Steve McMillan’s Latics career has been one spent in the shadows; the hotly tipped left back’s signing was almost missed due to Lee McCulloch’s record transfer fee. Much of his time since has been spent on the sidelines, either in the company of Alex Cribley or watching the rise of Leighton Baines. With McCulloch set to leave the club in the summer, his ex-Motherwell colleague’s retirement at the end of his contract will almost certainly close the book on the pre-Jewell era at the club.
Signed as the 2001 transfer deadline approached, the two Scots hold the joint honour of being Latics’ longest serving players, making them the only two members of the playing staff that predate the manager. Whilst Jewell has turned Lee McCulloch into a player that matches his style, and until recently the cornerstone of his team, it’s less obvious why he has persisted with McMillan.
Arguments about his and Baines’ relative merits aside, Studs’ has played next to no part in the rise of Wigan Athletic. Of his 92 league games in close to six years at the club, only 18 have come after our escape from the second division and yet he managed not only to get his name on the roll-call of players who saw us promoted to the top flight, but earned himself a two-year contract in the bargain. Since then he’s only managed two Premier League games.
Of course, the ascendancy of Baines may have restricted his chances regardless, but the irony is that without McMillan’s injuries, the youngster may still have been waiting for his chance at Latics, let alone at international level. The best left back debates may have become a by-word for Johnny-come-lately-ism but they had serious roots.
McMillan’s lack of action in the top two divisions makes it a difficult comparison, but the considered opinion has him as at least as good a player as his replacement on top of that he had the kind of pace that marks you out even at this level. Without injury he certainly wouldn’t have waited as long as other Scottish colleague did for a national call up, and may have even arrived in the top flight earlier than the rest of us.
Obviously now that his dodgy knees have forced him to call it a day talk of Studs being a contender is all ifs, buts and maybes. As Steve prepares for pastures new and a life, potentially outside of football, we wish him well. Now we just have to sort out who our best right back is?
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