Strap yourselves in

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So here we go again, just over 12 weeks has passed from that Sunday in early May as Latics saw out the season with a well-earned point against Millwall and the football season is back again. It’s a common theme – people like me complaining about the season starting earlier each year but I think this year it’s a valid complaint. This will be the first season where the transfer window will close earlier for Championship and Premier League clubs. As such it naturally feels like the summer is being condensed – even though the football will start as early as it has for the last few seasons at least.

Perhaps that could explain the somewhat edgy nature of the Latics fan base this summer, I suppose it was always going to be thus with the first full transfer window (summer at least) under the ownership of IEC and direction of Darren Royle and the new board of directors. It’s been a summer of frustration and castigation towards the club on the old social media channels, but perhaps that isn’t a decent barometer of what the real majority think of Wigan Athletic’s transfer dealings this summer.

It’s a result of Sky’s complete monetisation of football that something like the transfer window can come to define how well run a club is viewed to be. Some of the comments aimed at Latics and the new owners across the summer have been laughable at best, down right ignorant at worst. With two clubs a matter of miles up the road from Wigan starting next season on minus 12 points and in real danger of disappearing from the football league completely it amazes me that a little more thought and consideration doesn’t go in to Wigan Athletic’s position.

Yes Wigan Athletic need to strengthen, the amount of players we have lost over the summer make that clear but equally we simply can’t throw the sort of money around that the bigger sides in the Championship manage to do. Even with new owners, seemingly keen to push for a Premier League return and offer financial support to those ends we need to be a bit more savvy with how we do things. Football has changed so much in the last sixteen years. The Championship has gone crazy and is well on the way to becoming a Premier League two, much like the late Phil Gartside of Bolton envisaged. The sad fact remains though that a lot of the clubs playing that game really can’t afford the sort of transfer fees that they are laying out. So if spending the most money in a futile attempt to reach the promised land is the way that we gauge success now football really is in trouble.

If it hadn’t been for Dave Whelan we could very well have dropped out of the league many years ago, if not we could have been another of the also rans from our neck of the woods. A club like Rochdale, Bury or indeed Oldham because as natural levels go that really is our natural level. But Dave did come and he and the Premier League changed everything and that included the perception of what should be seen as success for a club of our size. Last season was a success, no matter what you may have thought of the barren spell through the winter – for the first time since 2013/14 we retained our Championship status and it was done without breaking the bank either.

IEC have invested millions already, they’ve been putting millions in to the club just to keep us afloat every month whilst also investing in the infrastructure of the club something that in the latter years of the Whelan families tenure in charge of the club had slipped dramatically. But until more Wiganer’s get behind their home town team and we can generate more income off the back of ticket sales, merchandise and corporate sales we will be fighting a losing battle.

With so many players departing the squad needs serious work and shrewd signings like David Marshall, Lewis Macloed and the returning Antonee Robinson haven’t done much to quell the dissenting voices. That was until this week where the transfer window finally seemed to kick in for Paul Cook and the Latics. As I write this up to four players are due to be completing either permanent or loan deals, one of those Jamal Lowe who we have coveted all summer and Dujon Sterling from Chelsea who could well be this season’s Reece James. It’s going to be another new look Wigan Athletic taking to the pitch on Saturday as we start the season without some of the main stays of the last couple of season’s in Christian Walton and Nick Powell.

I was sad to see Powell leave, in fact he took so long to make his mind up I thought we may have convinced him to stay. It sounds like Latics did absolutely everything they could to convince him to stay, offering him some eye watering sums but the pull of Stoke and those Premier League parachute payments (remember those) was clearly too much. I would hope we see him back in a Wigan shirt again one day. Callum McManaman who for one reason or another didn’t feature anywhere near as much as expected last season links up with another Latics legend in Greame Jones at Luton and will no doubt be looking to prove a certain Paul Cook wrong.

Pre-season has been well pre-season, it feels like we’ve played more games this year and as a result hopefully won’t be under cooked when it comes to the real stuff starting on Saturday as the side were accused of being last year. The two matches against Premier League opposition were telling as Latics earned credible draws against full strength Everton and Burnley sides. Despite not having all the new signings we wanted in place before the start of the season we’ve seen the further emergence of Jensen Weir and Joe Gelhardt who really do look ready to push for first team places this coming season. Gelhardt took his goal against Burnley so well and both the young lads along with Callum Lang deserve their place in the first team squad this season.

So what to expect from the new season, the new owners tell you that Premier League is the aim but you would have to be the eternal optimist to think promotion is on the cards for Wigan Athletic this season and we know there’s not many of those in Wigan. Premier League may well be the aim but another season of consolidation, this time with less looking over our shoulders at the bottom three will still be a success in my eyes. Now of course it isn’t outside of the realms of possibility that we could launch some sort of assault on the higher echelons of the Championship – Sheffield United did similar after a season of consolidation after they were first promoted from League One and not many will have had Norwich as their tip for Champions last August. It is possible but with the astronomical sums being spent in the Championship by those looking to get promotion to the promised land © probably put it out of our reach, instead the target is steady progression. If we can aim to emulate a side like Brentford or even whisper it quietly Preston by strengthening each season and looking to make progress each season well then who knows what is possible.

It’s going to be a fascinating season and I am quietly confident that we can have a decent season, Paul Cook and his team have experience of the Championship now. They know what is needed as do the players remaining from last season – people like Josh Windass who took time to settle last season could prove key this year. Especially now Windass can step out from a Nick Powell shaped shadow. It’s never dull watching Latics and this season will be no different.

Strap yourselves in as it’s back.

Sean Livesey

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