Getting the pre-season right this time

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“He wants us to train hard and well in order to be ready to take that onto the pitch in matches. Clubs I’ve been at before haven’t got the footballs out so quickly and there has been lots of running but I’ve enjoyed the balance this year and it’s been really beneficial because you get your touch back quicker.”

Jason Pearce was commenting on the pre-season preparations up to this point. It will be the 27 year old Pearce’s eighth pre-season as a first team squad player with 356 first team appearances under his belt for Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Leeds United and Latics. Given his wealth of prior experience, Pearce’s comments surely carry some weight.

Pearce is one of the pillars upon which Gary Caldwell will build his team. He is a player more largely defined by his physicality and commitment, hardly seeming to typify the type that Caldwell needs to build a team that can play a brand of football akin to that of the Martinez yesteryear. However, looking at the signings so far, it is clear that Caldwell’s teams will have the steel necessary to scrap it out with the more robust sides of League 1. A central defensive trio of Pearce, Craig Morgan and Donervon Daniels will pose a stern physical challenge to any opposition forwards.

Pearce’s  positive comments about Caldwell’s approach to the pre-season will be welcomed by Wigan Athletic supporters. A year ago a disaster was on its way to happen. A Latics squad that was buoyant from the reaching the Championship playoffs and the FA Cup semi-final was to be brought to its knees by its pre-season training regimen. There are those in football who will say that players cannot be “overtrained”, but whatever happened in those training camps in Germany got the season off to a disastrous start.

One game in Germany had to be postponed because Latics did not have enough fit players. By the start of the season so many players were carrying knocks or niggling injuries or were just not fit. Caldwell and his staff will have learned from that and will surely not let it happen again. A focus on ball skills and stamina conditioning is surely the right approach at this stage.

Latics started last season by going 1-0 up against Reading, only for their legs to go in the second half and having to be rescued from defeat by James McArthur’s late equalizer. It was a pattern that was to repeat itself over the weeks that followed. Being unable to physically compete on an even keel against the most moderate of Championship opposition meant the superiority in terms of skill and flair that Latics might have possessed was nullified. So many players were unable to produce their best form as the “movement” necessary for good team work just did not happen.

Caldwell will be looking at launching a frontal attack on opposing teams when the season commences, going in with guns a blazing. A good start is crucial for a new team of players who will not be weighed down by the psychological consequences of what happened last season. The pre-season is even more crucial this year with so many new players coming in. Moreover many of those players will not have been playing the Caldwell brand of football at their previous clubs.

However, a little over six years ago Roberto Martinez’s team won the opening game of the 2009-10 season with a 2-0 victory at Aston Villa. The brand of football was poles apart from that of Steve Bruce’s team the previous season. Martinez had produced that change in just a handful of weeks of training. Caldwell will clearly believe he can do the same.

Reports tell us that Latics played a friendly game against Queen of the South in La Manga, Spain, this week. Only Ryan Jennings played in both halves of the game. However, one can only speculate on how many of the 21 players who took the field that day will be at the club when the season starts. Caldwell’s challenge is to move on most of the players who are on Championship division salaries.

Owen Coyle signings Leon Barnett, Chris McCann and James Perch remain at the club, but it would appear a matter of time before players of their experience are snapped up by Championship clubs.

Of the Rosler signings there have been rumours linking Martyn Waghorn with Sheffield United and James Tavernier with Rotherham. Should both Perch and Tavernier both leave then Caldwell will be looking at least one more right back. Don Cowie still has one more year to go on his contract, but did not appear in the Queen of the South game. Andrew Taylor did appear, but rumours suggest that ex-Hull City full back Joe Dudgeon has been training with Latics with a view to signing. Given the added presence of Aaron Taylor-Sinclair it could be a sign that Taylor is going to move on. Rumours have surfaced about Burnley wanting to sign Emyr Huws, but Latics need the kind of midfield creativity he can provide.

In order to recruit new players Caldwell has to move others on. Up to this point five under contract  senior players have left the club –Andy Delort, Scott Carson, Rob Kiernan, James McClean, Oriol Riera – and seven have been signed – Donervon Daniels, Craig Davies, Craig Morgan, Sanmi Odelusi, Richard O’Donnell , David Perkins and Max Power.

Caldwell has been trying hard to get the 20 goal per season striker that David Sharpe has talked about. They made a £1 m bid for Nadir Ciftci, which was accepted by Dundee United, but the player declined the offer to come to Wigan. Latics are currently bidding for Brentford’s Will Grigg, underused by Uwe Rosler in his time at Griffin Park, but scored 20 goals in 43 appearances for MK Dons last season. Latics have offered slightly less than the £700,000 being reported, but with add-ons. Brentford are asking £1m.

Reports tell us that ex-Fleetwood Town forward David Ball has been training with Latics in Spain. The ex-Manchester City youth player is now 25 years old and has made 98 appearances, scoring 26 goals, for Fleetwood.

A fascinating article on compares Ball with Eric Cantona quoting that “the crucial parallels are: flair, unpredictability, magic from out of nothing, unique running style, goals from all over the pitch and a hatful of assists” . Ball has left Fleetwood because of their inability to meet his contact demands. He is clearly a flair player and could prove a key asset for Latics if they can secure his services.



Gary Caldwell and his recruitment team have done a fine job up to this stage in recruiting useful players through the bargain basement. They have not yet been successful in their quest for a potential 20 goal per year striker. That could well prove to be Will Grigg.

But it is not so much the ability of each player in a striking partnership to score goals on his own, but more the ability to complement each other in style and approach. David Ball can offer the kind of unpredictability and spontaneity that Latics have lacked upfront over the past couple of years. Moreover his style of play could fit in very well into the brand of football that Caldwell seeks.

Latics’ first league match is at Coventry on August 8th, less than four weeks from today. Caldwell has already made good progress in reshaping his squad, but there remains much more to be done. The sooner he can do it the better.

In the meantime he will work on getting his players fit and inducting them into the style of play he seeks.

A good start of the season is something that Latics have struggled with over these past years. Given the turnover in playing staff it is going to pose a tough challenge to Caldwell, but it is surely something he will be up for.

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