If the season had been that little bit less stressful, if Latics had won just a couple more games and if the tendency to knock long balls onto Heskey’s head had been a little less obvious then we might have spent a little more time discussing the relative merits of the players that are actually at the club. As it was our football has been poor and the results worse, so naturally we’ve spent plenty time talking about the players we’ve lost, and how much better things would be if we’d done a little more to keep them.
In particular, there are four names that crop up time and again as the men that would have made all the difference and there’s a great deal of truth in the opinion that they had a great deal to do with the attitude and personality of a team that did so much to make 2005/06 a good year to be a ‘tic.
If you’ve had the pleasure of seeing Graham Kavanagh, Jimmy Bullard, Jason Roberts and Pascal Chimbonda either on or off the field then that theory will need no explaining. Together they provided the right mix of grit, energy, enthusiasm and confidence required to make a successful side. Chimbonda aside, they’d joined the club lower down the ladder and had grown with it. They were the right sort of players for a club of our size and above all they appeared to be bothered.
As individuals each one may have had their limitations, but as part of the team they all played an important part in a style of play that took the Premier League by storm and allowed us to dream of Europe, for a few months at least.
It is that style of play that has provided the marked difference between this season and last. In Chimbonda, Bullard and Kavanagh we had players willing to take the ball from defence and to play through midfield. In Roberts we had a forward with the confidence to run at people and if he couldn’t beat them for skill, do it with pace and strength.
Jewell’s early season assertion that he had a better squad than last year, was (and still is) met with some derision, but on paper there is some truth in it. Chimbonda was a one off but Boyce is probably better defensively, Landzaat is a better passer of the ball than either Bullard or Kav and Heskey’s all round game is way above his predecessor’s. Where Jewell’s opinion fails to hold up is in the simple fact that when it comes to football, more often than not, it’s not what you’ve got it’s what you do with it.
Imagine Landzaat with Bullard’s energy and confidence, Scharner with Kav’s cool head and no nonsense steel and you are imagining a midfield that could more than build on the 10th place finish. Imagine Emile Heskey with Jason Roberts’ arrogance and you are imagining a striker that we just couldn’t afford.
Injuries to Kavanagh and Roberts may have limited their involvement for Sunderland and Blackburn, but some extent, all of our summer departures have seen success elsewhere. The exception being Jimmy Bullard who, despite Fulham’s struggles, managed to come out of the season blameless. His form, before the knee injury that ended his season in September, going a long way to proving his doubters in Wigan (myself included) wrong.
The clear lesson here is that whilst you can play to someone’s strengths and accommodate their weaknesses, it is harder to fix their attitude. It’s a lesson that Chris Hutchings needs to bear in mind as he looks to plug the every growing gaps in the squad.
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