Ready for Brentford? The challenge for Paul Cook and his squad

What a tempestuous week it has been.

A wonderful performance by the Latics team in blowing away Stoke City raised our hopes of at least a mid-table finish, with lots of optimism for the coming season. Then it was all turned upside down by that stunning announcement of the club going into administration. The Wigan Athletic community is still reeling from that news.

Brentford away is hardly the fixture that one would choose following the turbulence of the last three days. They outplayed Latics at the DW Stadium in November to the tune of a resounding 3-0 scoreline. They have won their last four games and still have a chance of automatic promotion.

Latics were on the crest of a wave following the Stoke game on Tuesday evening. Hopes were high that they could go to west London and give the Bees a run for their money. But now we learn that the players, who had deferred 30% of their salaries in the lockdown period, will only receive a fraction of their salaries today. Paul Cook must somehow lift his players to concentrate on the here and now, despite the uncertain futures at the club that they all now face.

Sam Morsy’s rallying call was admirable and we can only hope that captain, manager and coaches can maintain morale in this difficult hour.

The news and social media have been awash with stories about what has happened to the club.

The EFL’s prompt notification that there will be an automatic 12-point deduction did not go down well with Latics fans. Questions abound how their “Fit and Proper Persons” criteria allowed a shady change of ownership leading to administration within a month of Next Leader Fund taking ownership.

The reasons for NLF opting for administration remain unknown although there is no shortage of conspiracy theories being put forward.

Fans have been putting forward their views on the social media and message boards. Some fear for the very existence of the club. Others are concerned that the points deduction will lead the club back to League 1, although there are optimists who believe the team can gather some 13-14 points from the last 6 games to avoid that happening.

In the meantime, Latics must find the funding to help them complete the season, by no means an easy matter with no money coming into the club from the owners and minimal revenues available from playing behind closed doors.

Should the club manage its way to complete its fixtures and somehow gather enough points to avoid relegation it would be a big step forward. A Championship club is more attractive to a prospective buyer than one in League 1. Moreover, the broadcasting revenues and larger away supporter attendances make it financially more viable, even if the club were going to run on a shoestring budget for a period.

My concern is that the very survival of the club is at stake. After following them to places like Congleton, Winsford and Oswestry I can deal with the likes of Rochdale and Oldham should the club manage to get through this sticky period.

It is a stressful and difficult time for us all who care so much for our club. The game at Brentford tomorrow pales in comparison with the mountain the club must climb to stay in operation. However, a win could really lift our spirits and give us a little more hope for what lies ahead.

The social media reacts to the Wigan Athletic administration announcement

Yesterday’s news that Wigan Athletic have been put into administration and that the EFL will deduct 12 points was a stunner. What is going to happen to our club??

My love affair with Latics started at the age of 12 when I went to Springfield Park to watch Latics as a non-league club. That first visit was enough to make me hooked and I have spent practically a lifetime watching them, no matter what league or division they were in.

Sure, I would love to see Wigan Athletic back in the Premier League, but the parameters in football have changed so much since Paul Jewell’s team took us up there. The bottom line for me is to see the club survive. It is not so important what division they are in.

However, we and other Latics fan sites have regularly published our concerns about the debts the club has been accruing in recent years. On June 8 we published an article “An initially challenging time is coming for Wigan Athletic”, referring to the comments of new co-owner Au Yeung Wai Kay. We raised the prospect of EFL clubs being lost in the revenue crunch following on from the Covid-19 pandemic. We talked about the need for a fire-sale akin to that made by Dave Whelan in January 2015 and drastic reductions in the club’s wage bill. But little did we know that that the initially challenging time would come as far as administration.

Let’s take a look at how fans reacted to the shock news through the message boards and social media.

Our thanks go to the Cockney Latic Forum, the Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum and Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen. Thanks go to all whose contributions are identified below.

Captain Kernow on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

It just doesn’t make any sense, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a club just enter administration. There’s usually weeks and months of foretelling beforehand.

We were taken over three weeks ago where the owners would have had to prove finances to the EFL. They’ve not even got through the first payday.
We’ve invested in player contracts and development facilities this month.
I don’t understand why we would do these things if we were so skint?

I don’t think finishing 13 points clear of the bottom 3 is beyond us, especially on current form. But how many players are actually going to keep on playing?

Leylandlatic4ever on the Cockney LaticForum said:

The situation stinks and I felt physically sick when I read the news this afternoon, especially gutting after the way the lads have performed since the restart.

We have 4 very winnable games in the last six. All of us, no exceptions, must get behind the boys more than ever. The future of the club is quite literally at stake. Get the 12 points back on the pitch and tell the EFL where to stick their deduction.

We are Wigan…never give up, give in or surrender.

Scharnerama on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

The EFL are disgusting, throwing us to the dogs like they did with Bury. Never mind that theres a global pandemic happening which has delayed our season and impacted every clubs finances, and that they deemed our new owners ‘fit and proper’ mere weeks ago, literally less than 1 hour after its announced we’re entering administration, they s…. all over us and say we’re getting hit with a deduction. It would have been some miracle if we got 13 points from the last 6 games anyway, but now we’ve GOT to get 13 points or we’re down, whats that going to do for team morale? Playing under that pressure? If we finish outside the relegation zone this year … -12 points and relegation. Go down anyway? Start lg1 with -12 points. Either way we’re smashed. Maybe it would have been better for this season to have been ended early afterall, although PPG would probably have sent us down anyway.

What an absolute crusher though. After last nights win and the form we’ve been showing, the last thing I expected today was to fear for the future of the club. Jokes about going for the play offs … But here we are. I’ve no idea what our future holds – or if we actually have one – but thats a fear for another day. All we can do for now is rally and cheer for the squad to go out there and fight for the 13 points we need. ‘Little’ Wigan the underdogs, taking on the EFL for survival. If any team can upset the odds its us, so i’ve not lost faith. But Ch–st, what an absolute mountain we’ve got to climb.

Th10 on the Latics Speyk Forum said:

I think the best thing is the 12 point deduction applying this season. Starting a championship season on -12 would give us no chance of surviving anyway. At least the players can fight for the rest of what could be our last season as a club. If the club does survive then at least next season is a fresh start. Look at Bolton this year, they were down before it even started.
If someone does want to buy the club then who does the money go to? Surely if the owners have run the club into the ground and put it into admin then they don’t get anything. I’m not sure how it works.

Pies’r’Us on the Latics Speyk Forum detailed his previous warnings:

I wrote to EFL in May and then the following to all TV and radio broadcaster, Wigan MP but was ignored..

“END OF THE PIER FOR WIGAN ATHLETIC?

Wigan Athletic have recently been sold and bought by the same person; Dr. Choi Chiu Fai Stanley. He is the chairman and majority shareholder of the last owner; IEC plc, and also majority shareholder of the new owning company ‘Next Leader Fund LP’. This has been approved by the EFL which renders their club ownership process to kiddies TV; ‘The Magic Roundabout’.

Dr. Stanley, has over 20 years experience in financial services and merger and acquisition projects. He also a renowned poker player in the far eastern gambling world through televised poker tournaments.

According to his letter sent to IEC plc shareholders on 8 May 2020 (link below), one of the principle reasons for selling the club and transferring ownership is that it will be financially advantageous to IEC in regard to a previous interest free loan of £24.36 million. IEC have provided a replacement loan via ‘the new owner’ and most importantly; it is interest bearing at 8%. This is now costing Wigan Athletic £37,846 A WEEK! The club have made an average loss over the last two years of circa £8.5 million which equates to £163,461 per week and therefore losses now total circa £200,000 per week.

For context; the present stock market capitalisation (value) of IEC plc is £36.48 million and is engaged in expensive court actions with tax authorities concerning 2 of it’s subsidiaries.

However, the terms require the capital sum to be repaid in 12 months and if the club defaults then the interest rate increases to 20% to which weekly payments on the £24.36 million loan amounts to £93,692 !”

Dr Stanley knows the company cannot pay these figures on their present income and so did the directors of the club and the EFL. So why was it allowed to happen?

Muttywhitedog on the Cockney Latic Forum said:

I’m very shocked to hear this news. Administration is not the end of the world – Leicester & Southampton came back stronger. You are not relegation fodder, and a couple of wins against Hull & Charlton should see you safe and back next season, hopefully stronger for the experience and with an owner who gives a shit.

It does beg questions about ownership though – particularly those without a pot to p–s in, and it seems as Wigan & Sunderland have something in common in that respect.

Good luck.

The Egg on the Cockney Latic Forum stated:

Having a club to support is the absolute priority as you say. Staying in the championship will help that.

We need 3 wins from 6 I reckon.

Dnr on the Cockney Latic Forum added:

Siege mentality, need to gain four or five more points than the bottom three between now and the end of the season to be more that 12 points clear and avoid relegation. Current form would suggest we can do it, but this must shatter the lads. Interesting to see the impact on contracts, players may be able to just walk away.

What did IEC achieve at Wigan Athletic?

The IEC announcement of the sale of Wigan Athletic to Next Leader Fund L.P. was certainly carefully worded. However, it provided a chilling overview of the task facing the new ownership.

The IEC purchase of the club from the Whelan family was finalised in November 2018, but a little over a year later they gave notice of their intention to sell-up.

IEC had provided a vision of Latics becoming a club which would make itself sustainable by the development of home-grown talent through the academy system. Although they were not going to throw huge amounts of money around in a frantic rush, they nevertheless hoped to get the club back into the Premier League over a period of years, providing prudent financial backing.

The investments made by IEC in improving the academy facilities signaled a rise to Category 2 status, providing the U18 and U23 teams a healthier environment against more challenging opposition. IEC supported a wage bill that was modest by Championship standards, but far outweighed the revenue coming in. Moreover, last summer they provided money for the transfer market for Latics to sign players whose combined market value would surely appreciate. Four were in their early to mid-twenties: Antonee Robinson (22), Tom Pearce (22), Joe Williams (23), Jamal Lowe (25). Kieffer Moore was 27. Robinson, Pearce and Williams had played at Championship level before. Lowe and Moore had not played above League 1 and would need time to adjust to playing in the higher division. IEC’s investments in those players appeared well-judged at the time.

In order to do the above IEC say they invested over £44m in total in Wigan Athletic.

A wealth of information on the process by which IEC dealt with the sale of the club, its assets and debts can be found in the Investor Relations section of the IEC website. However, the documents are by no means easy reading for the layman.

It appears that IEC sold their shares to Next Leader for £17.5m. According to the document entitled Completion of Major and Connected Transactions of May 29, 2020 a “loan” of £24.36m provided by IEC to the club was repaid to them:

“In accordance with the Sale and Purchase Agreement, upon Completion, the Company (as the lender) and the Club (as the borrower) entered into the Loan Agreement in an aggregate principal amount of GBP24.36 million (equivalent to approximately HK$232.08 million),and the Deed of Guarantee was also entered into by the Purchaser in favour of the Company along with the Loan Agreement. Details and background of the Loan Agreement and Deed of Guarantee are set out in the Circular. Immediately subsequent to the entering into of the Loan Agreement, the Pre-Existing Loan in the amount GBP24.36 million (equivalent to approximately HK$232.08 million) has been repaid to the Company, and as a result, the Club is no longer indebted to the Company.”

The period of ownership of Wigan Athletic by IEC was some 19 months, during which the club has been in the Championship division. In November 2018 when IEC took over Latics were struggling on the field of play. That continued until a 2-1 away win at Leeds in April 2019 sparked a revival that saw them escape the relegation zone. However, accounts published in June 2019 showed that the club had made a net loss of £9.2m, their eighth consecutive loss for the season.

Given the effect of Covid-19 on EFL clubs, lowered average attendances at the DW Stadium and an imbalance in transfer revenues we can expect the losses for the current season to be well above those incurred in 2018-19.

Having bought the club and its debts Next Leader will face a mountain of a task getting the finances of the club in good order.

Were IEC over-optimistic in expecting more on the field of play during their period of ownership? Given the budget that Paul Cook was presented compared with those of rival clubs last season’s placing of 18th in the Championship was by no means a failure. Perhaps IEC, like many fans, were more hopeful of an improved placing this season, given the net investments made in the transfer market last summer? This has been a disappointing season, although the rally in the last six games before the EFL suspended its fixtures provide a ray of hope.

The priority for the club now that the season is about to restart is to avoid relegation. If this were to happen the market values of “prized asset” players would plummet. An added complication is that with the financial hardships that clubs will be facing market transfer values can be expected to decrease over these coming months.

Next Leader must cash in on its main transfer assets to cut down the cumbersome debt that the club has accumulated. If the club plays in the Championship next season it must set its staffing budget at a sustainable level, well below the £19m mark it currently has. The injection of young players from the U23 squad would be a viable option. The likelihood would be that Latics would struggle to avoid relegation under such circumstances, but other clubs will also struggle in the impending financial crisis.

The very existence of the club will be under threat. We can only hope that Next Leader can stay the course and judiciously steer the club back on an even keel. Can that IEC dream of the club sustaining itself through the fruits of its academy and sound investments become a reality?

The player Cook must start against Middlesbrough

Photo courtesy of the Sun newspaper

The Sun newspaper reports that Jude Bellingham could on his way to Manchester United for a fee of £30m. Bellingham made his debut for Birmingham City’s under-23 team as a 15-year-old in October 2018. He became their youngest-ever first team player at the age of 16 years, 38 days in an EFL Cup game at Portsmouth in August 2019. Under manager Pep Clotet he has now made 20 starts in the Championship this season.

Photo courtesy of Wigan Athletic

Joe Gelhardt too is a prodigious young talent, although a year older than Bellingham. He made his Wigan Athletic debut as a 16-year-old in an EFL Cup game against Rotherham in August 2018. Under manager Paul Cook he has since made 13 appearances in the Championship, with just one start in the 2-1 defeat of Sheffield Wednesday a couple of weeks ago.

The approaches of Clotet and Cook are certainly contrasting. Clotet has given Bellingham every opportunity to showcase his talents. Cook has used Gelhardt as an impact substitute, although in less than half of the games Latics have played in the Championship this season.

Cook has constantly talked about the need to shield Gelhardt from too much pressure at an early age. His most recent comment was that: “I think all Wigan fans probably want him to start, and the hard thing for me as a manager is trying to protect the young man – as good as he is.” However, he did add that: “He’s only 17, he’s a fantastic talent who makes things happen on a football pitch. His time is coming, that’s for sure.”

Cook got his starting lineup woefully wrong in Saturday’s home match against Preston. Playing with a back five and three defensive midfielders, reminiscent of the Warren Joyce era, was a valid tactic against a Leeds side which was technically superior. However, facing a Preston side that had won only 3 times in 14 away games, it was the wrong ploy. It was only after Preston went 2-0 up that Cook changed his formation and took off a defender to bring on Gelhardt. The youngster went on to provide the pass leading to Chey Dunkley’s goal after 57 minutes, looked dangerous and forced a good save from the Preston keeper in the last minute. As Cook said: Gelhardt makes things happen.

Since the departure of Nick Powell, the manager has experimented with different players in the number 10 position behind the centre forward, none of whom has been able to establish himself there. His recent preference has been to use Joe Williams, a holding midfielder, in that position. Williams is an all-action player who has been one of Latics’ best performers this season, but a number 10 he is not. The player needs to be restored to his best position.

Using Williams or Lee Evans at number 10 has been an option that has given Cook more midfield tackling cover, but there has been a crying-out need for a naturally creative player in that position. It looked like we might have had that kind of player when Kieran Dowell signed on loan from Everton. However, Cook dispatched Dowell to play wide, preferring to continue with Williams as a 10.

In the absence of Dowell through injury there remains one prime candidate for the number 10 position – Joe Gelhardt.

At Wigan, Cook has mentors who had illustrious careers after making their debuts at a tender age. Peter Reid started for Bolton as an 18-year-old while Joe Royle was only 16 when he first played for Everton. It makes the manager’s reluctance to immerse Gelhardt hard to understand.

Middlesbrough have only won two games away from home this season. They can certainly be beaten if Wigan go in with a positive approach.

Playing Gelhardt from the start is paramount. Moreover, he should not be dispatched to a wide position, but played behind the centre forward. The creativity and dynamism that Gelhardt can provide is something that has been so lacking over the course of the season.

A Forest fan’s view of Kieran Dowell (Part 2)

 

Following on from previous fan views of Kieran Dowell we later received a further one from Rich Ferraro at his Forest Ramble site (www.forestramble.com)


As for Dowell, we just didn’t see enough of him in a red shirt, and neither did Derby. This doesn’t seem to be down to lack of ability, he obviously has loads of talent, and when he got a chance he showed flashes of brilliance (including nine goals in league and cup), but without ever being the first name on the team sheet.

 However, it says a lot that he seemed to do ok at Sheffield United – maybe he needs a manager who is able to put an arm around his shoulder, rather than a kick up the bum.

 Dowell left Forest when Mark Warburton left and Aitor Karanka came in, so maybe he was a victim of the new gaffer having less faith in youth (other victims included Joe Worrall).

 Can he do a job for you? Yes, he provides a good through ball, skills and goals; but you will need to get your enforcers to do some of the donkey work around him.

 All the best for the rest of the season.