IT’S less than six weeks since Paul Scharner returned to Wigan Athletic to answer an SOS from Roberto Martinez.
His main brief was to help shore up the defence, and keep his beloved Latics in the Premier League.
On his first day back at Christopher Park, he joked about the prospect of possibly signing off for a second time with a Wembley appearance.
The infectious laughter that followed his statement showed he wasn’t entirely serious.
But no-one is laughing now – not least an Everton side that Latics simply brushed past at the weekend to set up an FA Cup semi-final appearance next month.
Wigan’s victory was so convincing they didn’t even require the compulsory Scharner goal against Everton – he ALWAYS scores against the Toffees – but the man himself was in philosophical mood afterwards. “I didn’t score, sure, but what was the final score? Ah yes 3-0,” he smiled.
“There was no need for me to score this time. I will save them for more important occasions.”
Scharner, who turned 33 on Monday, has slotted effortlessly back into the fold after returning on loan from Hamburg.
His presence and experience have had a reassuring effect on the rearguard, while his advances forward into enemy territory have given Wigan’s play an extra dimension.
And he admits the dismantling of an Everton side strongly fancied to win the cup was one of the best performances during either of his spells at Wigan.
“I have to say it was an outstanding effort and performance from every single individual on the pitch from the first whistle to the last,” he said. “If we can maintain that level for the rest of the season then we will not have a problem on any level in any competition.
“Our quality in the first half settled the game, and the job in the second half was to see the game out safely.
“I thought we thoroughly deserved to win the game, and now we are at Wembley.
“That is a very special achievement, and one we must all savour.”
Scharner is one of only two survivors – goalkeeper Mike Pollitt being the other – of Wigan’s previous appearance in a major final.
The 4-0 defeat to Manchester United in the 2006 Carling Cup final soured that particular memory, and Scharner admits the chance to put the record straight – with United possible final opponents this time round – is a mouth-watering proposition.
“I still remember the Carling Cup final in Cardiff, and that was good – but it wasn’t Wembley,” he added.
“We didn’t perform in the final that year, but hopefully this year we will get another chance and we will do ourselves justice.
“For me personally it’s not enough to just reach the final.
“Of course, yes, we are at Wembley and that is something to tell the grandchildren about.
“But I want more. I want to get through to the final, because it’s not often you get a chance to play in a cup final.
“It would be an absolute dream come true to finish my time at Wigan with a cup-winners’ medal, and that is what is driving me on.”
And as for that flippant comment back in January, about returning home with a cup-winners’ medal?
Now, all of a sudden, it’s not looking so much of a joke.
“I never joke about targets!” he laughed.
“But of course it is a different situation now to the one we faced when I arrived.
“All you can do in any walk of life is try your best, but football is a team sport and I am very glad and very happy with the attitude we showed on Saturday.
“We looked at each other in the dressing room, and everyone knew we had a massive opportunity to reach Wembley, and we could do it if we performed.
“Hopefully now the players have a real smell of blood in their nostrils – and I’m not satisfied yet. I want to go to Wembley twice, not once.”