On Thursday afternoon Wigan Athletic Football Club, once again, opened its doors to the Independent fan websites for some frank and open discussions on all things Latics. Whether this is done elsewhere in the Premier League or outside it, for that matter, we’re not sure, but, either way, what it does show is how committed the Club and its Manager are to their relationship with us bums on seats. Cue further media onslaught re: bums on seats.
In attendance were the moderators/writers from the major sites: Mudhutter, YOTAC, Vital Latics, Cockney Latic, Latics1932, The Supporters Club and us. Cheers to the first three mentioned here who did most of the work.
The meeting, a lunchtime affair, was held in the first team dressing room at the DW stadium. So, in a room normally reserved for the stench of sweat and Wintergreen (do they still use that stuff?) but today filled with the slightly more pleasant aromas of pizzas and coffee, we sat down and had a good old chat for about 90 minutes with Roberto, Jonathon Jackson (Chief Exec) and Ed Jones (Head of Media) about the season so far, staying up (no, not the R-word), the transfer window, crowds and much more.
Considering our league position it would be all too easy to shirk this kind of event, so full marks to the club for agreeing to hold it and total respect to Roberto for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk to us.
Latics are, obviously, in for a tough last third of the season; currently in the R-word zone and with some tough games ahead. However, as our ever-positive manager told us: ‘the more difficult the challenge, the bigger the achievement.’ Although frustrated by recent injuries, The Gaffer is, without doubt, hugely confident in his current squad and its ability not only to stay up, but also to push on next season. With one player in, but maybe more importantly, none out during the January transfer window, Roberto declared his satisfaction with his personnel: ‘For a long time we’ve missed Di Santo, McCarthy, Moses and Cleverley, that really set us back, but the squad at the moment is exactly what I was hoping for at this time.’
The return of McCarthy, especially, has certainly seen our play more fluid and the Blackburn performance, despite the pitch, showed this perfectly. Roberto believes, and who’s going to argue, that in James and Victor Moses we have two of the Premier Leagues’ most exciting prospects, and is comfortable comparing McCarthy’s second goal and the skill involved to that of Zidane and Bergkamp, Roberto claiming: ‘if he would have been at Man Utd we would have seen that goal time after time’.
With an average age of about 25, the team for the Blackburn game represented the youngest group of out-field players in the Premier League that week, and it’s evident there’s a long term plan for success based on this, both in the footballing and financial sense, with Callum Mcmanaman and a couple of as-yet-un-named players looking to force their way through to the squad in the near future.
Roberto also assured us that the lessons learned and the experience gained so far this and last season are to stand us in good stead. He feels keeping this young side together is the key and reminded us that: ‘at this time we have one point more than last season’ after the Liverpool game, our 27th, we’re now 2 points better off and have conceded 8 less goals. ‘Last season we were very up and down, when we had disappointment on the pitch we couldn’t find the character to get back into it, leading to damaging scorelines. This campaign has been very different, we need to learn together and the youth of the players is going to make us through this period,’ Roberto added, ‘once we are successful this campaign we are going to be guaranteed a top ten team next year and it’s not going to be a one off season.’
There were several players picked out for debate during the session – here’s a quick run through.
On Figueroa’s form and the need for cover at left back – Martinez disagrees, it was explained the jump from the Honduran League, playing in the World Cup with three injuries and having pretty much no break at all have made this season difficult both physically and mentally. Also not worried about an out an out left back replacement, with both Stam and Gohouri able to fill in, Roberto believes Maynor is back to himself and ready to produce his best period of the season.
On Al Habsi and the chances of him staying – ‘The relationship he’s got with the fans is unbelievable, he’s impressed me how he’s taken to Wigan Athletic.’ Of course we know our friendly foes want him back under the shadow of Winter Hill but Martinez adds: ‘If you look at his distribution from day one to now, he’s a completely different Goalkeeper and he knows that. He loves his time here, when you’ve got that we’ll be doing everything we can to keep Ali for the future. But that’s down to three parties, Bolton, ourselves and the Player.’
Ronnie Stam has in fact got two feet.
Daniel De Ridder is ready for a fresh challenge and is not likely to figure again, with the competition in front of him. His contract is up this season.
On new signing Conor Sammon – ‘He’s been impressive, if you would’ve asked me two weeks ago I would’ve said no (of his chances of playing this season) now I think he’ll have to be involved. There’s a big gap between the SPL and the Premier League but from what he’s shown in training he’ll have to involved before the season ends.’
Mauro Boselli – we were basically told, for the club, it’s a win win. Either he comes back in form with the Sunderland header and the West Ham penalty firmly in the past, psychologically, or he moves on if it’s right for him and the club and we gain anyway. We shall see on this one, but Martinez said the signing was a big statement that caused much interest and certainly not a mistake.
Special mentions from Roberto also for Antolin Alcaraz; his professionalism and the way he has slotted into the Premier league with ease. He talked of Momo Diame’s enthusiasm for the club both on signing and following recent press misrepresentation.
Nzogbia is happy here, we were told, he is focussed and fully committed to keeping the club up. Whether he’ll be on the team-sheet next season is unknown but as Martinez says: ‘If we lose him it will be for the right reason, at the right time and for the right money, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to lose him.’
On what is needed and how it’ll be achieved Roberto stated: ‘We are looking at every game as an opportunity to get points. I would say forty points is our target, four wins and two draws from now (pre Liverpool game) until the end of the season.’ So now, according to this if we beat Birmingham, West Ham and Everton at home, Blackpool away, get a point at Sunderland and the fingernails will live to grow another day at the Britannia. Of course, it matters not where the points come from, just that they come. Let’s face it, only a few more shock results to go and they won’t be shock results anymore.
Martinez knows the points are coming, but he also knows what might bring them along a bit quicker. Us lot. A banner at the Villa game, the murmurs of the odd boo, and some general whinging have revealed certain quarters of support a tad restless. Sure, we all pay our money, we all have the right to have a good old moan every now and again. But if it’s creating a flat half-time dressing room is it really having the desired effect?
Martinez can take this squarely on the chin and said: ‘Football is a ga
me of emotions. I understand that, that reaction is normal. I’m the first one to be disappointed in the amount of points we’ve got. My motivation is to change that. I feel more hurt when the fans don’t support the players. As long as they allow the players to enjoy their football, I can take all the criticism.’
Should there be any long ball lovers out there that fancy a change of style, don’t hold your breath. ‘When I arrived we were at 129 passes per game on average’, tells Roberto, ‘at the Emirates we had more possession than Arsenal, we had 459 and they had 439. Those were great signs, that day we couldn’t be threatening enough in the last third. That’s the next step, get one v one’s and two v one situations. That’s the pattern that allows you to be successful as a team. Barcelona is the best team in the World and Spain won the World cup, this is because of the systems they play. ’
There was so much more to pore over, and no doubt once NRP gets his lug-holes around the recording, if I ever figure how to send it to him, he’ll be back with his some of his own words.
Once again, congratulations to the club for their openness and for holding the event, it was great to meet the rest of the sites and get this sort of insight into the club. Hopefully they will continue.
In the meantime and after much talk of the clubs perception, held both locally and by some of the nation’s media, Martinez ended in true Churchillian style: ‘One thing we need to remember is we are privileged to be part of Wigan Athletic. We can talk about wanting more fans, but we are unique in what we have done. It’s not about the people (fans) we’re going to get, it’s what we are now. I can guarantee you the next twelve games are so massive and if you really love this football club you need to treat them as one game. If at the end of the twelve games you’re not happy you can be critical. Now is the time to make the difference, help the push and help the players. Because I can guarantee you, once we get through this, the football club will never look back, never.’