Comment: Why Joyce had to go
Paul Kendrick gives his thoughts on Warren Joyce's sacking after four months in charge...
131 days. 24 games.
That’s all it took for Warren Joyce to go from the ‘perfect man for the role’ to paying the price for Latics being in ‘a perilous position’ with only nine games of the Championship season remaining.
The sacking - and I think we can call it that, with Joyce insisting over the weekend it was ‘silly’ to question whether he’d consider throwing in the towel - seems to have surprised a few outsiders including, brilliantly, former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan.
“Wigan ... ‘it just hasn’t worked out’ ... 4 months and they sack Warren Joyce ... 4 months ...!!!! 4 Months FFS ... Football is pathetic ..” tweeted Sheffield Wednesday fan Vaughan.
Who, I have to say, I’ve yet to bump into on what appear to be his regular visits to the DW Stadium this season, to be qualified enough to make such a comment.
Meanwhile, anyone who has actually seen Latics playing of late would have been rather less surprised at the news.
Cards on the table, I really liked Warren Joyce. I desperately wanted him to do well.
He was, he IS, a good bloke - a proper ‘football man’.
I, like many others, thought the club’s decision to part company with Gary Caldwell was extremely premature, as the campaign was still in its infancy and the team wasn’t playing all that badly.
That wasn’t Joyce’s fault, though, and he - like anyone else - deserved a fair crack of the whip.
But it’s fair to say the jump from reserve-team coach to first-team manager was bigger than perhaps even he envisaged.
Many critics jumped on a perceived lack of personality right from the start, stemming from his ‘low-key’ appearances in front of a camera.
But behind the scenes, at press briefings, I found him charming, funny, self-deprecating and good company.
He wasn’t one for ‘pizzazz’. He just wanted to talk about football.
Joyce was never going to wear a suit just because some fans thought he had to.
He was at home in football gear...yes, in THOSE shorts...and he didn’t care what anyone thought.
Nothing wrong with that of course. Better that than the other way round - all glitz and glamour, and no football brain.
But that failure to connect with so many Latics supporters from day one - a fanbase already split over the sacking of previous boss Caldwell - meant he was always behind the 8-ball with some when the going got tough - as it did, very quickly.
For some, it was the simple fact he wasn’t Gary Caldwell.
Two goals down inside four minutes of his opening game against Reading hinted at the huge problems that lay ahead, that weren’t going to be solved overnight.
But with such a glowing CV, thanks to his sterling work at Manchester United, he deserved time to turn the ship around.
A Yanic Wildschut-inspired away win at promotion-chasing Huddersfield in his third game suggested the tide had begun to turn in Wigan’s favour.
But a disastrous December - including a woeful showing at rock-bottom Rotherham - ensured the second half of the campaign was always going to be a relegation battle.
Joyce brought in 13 new players during January in a bid to kickstart the recovery. But they were always going to take time to find their feet.
Given the lack of funds available, Joyce had to gamble on the likes of Gabriel Obertan, James Weir, Alex Bruce and Jack Byrne.
Mostly players he’d worked with over the years and trusted, but all with fitness issues having not played much, if any, first-team football this season.
No-one with any insight into the club’s finances would seriously criticise the club’s decision to accept £7million from Norwich for Wildschut on the last day of the transfer window.
But deep down we all knew it robbed Latics of their prize asset, and the man most likely to create something or score a goal.
Nevertheless, those were the constraints Joyce was working with.
It’s partly why he got the job in the first place. Last season Caldwell was able to deliver the League One title on the back of swashbuckling football and goals galore.
But also on a budget far in excess of virtually every other team in the division.
From this summer, Latics will no longer have the luxury of the parachute payments they’ve enjoyed since their Premier League adventure.
The model will now be all about identifying and developing youngsters, as well as utilising contacts and pulling in favours to bring in quality loan players.
With two decades of experience in that field, Joyce was seen as a far better fit to oversee that blueprint than Caldwell.
“I felt straightaway he was the man to take this club forward, for the long-term, and it’s appointment that will make a difference,” said chairman David Sharpe at Joyce’s unveiling.
“We’re at a point in the history of this football club where we can’t be the big-payers any more, like we used to be.
“We have to have a difference. I believe Warren can be that difference.”
Of course, we’ll never know whether Joyce could have made that ‘long-term’ difference.
His short-term failure to get the best out of a squad that has been punching below its weight all season meant a change was unfortunately, but absolutely, necessary.
The stats don’t make for pleasant reading - just like it hasn’t been pleasant viewing for Latics fans this term.
In 24 games, Joyce’s Latics won six, drew five and lost 13. Critically, they failed to score in 13 of those 24 games.
The form at the DW Stadium was even more abject.
Latics won only one of Joyce’s 11 league games in charge.
They failed to score in EIGHT of those 11 matches.
Indeed, the side has managed only three goals from open play in 14 games since the Boxing Day debacle at Rotherham.
Impressive away wins at Wolves and Birmingham - both secured by the odd goal, a centre-back scoring from a corner - helped Latics at least stay on the coat-tails of their relegation rivals.
But they were seen by only a small portion of the fanbase, the loyal travelling few hundred.
The club’s bread-and-butter supporters, the season-ticket holders, had been subjected to almost-exclusively losing football under Joyce - dour on the eye, and crushing to the soul.
Club bosses couldn’t have failed to hear the boos that surfaced again at the weekend, or seen the amount of fans on message boards and social media who were planning to vote with their feet next season if Joyce was still at the helm.
No club can afford to lose fans - especially Latics, potentially in a lower division, minus their parachute payments.
Joyce’s commitment to the cause was never in doubt.
His appearance in recent weeks sporting an eye patch - aghainst doctors’ orders to rest at home - are testament to that.
He was simply the wrong man at the wrong time for the wrong club. It happens.
The challenge now for Graham Barrow is to ensure the first campaign within the new financial parameters is in the Championship, rather than League One.
Only time will tell whether that proves to be the case.
But given the evidence of recent weeks, there’s infinitely more chance of survival being secured under Barrow than Joyce.