But a slow death is agonising. And that is what it feels like right now for the good ship HMS Wigan Athletic. The whole club is rotten in so many ways and the speed at which the rot has set in has taken us all by surprise.
Just over 18 months ago we were winning the FA Cup
Just over 12 months ago we were still in Europe
And just over 6 months ago we were a rash Gary Caldwell challenge away from knocking QPR out of the play offs
(An aside from yesterday’s post mortem, we were discussing that wherever there has been disaster, old GC has been at the heart of it: Swansea, Arsenal, QPR. However, given that Steven Hawking would find a new space continuum in our back four right now, I could only see a fit Gary Caldwell improving matters, at least he has a modicum of that one characteristic so sadly lacking at the minute – leadership. That said, I suspect if you put Franco Baresi at centre half he’d still be gift wrapping dodgy back passes to centre forwards who haven’t scored for two months such is the illness with which our club is currently afflicted)
See, I’ve gone off on one already. I knew that would happen. It really is hard to make sense out of it all though so let’s find an analogy.
I was thinking of using the old union example, the shop floor trade unionist going around telling the young enthusiastic worker to slow down his piece rate. But it’s not relevant here as we are not dealing with minimum wage downtrodden proles, we are dealing with millionaire footballers.
So let’s use the classroom analogy. My missus is a teacher and she talks of “good classes” and “bad classes” whereas in reality there are good kids and bad kids. The problem is that if you’ve got a few bad kids, then basically you have a bad class. A disruptive influence or two, a noisy kid, a bully or just some child with behavioural issues can put a whole class off their stride. It could be negatively deliberate “if they’re not getting any work done, why should I?” It could be positively deliberate “I’d like to work but I’ll get picked on or left out if I do so we don’t want to be seen working hard” or it could be not deliberate “I simply can’t get any work done with all this noise in the class”.
By contrast, a good class will have a few hard workers who influence the rest positively and help and support each other with a teacher who responds to their individual needs and drives them forward. But more on the teacher later.
I’ve no idea what happened over the summer but the team that Rӧsler assembled has become a bad class. It may have initially been the class size: in both schools and football clubs, 30 is too many to keep under control and I genuinely believe that if you can pinpoint where it went wrong with Rӧsler it’s that in trying to keep everyone happy (by rotating) he only succeeded in p***ing everyone off.
But clearly there’s more to it than that. There are clearly some bad eggs in that squad, some unruly kids with a very poor work ethic. It is the only answer. And rather than speculate on who that could be, I’d like to consider how it’s impacting the star pupils. When Chris McCann returned to the team he was a revelation, since then his performances have slowly dropped off. Ditto the two other golden boys: McManaman and McClean. These two lads have the workrate and energy and raw ability to tear any back line apart but in each passing game they’re doing less and less. And why should they do more when our collective back line and midfield is letting the might of Rotherham run them ragged? McManaman no longer goes off on 60 minutes because he’s no longer knackered. And why is he no longer knackered? Well, it’s not because he’s got fitter I know that much.
That’ll probably raise the hackles somewhat by picking on the best players first but it’s my analogy so let’s stick with it. Let’s move further down the pecking order. Let’s look at Adam Forshaw. A pivotal player in a fantastically workmanlike Brentford side. They had a system, he had a role in it and they punch above their weight. He comes here, he’s in and out of the side, doesn’t know what his role, can’t stamp any sort of authority on the game and a young player is watching his career deteriorate before his very eyes.
Now I’ve always said we can’t always be the next great thing. Sometimes you’ve got to play fair and admit it’s someone else’s turn and Brentford and Bournemouth are currently the recipients of that fine accolade. However the one thing we have always been proud of and excelled at within Wigan Athletic Football Club is that we punch above our weight. We always have done, that little football club a few streets away from me in Springfield which I fell in love with 30 years ago always did. We just never had the money to kick on until Whelan came along.
And now? We’re punching below our weight. And if we’re honest apart from a few months under Rӧsler, we have been punching below our weight ever since we got relegated. Now, psychologically I don’t think we’re alone in this respect. A lot of clubs get relegated and struggle to turn around a weary battleship. Players don’t adapt – to return to the classroom analogy: they’ve suffered the ultimate indignity of being put down a year for failing their exams and are forced to compete with younger, more enthusiastic kids.
But that’s not a perfect analogy, football is a very different beast. And if you are a more intelligent, more skilful pupil then you will always excel more than someone with less ability. So long as you have a good environment, a good teacher, willing classmates and you work at least as hard as everyone else.
Oh yes – hard work. From our first foray back into the Championship, setting aside when we turned over what was evidently a very poor Barnsley side, it became clear that whereas the quality of football was laughable, that work ethic is a basic requirement for every team in this division. If you don’t put a shift in, anyone can get turned over. This is a marked difference from the Premier League where top players have such superior ability that they can beat a team without breaking sweat.
Paul Jewell built a side that blitzed the Championship with a ferocious work rate and a brilliant team spirit but the second they got into the Premier League that became of limited use. Well the 90th minute if we’re honest as we fought tooth and nail to match Chelsea only for Hernan Crespo to pop up and smash home a screamer. A lesson that was repeated over and over again as Henry, Berbatov and Rooney all rocked up at the DW.
There’s no Hernan Crespo’s play for Rotherham however. If I’m honest, I haven’t heard of too many of their team but I suspect a lot of their fans had heard of most of ours. Like a daunting trip to a formidable Sunday League team who you’ve heard are a bit handy, they turned up, looked nervous and then the collective bundle of footballers assembled in red and white realised “actually they’re not much cop this lot” and started to have a go.
And this is what is happening every week. We actually give opposing teams confidence once they’ve sussed out that we have no fight, no spirit, no leadership, no organisation and no belief.
The first goal came as no surprise as we had already had a few warnings and from there on in the result was never in any doubt. I’m not surprised that we lost to Rotherham, I’m only surprised other people are surprised we lost to Rotherham as this is a team who looks so poor that we would not beat anyone. They simply don’t look like they want to win football matches enough. The battle is lost before they step on to the field. Good of them to give us the usual false hope by doing the usual trick of scoring and then conceding before we’ve even had the chance to sit down again mind you.
The other old chestnut of “lacking confidence” seems to be doing the rounds. Well if you fancy trying this one out, why don’t you go into work, p*** about all day, refuse to actively help others and then demand five grand in cash at the end of the week? Good luck.
I’m sorry but confidence grows through work ethic. Don’t you feel better having achieved something? Isn’t that a warm fluffy feeling, even if nobody is there to see it? That basic will to win is lacking and that team on the pitch does not feel like my team any more because that basic fundamental requirement of hard graft is completely absent throughout it. There is an illness that has now spread throughout the squad and I really have no idea how to fix it.
It’s like the banking crisis. Everyone knows Freddie Goodwin is a bad, greedy man but he wasn’t the only one. Yet if you get a hundred highly paid bankers in the room and ask them to take the blame, they’ll all turn around and say “well I was just doing my job” and at the minute, if you ask Wigan Athletic players why the team is underperforming they’ll give you exactly the same answer. But one thing’s for certain, they’re doing the absolute bare minimum. The whole lot of them. And it’s an illness.
And I’m no doctor but it’s getting worse, all over the pitch and probably behind the scenes.
How do we fix it? Well going back to the school kids analogy and as if to contradict it, Mrs T is fond of the saying that “There’s no such thing as bad kids, only bad parents” and again we’re back to the leadership issue.
After the absolute sh**storm of getting him here, you might have thought the one thing that Malky Mackay would bring to the club is strong leadership and man management skills and turn it around. Yet from his post match comments I’m beginning to wonder whether he’s in on the joke as well. It might that he is just briefly passing through but I sat in front of him for an hour a week or so ago and I saw nothing that inspired me, nothing that indicated that he “gets” this football club. Maybe he has to tell the press we were unlucky and in private he’s firing multiple rockets up multiple ar*es but we can only go off what we see on the pitch and we’re going backwards rapidly.
But that said, it takes time, plus he seemed very cagey about what he was saying – understandable given his recent indiscretions. He’s here now but five games in 1 point in 15, we have to give him time as he is our manager but I’m still waiting for the slightest glimmer of hope, little green shoots of improvement that will start to filter through the team. We have “good pupils” out there, James Perch in particular will be looking for a move to another class if things carry on as they are. Somehow, they need a big change in mental attitude and that comes from good coaching.
Just win a football game will you Malky? And people, even those who were vehemently opposed to your appointment might start to like you again. It really shouldn’t be that hard with the resources you’ve got at your disposal. Like I said, I don’t think changing the manager again would help but I wouldn’t be heartbroken if he walked tomorrow and Nigel Adkins was brought in. ‘Cos Nice Nigel might have got undone at Reading but I doubt you’ll find him in a casino at 4am with a dolly bird hanging off his arm.
Some people seem to think that doesn’t matter. And it’s true, it doesn’t matter: if we’re winning. But please don’t reinvent this football club into one where it doesn’t matter who we employ as long as they’re successful.
I want us to be a football club that represents our community. I want to be part of a football club where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. I want us to be a football club that works together and supports each other. It will serve us all better in the long run.
We’re going to be a very different football club in the future than we have been in recent times and various groups seem to be making a land grab for it based on their viewpoint. Fair enough, we’re not going to agree on everything but we have few enough fans as it is to turn on each other. The mood was disconsolate in the pubs of Springfield and the town centre last night but the faces were the same old faces, people who’ve been on the whole journey and aren’t about to turn their back on the club.
All I will say is if you want “success at all costs” then maybe this club isn’t for you in the future. Having seen that the three teams who got up to the Premier League have been occupying the bottom three for most of the season, it’s evident that the game is up and the chances of Wigan Athletic doing what, well, doing what Wigan Athletic did again are remote.
The time for winning promotion looks over this season and maybe even forever as this group of players have no desire to make it happen and I have serious doubts whether Malky Mackay or Dave Whelan do either.
I don’t expect to win every game, I just want to see a team fighting and working for each other. I can handle us being s*** as long as it’s because we’ve got s*** players who are trying. The root of the problem is that we have good players who aren’t trying.
Still I’m sure another player will come out in the week and tell us that team spirit is fantastic and they’re doing everything they can to turn it around.
Winning isn’t everything, having a football club we can be proud of is and I’m not particularly proud of us right now. Les Bagg wrote in the Mudhutter a few weeks ago about the siege mentality returning, the unfortunate thing with this approach is that we need the players to buy into it too and sadly they appear to have a siege mentality of their own, one that involves withdrawing their talent and labour.
Yesterday’s gate was what I’d call a “Wigan Rugby 12,000” i.e. it was probably actually 8,000 and the atmosphere was as flat as it’s been in years, even ES2 bless them have given up now. There’s only so many times you can turn up and get let down and as I say if it was just an inherent s***eness I could accept it but these are good players getting paid a fortune and they are eating away at the club from the inside.
I had a lot more to cover but I’ve rattled off 2,500 words without even trying. It’s served no purpose whatsoever, it will change nothing. Some people will like it and some will probably slag me off. It will change nothing about the football club we support and that’s the terrible thing. It is an illness.
An illness that someone needs to find a cure for soon before it comes terminal.
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