Sharpe exclusive interview, part II: Recruitment, new manager, finances and the pitch

David Sharpe gave a wide-ranging interview to the Wigan Observer
David Sharpe gave a wide-ranging interview to the Wigan Observer

In the second and final part of his exclusive interview with the Wigan Observer, Latics chairman David Sharpe told Paul Kendrick about his hopes for the future...

The recruitment department has been mentioned a lot this season, and I guess not many fans will know too much about exactly how it works. Are the signings all down to the recruitment department, is it down to the manager, or do you also have a say?

“The manager has always had the final say on players – always. I’ve never signed a player that my manager hasn’t wanted to sign. He’s always had the final say, whether it’s been Gary (Caldwell) or Warren (Joyce). We have a recruitment team to try to limit the mistakes.

“We didn’t have one prior to Malky (Mackay) being in charge – it was just left to the manager and his chief scout. Hence why we ended up with Andy Delort, Oriol Riera and players like that – who cost a fortune, who were on a fortune, and should never have been signed by the football club. You have to learn from your mistakes, and we did. We put in place a recruitment team, and it’s how football is working at the moment – whether people like it or not. This is not just a ‘Wigan thing’. Every club has a recruitment team, and when you’re spending so much money on transfer fees and wages, it’s only right you want as much information as possible about the players.

“Managers sometimes want to do their own thing, but you have to buy into the modern way of thinking. You have to give the manager some degree of control, and he has always had the final say in who we sign and who we don’t. I’ve always backed my manager. I’ve never not backed my manager. I’ve let them crack on with things in the market. But I just felt the number of players we brought in last summer – 14 I think it was – was too many.

“We had a good thing going last season. I’ve listened back to interviews I did, and I thought we were only going to be getting four or five signings. We ended up with 14! That’s all history now, though. Warren and I take full responsibility for the last six months, and we can only look towards the future. We’ve had a terrible season, and there have been reasons for that. There have been external reasons, we’ve had terrible injuries – (Nick) Powell, (Will) Grigg, (Omar) Bogle, (Alex) Gilbey – which haven’t helped the situation.

David Sharpe (centre) at the unveiling of the Dave Whelan statue

David Sharpe (centre) at the unveiling of the Dave Whelan statue

“But I still feel the club, regardless of whether we’re in the Championship next season or League One, is being run well. And I have faith in whoever we bring in to manage the club will be the right man. It’s an appointment that has to be perfect this time, and it’s good to have a two or three-month period to reflect and have a think about it.”

Do you see the decision being made before the end of the season or will it be taken over the summer?

“I’ll wait until the summer. You don’t want to be disrespectful to clubs whose managers you’re thinking about. These clubs might be in the play-offs – the League One play-off final is May 20, and the League Two play-off is May 28. It won’t be until late May or early June when a decision will be made.”

It’s obviously so important to get big decisions like this right...

The answer would be a Desso pitch, but when you’re talking about spending £1m on the pitch, it’s a difficult one to justify. We’re looking at a few different solutions this summer

“We had such a good season last year. Don’t get me wrong, we had very good players for League One, we had the top goalscorer, and players like Yanic Wildschut who’s since been sold for millions of pounds. We did have a lot of quality for that level, and we did brush aside teams at times. It was never going to be easy this season, but I think maybe people’s expectations were so high coming in, especially among the fans. I always knew how tough it was going to be, because we’d been relegated the previous year with players who were on a lot more money than the current squad is on. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve made a hard job of it, but it has been tough.”

Looking more long-term, how much change is there going to be this summer with the last of the parachute payments from the Premier League days?

“There’s going to have to be a big change. As much as I’m at the helm now, my grandad is still the owner of the club, and he’s still heavily involved. It’s still his money we’re paying out to the players and staff, and I have to work within the limits he sets me. I’m never going to let finances spiral out of control, because he lets me know how much he’s willing to put in, and if I go over that then we’re in a bad way. Who’s going to pay the wages then? Who’s going to pay the staff? We don’t want to get into a Bolton situation, or some of the other clubs who have ended up in a bad way.

“At times, people might think we should be signing a certain player, or giving another player ‘x’ amount. But that money has to be paid by someone. I’m in a difficult situation where I have to balance ambition with the financial boundaries within which we’re working. This summer, it’s not going to be dramatic, because we’ve managed to ready ourselves by selling the odd asset, for example Yanic.

“Since we were relegated from the Premier League, he is the first player we’ve managed to sell on for a profit. If you think of the number of players we’ve brought in, over a hundred, that is a staggering stat. You look back to when Owen Coyle was appointed...I don’t like to admit it, but I think we’re still trying to recover from that. We had a lot of money coming in from the Premier League, but you have to use it so carefully and so sensibly. The fact we’ve only bought and sold one player since then for a profit tells you everything you need to know about the recruitment. I will rein it in a bit this summer, and we have to know our limits.

“Otherwise, the club could be in trouble. The supporters have been great, and have followed us through thick and thin. But we haven’t got a lot of them, which means we’re never going to be able to challenge the likes of Leeds at the top of the Championship. You can even look at Sheffield United, who last year were getting over 20,000 crowds in mid-table of League One.

“We have to face reality and, as much as we all want to hold on to that dream of being in the Premier League, we have to be realistic. I go home every night, and I’m still watching You Tube videos of us in the Premier League, and the ‘Great Escapes’, and the FA Cup final, and League One last season. I love winning, and I love seeing our supporters have great moments.

“This season has hurt me. I’ve been questioned, Graham (Barrow) has been questioned, which I thought was unfair. The players’ desire’s been questioned, which I don’t agree with. They’ve been trying their hearts out. We haven’t won as many games as we’d have liked, but they’ve been giving everything and that’s all you can ask for. We just all need to face reality. Times are changing, we’ve had some great times. Hopefully there will be more around the corner, but we all have to stay in this together, rather than blaming each other and calling for each other’s heads. The culture of the club is all about sticking together, and we need to get that back.”

With so many players and managers moving on, how important is continuity, and the relationship you have with Jonathan Jackson and Graham Barrow?

“What’s happened this season has made the bond between us even stronger, to be honest with you. You learn a lot about people when you’re losing more games than you’re winning. Everything’s great when you’re winning. It’s when you’re losing that you find out more about people – who you can trust and who you can’t. You need good people around you, I need good people around me, and I trust Jonathan and Graham with my life. They care so much about this football club. People might not realise that, but it’s true. They’re very level-headed, they realise it’s not just this club that’s going through a tough time, and I need those two with me for the future. There’s not many people you can trust in football, and we’re lucky to have two people like that who have so much love for this football club, and who care about me and my family.”

You’ve already touched on it, but there’s always rumours about new investment...is there anything to report on that score?

“It’s utter nonsense. I know some people have been questioning me and my family, but we care so much about the club. My grandad’s invested over £100million over the years, and he would never pass it on to the wrong person. He doesn’t need new investment. He loves this football club, he still loves coming along to games. Of course he hasn’t loved this season much – none of us have. But he would never do anything to put the future of the club at risk. He would never pass it on to the wrong people, because you’ve seen what’s happened at clubs like Leyton Orient. That would be a crisis, and you really would be fearing for the football club.”

Finally, the issue of the pitch and the dual use of the stadium reared its ugly head again last month...is there ever going to be a permanent solution in terms of a new playing surface – a Desso pitch has been mentioned – or is it a problem we may have to deal with every year?

“The answer would be a Desso pitch. But that would also cost close to £1million. When I talk about finances, and you’re talking about spending £1million on the pitch, it’s a difficult one to justify. We’re looking at a few different solutions this summer, how we can improve it. But the one positive this season was we haven’t had to relay the pitch, as we have in previous years. I think there was one game where it was poor, but even last Saturday (Rotherham) – when there had been a rugby league game two days before – it was in good nick. We’re looking at more light rigs, etc, which always help. The long-term answer would be Desso – but that is also a very expensive option. As far as the relationship with the Warriors goes, I get on really well with Ian Lenagan and Kris Radlinski. They’re two good guys, very good to work with, and they’re doing great things with the rugby league team. The number of academy kids they’re bringing through is what we should be doing. I know it’s easier for them being the biggest rugby league team in the country, but we have to look at that and try to use that knowledge to our advantage. Ian and Kris come to football games, I go to rugby league games. The relationship is fine. It’s really good.”