So he’s gone. I’m not celebrating mind, the only good thing about Owen Coyle’s reign at Wigan Athletic was that it was short. Ignoring any debates about events on the pitch it feels like his appointment saw principles that we had thrown out of the window and lost us six months that set us back a couple of years in our growth as a club with strong foundations. I know not everyone puts great emphasis on such things, as far as football is concerned, but at the end of the day, I believe there is more to football than kicking a bladder about a field.
Somehow, quite wrongly, I’ve managed to paint myself into being some kind of football purist. You know, the kind of person who sees the whole world in triangles and thinks football is only worth watching if you’ve got at least one player in a position that can only be described in an obscure Argentinian dialectic. I might prefer to see my team play in a particular way and if I took the time to describe it, that way might sound an awful lot like how our previous manager *tried* to get us to play, but I know there’s more than one way to win a football game.
In fact, my most enjoyable (on the pitch) times watching Latics have come under two fairly ‘British’ managers, Ray Mathias and Paul Jewell. Both play direct, attacking football but both were blessed with the backing of an owner that made the club rich in second division terms. If you’re lucky enough to manage a club that tops your division’s money list then you can pretty much play any way you want to, your players will still be better than the opposition. Which is probably where the unreal expectations placed on Owen Coyle came from.
Not that I think I had unreal expectations. I wanted a certain style of football, but I was never going to get that with Coyle. No, my expectations came down to that sticky word, principles, again.
I had a light-bulb moment the other night. Yet again I was trying to explain why I thought Owen Coyle was going about it all in the wrong way and yet again I was being told their was more than one way to skin a left-back and yet again I was saying “yes, I know that but” when I cottoned on to what exactly I meant by the principles that this Wigan Athletic had been built on. It had nothing to do with Roberto’s version of Tiki-Taka and every thing to do with four phrases that have echoed through the last twenty years of our history.
“Onwards and upwards”
“We’re Little Wigan, We’re Taking the Piss”
“I’m a Believer”
They all say different things, but they all reflect the attitude that’s been prevalent at the club for much of the last twenty years, it doesn’t matter where we’re from, it’s where we’re going and we don’t really care who stands in our way, we’re going to take you on. Failure? How can we fail, when we’re a small town club that’s only been in the League for 35 years?
This attitude is what allowed me to spend most of the last eight years taking the mick out of clubs like Middlesbrough and Fulham that would come to places like Wigan and play with fear of losing rather than intent to win. It’s why we got cross when Paul Jewell went to places like Anfield with damage limitation at the forefront of his mind, rather than having a go. It’s why fans of other clubs envied us.
And it’s why Owen Coyle would never really have fitted in at Wigan Athletic.
All good teams are build on a good defence, but that doesn’t make them defensive. All great teams know how to attack and do it with intent and purpose. They go into games looking for ways to win them, not looking, firstly, not to lose and hoping a chance comes for something more. And over the last six months, we’ve been asked to get used to more of the latter than the former. Teams with no great attacking intent, who’s first thought was always not to concede and with little thought to creativity.
Rightly, people called for Coyle to be given time, things would get better as he settled in. But they didn’t, if anything they got worse and as other teams realised that there was nothing to fear at the DW, Latics became more withdrawn, less attacking. Results haven’t been terrible and the new manager could take over a team in the last 32 of the EUFA Cup and on the verge of the play-offs, but they hid the fact that has been exposed by the last three games.
Not just that Owen Coyle’s Wigan Athletic weren’t very good, they weren’t very Wigan Athletic either. Dave Whelan would do well to remember this when he’s considering applications for his next appointment. Owen Coyles’s crime wasn’t not winning or dominating games, Owen Coyles’s crime was not even trying to. Don’t let the next man make the same mistake.
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