‘You need to have a visual picture. Any big achievement starts with a dream.’ – Roberto Martinez – Sept 2012
I think it’s fair to say that since March 2012 Wigan Athletic started a new chapter in their history. For reasons, I think, unknown even to Roberto Martinez and his team, the philosophy, attitude and style that he so passionately preaches, fell into place.
There are vital results that you can point to throughout the season. The last minute Di Santo winner at the stadium of light to consign Bruce to his inevitable fate, the ever satisfying away win at Bolton, but for me it was the away match at Carrow Road. A game that we didn’t even win! But I don’t think you have to. It’s a performance, a belief and a resulting doubt/fear that you put in other teams that can be the turning point. I would even go as far as to say that for me it wasn’t until a little Scotsman came on to the field in the 69th minute that the final piece of the jigsaw fell into place. His link up and directness in those last 20 odd minutes suddenly gave us the threat we had sorely missed.
Shaun Maloney’s transfer to Wigan more or less fell under the radar for most of the footballing world. Even the Wigan faithful began to forget when he didn’t come close to the first team for 3 months. A player who looked too good for Scottish football at Celtic, a dead piece specialist who Aston Villa paid a fair chunk of money to bring to the Premier League. The next part of Maloney’s career differs on which version you hear. Some confine him to the ‘Players who look good in Scotland and can’t hack it in the Premier League’ category. Or…..some say that he was always played out of position and not fully utilised. The last 7 months clearly show which was true. I still feel I am to go to a game that Maloney is not in the top 3 players on the pitch. He is a ‘natural footballer’. He is clever and positive with the ball, rarely making the wrong decision with it and at the heart of all Wigan’s attacking play.
Maloney is the example of the thoughtful and precise buying policy that Martinez appears to adopt. First comes the style, shape and philosophy and a nucleus of a good team…….then he brings players in who have that quality and talent that the team lacks. This is the downfall of some managers nowadays, that they buy players with a lack of foresight and imagination, and are blinded by their ‘name’, ‘premier league experience’ and ‘reputation’. You only need to travel down to Loftus Road to see the pitfalls of these mistakes.
Jean Beausjour another excellent case study. A player with an impressive international C.V. yet an apparent misfit at Birmingham. Eyebrows were raised when Martinez signed him, yet Roberto clearly had done his research and had the vision as Jean in the LWB role of the new enigmatic 3-4-3 formation. Beausjour has since started every game when fit an able, providing effective service and link up lay with the front 3. The best compliment I can give is that Latics’ left side looks lacking as soon as Jean is not playing.
As well as the signings Latics have made in the last 12 months, it is the remarkable improvements that the existing squad members have made to their games. Gary Caldwell and Emmerson Boyce are unrecognisable. Caldwell, once just a hard working leader who appeared to lack composure and pace, has turned into a ball playing centre half, who’s dominant in the air and who had the confidence/audacity to run 80 yards in the final minutes at Stamford Bridge last season and almost score the winner. Emmerson Boyce again appeared an average player at best who was at times clumsy and lacked any real threat from the full back position. He has now developed a prowess for goals as well as timely surges forward and threatening delivery into the box.
Credit for these advancements must go to the players themselves and to Roberto and his staff. The confidence that we can score and win games flows through the team most match days albeit there is the forgivable, odd hiccup. The meticulous training and philosophy has brought about these qualities in players and made them BELIEVE.
Key to it all the has to be the 3-4-3 formation. A flexible and adaptable system which seems able to change to suit any situation without sacrificing a threat and scoring ability. In a changeover in possession it can easily change to a 3-5-2, 5-3-1-1 amongst others. At its best it appears to split the team into 2 distinct parts. A solid defensive 5 (3 centre backs & 2 holding midfielders) and a front 3 supported by wingbacks. The two Jimmy Mac’s all but sacrifice goal scoring opportunities to sit and provide a solid and compact centre, sweeping up and suffocating any attacking play. Maloney floats in the ever appearing gaps between midfield and frontline causing chaos and providing plenty of goal scoring opportunities.
In looking towards the 2012-2013 season it was clear Martinez identified 2 main aims. Provide strength in depth, which he appears to be successful with the acquisitions of Miyaichi, Fyvie & Ramis and of course, the elusive goal scorer. Enter Arouna Kone. Another fairly unknown forward who has had spells of brilliance in La Liga (15 goals in one season), then months on a physio’s table. A risk? Definitely. However this guy has shades of Jason Roberts. Big, powerful and direct. Credit to the ever improving Di Santo, who only really lacks consistent goals and aerial ability before becoming a top player, but Kone could be the real deal. All this has occurred whilst the media would have you believe we lost three of our best players. Moses, Rodallega and Diame. For me only the latter was a disappointing loss, however even Momo didn’t fit into Martinez’s system. Lazy journalism has long plagued this great club and any true Wigan fans know the truth. Moses has potential, but is an immature and selfish player who a team such as ours cannot afford and Hugo gave great service but you always felt he put his own needs before those of the team.
Despite sitting in an all too familiar position as of October 2012, the team has transformed. I have no doubt the improvement will continue as long as Martinez is at the helm. A middle table, mediocre finish is on the horizon. For any Wigan fan that is paradise…….for now. Who knows how much further we can go.
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