Before we start, I’ve a burning desire to justify why it’s taken me a month to get a start on the season review. The end if the season did coincide with a period where I’ve just had better things to do, but there’s more to it than that. Sat at home, with an 8-0 defeat still swimming in my brain and ringing in my ears it wouldn’t have been possible to put the difficult season in the right context and, whether it was an over bearing pessimism or a quest to find positives in everything, an oddly shaped worm would have been wriggling its way around the words.
That’s not to say that a month is enough space to get away from all that, but you have to get back on the horse at some point and the World Cup has started, don’t you know?
Was it really that bad? Surely it can’t have been. Safe with three games to go, no time spent in the bottom three all term and victories against the bottom three tell a different story, it might have been closer than we’d like, but at the same time it was more comfortable than you’d think listening to the masses who insisted that everything could be made better with the wave of a 4-4-2 wand from a defensively minded coach. I’m not sure who’s in more denial but I don’t think that Cruyff could have done better with a squad that had lost what ours had and a secondary objective to bring the wage bill down.
Not that I’m pleased with the season, on the pitch, mind. Off it is a slightly different picture. Ok, I might be slightly biased after the hour or so I got to spend with Bobby in March, but I’m not exaggerating how good it felt, for me, to have one of our own at the helm, making comparisons with 1996 and congratulating the fans for their contribution. It’s called respect and it’s something that’s been missing between the fans and the club for sometime now.
So how did a year that started off as a feel good one for so many go so wrong for others? Results have been up and down but barring us not having one of those little winning runs followed by a long losing streak that’s not much different than what we’ve been used to. Should we be judging the design based on the output of the fixture computer? I thought not. Should we judge it against heavy beatings from Spurs, United, Arsenal or Chelsea? Maybe, but when have we not had results like that and surely they’re offset by wins against Liverpool, Arsenal and the Champions, now they were something we weren’t expecting.
So what really was the difference between this season and any other? Summer fire sale? Check. Bunch of who know who’s signed from god knows where? Check. New kit? Check. Manager having to remould his first team? Check. Same manager relying on a simple two banks of four to ‘park the bus’ and hope for the best? Errrrrm, we’ve got a problem captain… the engine room cannae take much more of this.
And there you have it, we had a non-British manager trying to play in a not traditionally British fashion and whether you were offended by the very fact or by the people who let themselves get het up about it, all the talk of formations and tactics put a dampened on pretty much the whole season, for everybody. As much as I like to chew the fat on those particular subjects, I know three things. 1) They don’t matter that much, especially if you don’t have the right players to work with. 2) Winning the champions league with Halifax town in Championship Manager makes you an expert in a computer game not football management. 3) Those who shout the loudest (or boo at half time) often know the least. Throwing in another observation, 4-3-3/4-5-1 hybrid type systems are slowly becoming the ubiquitous formation across the game. Football is changing and it was bound to come to Wigan at some stage.
Taking the key points there in turn, the players really have let the side down. Not so much those that finished up the season as first choice, but the more experienced bunch. Those who fancy themselves as better than the club, who Bobby saw as suited to his system and who should have been leaders in the first half of the season. We all laughed when Uncle Dave blamed the Spurs result on Steve Bruce, but in so many ways it was true. After all he’d buggered off to Sunderland leaving us with a squad bereft of leaders and half full of expensive white elephants that could only have restricted spending for whoever was at the helm this season. Whether he, it anyone else for that matter could have got better from the likes of Kapo, De Ridder, Koumas and Scharner is a matter for debate, but my guess is that he knew not.
So (some of) the players let us down, but did the fans return the favour? Let’s face it, there were those of us who cut our cloth with regard to Martinez and his fancy Dan continental ways at the start of the season, grabbed any hint of 4-4-2 in every bit of success we had the could and generally had a bad time of it. Were they a majority? I’ve no idea, but they were loud enough to put a dampener on things for the rest of us.
There have been times this season where it’s been a struggle supporting Latics, but not because of the team, because of the negativity in the stands (hopefully I can get free headphones with next year’s season ticket). People might have been using different words but all I heard all season was “we don’t like change in these parts, sunny Jim”, it’s the old Wigan cynicism (remember them Spaniards we signed a few years back? Bound to be crap if they’re signing for us, right?) but it’s gone a bit far this time I reckon.
And change is the key word for this season. There’s been plenty of talk about learning curves over the last nine months and that’s true. Bobby’s been finding his way in the cynical world of the Premier League, the players have been trying to rediscover the ability to pass a ball and settle into an unfamiliar system, the fans a new way of playing and the old guard a whole new generation of fans who can’t be passed off as Johnny Comes Latelys but who still don’t remember Kenny Swain.
It was a season we needed to get to the end of relatively unscathed, and a few unwelcome records aside we managed that. It’s a hard season to pin down and I realize I’m no where near the “verdict” of the title. In fact I’ve probably just gone around in circles, but hey, that suits the what we’ve been through. It sounds like a cop out, but I reckon the true test of this season may only come in August. By then Bobby should (hopefully) have a squad he can call his own. Players who know his system and expectations and respect him as a coach and manager. The fans? Well, we’ll moan no matter what, but hopefully things will click in a way that means that we can stop banging on about things that should never matter.
Until then? Well it’s a summer of football, so you might see some activity on a World Cup front, including tales from South Africa. There’ll be the usual end of season award (even if we do take longer to dish them out than anyone else) and we’ll keep one eye on any comings and goings at the DW. On top of that, if we can manage anything of a social life, we might share some of what we did on our summer holidays.
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