Caldwell’s year to remember

Gary Caldwell
Gary Caldwell

Next week marks the 12-month anniversary since Gary Caldwell became Wigan Athletic manager at the tender age of 32.

It’s been a pretty eventful year in charge for the former Latics and Scotland captain.

Caldwell was initially unable to prevent the out-of-control Latics ship careering towards the inevitable relegation to the third tier of English football.

But the recovery since then has been little short of miraculous.

Having put together virtually a brand new playing squad, Latics are just seven games away from booking a return to the second tier at the first attempt.

After an understandably slow start, it seems nothing can stop Caldwell and his men, who are 18 games unbeaten with only two defeats in the league since September 12.

And the 33-year-old is is no doubt as to what has underpinned the remarkable revival.

“First and foremost it’s about hard work – because I don’t think you can achieve anything without hard work,” he told the Evening Post.

“The group has come together slowly over the course of the season.

“They understand each other’s game a lot more, and what me and the staff are expecting from them a lot more.

“You can see that coming together, and when it does, it breeds results and it breeds confidence.

“Once you get that, you seem to get on a roll, and you try and repeat the same process every week.”

Three defeats in the opening seven league matches - and a first-hurdle exit in the League Cup - led to early pressure on the first-time manager from those outside the Wigan circle.

But Caldwell was never given anything less than total backing from chairman David Sharpe – another rookie in the role – which has been more than repaid in recent months.

“It took time to do that, and it was always going to be the case,” Caldwell acknowledged.

“There was a lack of understanding to start with, but the more games you play together the greater the understanding develops.

“The emphasis was on young players, who we felt we could develop and make better – as we improved they would improve with us.

“We also added good experience and quality in different areas, because you can’t just go with youth.

“When I look at the squad I still see massive potential.

“They still believe – and I believe – that there’s a lot of improvement in them.

“And we’ll always look to add quality where we can to improve the squad further.”

As well as the chairman, Caldwell has also been backed to the hilt by a fanbase that saw their club go from FA Cup winners to League One in less than two years.

“Right from day one of the season at Coventry the fans have been behind us,” Caldwell recognised.

“They’ve had to be patient at times, but hopefully we can give them the success they deserve.

“Progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go.

“Everyone is working hard to get us up this year and keep progressing the club.

“The ultimate goal has to be the Premier League.

“When I was a player, that was the ultimate goal, and being a manager is no different.

“You want to get to the highest level and the Premier League is the highest level.

“It’s some way off at the minute, but that’s got to be our dream.

“You always need your end goal, but at the same time I know that if I don’t win the next game I’ll be in trouble.

“I understand that, but you also need a vision of where you’re taking the football club. That’s important as well.”

And as he prepares to complete a year in charge, Caldwell is anxious to dish out the plaudits that have come his way, most recently the League One manager of the month award for March.

“I’ve enjoyed it – but it’s not something I’ve done on my own,” he added.

“I’ve had great support from my staff, who I work with daily, and they’ve all been a massive help.

“Everyone has contributed to trying to get the club back to where it should be.

“And there’s still a long, long way to go to get to where we want to.

“We’re still a million miles away from where this football club needs to be.

“In the meantime, it’s about getting back on the training ground, working hard for the next game, and continually trying to improve.”