What a mess, eh?

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What a great big f***ing mess.

A lesson in how not to run and manage a football club at the moment, seemingly. Now let’s get this straight, sport in general – and football in particular – is the most difficult industry out there. It’s the place where level-headed businessmen and women lose their heads. It’s the gaff where emotion takes over from common sense and why wouldn’t it. I mean if you work at a place that makes cardboard boxes then that’s what they do. And when you work there you may have a slight interest in cardboard boxes, you may want the company to do well but at the end of the day they are just fucking cardboard boxes – and if you are lucky you may get paid at the end of the month for helping a company make them.

It’s not Will Grigg putting the ball in the back of the City net or Ben Watson doing the same at Wembley. It’s not losing every single game after going one-up, it’s not calling for the manager’s head, it’s not living, breathing, sleeping and not sleeping football – it’s just a bloody company that makes cardboard boxes…

The football industry should be so, so simple and it can be. It just needs a leadership – on and off the field – that makes decisions with the head and not the heart.

That means making difficult decisions, making them quickly and moving on. Be that in the boardroom, at the training ground, in the media centre or in the dugout on a Saturday afternoon.

I’ve been lucky (or is that unlucky) to work in and around football for some years and I’m also involved at the grassroots level of Non-League football; and for the reasons already stated plus a whole heap of others it’s tough work. If you’ve ever ran a Sunday League side then you’ll know how difficult that is. For a professional club simply multiply that a few thousand times.

What you will know however – if you have ever been involved at a club – is if you’re losing football games it is never the result of just one thing. It can be down to any number of things but to simplify matters it is usually due to the three factors of boardroom, management and players. Sometimes it’s more to do with one faction than the other two but normally it’s a mixture of the three not working together.

I’ve always said if you get those three things right then you won’t be too far away at the end of a season. Of course you may fall short of a team that has spent money it hasn’t got but in general you’ve got a chance. You must also realise – in their heads – it is never the players’ faults. When they are top of the league it is all down to them. When they start losing then it’s the managers fault. That has always been the way but even more so as players seem to hold the winning hands at the moment.

So here we are at Wigan Athletic…

There has been a change of ownership and another by the looks of it – but who knows?

Darren Royle is the executive chairman and his father Joe is down as a director. Everybody else? No idea. In fact I’m not over sure of what those two Royle roles entail but by God are they getting some grief at the moment.

Thankfully for them, manager Paul Cook is getting more!

Sadly it is to be expected. At executive level there has been near-silence from a boardroom that – let’s face it – should have sacked the manager months ago. For the manager? Well he’s judged by results and the results don’t just speak for themselves they shout it out loud from the top of the DW Stadium.

I – sort of – feel sorry for Cook for the simple reason I think there is a decent manager in there. Just not sure he can do it at this level – and whoever put him on a four-year contract wants having a word with! Have a look at the list of longest serving managers in the English leagues and you’ll see that it really is a two-year, two-and-a-half season job nowadays. Whether I think that’s right is not for question, market forces and football today seem to suggest that it is the case and right now Cook is the third longest-serving Championship manager behind Tony Mowbray at Blackburn and Lee Johnson at Bristol City. Thankfully managers tend to last longer at Non-League level which makes it a great place for new gaffers to learn their trade. But I digress…

It’s easy, in hindsight, to say that Cook should have gone earlier in the season and there may even be an argument to say he should have gone at the end of last season but I’m writing this from the perspective of someone that sees a dozen Latics’ game a season. But I would counter that with the fact I probably see four dozen other football games per season.

It didn’t take a genius to see that the reason we stayed up last season was due to the utter brilliance of Reece James and the mercurial magic of Nick Powell. Check the stats last season when Powell played and when he didn’t. It’s frightening and he was the one player that needed replacing, and he wasn’t. Ditto the future England captain. Sadly what was always a difficult situation couldn’t be overcome.

So we are where we are. In deep shit. The club appears to be too far down the line to sack the manager and that is fine. FWIW I think he should have gone around November(ish) but if around then the board had come out and said, “We are backing the manager until the end of the season,” then fine I – and I am sure most – would have accepted that.

I mean we don’t know exactly what’s going on behind the scenes. Cook may be loved by all the players, impress the boardroom and be admired by the whole staff at the club.

I hope he is, I hope he can somehow get the club out of this malaise and let’s face it we are not (yet) cast adrift.

But no, the silence was deafening and the unrest in the seats and on social media has taken hold.

Now, although I use social media to a small extent, I’m not one for arguing and mouthing off on there but many are. And in the absence of any official comment from the club can you blame them? Sadly this has resulted in the local reporter getting flak along with a fanzine editor. Both these lads can handle it but for God’s sake get a grip fellas – and it is mainly fellas. It is, however, what can be expected nowadays.

The lack of communication from the club has led to this and as Brexit and the recent election has shown us, nowadays everything is black and white. It’s all about taking sides and people being called, “F***ing snowflakes!” But all that is a different argument, a different essay – it is, however, all connected. You can add in reality television, people dressing shite and listening to Oasis and Stone Roses but that’s me getting personal – it is undoubtedly all connected whatever you may think. Then again, as somebody that went to bed on election night thinking, “Well according to my twitter timeline it looks like Labour may just win” then waking up to a landslide Tory win really shows there is a life and world outside of social media and don’t get taken in with it all.

At Latics, it is what it is. The club is having a moment. A bad moment. A very bad moment that I’m sure could have been avoided for some of these reasons I’ve stated. I fear relegation as I don’t go with this “League One is great.” It is when you are winning the division but there’s no guarantee that will happen. Or not for a few seasons, and get it wrong again and “There may be trouble ahead,” and that is no good for Wigan Athletic or football in the town. We must never underestimate how the town’s premier club’s results affect the smaller clubs. Latics doing well gets everybody buzzing. It gets the town buzzing and the town doesn’t half need that right now.

Meanwhile, the one huge plus point over this and recent seasons has been the improvement and development of Wigan Athletic’s academy. There are some magnificent players coming through the ranks and we should all be proud of that. It is down to the employment of Gregor Rioch and all his staff, the improved facilities, the better scouting system and the fact that the “huge clubs’ are picking up players from all over the world and leaving very, very good players from Liverpool, Manchester etc looking for a club. But it is also down to the fact that those ten-year-old kids – when we won the FA Cup – are now sixteen. They’ve grown up as football fans. The interest is there from the local kids meanwhile other kids (and their parents) in the region saw that they could play at an FA Cup winning club. It’s come about because Wigan is now looked upon within the football community far and wide as a “football town” and don’t let anybody tell you any different. We don’t want to lose any of that – which while talking about “the kids” – of course – brings us around to Joe Geldhart – the (baby) elephant in the room – and in turn back to Paul Cook.

The only thing that is enthusing the Latics support at the moment is the emerging talent coming through the youth system. Geldhart, Weir, Crankshaw, Obi and many more. It’s our only bright spark, our shining stars and Cook’s non-playing of Geldhart can be seen as either a bold or foolish move. Make no mistake Geldhart is a bit special and – for his achievement of promotion at Wigan – it’s looking like Cook will always be remembered as the manager that didn’t give that kid that went to Liverpool a chance!

Illness kept him off the bench at Swansea on Saturday but it was Cook’s obstinance that kept him on the bench against Birmingham City after a wonderful 15-minute cameo at Nottingham Forest.

He should have started at Leicester City in the FA Cup but no Cook waited until the game was lost… Cook’s move seems foolish more than bold at this moment in time.

That – in turn – brings us back to where we are at right now.

A manager that is – in my view right now – devoid of ideas (his substitutes, team selection tactics etc) and has subsequently lost the crowd. It happens and doesn’t necessarily make him a bad manager. It’s all about where he is at now. The flicker of hope is he doesn’t appear to have lost the dressing room so maybe, just maybe…

We have an owner/board that appears to be doing nothing proactive and a fanbase that is not only mouthing off on social media but far more worryingly looking at staying away from the match. Oh, and a set of players that take the lead most weeks only to lose at full-time. And sometimes – you know what – that’s nothing to do with the Royles or Cook, sometimes it’s about decent players like Naismith and Morsy passing the ball to their opponents resulting in two goals like at Swansea on Saturday.

We are all in this together: Boardroom, management, players and (whisper this) fans. It’s going to be a tough watch that is no doubt but somehow they need to pick up some wins. God knows what will happen in this transfer window but my guess is it will be underwhelming. I’ll just be glad when it’s all over and if Wigan Athletic do avoid relegation the boardroom has a very big decision to make…

Meanwhile let’s win the FA Youth Cup.

“ENJOY YOURSELF IT’S LATER THAN YOU THINK”

JOE HAWKINS

 

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