen league games, Rosler was shown the door. It was a sad end to an era in which the German had enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame. The previous season he had taken over a team in 14th place and got them into the playoffs, only to be narrowly beaten by QPR. Moreover the stunning win at the Etihad against the to-be Premier League champions in the FA Cup sixth round would stick in the memory for years to come. So would the semifinal, taking Arsenal to a penalty shootout.

Sadly things had gone pear-shaped for Rosler in the second half of his reign. The rot had set in towards the end of the 2013-14 season. The confidence that had been generated through a long string of good results had started to wane. Then over summer Rosler was to lose class performers in Jean Beausejour and Jordi Gomez, but the biggest blow was the departure of James McArthur on the transfer deadline day.

The new season had seen the team coming back from pre-season training in Germany in poor physical shape, with second half collapses being the order of the day. Moreover Rosler had made nine new signings since the summer, all in need of a settling-in period. But their arrival had swelled the first team squad to over thirty, the end result being Rosler having to deal with disgruntled players not getting a regular game.

Sadly Rosler could not inculcate his vision into his players. As time wore on it appeared that he and the players had become  more and more out of tune in terms of what should be delivered on the pitch. As the new season wore on we were to see less and less of the commitment required for the high tempo, high pressing football he sought.

By November the dream of getting back into the Premier League had become almost unreal. It looked like it was not going to happen this season with Rosler. Dave Whelan stepped in, relieving the German of his job, bringing in Malky Mackay, stating his belief that the Scot was the right man to take the club back to the Premier League.

Little did we know what depths the team would plumage towards under Mackay. His appointment did great damage to the club’s image as portrayed by the national media. Moreover the team did not rise on the bounce effect of a new manager, as is so often the case. In fact they got worse. They did not win a single home game during his tenure and he will go into Wigan Athletic history as their least successful manager.

When Mackay had taken over he had stuck by an “old guard” who had been underperforming under Rosler. Neither did they perform well under him. The result was no less than thirteen players dispatched out of the club in the January window. Given the departure of so many players who had proved themselves in the Premier League it was no surprise that the standard of football was to plummet close to rock bottom. The hoofball that had become evident under Coyle, which Rosler could not eradicate, soon became the order of the day under Mackay.

The conspiracy theorists say that Mackay was brought in as a short-term alternative, with his main task being to cull the dead wood within the playing staff. It could be said that he did that. Perhaps some of the players from the Martinez era had become complacent and were causing divisions within the camp.But the cull, together with a reluctance to provide Mackay with sufficient cash to find adequate replacements, left the club so short of quality players that relegation was always going to be a possibility. Mackay was to replace the departed players with those on short term contracts or young loanees green behind the ears. It was a recipe for disaster.

So many fans are relieved that Mackay will not be at the club next year, even if it is in League 1. But it should not hide the lack of foresight and decisiveness by new chairman, Sharpe, who left it too late in dismissing him.

Give us your thoughts on Brentford’s season

Many of us were shocked by the decision to not continue with Mark Warburton. I wonder if he had come to Wigan with Rosler we might have been promoted by now, rather than relegated.

Warburton deserves commendation for what he has done since he took over as manager. He has stuck to his guns by insisting that the team play good football and their quality has surprised others in the division. To be within reach of a playoff spot on the last day of the season is some achievement.

Whoever follows Warburton is on a hiding to nothing. You have to hope that Benham will make the right appointment. Whelan made a major blunder at Wigan by appointing the “long ball” Coyle following the departure of “tiki taka” Martinez. You need to appoint a manager who will build on what is established, rather than one who will destroy it.

There was an enormous who-ha over Wigan’s poaching of Adam Forshaw at the start of the season. He gave his reason for leaving being he wanted to move to a ‘bigger club’ and to one that was ‘challenging for promotion’. A bit cheeky. Would you admit, looking at how the season has panned out, Forshaw made the wrong move? He was a key player for us and has become a bit player since his move.

Rosler was building for the future by signing a handful of younger players. Andy Delort, Adam Forshaw, Emyr Huws, Aaron Taylor-Sinclair and James Tavernier were brought in. All were stars at their clubs last season and they are still good players. Sadly they were dragged into a situation where even experienced and capable pros, such as Ivan Ramis, Shaun Maloney and Leon Barnett, had been struggling to impose themselves on the field of play. Sadly those young players were mismanaged, first by Rosler then by Mackay.

Forshaw’s transfer had hit the headlines because of the bad feeling it created between the clubs. From the player’s point of view he was rejoining the manager who had nurtured him to the point of becoming League 1 Player of the Year. He was also joining a club that had a squad good enough to challenge for promotion, which would offer him a more lucrative contract.

Like those other young players Forshaw was never able to truly establish himself. He made 13 starts, with three appearances off the bench, scoring one goal.

Talking of Forshaw, his agent played him a big BIG get-out-of-jail card. Out of the blue he got him a move to promotion-chasing Middlesbrough after staring relegation in the face. At one stage, he looked destined for the Premier League with them but now has to settle for the playoffs. Assuming we don’t make the playoffs, do you think Forshaw will be a Premier League player next season?

Ben Watson’s agent did even better. Since leaving for Watford in January he has been a regular in a side that is already promoted. Forshaw has been largely used as a substitute by Middlesbrough, making only five starts.

Forshaw had been part of the January cull, with the club cutting their potential losses for the season by selling players off for whatever transfer money they could get and freeing others on lucrative contracts. So many fans had been disenchanted by the lack of performance by the squad that Mackay did not meet the opposition one would have expected when selling off the family silver. But there were fans who thought the departures of young players with potential was worrying.

Aitor Karanka has done a good job at Middlesbrough. They can play attractive football and will have as much chance as any other team in the playoffs. We learned last year what a lottery the playoffs can be. Should Boro get promoted they are going to have to bring in a lot of new players as their squad is not anywhere near Premier League standard.

Forshaw still has not established as a regular starter in the Championship, but he does have potential and maybe the Premier League environment would suit him?

For a while Latics fans were a bit disenchanted with Brentford over the Forshaw saga, but most of us will wish the Bees well in the quest for promotion. You have an outside chance of getting into the playoff zone, then a one in four chance of winning the playoffs. But the likelihood is that Derby will win at home to Reading on Saturday. If they do then I will fancy their playoff chances. Despite poor recent form their squad is probably the best outside the top two.

The Rotherham result in midweek has consigned you to Division 1. Despite our little ding dong earlier this season, most Brentford fans would actually prefer you stayed up. We had a good day out at Wigan much preferring it to our trips to places like Bolton and Millwall to be quite honest. How do you think you will get on next season???

Wigan is a friendly town and away fans seem to enjoy their visits. I went to Millwall for the first time a couple of weeks ago and can understand why your fans are not keen.

Dave Whelan is now 78 and after 20 years of guiding the club he has stepped back. He made a mistake with the Malky Mackay appointment and his inappropriate comments were gobbled up by the national media. It has sadly tarnished the image of a man who has done more for Wigan Athletic than anyone before.

When all this was going on the club seemed to have no direction and leadership. But now Latics have a new chairman and a new manager, both young and hungry for success. The 23 year old David Sharpe wisely opted for a manager who believes in playing football the “Wigan way”. Moreover his expectation is that Gary Caldwell – only 32 years old – will stay in the position long-term.

Next season is a great unknown for us. There will be another mass exodus over summer as the club sheds its highest wage earners and rebuilds. Sharpe has already stated his goal of promotion next season, but most of us realise that this might not happen so quickly. A large number of new players will be coming in and it is going to take time for them to gel and learn to play football with the style that Caldwell expects.

With the youngest manager and youngest chairman in the four divisions at the helm there is renewed optimism at Wigan. The era of Whelan has gone, but an exciting new one is about to commence.

Do you think you players will turn up at the weekend?

More than half of the players who made the starting lineup against Wolves last weekend are on short-term contracts which finish next month. Many of the remainder are likely to be leaving in summer. Will this motley crew give their commitment on Saturday?

Nevertheless Caldwell will expect them to give their all and many might want to impress possible future employers. Moreover there is no pressure on them to get a result.

Given such a scenario who knows what will happen? It could be a surprise victory for Latics or a hammering.

My guess is that it will be a 1-1 draw.

 

 

Latics in a quagmire

Mud

Rugby League has never really appealed to me. In my pre-adolescent days Wigan RLFC used to have a good deal for kids. You could go and watch the famous Cherry and Whites for threepence in the ‘hen pen’ behind the goals. I did it twice, once when they beat Hull and finally when Ryan Giggs’ father, Danny Wilson, inspired Salford to victory there.

Central Park was just five minutes’ walk from where I lived, right next to the town centre. So when my dad asked me if I would like to make the longer crosstown walk over to Springfield Park on a rainy day I had to think twice about it. But from the moment I watched Latics that first time, as an eleven year old, there was no way I was going back to the hen pen.

I have maintained little interest in watching the local rugby team playing a sport that I have rarely found entertaining. But on Saturday I tuned into the second half of the World Club Challenge game between the Warriors and the Brisbane Broncos. The commentators were waxing lyrically about what a good game it was, but all I could see was the Warriors penned into their own half, unable to move forward on a quagmire of a pitch. It was dull stuff until they surprisingly broke away from their own half and equalized near the end of the game. By that time the pitch was totally ruined, so a little bit more punishment caused by the game going into extra time was not going to make that much difference.

It is the first rugby league game I have watched for ten years and a similar time period could elapse before I watch another. The pitch clearly made things difficult for both teams. It made me wonder if the Warriors would have been able to hold the Broncos to such a tight margin if the pitch had been better. Then my thoughts turned to the Cardiff match. Could it be that the quagmire pitch might actually help Latics?

The term ‘quagmire’ can be used to describe not only the DW Stadium pitch, but also the current plight of Wigan Athletic. They are stuck in a quagmire in their fight to avoid relegation. Most of the more skilful players in the squad have deserted a sinking ship and the manager has the most unenviable record in the Football League of W2 D3 L10. Moreover Malky Mackay’s plans have been hit by long term injuries to Emyr Huws, Chris Herd and Leon Clarke, plus a two week absence for William Kvist who has been the team’s most consistent performer over recent weeks. Having shipped the likes of Delort, Kiernan, Riera and Tavernier off on loan he is left with a squad that is starting to look threadbare.

Mackay and Latics are certainly in a quagmire and there appears no way out of it. The manager has dismantled the old squad, brought in new players, but performances continue to be well below par. Latics have got worse, not better, during Mackay’s tenure. Dave Whelan is back in town and clearly worried about results. If Latics do not beat Cardiff tonight will he be showing Mackay the door?

Cardiff City’s form has also slumped over the past couple of months, so Latics will face another side low on confidence like themselves. It would appear to be a real opportunity to pick up three precious points, but over recent weeks Latics have thrown away games against teams in similar situations. The home defeats to struggling Rotherham and Charlton sides were a bitter pill to swallow. But can they actually win tonight playing on that quagmire of a pitch?

The critics would say that good football has not been evident since Mackay’s arrival, with goals from set pieces the order of the day. The pitch could stifle any attacking moves from the opposition and a goal from a set piece could win it. Mackay will rue the absence of Kvist, with his long throw-ins.

It is likely to be a grim night for lovers of good football tonight at the DW Stadium. But it is the result that is paramount. A win for Latics would provide at least a ray of hope for the future. Less than that will surely bog them down even more in the quagmire that Mackay finds himself in.

A leadership crisis at Latics

Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”

So said the guru of leadership studies, Professor Warren Bennis.

A couple of years ago my wife and I went on holiday to Vietnam. Walking the streets in the humid and sultry heat of Saigon around midday I was taken by surprise. There were four young Vietnamese men across the road, three of them dressed in the kind of clothing that you can find anywhere in the world. But it was what the fourth man was wearing that caught my eye. Blue jeans and a Wigan Athletic shirt.

It was leadership that guided Wigan Athletic from being a lesser known name in the lower reaches of League 2 to become known in far flung countries like Vietnam. Dave Whelan’s vision of building a purpose built new stadium and a place in the Premier League, attracting a global audience, became a reality. His leadership helped his vision become reality.

Without Whelan’s ambition and funding Latics could still be languishing in the lower reaches of English football. He had put a lot of money into getting promotion into the Premier League and had to keep doing so to maintain the club in that division.

Latics were in the red in each of their first six seasons in the Premier League. However, with revenue from transfer fees and sound fiscal management Jonathan Jackson reported total net profits of £4.3 million in 2011-12 and £822,000 in 2012-13. Last season, back in the Championship, but also in the Europa League and with a large parachute payment, Latics were again in the black, this time to the tune of £2.6m. Whelan set the goal of the club living within its means and Jackson has shown the leadership necessary to reach that target.

Being a leader can be tough, as Paul Jewell found in his early days as Latics manager. Jewell took over an underperforming squad with players on long term contracts. Latics had had three managers the previous season and the players probably did not expect Jewell to be there for long. However, despite results being poor in his first year, Jewell started to put his vision into place. It took him time to weed out what he considered the negative elements among the playing staff, but little by little he started to bring in players hungry for success. Aided by Whelan’s financial support, Jewell was able to attract quality players to the club and build up a momentum that was to propel them into the Premier League, with a League Cup final appearance in that first season.

Sometimes a leader knows it is time to move on. Jewell did just that in May 2007 after Latics had maintained their status as a Premier League club through a nerve-racking 2-1 win at Sheffield United in the last game of the season. He had had a wonderful six year reign at Wigan, but it was time for him to hand over the reins to someone else.

Roberto Martinez was brought to the club as a player in 1995 when Whelan was in the early days of seeing his vision fulfilled. Fourteen years later Whelan brought him back as manager to keep Latics in the Premier League on a budget much reduced than that of his predecessor, Steve Bruce.

Martinez had a very clear vision of how football should be played. It was radically different than anything seen before at the DW. His teams would resist the hoof, playing the ball out of defence. At times it got them into trouble, but one sensed that Martinez would take the blame if it went awry. In reality Martinez struggled to bring in the quality players who could translate his vision into reality.

But after two and a half years of frustration it all began to click when Latics went on that marvellous end of season run in 2012-13. A cruel injury situation savaged his hopes the following season, dragging Latics into relegation. However, somehow a patched up Latics team beat Manchester City to win the FA Cup. They won on merit, playing that particular brand of football espoused by the manager.

Martinez too knew when it was time to move on. He had previously resisted possibilities to join big clubs, but the time was right for him. After winning the FA Cup how much further could he go at Wigan? Martinez was a leader with a clear vision and he had a belief that his players could reach the levels he was seeking.

Even with inspiring leadership from above it is up to the players on the pitch. In reality leadership roles and responsibilities are shared amongst the players, but the role of the captain remains central to the team’s performance. A good captain inspires confidence in his teammates and strives to make the game plan work. He needs to communicate effectively with the referee and cajole his players into doing the right thing. The captain is a leader, communicator, who provides a vital link between the players and the manager.

Gary Caldwell was an inspirational captain under Martinez. Caldwell certainly had his ups and downs as a player. He is the type who would put his body in the firing line. It meant he would make some amazing blocks of goalbound shots, but then the flipside would be when the ball deflected off him and put his goalkeeper and fellow defenders off guard. Caldwell had his critics as a player, but few would doubt his sheer commitment to the cause.

It was outstanding leadership that got Latics up there and enabled success beyond most of our dreams. Sadly that leadership is not evident now as Latics head towards League 1. What went wrong?

Whelan is now 78 and after 20 years of guiding the club he is surely read to step back. He made a mistake with the Malky Mackay appointment and his inappropriate comments were gobbled up by the national media. It has sadly tarnished the image of a man who has done more for Wigan Athletic than anyone before. His treatment by the FA was carefully thought out, a six week suspension and a fine that is not a lot of money for a man of his affluence. However, psychologically it is a kick in the teeth and it must hurt.

Whelan’s grandson, David Sharpe, has recently been appointed to the board of directors. Sharpe will surely be groomed to take over from his grandfather, but the question is “when”? What is going to happen over the coming months? The uncertainty is surely sending shockwaves within the club.

Mackay’s appointment has been a disaster. One wonders how the players have reacted since his arrival. A boss labelled, rightly or wrongly, a “racist” by the national media, with the shadow of a possible FA suspension hovering above him. Mackay has already shot himself in the foot by his remarks about wanting “hungry British players”, a signal to the overseas players that it is time to go. Roger Espinoza and Oriol Riera have already gone, William Kvist and Thomas Rogne are frozen out and Andy Delort cannot even get a place on the bench.

Mackay has proved inept up to this point, but given the uncertainty pervading the club it could be that he will be in his post for some time. The hope is that he can turn around the dressing room atmosphere through comings and goings in the January transfer window. If he can’t Latics are surely heading for League 1.

The lack of response from the players on the pitch has been the defining feature of Latics’ season so far. A series of unfortunate events led to a poor start and confidence levels are clearly low. But it has appeared that the players just have not cared enough. Uwe Rosler was dismissed as a result of their lack of support and they are responding no better, if not worse, under Mackay.

The players clearly have a lot to answer for, but they too are surely affected by the uncertainty at the club. They have a manager who is far from secure in his position and there is little indication of the direction in which the club is heading.

On the pitch the lack of leadership has been sadly apparent. There have been a host of captains this season, but none has been able to galvanise his teammates into consistent commitment and effort.

The leadership crisis at Wigan Athletic is a real concern. In our heart of hearts, most of us hope that Whelan will bounce back, if only for a short burst.

If he doesn’t step up to the plate, Latics could go into free fall, undoing all of his achievements of the past two decades.

 

 

 

 

Playing for Malky

Will Mackay's appointment  prove to be worth the baggage that came with it?

Will Mackay’s appointment prove to be worth the baggage that came with it?

Despite the emotional and divisive effect Mackay’s candidacy and then appointment had amongst club’s supporters, there seemed to be a general feeling among backers and protesters, and even the media, that his arrival would probably still give the team the “new manager” boost on the pitch.

What is surprising to me is that although there has been plenty written about dressing room trouble, which we knew plenty about well before Mackay’s arrival, few have written or spoken about how much further damage his appointment might have inflicted it in a young, multicultural squad. (No matter what forced public statements of support the captains GC/EB gave at the time). If one of the biggest problems under Uwe was dressing room unity, he was surely the most ill-suited appointment possible, given how divisive his own public debacle was and continues to be.

Many of the stronger voices of dissent on #wafc forums and social media were those of younger supporters, some foreign. Your average footballer might not be the most involved with social or political issues, and yes, the language on the training ground and “in football” is far from “politically correct” and therefore it is unlikely many of the players were shocked at the content of Mackay’s texts. But their generation is far more likely than previous ones to want no part in what his texts, and his appointment, represent.

Many of the more experienced influential players – Al-Habsi, Maloney, Boyce, Watson, Espinoza, Ramis – were brought in at a time when the club had a very strong ethos of family values and doing things the right way. It was a source of pride, was my sense, for players and supporters alike.

I’ll always be grateful to Whelan for all that he has done, and personally hope he acts to put things right. But this mistake looks costly on just about every front other than the actual money spent, which was probably DW’s priority. Mackay is hardly Mourinho. Just not worth the risk. Someone else could have gotten us out of the bottom three. And even if still Mackay does, and there is plenty of time for him to do so, would it really be worth the baggage?

Dave makes the right decision, but can he get the next one right?

Whelan

“Following the incredible achievements of last season, I felt it was the right thing to do that he should be given more time. However, the situation we find ourselves in at the moment, and the run of results in recent months, really has been alarming. Something is clearly not working. For whatever reason, the team is not gelling, despite substantial financial backing in the summer and the dressing room being blessed with a huge amount of quality. Therefore, I have now come to the reluctant conclusion that for the long term good of the club, we need a change.”

Dave Whelan’s words signaled the end of another era at Wigan Athletic. Uwe Rosler departing after only eleven months at the helm. The club is going to have its third manager in a period of a year.

Given only three victories in seventeen league games it seemed like a matter of time before Rosler would be shown the door. It was a sad end to an era in which Rosler had enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame. He took over a team in 14th place and got them into the playoffs, only to be narrowly beaten by QPR. Moreover the stunning win at the Etihad against the to-be Premier League champions in the FA Cup sixth round will stick in the memory for years to come. So will the semifinal, taking Arsenal to a penalty shootout.

Sadly things went pear-shaped for Rosler in the second half of his reign. The rot had set in near the end of last season. The confidence that had been generated through a long string of good results started to wane. The new season saw the team coming back from pre-season training in Germany in poor physical shape, with second half collapses being the order of the day. Moreover Rosler had made nine new signings since the summer, all in need of  a settling in period. But their arrival had swelled the first team squad to over thirty, the end result being Rosler having to deal with disgruntled players not getting a regular game. Sadly we never saw Rosler’s dream of high pressure, high tempo football come to fruition. The players just did not seem capable of delivering it.

One hopes that Rosler will be remembered with some degree of affection among Latics fans. Serious injuries to midfield lynchpins Chris McCann and Ben Watson were a cruel blow when his team was doing so well. Moreover Nick Powell’s form had dipped at the wrong time, with the playoffs within reach. The team’s form wavered as the end of season approached, the loan players brought in during January being largely disappointing. However, despite the playoff disappointment fans remained supportive of Rosler and looked forward to the coming season when he could bring in his own signings and play the high tempo football he sought.

However, Rosler was to face a difficult task in the transfer market. In Jean Beausejour and Jordi Gomez he lost two skillful, quality players who would be difficult to replace. But the biggest blow was the departure of James McArthur on the transfer deadline day. Latics have only won one game since he left. Rosler had to fill the void left by the three who had oodles of Premier League experience.

There has been a lot of criticism of Rosler’s new signings. It would probably be fair to say that none of them have yet reached their best form. However, Rosler should be commended for his acquisition of young players with exciting technical skills, who will surely make their mark with more experience. Whelan backed the manager by forking out significant transfer fees for Adam Forshaw and Emyr Huws, who could prove to be the lynchpins of the midfield in the future. James Tavernier was acquired from Newcastle for a modest fee and the quality his crossing and set piece deliveries make him a threat to opposition defences. Left back Aaron Taylor-Sinclair has yet to appear in a league game. Bringing in the experience of Don Cowie, William Kvist and Andrew Taylor on free transfers made sound sense and all three will have a part to play as the season progresses. Sadly the two new central strikers, Andy Delort and Oriel Riera, in whom Whelan made a significant investment, just have not clicked up to this point.

Whelan did what was necessary by removing Rosler as manager. He now seeks to appoint a manager who can get the best out of the players, in a manner that eluded Rosler over these months. Moreover the squad is unnecessarily large and the new man will surely release a number of players in the January transfer window.

Rumours continue to fly around that some of the senior players within the squad were undermining Rosler. Similar stories were in the wind when Owen Coyle was dismissed last December. Like any football club, Latics prefer to clean their dirty washing in private, so one can but surmise that this has been happening. But it will be interesting to see who does leave in January.

The squad contains players signed by Roberto Martinez, Coyle and Rosler and all three managers had different preferences in terms of style of play. Sadly the flowing football of the FA Cup winning side is becoming an increasingly distant memory, but fans will hope that the new manager will be able to produce that, in addition to getting results. Perhaps it is too much to ask for a new manager coming in with morale at low ebb.

Once again Latics are back in the managerial merry-go-round. A new manager coming in from outside is likely to want to bring in his own right hand men and there could well be a cull of coaching and backroom staff. Or would Whelan insist that current staffing be maintained as he did when Rosler was appointed?

A valid alternative for Whelan would be to appoint from within. The name of Eric Black immediately comes to mind. The costs of hiring and firing will surely play a part in Whelan’s decision, with the financial fair play framework hovering above him.

Once again Dave Whelan has to make a key decision. Like anyone else in the football business he is by no means infallible. His big mistake in recent years was in not replacing Martinez with someone with a similar footballing philosophy. It is in the first year in the Championship that teams who have been relegated from the Premier League have the best chance of returning. Whelan blew it by appointing a manager whose teams more often than not reverted to route one, poles apart from the Martinez era. However, he deserves credit for appointing Rosler who really did lift the club, although in the end he could not maintain it.

Let’s hope Dave gets it right this time.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.