Date: 15th April 2015 at 2:31pm
Written by:

Until two years ago, Wigan Athletic had only been relegated once in its league history. In 2015 they face their second demotion in two years.

With the relegation which followed the FA Cup win came many problems, not least of which was the large re-building task which fell to Owen Coyle. To begin with the fans were largely pleased with the recruitment he undertook although it later became apparent that it was more hit and miss than it first appeared. Many of our more talented players seemed happy to stick around to try to get us back into the Premier League but in the second season in the Championship, sensing which way the way the wind was blowing, motivation suffered and most couldn’t wait to jump ship.

Coyle’s demise and Uwe Rösler’s appointment meant another huge recruitment drive last summer and as Latics fans now realise, it was the German’s mistakes in this area which led to his eventual dismissal. Malky Mackay came and went but his bargain hunting has left us with nothing of lasting value and the club has only the bare bones of a squad to begin again.

Now in the summer of 2015, Latics will need another huge number of new players to add to their turmoil and the question is, will it go well?

The challenge for Wigan will be competing against teams such as MK Dons who have not had the same two-year turmoil and who have been building for a few years. It was the same learning experience in the Championship, that teams such as Derby have done well where they have had a couple of years or more at finding the right players and fitting them into a way of playing that gets results.

Latics’ efforts at squad-building start with much uncertainty because players still under contract may be allowed to leave if they do not fit into Gary Caldwell’s plans or are deemed too expensive. It’s not inconceivable that the squad could consist of only a dozen players, some of whom may not be considered good enough for League 1.

The number of new recruits needed could easily reach 13 or 14. These are ridiculous numbers and the club will be faced with a Coyle type of situation where some may hit the ground running but others may just not be good enough. We may also find that players who were happy to join us for a push to the Premier League are demotivated in League One in the same way that some Premier League players clearly didn’t want to play too long in the Championship.

There can be no doubt that while refreshing the squad is good, a huge turnover of players is unsettling and uncertain. What may help alleviate the problem however, is the triumvirate of parachute payments, the new recruitment strategy and our young players.

With the club set to receive another £8m from the Premier League next season, there should be enough left to attract some above-average League 1 players even accounting for the fact that Grant Holt and one or two others will receive a king-size chunk of that money. A relatively small amount of money could go a long way in League 1 and even with the desire to maintain a professional support infrastructure behind the scenes, as long as the money is used well, it should be possible to pick up some players who can perform at the level we require.

Using the money well is the task of Wigan Athletic’s new recruitment team. David Sharpe told the media that they want to build up a complete profile of a player before deciding to sign him. To do that for the hundreds of players the analysts are likely to look at as potential recruits is a mammoth task and one that will take a long time to do properly. The fans should not expect huge improvements in this area very soon but it might be that the work they have already started and will continue through the summer will reduce the risk of mistakes and that they will identify some players who will fit in to our way of playing.

The risk of recruitment can be reduced in one other significant way: by using players a club knows inside-out, players who have grown up at a club and can adapt quickly to the demands of the first team. While we’re all looking forward to seeing more of our development squad players, any concerns we have about Gary Caldwell being inexperienced can be magnified a thousand times with the uncertainty of what the young players may bring. They could be world-beaters but more likely, they will feel their way into the team, make mistakes, lose confidence, be dropped for a while and then hopefully regain their place. They are young after all. Much may depend on how much the younger age-groups at the club have been playing in the style which Roberto Martinez insisted on. Two years on from his departure, it seems unlikely that will have happened. Gary Caldwell may therefore need to spend a huge amount of time on re-educating those young players before they can fit into his way of playing.

With recruitment likely to be well into double figures in the summer, it will be a time of great uncertainty. Not all our new recruits will be a success. Those who do make the grade may not adapt quickly enough to help the team make an impact for next season.

However, if Latics can introduce one or two young players to the first team, start playing good football again and manage a mid-table finish then the DW faithful can perhaps start to hope that the post-Premier League rot has stopped and blue and white skies are once again on the horizon.

Pete Reece