TWELVE months ago, many people, me included, expected to be writing about our triumphant return to the Premier League in August 2015.
That wasn’t the case and although there’s no need to go over old ground as to why we were relegated, Gary Caldwell and David Sharpe will do well to heed the lessons of last season.
We’re in a similar predicament to last season although we may be in a new league. Once again we have been made favourites for promotion by most of the press and pundits and as with last year we’ve made a number of high profile signings who have had very little time to gel.
You have to hope the difference this time will be those players want to play for the club where in the case of last season that same desire wasn’t there. The squad has been completely re-shaped and at the time of writing only Leon Barnett remains from the matchday squad that started the season last August and with his lack of game time in pre-season there is no guarantee he’ll make an appearance. With the expectation comes added pressure and the playing staff weren’t able to deal with that last season, whatever the reason was for that.
This time players talk about buying in to the vision of David Sharpe and Gary Caldwell - two relatively young men who know our football club as well as anybody - and will be eager to help us return to our previous lofty position.
Where last season’s squad featured a lot of unproven talent, this squad has heaps of League One and Championship experience and you can only be impressed by how the club have recruited this summer. The stand out players are clearly Welsh internationals Craig Morgan and Craig Davies while Will Grigg will be relied on to become the goal scoring striker we sorely need. Reece James joins from Manchester United, again spurning supposed interest from Championship clubs while Everton youngsters Francissco Junior and JonJoe Kenny represent potential. Across the pitch we look strong and many may agree that on paper this team is stronger than the one that ended last season.
Despite this as I keep reiterating we need to proceed with caution, although David Sharpe’s comments at the Fans Forum about ‘smashing’ the league were well intended and clearly the comments of an enthusiastic supporter, they could be a stone around our neck. With so many changes and upheaval in the club this side will take time to gel and learn each other’s style of play – you can see that from the underwhelming pre-season we’ve just witnessed. The club needs to show patience but at the same time the supporters do as well, we’ve had two years of complete upheaval at the club since we won the FA Cup and this ‘New Era’ represents our best chance of returning to stability. Mistakes will be made along the way – Gary Caldwell and David Sharpe are both novices we need to give them as much support as possible. Away from ourselves our rivals will be lining up to knock us down, make no bones about it, we’ll be a scalp for most of League One. Even if we feel more comfortable among the likes of Bury, Rochdale and Oldham it’s been over a decade since we were at the same level as these clubs. In that time we’ve been on a journey that they could only dream of and they’ll be eager to bring us back to earth.
Relegation really shouldn’t have happened last season, it was scandalous that a club who had invested so much and had so many resources on the pitch could be relegated alongside the likes of Blackpool and Millwall but relegated we were. Relegation needn’t be the disaster it could have been if we can use this opportunity to get back to the Championship and we’ll only do that if we use the club’s motto and progress with unity.
WELL, the waiting is over and pretty soon the games will be coming at us thick and fast.
I’d love to tell you that I am anticipating this season much more than the last few years but the truth is I’m not.
Like many of us, I have high expectations every year and, for the last two seasons in particular, those expectations have fallen drastically short.
I often look behind the scenes at our football club to try and spot signs that we are winding down proceedings, and it certainly felt like that in January when yet another fire-sale took place.
Yet what we seem to be emerging with now is a completely new squad from 12 months ago.
This is always a risky proposal but, when the last bunch were so used to losing, we really do have nothing to lose, do we?
That’s not strictly true as, by dropping a division, many fans expectations have shifted considerably. Didn’t we learn anything from last time?
Again, looking at it pragmatically, we have made some great signings, we will undoubtedly have one of the strongest squads in the division, and are among the bookies’ favourites.
I think at this stage, all we can do is to give full kudos to Gary Caldwell for reshaping the squad and David Sharpe for sanctioning the investment in it. Sure, it may not be full of internationals and star names like the past few years, but not only did quite a lot of those players let us down but we are also a League One team now, where household names are hard to come by.
Of course, we know from painful experience that having a good squad is one thing, being able to use it wisely is a different matter and, as it is finally time to test our mettle against our League One foes, we will start to see in the next fortnight just how we are shaping up.
A lot of younger or giddier fans are suggesting that we will “Smash It”. Hey, even our young chairman said it!
However, most of the sensible, cynical types I knock around with are quietly opining publicly that a mid-table finish would be quite acceptable given the turmoil of recent times.
I suspect that privately, we’re all secretly hoping for a little bit more than that and just don’t want to pile any pressure on our rookie manager and chairman.
So to Coventry, where it begins, a big old club fallen on hard times who will be the first of many seeking to give the new boys to this division a bloody nose.
With Coventry’s own pre-season being somewhat abject, we should be in with a good shout, but let us not allow an ounce of complacency creep in, otherwise we could be walking home with our pants down Lady Godiva style.
IT’S been an illuminating week reading all the guides to the new football season.
Every newspaper, magazine and website has given their opinion on the forthcoming campaign and many have predicted that Latics will be in the promotion mix at the end of the League 1 season.
But what is this view based upon? Wigan may have been in the Premier League for eight years and won the FA Cup in 2013, but their recent demise has been catastrophic and the trend is currently downward. It will require a major sea change to arrest this fall.
Wigan go into the 2015/16 campaign with a new, untried manager, the youngest chairman in the Football League and an almost completely new squad of players.
The chairman has unfortunately made some naive comments, saying: “I don’t just want to win this league. I want to smash it and get 100 points”.
But the winning habit does not come easy and League One will be a tougher nut to crack than he and many people think.
Gary Caldwell has said he wants to return to the style of play so effective under Roberto Martinez, but this takes time to develop and requires a technically skilful type of player. League One can be physically demanding and Latics will probably need to ‘mix it up’ if they are to be successful at this level.
When Latics kick off their season at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday they are entering into the unknown.
Wigan may have a big budget for League One, but do they have the nous to use those resources to good effect?
The form in the pre-season friendlies has been poor and the mass exodus of established players means they are rebuilding from an almost scratch position.
Losing talented individuals such as James McClean, Ali Al Habsi, Emmerson Boyce and James Perch could prove costly, and injuries to potential opening-day starters Jason Pearce, Emyr Huws and Tim Chow have not helped matters.
Some of Latics’ transfer arrivals have been underwhelming, although Caldwell is probably on the right lines with Richard O’Donnell, Craig Morgan, Will Grigg and Michael Jacobs.
But who can say whether this new squad will be able to gel together into a cohesive and effective unit?
It is a big task to turn Latics into a winning team again, but this hasn’t stopped the pundits from predicting Wigan for promotion.
IN terms of summer’s, I doubt many clubs have had a busier one than ourselves.
With a huge number of outgoings, coupled with a truck load of fresh new faces, it really is a ‘New Era’ for Gary Caldwell’s Wigan Athletic as we prepare for life in League One.
And I think it was needed as well. Last season needs to be quickly forgotten, and the depressing and eerie atmosphere about the club has suddenly been replaced with a sense of energy and life, and I think that stems right from top in David Sharpe.
I’ve said earlier that, ultimately, a winning football team is obviously the key, but the way the club has gone about things this summer, it’s hard not to feel we’ve got part of the old club we all know is back.
This is proved with about 2,000 of us making the trip to the Ricoh Arena on Saturday for the opening day game with Coventry.
There really is a good feeling about the place at the minute and let’s hope performances on the pitch can match it, although an improvement on last season wouldn’t be too difficult!
Gary Caldwell has now got a young squad at his disposal with signings such as Max Power and Will Grigg, which I am excited about, as I think they can be players that can help the club be successful for years to come.
But he also has added experience to the side in the likes of Craig Morgan and Kevin McNaughton. And whisper it quietly, but much-criticised Grant Holt could prove to play a massive part in our season when he returns from injury, so it all points in the right direction at the minute.
I’m going into this season with no real expectations after learning my lesson from last season.
However, I’m confident we can go well this year.
But without a doubt, it’ll be another roller-coaster ride, full of numerous twists and turns, just like it always is following Latics around the country.
WHEN the Latics take to the pitch for their opening game of the new season at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday there won’t be too many familiar faces among the starting 11, the turnover of playing staff this summer has been quite staggering, and much needed.
There is a freshness about the squad, the recruitment staff have done what they said they would, young hungry players who want to play for Wigan Athletic.
I have only seen one preseason game, but in that I saw enough to know that we have recruited well, players with a proven track record at the level we’re now at along with a couple of older heads, a good blend, now all we need is for the team to gel.
For me the most important factor this season will be patience. I believe the team will grow as the campaign unfolds.
I hope they hit the ground running, but there will more than likely be ups and downs early doors as the new players get to know each other’s game.
We, the fans, have got to give them that chance to settle, once they do get going then hold on to your hats!
Early-season optimism is a common phenomenon among most football fans as their hopes for the season are still very much alive.
While I am always hopeful of a good campaign, last year I got stung. This time round I feel much more confident we will be challenging at the right end of the table come spring.
As for the new squad, my pick of the bunch to become a firm fans’ favourite is Max Power. He reminds me so much of Jimmy Bullard with his enthusiasm and drive, wanting to take every free-kick, corner and throw-in. He is a real live-wire, very vocal and technically very good, a real astute signing.
The proof of the pudding, though, is in the eating and Coventry City away in the first game is a reasonable test.
Tony Mowbray’s team avoided relegation on the final day of last season, they have had something of a shocker this preseason and already there are rumblings among the Sky Blue supporters. I would take the draw, but feel the game is there to be won and give us a great start.
The last time we were in this division, we won our opening game away at Cheltenham 2-0 and showed our intent from the off. Hopefully we can start this campaign in a similar fashion. I’ve got my match ticket and I can’t wait, let’s get the show on the road.