I was very saddened to hear about the death of my all time footballing hero Johan Cruyff yesterday.
When I was growing up during my formative years in the 1970’s, Cruyff and his number 14 shirt was the icon of the age.
Ajax and the Netherlands at that time were a brilliant orchestra of football beauty, and Cruyff was the conductor.
His vision on and off the field held him up, for me at least, as the greatest football man that has ever lived.
What he achieved as a player was breathtaking, the skill he displayed on the field of play was sublime – an arrogance that was majestic.
Unfortunately that arrogance stopped him achieving the greatest prize of all in 1974 when his Dutch side were narrowly beaten in the World Cup final by West Germany.
Cruyff’s football philosophies shaped the modern-day Barcelona and the Spain national side.
Other clubs have also copied the style – Milan in the 90’s, Chile also on the national stage, Arsenal here in the UK, and our very own Wigan Athletic under Roberto Martinez.
Martinez is a Cruyff disciple, and even invited the great man over to watch the Latics.
Of course, Cruyff’s grandson was playing for our youth team at the time, but what a honour to have a man of Cruyff’s stature giving some input into how the Latics might progress.
Even now under Gary Caldwell, you can see that the Cruyff blueprint is being adopted – players that are comfortable on the ball, playing out from the back, focusing on developing the club as a whole, with the kids playing the same style as the first team.
Johan Cruyff had a big influence on me as a youngster.
He shaped how I prefer to watch football played, how I feel football clubs should be run, and I am pleased that we have adopted these principles and ideas to carry us forward.
After all we did win the FA Cup against the odds playing that way.
RIP No.14 Up the ‘Tics!
Have you ever taken Easter weekend off, only to thoroughly regret doing so when your inbox is piled to the roof on Tuesday morning?
Well, that’s the regrettable situation poor Walsall could soon find themselves in.
Owing to tedious international friendly commitments, the Saddlers don’t play at all over Easter – their next game is at Sheffield United on April 2.
And I’m not fooling around when I say Latics could open a significant gap to the chasing contenders by that time.
Would six points from the next two be enough to keep Wigan Athletic stomach-deep in those enticing automatic promotion deck chairs for the remainder of this season?
Would the sight of Max Power nonchalantly sucking a rocket lolly break Walsall’s already brittle resolve?
Though they would have two games in hand, one might suggest their arduous task of eight (EIGHT) games in the calendar month of April could be a prohibiting factor.
Certainly, such a gap to third would allow the freedom of expression required of a championship-winning team.
Latics’ artistic side has been kept under careful watch of late, only allowed out of the DW’s dark, dingy dungeon for the odd 10-minute spell against Bury or Port Vale.
But by the time Wigan play Burton on April 19, the gap to third could be so large that the true, free-flowing and flamboyant Wigan Athletic gains confidence to emerge once more.
Who’s to say that game won’t be the title decider?
And who’s to say the Renaissance Latics won’t utterly demolish the champions-elect?
In other words, these games against Swindon and Rochdale are more significant than you might think.
Hypothetically speaking, they could provisionally secure automatic promotion as early as March.
Blackpool on 30 April? Well, that’s just an excuse for a jolly boys’ outing at the amusements.
Barnsley on 8 May? Pah, a mere after party.
Right here at Easter weekend is where the season will be decided once and for all.
So let’s give Walsall a forest of work to file on the morning of March 29.
The busy Easter schedule is always seen as a demanding one for players.
After playing on Good Friday, it’s a quick turnaround for another match on Easter Monday.
However, it has always been a special period when associated with Wigan Athletic.
During our Premier League days, this was always the time of the season where we would wake up, realise we were in a relegation battle and start playing like world beaters to defy the odds and stay up.
But it hasn’t always provided good memories. Last campaign the Easter weekend was one of the most miserable for us Wigan fans in recent times.
Our patience was at breaking point as the club was on the verge of relegation to League One and were playing a poor standard of football instilled by the manager at the time, Malky Mackay.
We played two promotion-chasing teams over the Easter weekend, losing 1-0 at Middlesbrough on the Friday before losing 2-0 at home to Derby County on the Monday.
After the latter, Latics’ chairman David Sharpe made his first big call since his appointment by sacking Mackay and appointing Gary Caldwell as his long-term replacement.
And what a choice that was, because this Easter episode sees us travel to Swindon Town on Friday before hosting Rochdale on the Monday.
The major differences from last season being that we’re actually playing a good brand of football this term, and we’re also in the driving seat for automatic promotion instead of battling relegation.
What I’m trying to say is what a difference a year can make – Easter time will once again be enjoyable for the supporters of Wigan Athletic.
The proof is in the pudding with over 1,000 fans going down to Swindon despite the game being live on Sky Sports, but that’s testament to the club for putting on free coaches.
We’ve just got to do the business in these next two games.
It doesn’t matter how we win them, we’ve just got to make sure we come away with all six points.
It certainly is pressure cooker time, but that doesn’t mean we can’t embrace it – that’s the life of a Wigan Athletic fan, it’s never done the easy way.
New loan signing Stephen Warnock has made a big impact in his first two games for Latics against Colchester United and Bradford City.
Warnock made an impressive debut at Colchester and went on to produce a man-of-the-match performance in the 1-0 victory over one of his former clubs Bradford at the DW Stadium.
The former Liverpool and England international defender has been signed on loan from Derby County, and his quality and experience could be a crucial factor in the remaining nine games of the season.
Latics already have some experienced men in defence with Jussi Jaaskelainen, Craig Morgan and Jason Pearce, but the addition of Warnock could help them to get over the finishing line.
Warnock is not only a mentally strong and resolute defender who is cool under pressure, but his distribution is excellent and he is capable of making a killer pass.
Gary Caldwell knew Warnock from his early days as a youth-team player at Liverpool, and it could prove a masterstroke to bring in the 34-year-old to fill the gap caused by Reece James’ injury and Chris McCann’s suspension.
Caldwell spotted Warnock was available after a change in manager meant that he lost his regular place in the Derby team.
Warnock could have gone to another Championship club, but he was excited about the prospect of signing for a promotion-chasing team.
Warnock is vastly experienced, having made 376 league appearances, and just under half of these have been in the Premier League.
If he continues his good form, there is no reason why the move couldn’t become permanent – particularly if Latics are in the Championship.
Latics have shown great ambition by bringing in a player of such quality at this stage in the season, which will help them in the final push for promotion.
There are two difficult games over the Easter period against form teams Swindon Town away and Rochdale at home.
Both teams have only lost one of their last eight games and both teams will be looking to cause an upset.
Rochdale have an outside chance of the play-offs, and Swindon will be looking to move into the top half of the table.
Caldwell is likely to make full use of his squad with two games in four days and will be boosted by the return of McCann from suspension, and hopefully Jason Pearce and Conor McAleny will be available after injury.