Roberto on Ben Watson, big name signings, crowds and Swansea

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Continuing our in-depth interview with Roberto Martinez along with other fans’ representatives, the second part begins with another round of coffees and a discussion of one player in particular whom most of us agreed had been a revelation this season. Sentiments shared by Roberto who went on to express the view that he believed that Ben Watson could go on to play for England, possibly as early as next season:


‘If you look at Ben, he is a unique player playing in a unique role, he could have been born in Holland or Spain as technically he is as good as it gets, in his tactical play I see a lot of similarities between him and Xabi Alonso when he was at Liverpool and now Real Madrid. You just don’t get English players with that level of tactical awareness, he has the quality to make a short pass or a long pass and make the right decision. That game against Birmingham, what we did, put twenty passes together, that all started with Ben Watson’s change of pace and I still think he’s got room for improvement.

We had a team over here recently from China (?) and they had a Dutch coach and they came to the Blackburn game and when he asked who the best player was, he said without hesitation – Ben Watson and that just goes to show you really what football people see. It’s going to take a while for him to get the credit he deserves though. I watched him when he was at Crystal Palace and he always played in a 4-4-2 as a box to box midfielder and when he came to us he continued to play in a similar role and it became harder for him to impose himself on the game, when he’s ahead of the ball, you lose his quality, he needs to be behind the ball, he needs to be the first on the ball and he is very, very aware tactically.


It took him six months to get used to it, I sent him to West Brom last season, because they play in a very similar manner to ourselves in order to get him to start thinking in that way and when he came back, as you remember in the Arsenal game and at West Ham away, he really had a big impact. He still didn’t have the tactical awareness he possesses now but it doesn’t come overnight and you have to give players like Ben time to develop. He’s now got an average of 65-75 passes per game and there’s not many players in the Premier League can do that.’


As ever your correspondent chose the ideal time to pipe up that his corners had often been appalling whilst acknowledging that he probably puts them on a sixpence in training..


‘We have one of the training pitches marked out at exactly the same size as the DW Stadium and honestly, out of ten corners he’d hit ten out of ten perfectly Maybe the crowd don’t help, you can hear them grumbling now as he goes over to take the corner, it would be great if next time you could all give him a standing ovation and you’ll see the difference, just try it!’


Bernard from TNS then brought up the subject of expensive ‘pay as you play’ signings, referring to stories in the media that we could be looking at the likes of Michael Owen and Owen Hargreaves suggesting that not only could it be good for the squad but also from a bums on seats perspective. Jonathan Jackson gave his views on this first:


‘I’m not sure now, we have already got top class international superstars and we’ve been working hard this season to get the attendances up as high as we can and we’ve gone over it with you in the last couple of meetings. Whether we would sign a player or not would purely come down to footballing reasons and whether we could accommodate a player like that. Anything that helps sell more season tickets we would consider, but we wouldn’t do it solely for that reason, it would have to be for footballing reasons’


Roberto added: ‘You’ve always got to measure the balance, if you’re going to bring in a player who’s on two or three times the salary of other players, sometimes it’s not a healthy situation, even if it is on a ‘pay as you play’ basis. I’ve never believed in short-term strategies, if you’re going to get a big name star just to get another 2,000 fans and they don’t really have the club at heart [this could be interpreted to mean the player or the extra fans], then if that player doesn’t perform and we lose those fans, I think it becomes a negative.


What I’m excited about is that against West Ham, we had the best crowd of the season in terms of numbers. If you don’t come back after that game…..well we may as well forget about getting bigger numbers. I always say that with the great quality of fans we’ve got, you can forget about numbers’


Bernard reflected on the party atmosphere up town and suggested that there are many football fans in this town who don’t support Wigan Athletic but nevertheless were genuinely pleased to see us do so well.


Jonathan: ‘It’s difficult because we’ve found that you’re never going to change people’s loyalties, whether it be Liverpool or Man United. It’s a slow process and it will take time but more games like the West Ham game will pull people in over time but going back to ‘pay as you play’ I always think back to Bradford when they were in the top division and they were signing the likes of Stan Collymore and Benito Carbone and look where they are now’


Roberto: ‘The reality is that we may lose players over time but the way we operate is that we buy them young, before they’ve reached their peak and we develop them. If and when we sell them, we sell them at the best point of their career and look to get the best price possible for the club. Players who you take on a ‘pay as you play’ basis are never really going to be an asset and as a football club, we need assets. Yes we need to play good football and we need to have a clear idea of how we play throughout the football club but we also need to generate income because we need to make that step up.


I’m not talking about winning the league but getting closer to clubs like, well I don’t want to say, but clubs with a bigger fanbase and a bigger structure. We aren’t going to be able to compete against them by signing players who are towards the end of their careers on big wages. It’s the easiest thing for a manager to go out and sign a player who’s played 300 games at this level and players like that, you don’t have to tell them much but in the future and for the future plans of the football club you ask ‘well what are we going to do next’. When you lose that player and you have to replace them and you don’t have the money to replace them with another similar player, then it becomes very, very difficult.’


Still on the subject of crowds, one of the lads behind asked about the possibility of getting a prestige friendly against the likes of Barcelona or Real Madrid to pull in the crowds:


‘We tried last pre season to carry out a little bit of an experiment by bringing over Real Zaragoza to see what sort of crowd it would generate, whether more fans would come and to be fair it was just us. The reality is that if you want to play Barcelona or Real Madrid, it will cost you two million quid just to bring them over, so is it worth it? I prefer to invest in our fans and our club and put on games like that West Ham game to get the fans in, we don’t worry about the things we cannot control, I’m quite happy with our crowds. We could maybe shout more and create a more aggressive atmosphere at home but I don’t necessarily think extra numbers will make much of a difference, I don’t know how Jonathan sees it?’


Jonathan: ‘It’d be great to have a full stadium but we

do what we do and keep trying to increase the crowds. We can’t get hung up on it, we prefer to look at the progression and where we’ve come from. The fact is we do have empty seats but so what – in a few years’ time when the next generation of fans come through I think we will fill the stadium, it doesn’t happen overnight. We’ve seen the increase over the last fifteen years from the last generation and these are born and bred Wiganers who support Wigan Athletic and all they’ve known is a Premier League side, which is very different to what a lot of us here grew up with! We can’t control what other fans say and think but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter’


Roberto: ‘I think it should galvanise our fans if anything, bring us all closer together and make sure that we are as good as we can be with what we have. I went watching Stoke a few weeks’ back and I felt it was amazing when their fans’ were singing ‘We are a rugby team, we don’t care’ and ‘We only score from a throw in’, they have a laugh about it and that’s probably what makes them what they are – it’s a fantastic example.


For the players to come out in a full stadium is amazing but  for example at Stoke to have 1,400 fans screaming the way they did, I guarantee you, they prefer that than have 4,000 who just sit there quietly. If we could get that Blackpool away following at every game, in the Premier League every game is an opportunity to make history for us and if we could generate that atmosphere in every game it would really make a difference. In the warm up when the players returned to the dressing room, they were pumped up purely because of the atmosphere the fans created and felt that togetherness and we need to realise that. We haven’t beaten Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool or United away from home and that itself would be an achievement, like winning a trophy.


It would be great if we could take a massive group of fans there and make it a special occasion because we want to beat them and beating the big clubs away from home has to be the next target and maybe we’ve taken it for granted after seven years but these are still unique occasions. [At this point there was a lively debate for some time about cost and potential for putting free coaches on, the impact of people choosing to watch it in the local pubs rather than travel down to London and pay £50 a ticket for Chelsea and the novelty factor for the Blackpool game. Maybe there was a bit of hangover from the Paul Jewell era where games were written off beforehand? Maybe we just need to beat one of these teams for people to start travelling in numbers again or play a few different teams – Swansea were mentioned but this was before we knew that they were joining us]


One thing that has been done to death on message board forums this season has been the style and formation of the team and Griff from Cockney Latic asked how difficult it would be to keep all his forwards satisfied, especially if Boselli comes back given that there is predominantly only one striking berth?


‘We play with three strikers, people talk about one striker but what is really important is to have as strong a squad as we can. Who plays, I don’t make that decision, football makes the decision, whoever performs the best in training plays, it’s that simple and that’s how I keep people happy, I’d rather have extra numbers than be very weak and remember that we had 24 players available for the Stoke game. I don’t know how many other clubs who were fighting to avoid relegation who had 24 players fully fit and all desperate to play and I think that speaks volumes about the mentality and character that we’ve got around the squad and the football club.


I’ve seen many football clubs whom when things are going against you and you need to knuckle down, you get 5 or 6 injured players and problems here and there, people who are not prepared to give their all and put their careers at stake. I had my own problem which was to select 18 players out of the 24 for Sunday which is a magnificent problem to have.’


I asked how Roberto felt about the prospect of Swansea coming up and the impact that Scott Sinclair has made for them this year, any regrets about that?


‘Scott Sinclair has got exactly what he deserved, he needed that, he needed to go back to the Championship and play 40-odd games in order to fulfil his potential. Last year we couldn’t give him the time he needed to develop but we all saw the talent that he had, I feel he is ready for the Premier League now and could have a massive impact. At Swansea, just like I said, in the same way now my decisions were not short-term decisions made to win a game, my decisions there were always long-term to help Swansea City get in the Premier League.


They’ve still got the same group of players and there are players coming through now who started at 16 and there is something special there. I’m not saying it is to my credit as Brendan Rodgers has found the winning formula but there are too many people down there that I still love who work really hard and they deserve to be in the Premier League.’


A very apt point to break off given the confirmation yesterday that Roberto Martinez will be facing his former club Swansea City in a Premier League fixture next season. Tomorrow, we conclude the interview and discuss with Roberto players using Twitter, pre season plans, the future of Charles N’Zogbia and his own personal ambitions in football


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