High turnover but what’s changed? A perspective on Wigan’s latest window

c3kuvlmwiaqxpzs

Management hates it, the media loves it, fans have little choice but to be glued to it in hope and trepidation. Transfer deadline day is bigger business every year that goes by. It’s one of the ways – the lack of a winter break being the other obvious one – in which the British game likes to make things that bit more complicated (and profitable) than the rest of the world.

For clubs that swapped managers during the first half of the season, the January transfer window has become an opportunity for the new regime to stamp its authority on the squad. Ship out players that don’t fit the tactical model; replace them with players that do; balance the books by shedding big earners and reinvesting in problem positions. It’s a pattern that has become all too familiar at Wigan, with last year’s success in League 1 the notable exception.

There are a couple problems with this approach. First, you have less time in January than in the summer, not only to recruit good players and find a home for high-earning misfits, but just as importantly to provide incomings the tactical and personal adaptation period they need to succeed. On top of that, you have to navigate an inflated market to negotiate fair prices for players, which can be particularly challenging if you appear desperate, as one does in a relegation fight, for example.

Another unpleasant feature of the January transfer window well known to Latics, particularly in the Premier League days, is the risk of losing your most successful players. It tends to be instigated by agents or players themselves, and to materialize in the dying hours of the window, preventing the club from finding an adequate replacement. Sometimes, these decisions become of huge financial importance to the club, and their approval is beyond the manager’s control.

Add to this Wigan’s very limited spending power compared to its Championship competitors – and you realize what a big ask we as fans are making of the manager. It’s worth pausing to put oneself in Warren Joyce’s shoes. There are plenty of arguments claiming the manager should only be judged after a window. I’d take them a step further to suggest that’s still nowhere near enough time. The new players haven’t had a pre-season with him; many will need to adjust to playing at a higher level; all will have to adapt to new surroundings and teammates; and Joyce himself will need to adapt his tactics, having lost his most valuable player.

The counter argument, of course, is that Joyce brought some of these challenges upon himself. Too much turnover is bad for any organization, specially in a short period of time, and the high number of ins and outs will breed instability. Was it really necessary to bring in so many people, so many loanees in particular? Right when the team was gaining some consistency and producing results on the pitch? Plenty to debate. In the meantime, here are some ups and down on another busy window:

Good News: The whopping fee received for Yanic Wildschut (£7.5 million according to Sky,£7 million elsewhere.) It’s hard to take, given his status as Latics’ best attacking threat, with pace and strength to burn, and room to improve. But his finishing was often frustrating, he was inconsistent, and very much rough around the edges. If he had to go, credit is due the club for gaining such a huge profit on their investment.

Bad News: Yanic again. Being gone so late in the window. It’s hard to ignore that Wigan have scored three goals fewer than Rotherham, and yet just sold their most effective attacker.

Good News: In Gabriel Obertan, the club have found as close to a direct replacement as could be expected. We’ll be left to imagine what Joyce’s team might have looked like with two pacey wingers on the pitch. But at least Obertan’s defining attributes are similar to Wildschut’s: pace and strength, some trickery, abundant potential yet inconsistent finishing. He should be entering his peak years, has something to prove, and lots of experience at a higher level. Joyce knows him, he’s apparently a good professional, and they have said encouraging things about each other. The term of contract is short, therefore financial risk is too. All in all, a gamble worth taking.

Bad news: The squad feels unbalanced and bloated. There are a lot of midfielders, but few wingers or attacking playmakers given Nick Powell’s absence. With Obertan almost certain to start, it’s likely Michael Jacobs (in desperate need of a goal) on the other wing, with Colclough, Weir and Browne all unproven backups. Meanwhile, in the centre of midfield, Joyce has Power, Morsy, Perkins, MacDonald, Gilbey, Tunnicliffe, Hanson, Byrne, and Laurent to keep happy. Perhaps some of these players will be used in different positions (Hanson as defensive cover, etc.), but it’s a bloated, uneven squad that Joyce may have a hard time keeping happy.

Good News: Welcome Omar Bogle! He may need time to adapt. But the club beat out competitors to get him, and on paper, he has everything he needs to succeed at Championship level. A lot of hope is resting on his inexperienced shoulders, but if his teammates can provide him service, there is reason to believe. The option of a little-and-large Grigg and Bogle parternship is also intriguing. He’s left-footed, too.

Bad News: Banking on lower division signings is playing with fire. If Grigg is to become injured, Latics are left with Bogle, and Mikael Mandron to lead the line. Both have potential, but their success has come in League 2 and the Conference, respectively. They are completely unproven at this level, and playing with new teammates.

Good News: Alex Bruce appears an astute short-term signing, with potential for a longer stay. Dan Burn and Jake Buxton have developed a useful partnership in recent games, but Bruce is a dependable and experienced head to provide backup, who should also be good to have around the place.

Bad News: He hasn’t played all season due to an Achilles injury.

Good News: Keeping Sam Morsy and Max Power. Much of the attention has been on keeping Morsy, who has performed very well since his return. Power may not have started strongly, but has been steadily improving and remains a player of undoubted potential. Had rumours of his departure materialised, Latics would have lost an opportunity to reap the rewards of blooding him at this level. Good things should come of establishing Power and Morsy as a partnership.

Bad News: Too many loanees. In order to secure loan signings, managers often have to pledge a certain number of game time to the players’ parent clubs. Given the maximum of five loan signings per match-day squad, it looks an impossibility Latics’ recent loan signings will all get their wish to show what they can do. Jakob Haugaard may find himself sacrificed given the arrival of Matt Gilks. Callum Connolly is certain to play. That leaves Jamie Hanson, Marcus Browne, James Weir, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Bruce and Haugaard to vie for the other berths. Presumably, borrowing players and not giving them a game reduces the chances of players being borrowed from the same clubs in the future. Given many of these players are expected to be fringe players anyway, might Latics have been better off without a few of them?

Good News: Joyce appears to have both a short-term, and long-term plan. Signings like Gilks, Bruce and Obertan point to survival needs, while the signings of Jack Byrne, Mandron, and Josh Laurent show a continued desire to invest in youth and capitalize on Joyce’s wealth of experience in the area of player development. Byrne, in particular, was highly rated at City and appears a good long-term signing.

Verdict

Despite the high turnover, it doesn’t appear likely there will be immediate, dramatic changes to the starting lineup – Obertan in for Wildschut, perhaps the goalkeeper, and a new striking option in Bogle off the bench. This should prove a blessing, given the progress made in recent weeks. But it also calls into question the need for such a high number of incomings and outgoings. Joyce would do well to resist the urge of upsetting the players who have recently given him good commitment and results.

As supporters, patience is going to be important. Demanding instant impact from players adapting to a higher level is unfair, as is demanding instant adjustment from a team that became dependent on Wildschut to create for it. But if the new signings can add to the promising form shown of late and provide cover for injuries, we can be cautiously optimistic that, with a new crew of Joyce-loyal players and relative stability in the starting XI, we’re better off than before the window.

Full squad can be seen here

Advertisements

Best transfer window yet? Crusat, Maloney, Van Aanholt strengthen Wigan

With another dramatic deadline day safely behind us, I daresay Wigan Athletic has enjoyed its most successful transfer window yet. While other clubs wheeled and dealed and were ultimately forced to re-shuffle their packs to cover for unexpected losses, Roberto got the two wingers he had been looking for all summer to replace N’Zogbia and Cleverley, plus a much-needed alternative at left-back, something the team has lacked for a couple years. The squad not only looks competitive, it looks large. There is cover for everyone in the squad, no one is indispensable. It’s another mark of how far the club has come under Martinez.

So, lets recap the summer’s activity. It is an unfortunate truth at a club of Wigan’s size that one must sell to stay afloat — at least until the club’s fan base has grown enough to fill the DW week in and week out, sell shirts around the world, and be competitive enough to bring in television and prize money from European tournaments.

Given this fact, and the probability that the player would have forced the transfer anyway, N’Zogbia’s sale was unavoidable. Nine million was underwhelming for a player of his ability and Premier League experience, but from a strictly business perspective, the club paid six for him, got two-and-a-half excellent seasons out of him, and made a three million profit. And they almost certainly replaced him with a player on half his wages.

Meanwhile, seven million has been spent to bring in four players permanently, plus a very promising season-long loan. Last year’s player of the season, Ali Al-Habsi, should prove to be worth every penny of the four million Latics paid for him earlier this summer. Despite his first-match blunder, he was absolutely outstanding last year and at 29, is just entering his best years as a keeper. He seems to really love the club and I could see him playing out the rest of his career at the DW.

Albert Crusat, also 29, arrives from Almeria, where he spent six “magnificent” seasons. An Almeria fan site says he was one of the most loved players at the club, and should be a success in the Premier League based on his style of play. We understand he is a skillful, fast left winger, small but with good strength.

Shaun Maloney, 28, arrived from Celtic, where he spent most of his career. He is a right-footed winger, also quite small but tricky and with a dazzling highlight reel of direct free-kicks. He has had some injury trouble but has been fit for a while. He was chosen as the Scottish Player of the Year in 2006 and has played for his country 20 times. Celtic fans sound sad to see him go, and Aston Villa fans, who had him for a season and a half, reckon we have done tidy business for a “talented little player.”

Dave Jones joined the club during pre-season after failing to agree a new contract at Wolves. The 26-year-old is a left-footed central midfielder, much loved by Wolves fans for his efforts at Molineaux. This goal gives you an idea about the type of player he is. He hasn’t featured yet, but seems destined to play in an advanced role in the midfield diamond. His eye for a through ball and shooting threat make him a more than useful replacement to the current starting midfielders.

Nouha Dicko came in on a free after financial difficulties forced Strasbourg to release some of their players. He looks to be one for the future, but has already been lighting up the reserves with his pace and dribbling from the wing.

Patrick Van Aanholt is a 21-year-old left back, on a season-long loan from Chelsea, where he moved from PSV Eindhoven in 2007. He has been out on loan spells at Coventry, Newcastle and Leicester City since joining the London club. Hard to get a game with Ashley Cole and Yuri Zhirkov ahead of him in the pecking order, but he has represented his country at U-19 and U-21 levels and was even close to the senior squad on a few occasions. He should provide excellent cover for Maynor Figueroa at left back.

In Conclusion:

The deepest squad the Latics have ever had. Roberto already had a young, promising team and has added several players at the peak of their careers. Crusat and Maloney should not need a lengthy adjustment period (although they probably won’t go straight into the starting lineup either, given the strong performances by Rodallega and Moses on the wings last time out), and are proven players. There is now cover in every position. Kirkland for Al-Habsi. Stam for Boyce, Gohouri/Lopez for Alcaraz/Caldwell, Van Aanholt for Figueroa. Jones/McArthur/Thomas for Watson/Diame/Jordi/McCarthy. Sammon for Di Santo. Crusat/Maloney for Moses and Rodallega. And that’s not to mention young players knocking on the door like McManaman, Dicko and Redmond.

The starting lineup may not be any stronger, on paper, since N’Zogbia and Cleverley’s departures. But the depth is something we’ve never seen. And options. Looking forward to watching the new boys soon.

Waiting on a Winger — Transfer Window Diary

As Peter Odemwingie put his name to a contract extension that will see him a West Brom player through the summer of 2014, the curtains closed on Wigan’s latest failed attempt in the transfer window.

There has been plenty to smile about this summer — Al-Habsi’s permanent deal, the release of wage drainers like Jason Koumas and Daniel De Ridder, and the retention of all but one of the club’s crop of talented young players.

But as we approach match day number two, the club appears no closer to the signing of a winger it so desperately needs. Nouha Dicko was apparently quite useful for the “development squad” in their 3-1 win the other day over Fulham, but is clearly one for the future. And Callum McManaman is back from the u-20 World Cup and will hopefully be available in the coming weeks. But it was quite clear against Norwich that while not doing anything wrong (or much of anything at all), Jordi Gomez is not dynamic enough for that position on the right wing. When the opposition wises up and starts kicking Moses on the left side of the pitch, we’ll have a problem.

And so West Brom rejected the Latics offer of 4 million pounds, a weak bid that was never going to tempt them. Odemwingie was a revelation last year, scoring 15 goals. He only cost West Brom 2.5 million, but who in their right mind would sell 15 Premier League goals for a profit of 1.5 million? That’s the difference between mid-table security and relegation.

Meanwhile, Sean Wright-Phillips is apparently close to joining Bolton. Roy Beerens (who?) snubbed Latics for AZ Alkmaar. Carlos Vela joined Real Sociedad on a year-long loan. Everton’s injury-prone forward Yakubu was linked a few days ago but nothing further on that one. Which probably means the best bet at this point is another season-long loan signing, ala Cleverley last year. But who else is there? Milner or Johnson from City would be great but their wages will be prohibitive. Diouf and Macheda of United may be available but haven’t shown too much in previous loan spells. Gio Dos Santos would be a loan possibility but it sounds at though Spurs want to sell. Arsenal don’t really have too much to spare. Maybe Pablo Barrera from West Ham’s bench? Someone from the Spanish market?

Overall, I’m a very happy supporter with Roberto Martinez at the helm. The team is financially stable, he’s building for the future, they’re playing decent football, and he genuinely cares. But one thing Steve Bruce had — and continues to have at Sunderland — is a big enough football name to convince proven Premiership players to join the club. At this stage, it looks like any signings are going to be from weaker leagues, who will take time to settle in and find their feet. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think the team can afford to wait too much longer — the relegation six-pointers have already started.