All the symptoms are there: the headache of balancing the books, the nausea of unfit players stealing a living and the exhaustion of monitoring comings and goings in the transfer window. If the definition of a good party is the hangover suffered afterwards, then Wigan Athletic’s eight years in the Premier League are even better in hindsight.
With transfer deadline day here, Latics fans are feeling a great deal of uncertainty as to the future make-up of their team. Just a couple of weeks ago manager Uwe Rösler rather surprisingly showed a negative aspect to his character by complaining about Wigan’s difficulty in recruiting players. Since then, the Adam Forshaw transfer has been resurrected only for it to stall again. On Saturday, Dave Whelan announced the imminent transfer of Andy Delort, a striker prolific in Ligue 2 in France. Many fans were left unconvinced that it really will happen until the necessary papers are with the Football League on Monday but confidence in the season will improve should both players be wearing Latics stripes in two weeks time.
However, on the debit side is what will happen to the Blue and Whites’ two current star performers, James McArthur and Callum McManaman. Supporters fear that they will both be sold and that one or two others such as Ivan Ramis or fans’ darling Ali Al-Habsi may be moved on to lighten the club’s wage bill of two Premier League salaries. Should Tics fans laugh or cry?
While some on social media are critical of the club for a lack of ambition in selling its better players and in not completing deals sooner, others are more realistic. They point to the perfect storm of events in 2013-2014 which has led the club to the situation in which it finds itself now.
When Theo Walcott and colleagues finished putting Wigan to the sword three days after their FA Cup triumph, a huge sinkhole of injuries, departures, valuable players, a butchered budget and qualification for the Europa League opened up beneath them. The club already had senior players such as Gary Caldwell and Al-Habsi carrying long-term injuries which they were to carry through to the next season. McManaman was stretchered off in that Arsenal match and would miss pre-season. Unbeknown to most people, Shaun Maloney was having problems with his hips and would be absent for nearly all of the following season. A huge number of players all came to the ends of their contracts together and twelve players from the first team squad were either released, declined offers or were sold before the end of August.
Owen Coyle spoke positively of the challenge awaiting him when he was appointed but at the back of his mind he must have known of the difficulties involved in recruiting almost an entirely new team to replace those who had left, cover for those who were injured and provide strength in depth for the marathon season awaiting his team. Whatever anyone’s opinion of his managerial skills, this was a most difficult task. Ask Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes and many other leading managers on the dangers of recruiting so many new players in a short time and they’ll tell you that it just isn’t possible to do it without making mistakes and landing a club with a millstone around their wage bill. And of course, that is exactly what happened: some new recruits were left wanting, others did not fit into Rösler’s plans when he took the reins and others refused to pull their considerable weight.
One club this year not facing this unfortunate combination of factors is Norwich City. Just six players in and six out in this transfer window make for a much more manageable situation. The club is also debt free, is run well and, while their income has also been slashed, healthy attendances reduce the pressure on the club to sell to balance the books.
Wigan Athletic’s status does not look as favourable in comparison. The club’s income from the Premier League is now £24m down on two years ago with many players still on near-Premier League wages. Added to the equation are the players recruited by Coyle from the Premier League to make a quick return there who are now unwanted and are taking up king-sized space on the wage bill. No wonder Uwe sounded so downbeat.
Dave Whelan is a supporter of FFP and of keeping football clubs solvent. Maintaining the club’s solvency in the face of mega-transfer deals involving other clubs bent on ignoring FFP can only mean that WAFC will continue to find it hard to compete in the transfer market if promotion is not achieved. Players may have to leave to reduce the wage bill or provide funds to strengthen the team in other areas. Acquisitions may fail due to a reluctance to overstretch the club’s finances. Unfortunately and unavoidably, Wigan fans may have to acknowledge that the finances may not be there to re-build quickly from that perfect storm of 2013. If the Latics do manage to win promotion back to the Premier League this season, then Uwe Rösler’s achievement in doing so will be all the more admirable. And who knows, he may be a little more cheerful in next summer’s transfer window.