Wigan fans are by now well accustomed to being told they will go down this year, as we are typically one of the three teams picked for relegation at the beginning of each season. The specific reasons for our downfall vary from year to year, and even from pundit to pundit, yet the cause of our suffering this year has been quoted with unusual consensus: the loss of star winger Charles N’Zogbia.
There is little doubt that the diminutive attacker was the driving force behind Wigan’s run to Premiership safety last season. A great run of goalscoring form at the end of the year, combined with a knack for picking the perfect moment to exert his influence on the game (the goals against West Ham come to mind), saw the Latics beat the odds to secure their place in the top flight for one more season. Unfortunately, with N’Zogbia’s contract only one year from expiration, Latics were forced to make the prudent decision and accept a £9.5m offer this window in lieu of losing him next season for nothing.
Understandably, many analysts would expect the team to sign an established, like-for-like replacement for N’Zogbia, and the lack of a fresh, new player to fill his shoes has given most of these professional football brains an excellent reason to cite for our imminent downfall. However, in these days of big transfer fees, big wages, big debt, and big egos, few of these experts are aware of how a smaller club’s transfer policy must be run in order to achieve sustainability.
The answer to this, of course, is to buy replacement players well in advance, and slowly breed them into first-team players and ready-made replacements. And this is exactly what Roberto Martinez did eighteen months ago, with the signing of Crystal Palace wonderkid Victor Moses.
A pacey and exciting winger (sound familiar?), Moses broke into the Crystal Palace first team at the tender age of 16. By the time he was 19 he had already made 69 total appearances for the club, but in January 2010, Palace were forced into administration, and Moses was their most lucrative prospect. Many Premiership clubs were linked to the player, and several of them made bids, but it was Wigan who swooped in and poached the highly-rated youngster for £2.5m on the final day of the winter transfer window.
From there, he has slowly been broken into the first team at Wigan, and recently received his first call-up for the Nigeria national team (he has also played for four different England youth teams; he was unable to play for Nigeria as his paperwork to switch national squads was not completed in time). Having made 35 appearances for the club over one-and-a-half seasons, Moses has been given ample time to adjust to the Premiership and will be ready to take on the best of them when he is thrust into the spotlight this season.
Manager Martinez says this of Moses: ‘He’s a special talent.
‘It’s a real shock to any player to move up to the Premier League, but since he’s been here he’s added maturity and experience to his undoubted ability.
‘Charlie has left a big hole in our team, but that vacancy is a big opportunity for Victor to step up.
‘Victor is a different kind of player to Charlie, but has the same quality that sets players like that apart from the rest.’
In short, Wigan Athletic have signed Zoggy’s replacement, but without the transfer fee, wages, or ego one would expect from a marquee new signing. Doubtless, we will see several new players in a Latics shirt this season, especially given the manager’s penchant for inking influential loanees and talented youngsters. But if you expect the Latics to fail because they haven’t signed a brand new winger to match N’Zogbia’s reputation, stand down. Simply put, we don’t need one.
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