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.

 


			

A Derby County fan’s view of Kieran Dowell

 

Kieran Dowell made his debut for Wigan Athletic yesterday at Leicester, starting in a wide left midfield role. Dowell can be a very important player for Latics in the second half of the season, a natural number 10, with the ability to make incisive passes and score goals.

In order to get more information on Dowell’s performances at his previous club, Derby County, we contacted Ollie Wright of the @derbycountyblog

This is what Ollie had to say:

I feel sorry for Dowell, because he was the victim of circumstances.  Phillip Cocu only arrived at Derby very late on in the summer, after the whole ‘will-he-won’t-he-of-course-he-bloody-will-get-it-over-with’ nonsense over Frank Lampard and Chelsea.  Cocu didn’t really have any time to assess his squad and what he needed to bring in before the start of the season.  

 Several loan signings were made quickly, the first of which was Dowell, just after Cocu had landed in Florida to take over pre-season training.  I’m guessing that Cocu spoke to Marcel Brands – the Everton director of football, who had worked with him at PSV – and Brands recommended that Cocu take Dowell, who was reportedly weighing up offers from yourselves and Huddersfield at the time.  

Dowell played the first few games of the season in an advanced midfield role, but after we were humiliated 3-0 at Brentford, Dowell paid a heavy price and lost his place in the team.  After that, he only started two more games, defeats at Blackburn and Hull, and whispers started to circulate that his loan would be cancelled last month. He was left out of the 18 for the win against Barnsley this week and that was widely seen as confirmation that he would leave the club.

An element of the Derby fanbase wrote Dowell off very quickly and he will certainly not be missed  However, in his defence, it was a tall order for any attacking midfielder to come in and try to replace the elite talents who left the club last summer – Mason Mount and Harry Wilson – and there have been plenty of poor performances since the Brentford defeat in which Dowell was not involved at all, so it’s not as if he could be scapegoated for our difficulties this season.  He did not impress here, to put it kindly, but there’s definitely a talent in there, if somebody can unlock it.  

From the limited time he spent on the pitch, my assessment would be that he is best used as a number ten, without being asked to take care of much (any) defensive duty.  It’s obvious that Wigan are in need of creativity and, if played in a relatively free role, Dowell does have the potential to make things happen – he was the best Derby player for key passes per 90 minutes this season, with 1.9 – but he was unable to replicate the burst of brilliant goals he scored for Nottingham Forest and I wouldn’t expect him to win you many duels in the midfield hurly burly.
Given the difficult position Wigan find themselves in and the lack of goals in the Latics’ side, I think this is a loan move which is definitely worth a shot.  
Wishing you all the best for the rest of the season.  Good luck!

A Nottingham Forest fan’s view of Kieran Dowell

 

Wigan Athletic yesterday announced the signing of 22-year-old Kieran Dowell from Everton on a loan deal until the end of the season. Since the departure of Nick Powell Latics have badly lacked a midfield playmaker/goalscorer and Dowell certainly fits that profile.

The 6 ft 1 in tall attacking midfielder was born in Ormskirk and joined the Everton Academy at the age of seven. After playing for the reserve team he made his first team debut in a Europa League game against Krasnodar in December 2014. Dowell signed a professional contract in March 2015. He went on to make his Premier League debut as a 19-year-old as a substitute in March 2016 against Bournemouth. He made his first start two weeks later in a last day of the season win over Norwich city. He was given a new three-year contract in the summer of 2016. Dowell gained over 40 caps for England at all levels U16 to U20, being part of the under-20 World Cup winning side in the summer of 2017.

In August 2017 he joined Nottingham Forest on a season-long loan. He soon became a regular under Mark Warburton and scored a hat-trick against Hull City in October 2017. He went on to make 31 starts in the Championship with 7 appearances off the bench, scoring 9 goals.

Dowell joined Sheffield United on loan in January 2018 going on to make 8 starts and 8 substitute appearances, scoring 2 goals as the Blades won promotion to the Premier League. He went to Derby on loan in July 2019 making 8 Championship starts and 2 appearances off the bench.

In order to find out how Dowell did at Nottingham we contacted Matt at the Forza Garibaldi fan site (www.forzagaribaldi.com).

Matt commented:

At Forest, Dowell’s first couple of months were electric. He created chances and he scored goals. Some were absolute corkers too. He created something from nothing and was an instrumental part of our side.

 Sadly, Dowell’s impact faded quite dramatically. I won’t pin all of it on him as Forest did do their usual trick of collapsing and a change of manager at the turn of the year clearly disrupted things but he wasn’t the same.

Dowell’s appearances and influence dwindled and when the season ended and he returned to Everton it wasn’t really registered amongst Forest fans. When he signed for Derby on loan in the summer I thought it will either go really well or really badly.

 He may be an excellent addition for Wigan. There is definitely talent there, it just needs extracting. It just looks like a bit of a gamble which Kieron Dowell turns up.