The Drop-Cup Matrix

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I have a fixation with trying to put real life situations into a four box matrix. There’s quite a simple one which sums up the Wigan Athletic situation right now. It’s got FA Cup on one axis and Premier League on the other. The trouble is that right now the LOSE-LOSE quadrant is ten times the size of the other three. We could still stay up. We could win the FA Cup. We could do both. But after that shambles on Tuesday, the smart money is on us spending the summer empty handed when we’re not planning trips to Yeovil and Tirana. No trip to Barbados for a group of players who could probably afford to go anyway just by selling the watch on their wrist.

It’s not like I don’t feel bad enough today but I went on the BBC website and started reading the comments below the article where wankers such as Essex Red Devil opine “good riddance to bad rubbish” and Malaysian bell ends talk in EPL riddles about the subtleties of zonal marking. Hoisted by his own petard you could say as the dreamy vision that Martinez spawned at Swansea grew up and effortlessly ran amok at the DW. Swansea’s winner was as abysmal as it was comical. Three Wigan players haplessly tried to clear the ball out of the six yard box but took so long to do it I could have leapt out of my seat in West Stand Row Q, ran on the pitch and booted the bugger in myself.

The two before that? Well they were as well placed as it gets. Inch perfect but Swansea impressed throughout with neat passing – yet also unafraid to hit it long and break at pace when needed whilst a patched up Wigan Athletic featuring experienced but not match fit players such as Ben Watson and Gary Caldwell were busy frittering the ball away in their own half like nervous dormice.

Imagine you’re about to encounter one of the greatest football days of your life yet your football team is also on the brink of disaster? It’s only football isn’t it? I can’t make head nor tail of it or put any logical words together. A line from the Wonder Stuff’s “Size of a Cow” springs to mind. Yet it would be typical Wigan to go and win the FA Cup Final and then beat Arsenal to keep their hopes alive. I’ll still be putting my money on a Aguero double hat trick mind you and as for next Tuesday well we can’t win at the Emirates two years on the bounce can we?

The word on the street is that Roberto Martinez has been “found out”. I’m not sure he was ever hiding anything in the first place. Give me a pleasant, honest man with fluffy visions and an ultra positive outlook over a turgid taskmaster any day. Nationally as well as locally the jury still seems to be out on this charming man. Working miracles on minimal resources. Or using a smile and passing principles to gloss over weak but pretty football. Four years on and I still can’t work it out.

So to Swansea and maybe there is the blueprint of what Roberto tried to do and maybe the critical ingredient is to start with very little to lose. A fourth tier club in the doldrums with low expectations. A club that needed a revolution not evolution. Given time to build foundations and a philosophy not thrown into the deep, punishing waters of the English Premier League with some comparative loose change and a remit to go and challenge the big boys.

The Swansea of today are not the Swansea under Martinez, we saw that much last night. There are similarities between the teams but the pressing was more intense, the passing was more direct and the pace of attack mesmerising at times. And this was a team on their holidays with quite a few squad players drafted in. Heaven help us if MICHU had have been fit, the bargain of the season apparently. They say he cost just two million pounds though nobody really talks about it, a bit like Dave Whelan and his broken leg.

As one of the greatest names in management announces his retirement, we all sit and marvel at the longevity of his tenure and consider it a fundamental cornerstone of Manchester United’s success. But maybe it is as much about the man as the manager? Swansea have had three managers now since Martinez and each one has taken them further.

As Wigan Athletic fans we could gloat at Bolton, Blackburn and Wolves who all fell by the wayside last season dumping managers in the belief it was for the best. It seems that shifty school caretaker lookalike Steve Kean was the best that Rovers had last year, the fast talking Owen Coyle got his come uppance and as for Wolves….well the less said the better. And we’ve still got our Bob. He turned down Villa and Liverpool you know.

Yet sometimes familiarity breeds contempt. As does that obsession with “having a blueprint”. Short term is the new long-term. No hang on long-term still matters but we don’t do it the Spanish way any more we have to do it the German way. Oh I just don’t know. The whole football world is in shock this week after the announcement of Alex Ferguson’s pending retirement. But I think it’s fairly safe to say he’s a one off. And Manchester United as a club are a one off. They just needed a bloody good manager and then everything else falls into place.

With the exception of Cristiano Ronaldo it’s very rare that Manchester United lose a member of personnel to a bigger or better club whereas further down the food chain, external forces very often stand in the path of success and long-term sustainability. At Wigan Athletic we have done exceptionally well to keep hold of a bright young manager frequently touted for better things but has it really done us any good? Are we any better off as we stand legs akimbo over the trap door with a cold breeze whistling up our trouser legs? He has been immensely loyal whilst players have come and gone, as players do getting cherry picked by even the moderately better teams in the Premier League for the promise of an extra twenty grand a week.

The news elsewhere could trigger a series of events that means Moyes leaving Everton sees Martinez leaving Wigan in a managerial merry go round. Would that be a bad thing? For Everton? For Wigan? I’ve no idea. There’s always been two fiercely divided camps over Martinez. There are those who love the man, who believe he can do no wrong, is doing the best for the club, demanding Whelan invests in infrastructure and re-building a club he has genuine affinity for from top to bottom.

Then there are those who believe he is the problem, that the players we have are far more talented than their collective league position demonstrates and Martinez’s over-emphasis on passing it around at the back has resulted in us conceding two goals nearly every home game this season. They like to mention Mauro Boselli and 9-1 defeats in North London a lot and also mention that he’d have been fired by now at any other club, that he isn’t a very good manager and those deluded smiley people in the previous paragraph are too blinkered to see it.

The wider football world seems to now be divided as well. He’s either worked miracles keeping Wigan in this division on such low gates and revenue and continually being forced to sell or give away our talent to balance the books and maintain a strict wage structure. Then there are those who look at his record and can only conclude that he is a hopeless manager and hoodwinks people into thinking he is a tactical genius because he’s a very nice man.

Same goes for Wigan Athletic. Some football fans admire our well run club playing decent football and our determination and grit to stay in the top flight with little money and small crowds, the only town team apart from West Brom. Other “EPL fans” think we add nothing to the Premier League, lack ambition and have a half empty ground (do I have to mention we have nearly
a quarter of our town turning out every other weekend again, compared to say the 3% of the population of Birmingham who turn out to watch Villa once a fortnight. OK well I have done now) and can’t wait to see the back of us. All football clubs have ambition, they just don’t have the money to get anywhere near the big clubs in such a financially disparate league. And just say we did have a top half season, our players would get picked off before you could say “Mohamed Diame”. You just cannot build a team. Of course Swansea and West Brom seem to be doing alright, but would you bet on them still being around in five to ten years?

It sometimes seems Martinez cannot do right. Within the confines of Wigan’s support he is often compared to his predecessor Steve Bruce who was skilfully leading Wigan Athletic to mid table nirvana but again what happened? He left after 18 months and took up a better offer, along with Heskey, Palacios, Cattermole, Valencia. Back to square one. Martinez has also reduced the wage bill from £42m to £37m over a period where the total Premier League wages have risen 60% from 1bn a season to an eye popping £1.6bn. How to manage this equation? The books are in superb health but our Premier League status is on life support.

I personally remain a Martinez fan even if he takes us down. Nobody expected Wigan Athletic to stay in the Premier League forever and by virtue of being daft enough to hang around and not jump ship, it looks like Roberto Martinez will be the man who earns the accolade of being at the helm for only the second relegation in Wigan Athletic’s 81 year history.

He’s given us amazing moments: Wins over every single top club, excluding City – but that’s OK because we walloped them a few years earlier before they were good. Stunning wins at that in some cases, and given us that last day drama which has felt like a cup final victory at the end of every season of his tenure. And he’s presided over 9-1 and 8-0 defeats, frequently the worst defensive record in the league and a desperately poor win ratio and points tally. But then the main reason for that is because he has kept us up and operating as small fry in a big league, which in itself is a massive success.

Then there’s the cup final: uncharted territory for Wigan Athletic and what will surely be an amazing day. Ninety minutes from an indelible place in history. Or a savage tonking.

The arguments go around in circles and the juxtaposition is nicely summarised this weekend more than other. We’re about to get relegated – ARRGGGHH!! But we’re also about to play in the FA Cup Final for the first time in our history and play in Europe next year – HURRAY!!!

See what I mean?

Three days before arguably the biggest day in our history and we’re a club in turmoil following a weak capitulation to Swansea last night. We’re always on the brink of greatness or disaster, there’s no in between, some people love that but it’s only fun if you ultimately finish on the winning team and by staying in the Premier League Wigan Athletic have done exactly that for 8 years, though a ninth is now looking unlikely.

If Roberto Martinez does move on in the summer he will go with good wishes from all Wigan Athletic and who knows what he can achieve with greater resources at his disposal? Would it be greedy for us to ask him to pull off three more miracles? (As some have pointed out, he frequently has to pull off miracles because the team ends up in such a precarious position – if we were more consistent we wouldn’t need to!)

He looked a beaten man post-match on Tuesday and he wasn’t the only one looking glum in WN5 but he’ll probably be smiling again today.

A threadbare squad devoid of competent defenders with already tired legs playing Saturday, Tuesday and Sunday against Man City, Arsenal and Villa. We have no chance. None whatsoever.

Yet sometimes that’s when we are at our best. I’d have liked to win the cup and stay up but I’m a reasonable man, I’ll take one or the other now.

Sin Miedo, one last time.

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