…it’s a phrase that I’ve heard a lot over the last few days. With suggestion being that defeat to Bolton, admittedly a damaging and verging on embarrassing defeat, has taken us into some new ground, over some boundary where somehow things are different and it becomes more acceptable to call for the managers head, whatever the rationale. Maybe that’s true, maybe there is a level beyond which a struggle against relegation becomes unacceptable and maybe we’ve hit it. I just don’t know anymore.
What I do know is that the season appears to be heading in a direction where a decision will have to be taken. Whilst there are some signs that Latics are still capable of the football that has kept them in the top flight for the last two seasons, it continues to be undermined by defending that is beyond unacceptable, that puts the team under pressure, often ridiculously early in games and allows the opposition to take a stance that makes it even more difficult to break them down.
The assumption appears to be that this decision is, first and foremost, about whether Wigan Athletic stay in the Premier League. And why not? Our chairman is a businessman after all, and one with a reputation for looking after the pennies so that the millions look after themselves. All that money from the Premier League TV deal, all those big clubs to play, week-in-week-out all that exposure in the media, who wouldn’t want to keep hold of all that?
Well maybe the man who has to put his hand in his pocket in order to keep hold of it?
The last time Dave Whelan issued a P45 at Latics, the push was still very much about getting to some “new level” and the evidence was very much on the pitch. In had come Bramble, Sibierski, Melchiot, Koumas and Brown all familiar names with experience and, presumably, salaries to match. The size of the investment masked only by four of those five coming on free transfers.
The rumour is that Latics will show they have broken even in their next set of accounts, something that can only be laudable from a business perspective, but even more significant in a footballing one. Whatever your thinking on the why, it’s clear that the level of investment that we saw back in 07/08 is no longer being made
No matter how much Bobby might talk about settling Latics in the top-flight and getting into Europe, the context of any decision that Dave Whelan may need to make about his tenure is completely different from the one he made, almost five years ago, over Chris Hutchings. Latics are now downsizing and Premier League survival may now be, at best, a secondary objective for anyone that is in charge of our team.
I have some reservations about a first team manager having total control over recruitment and playing style of a team and even more so about them being in sole charge of player development. These days, it’s possibly too much for one man to taken on, but more so, it binds the club and the manager too closely, to lose (or sack) a man who is building a long term project for the club may see an improvement in first team affairs, but at the cost of the foundations that have started to be laid.
And that appears to be where Latics are now. We are in a position where we appear to have decided what club we want to be (one that is financially responsible with an emphasis on taking youngsters and teaching them to play football in ways that will be attractive to larger teams) but we’re not in a position where we can take advantage of it. However, the man who is in charge of that is also in charge of winning Premier League points and if that particular well runs dry, then the chairman will have to decide on which of the two is most important.
For me, it’s the future. There’s little point in us flip flopping around like a teenager who doesn’t know what he wants to do with his future and there’s even less point in us taking up the other predominate teenage pastime of staying in bed with our head under the covers. We’ve spent the last two years turning the club around and pushing it in a particular *strategic* direction and why would the fortunes of the first team change our mind about that.
There’s a theory (that stems from the continent, so we’re probably supposed to pour scorn on it) that what we call the manager of a football team should be seen as a transitory figure. Just like players they are bought and sold, whether through being too crap or too good you should expect them to move on. But at the same time that theory says you need a steady hand on the tiller.
Call it a director of football, a general manger or something else, but it’s this steady hand that would usually take on the task that makes it very difficult for me and others to look at Bobby too critically. We have a sort of “yes the results aren’t going right, but look at the bigger picture” knee jerk reaction to almost any criticism levelled at him and certainly any suggestion that he should get the boot is met with a real concern about what that might mean for the real steps forward we’re seeing at youth level and off the pitch.
It’s not that we/I don’t see that improvements can’t be made, or that there aren’t problems that need addressing. But that said, I, personally, don’t believe that we’re quite at the point that people seem to be concluding that we are. At the moment, we’re below par points wise (par being around a point per game at this stage of the season) but a couple of good results will fix that and I maintain that the biggest problem that we face at the moment is a lack of confidence.
We started the season off in a cautious manner against the newly promoted sides and then that has become ingrained following the catalogue of mistakes that came in games where the emphasis started off on restraint rather than expression. Over the last few games we’ve taken a cumulative knock equivalent (or worse then?) the defeat to Spurs or the first two games of last season, but we’ve come back before.
Both those times we worked hard to stabilise ourselves before looking for our swagger, he might be as well to consider forgetting the stabilising bit for a couple of games and sending the lads out to have a go at Newcastle and Fulham. People have spent two years laughing at his notion that performances are more important than results, but maybe the situation now makes it truer than it ever has been.
It’s clear that something has to happen. Whether that’s a statement of intent, an acknowledgement that the club think that the club think that certain outcomes (i.e. relegation) may be acceptable for the greater good of the club or (much, much preferably) a turn around of fortunes. The fans have started on a slippery slope and some of Bobby’s strongest supporters are now considering the near future without him, if only to shut the nay-sayers up.
Without something to stop the slide then the noise will start to become deafening and when it does the decision it forces could have more wide reaching consequences for the club than you’d first think.
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