There goes the fear…

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Or, Don’t Stop Believing.

I know I had a good whinge yesterday, but I sort of promised something more on how Latics have faired since the summer of 2013. This, originally intended for the February issue of the Mudhutter (now hopefully to be seen in March) covers at least some of how I reckon we got where we are.

“How did we end up like this?” I think pretty much every Latics fan must have asked themselves that question at some point this season. From the highs of the FA Cup to the inevitable relegation, to the seams starting to fray, to another FA Cup high, to utter, utter chaos and despondency. It’s often said there’s no such thing as a dull moment being a Latics fan (apart from those ninety minutes of a weekend, like) but, once, just once, it would be nice if we could have a few swings and roundabouts rather than the rollercoaster ride we’ve been stuck on for the past few years.

I’m guessing there’ll be plenty of comments through the rest of the mag about how we got into our current predicament off the pitch and there is plenty to discuss on that front, without any, guaranteed, short-term fixes. What is most pressing though is the question of how we’ve ended up with the mess we’re watching every week?

Words like ethos, principles and philosophies are banded about way too much these days but, like it or not, they are real things in football. Managers can have them, supporters can have them, players can have them and when the stars align you can find clubs that are built on them. Clubs that, from top to bottom, approach the game in a particular way and generally reap the rewards from it.

If you don’t like those terms then we can always wrap them up and call them the “personality” of a club. Think of Spurs in the 60s, Chelsea through the 70s, Liverpool in the 80s, United in the 90s and Arsenal in the last decade. All had their own personality, an expectation of a certain approach to bringing players together and getting them to play in a certain way. Those personalities can change (compare the 1980s Arsenal to the modern day one) but they are there all the same.

In my lifetime, apart from a few years where we played the role of nouveau riche upstarts, Latics have had a fairly steady personality, we’ve been, we are in fact, little Wigan- taking the piss. That long struggle to get league status and the distinct lack of cash gave us a mindset on and off the pitch that served many of us well as the club sprinted up the leagues and even more so when we started off Premier League life. It allowed us to enjoy the moment, stick to fingers up to anyone we fancied and not worry about anything.

That’s not to say none of our fans have felt any angst over the last 20 years, but it’s often true that those who have are the ones who’ve lost sight of the club’s personality, who’ve somehow thought that we have or could become something we’re not and maybe could never be.

The same goes for managers. Those managers who’ve embraced the spirit of the club have flourished. Deehan (in that championship season) Mathias, Jewell, Bruce (until those last few moths) and Martinez spring to mind first and foremost whilst those who didn’t Bruce Rioch being the most obvious example, but through John Benson in there too and note the criticism Paul Jewell got on those trips to Anfield and Old Trafford.

Of all those, the person who got the spirit of the club the most was Martinez, a man whose management was all about finding that moment where his players could play together, with arrogance and “sin miedo”. The moment where you could face up to even the most mighty of opponents without fear and take them on, at their own game. Yes, the search for that moment could be painful but when it came it was wonderful.

After four years of a manager who in many ways was the perfect fit for our football club came Owen Fucking Coyle, who didn’t only not get “it”, he didn’t seem to want to. The biggest problem with Coyle wasn’t his direct style of attacking, it was in his defensive nature, his lack of imagination, his willingness to let teams come at us and then (hopefully feed off the scraps). His biggest problem was his fear of losing being stronger than his desire to win.

He was a bad choice from the start but it was his fear, taking an array of attacking talent and asking it to first and foremost defend for its life that lost him the fans and ultimately cost him his job.

For Rosler, taking over that season was easy, all he had to do was take off the shackles set the team up roughly as Bobby used to and send the lads out to attack. They enjoyed it, we enjoyed it and although they ran out of steam in the end, it nearly saw us scrape back into the top flight. This season was different though, as Uwe struggled to settle on a team, mistakes started to creep in, confidence seeped away, the team went into their shell(s) and results suffered as we ceded ground to teams more than happy to come and take us on.

I’m not sure whether the fear belonged to the players or the manager, but it was back and inevitably lead to Rosler being shown the door. What had initially looked like a good fit had turned bad and it was time to let someone else have a go. Whoever it was surely had enough attacking talent to turn things around and turn those narrow defeats and draws into wins.

Malky Mackay was on a loser from the start really, for that very reason. He was a bad fit in so many ways, but his reputation as a manager who preferred to defend over attack meant that a) the squad wouldn’t meet his needs and b) he would struggle with fans who had got used, over a long time, seeing their team take the game to the opposition. His talk about cutting out mistakes may have held true to many but his neglect of any attacking talk (apart from lauding the notion of playing a midfielder upfront) has failed to endear him to many.

To be honest, I came up with the title of this article before I started writing and I expected to end up somewhere else at this point. It’s obvious to me that we (the club, the fans, the players, the manager) need to get back to what we once had, to find that place where we feel without fear and where we’re happy sticking our (footballing) fingers up at the world rather than skulking in a corner, where we are judged on our football rather than anything else and where we can just try to get on with beating the opposition rather than trying not to lose to them.

Right now, that place seems further away than anything. Further than it did after any of those 5- bout drubbings at the hands of some Premier League giant, even further than it did after that 9-1 slaughter at Spurs. If there were a light at the end of the tunnel I’d be worried that it had a price tag on it.
Racist or not, Metal Malky has taken us right back to the start of last season. His biggest problem isn’t his direct style of attacking, it is in his defensive nature, his lack of imagination, his willingness to let teams come at us and then (hopefully feed off the scraps). His biggest problem is his fear of losing being stronger than his desire to win.

Yes, that’s exactly the same as I described OFC, but there’s one big difference, OFC was stuck with the likes of Gomez, McArthur, Beausejour, Ramis, Watson, Maloney and Macmanaman. There always seemed half a chance that he might embrace their talents and play in a way that suited them (remember the opening day at Barnsley?). If he didn’t or he messed up, his successor would have something to build on.

Three of those went in the summer and Mackay now has a transfer window and expiring contracts to work with. None of those players will be around come February and their replacements will fit Mackay’s game plan. He seems even more bull headed, from what I’ve heard there’s no chance of him changing tack and his departure will leave precious little for anyone else to work with.

There goes the fear? Don’t stop believing? Who am I trying to kid?

Have fun… at least one of us will be.

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