Wigan Athletic are one of the Premier League’s current whipping boys. Despite starting the last few seasons with renewed optimism under the guise of Roberto Martinez, they have always failed to produce. It must be frustrating for Wigan fans, they have the Stadium, the Chairman and promising manager, yet they just cannot seem to turn the corner and become a solid mid-table Premier League team, despite Martinez’s best efforts. They are a side that employ an admirable footballing philosophy, one that has been proven to work after seeing what Swansea have done playing in the same vein this season.
Irony in football is a funny thing and for Roberto Martinez it is probably bitter sweet. Martinez has to sit back and watch as his old side Swansea show his current side Wigan how it should be done. Swansea don’t have any stars, they just play football with their hearts on their sleeves, work hard and try to play exciting attacking football, a philosophy that was first introduced to the club by Martinez. Martinez should be given a lot of credit for laying down the foundations and also the philosophy to Swansea’s success, but it may be a telling sign that their real achievements came after he departed.
Out of the two sides, Swansea are fairing a lot better this season in the Premier League, no one is turning them over easily despite playing to the same passing attacking style, just under Brendan Rodgers. Wigan have tried to adapt the style of football Martinez’s Spanish heritage commands, and as admirable as that is, it hasn’t quite paid off for them. With a win ratio of only 22% at Wigan, Martinez has managed to narrowly avoid relegation the last two seasons, but with no marked sign of improvement, and Wigan currently residing in the bottom 3 of the Premier League, this could be the season that finally condemns Wigan Athletic back to the dog fight that is the Championship.
Martinez has been lucky with the fact that Dave Whelan is the chairman of Wigan Athletic Football Club. One of the few true ‘old school’ gentlemen left in the game, who assured Martinez his job was safe for 3 years even if the side were relegated. Dave Whelan has also backed ‘Robbie’ Martinez in the transfer market as well, with him managing to rebuild and reshape an already struggling Wigan team into a team that struggles, but at least tries to play football.
The Wigan side is filled with players of potential, but no real established stars and not enough experienced leaders like former legend Arjan De Zeeuw, who was an inspirational captain for Wigan for so long. You can pick out some shining lights that have attracted the interests of other Premier League managers, but no club has decided to take a gamble on one of Wigan’s stars despite having considered them, maybe for good reason.
Don’t get me wrong, Wigan do have talent amidst their ranks, but at the same time Martinez’s signings haven’t been the best. On the plus side players like McCarthy, Al-Habsi, Diame and Moses will be inspired signings if Martinez is there long enough to witness them realise their full potential. On the flip side, players like Caldwell and Shaun Maloney are just not up to scratch if you are a team that wants to improve and actually go places, rather than languish in the nether regions of the Premier League. For me the continuation of Wigan’s poor form is a mixture between the personnel in the side, Martinez’s philosophy and insistence on playing a style of football that is above the sum of their parts and also the lack of expectation from Dave Whelan.
As much as I like Martinez, he is misguided in his insistence to play passing flowing football, because quite frankly he doesn’t have the players to execute this. I am not saying it is impossible because look at Swansea, a team with no stars or big players, just a solid unit of workmanlike players, who somehow have the ability to practice what they preach. If you compare the two squads you would say Wigan’s is superior to Swansea’s, more players from Wigan will have prolonged Premier League careers than Swansea’s for example, but when you are down in the dumps there is only one way to go and that is back to basics.
As January appears on the horizon, it is unlikely Martinez will get a lot of money to spend unless he lets some players depart. Whelan has already invested in the squad and seen little return and with Martinez in the final year of a 3 year contract, Whelan’s loyalty to his former player could be wearing thin. Martinez seems unable to change things and start again at Wigan and if he believes his way of playing football is correct, then why change. But he needs to realise that things must change, he must abandon the 4-3-3 attacking formation that Wigan play most weeks and make his team more defensive unit by deploying a 4-5-1.
As Whelan has stated there is little doubt that Martinez will be given until the end of the season to save his job and more importantly Wigan Athletic Football Club from dropping in to a league that is the toughest in the world to get out of. Martinez’s future hangs in the balance, he will never have another club like Wigan, where his impact as player earned him time as a manager and you wonder if the job is ‘too secure’. Martinez is one of those managers who managed to carve a good reputation on little success and just by being a nice, articulate, media savvy and forward thinking manager.
Whatever happens, the writing seems to be on the wall for Wigan despite a vital 2-1 win at Sunderland last weekend. If Martinez can turn this team around over a tough Christmas period then it will literally be a Christmas miracle. Martinez’s task couldn’t be harder as Wigan face Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United during December, with another two tricky away games against West Brom and Stoke. With reinforcements set to be limited in January, and the side used to losing, it could be the end of the Premier League dream for two of football’s nice guys, but more importantly the end for Wigan Athletic football club and their fans.