Do the Shaun Maloney

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Late to the party, as always, the Pie at Night had to cancel a podcast recording (yes we did, we don’t care whether you believe us or not) to be at the meeting between the board, the manager, various reprobates and the right honourable George Chilvers at the DW stadium last night.  Factually or opinion wise we’ve nothing really to add to the other reports that are out there.  Others are available, but we would really recommend this thread from MFE Migs on Twitter,  Paul Kendrick’s Wigan Today article and the online piece from Independent Latics if you haven’t read them yet.

But having nothing to add doesn’t usually stop us having something to say and today is no different…

Thirteen years ago, well thirteen years and 24 days ago, I rocked up at Christopher Park, I was slimmer, less grey, more energetic and differently pseudonymed, but I promise you it was me.  I was bundled into a room with about six other people and told how the conversation we were about to have with Roberto Martinez would go.

It didn’t quite work that way, Bobby was way more open than anyone expected.  He answered every question that anyone asked and more besides.  Coming away, I couldn’t help but be impressed by how that quiet, shy and unassuming Spanish lad who’d joined Dave Whelan’s Latics dream in 1995 had turned into a determined and focussed manager, who utterly believed what he was telling you.

I was already a convert, but I’d never met anyone before who could get you to trust them so easily.  He even disarmed the aforementioned Mr Migs, which is worthy of a star on Believe Square in itself.

It would be lazy just to put Shaun Maloney in the same mould, listening to him last night, he’s his own man, but that same focus, that determination is there.  Maybe that steely stare is something they teach you in coaching 101 at the Johan Cruyff academy?

It’s clear that determination has landed a lot of weight on Maloney’s shoulders.  He’s pitched his vision to the owners, to the board and now to an assorted rabble of bloggers, podcasters, fanzine editors and general internet agitators and looking at the faces around the table last night, every one of them bought it.

Maloney’s vision for the team is the cornerstone of the club’s “new model”.  It’s not about tactics or strategies, they’ll be dictated by available players or the opposition, it’s about a culture, about playing ‘the right way’ and instilling that from the academy right up to the first team.  It’s about building the pathways so that young players can see their way from the under 12s to the senior sides and giving those players the chance to outgrow the club’s position.

It’s not necessarily about being a selling club either.  Maloney talked about the club having the ability to make decisions about whether to sell players when other clubs come knocking or to keep them and push for promotion.  It’s about growing a team organically, having players you can call your own and watching them grow.

Of course, that’s a cheaper way of doing things, but it also means that the club’s culture is ingrained in players from day one, you don’t need to find players that fit the club, because they’ve been part of it for so long.

All that requires some work and anyone wondering why young lads haven’t always had the chances we suspect they deserve will have nodded sagely when he talked about integrating the “reserves” back into the Christopher Park set up.  He had nothing but praise for the academy and made it clear that he needed to be there, be seen and see what’s going on for things to properly work.

He didn’t try to sell us a future where 25 of our first team squad were from the academy, he talked about an ideal age profile, something we don’t have at the club right now, about players moving on, others staying and the need to recruit where there aren’t already players at the club to fill certain profiles or positions, but not recruiting for the sake of it.  He would need to know “everything” about a player joining the club through data and his own eyes.

More importantly, Maloney made it clear that any player he signed would need to add value to the squad, of course he meant in how they played, but it was also clear that the days of a team full of older players on higher wages, who are going to see their contracts out are pretty much done at Wigan Athletic.

Even more importantly, the need to improve our attacking play was openly admitted.

All that will take backing of course, the board say that it’s in place.  In terms of finance that may be limited.  Wage budgets will need to be kept within.  Emotionally it was clear that they are all behind him.  They were keen for us to hear what he had to say, and it was one of those rare occasions where a group of Wiganers, to a person, shut up and listened.

Obviously there were other priorities in the meeting last night, assurances were needed, people needed to look people in eyes and be honest with each other, but amongst all that, another story was starting to grow.  Hope is a dangerous thing for football fans, I’ve had a lot of mine knocked out of me in recent years, but when Shaun Maloney said, “Things have been achieved at this club that no one ever thought was possible” and told us that he want to see if they could be achieved again, I forgot all that for one moment.

Yes, the board have a lot to prove right now, I’m behind the push to make sure they prove it, but as long as they hold the club together as promised, it’s clear they’ve already made one right decision and as far as Shaun Maloney’s Wigan Athletic goes, I’m all in.

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