Chief Executive speaks out

Jonathan Jackson
Jonathan Jackson

WIGAN Athletic chief executive Jonathan Jackson has answered a number of questions regarding the club’s disastrous campaign so far.

This week he met with our man Paul Kendrick at the DW Stadium to discuss a number of issues many fans want to hear about, such as the many departures in the transfer window, Uwe Rosler’s sacking and events of the last month in particular. Below is a transcript of how that interview went.

Q It feels like the end of an era at the moment...

“We can’t yearn for the FA Cup final, even though it was a fantastic time for everybody – my greatest moment supporting Wigan Athletic for 40 years.

“We’d love to have kept that team together forever, but it doesn’t happen like that.

“Relegation from the Premier League and the financial impact of that, means you have to adapt to the Championship.

“And of course with our league position how it is, we have to now consider the prospect of relegation.

“That doesn’t mean we are necessarily planning for relegation, but it does mean we have to consider it.

“There’s different rules in League One, which apply to salary costs.

“There is a cap on salaries, and we must ensure we adhere to that if the worst does happen.

“As I said, our main priority is still that we remain in the Championship, but I think one thing we have to do as a football club – from the manager, to the players, to the staff, to the board, and especially the supporters – is stay together, remain united and keep believing that we can improve our results and improve our league position.

“We’ve seen in the past that when we’re united and we’re a strong group together, we can achieve results that are unexpected.

“And that’s what we have to do now.

“We have to do better as a football club. We know that, and we know it’s been a really disappointing season.

“We had really high hopes at the beginning of the season, and you can trace it back to the FA Cup semi-final defeat against Arsenal at Wembley.

“We went back to Wembley to enjoy another showpiece occasion, but since then we struggled towards the end of last season – although we made the play-offs and we went so close to getting back in to the Premier League at the first attempt.

“In the summer we invested heavily in players – spending over £10million on players, which for a Championship club is massive.

“I think our supporters would agree that, at the time, we thought we’d strengthened the side and everyone was very satisfied with our recruitment.

“We had the most expensive pre-season we’ve ever had, going to Germany twice, and we really backed Uwe (Rosler) to start this campaign as we had done under the start of his reign halfway through last season.

“For one reason or another, it’s not worked, and it’s very difficult to put your finger on why.

“But we can’t look back, we’ve got to look forward now, and we’ve still got a lot of games to go and a lot of points to play for.

“We’ve got to make sure we’re prepared for that and that we’ve got the best team possible to do that within the finances that is possible.”

Q Obviously players come and go, teams get broken up, but are you surprised by how quickly the break-up of the Wembley-winning team has happened?

“It’s really unfortunate that times have to change.

“It’s a little bit like when we got promoted to the Premier League, and the team that got us promoted with Nathan Ellington, Jason Roberts, Jimmy Bullard and all those great players.

“Eventually, and unfortunately, they all have to leave us, and I think Sir Alex Ferguson was very good at changing teams and reinventing teams at the right time.

“Of course, with a change of manager that certainly happens more often than when you’ve got a manager in place for a number of years.

“We’ve had more changes of management than we would have wanted, and that means instability in the playing squad as well, because some players suit some managers more than they do others.

“That has also made the changes and the transition period arrive probably quicker than we would have anticipated.

“But financially it is important that we address our salary costs, because they are still high, very high for a Championship club.

“And as we have got two years of reduced parachute payments left, we need to make sure we are financially strong going towards the future.

“The most important thing is that this football club is sustainable in the future.”

Q How has the chairman’s comments and subsequent ban affected the situation?

“It’s been unfortunate and something we wouldn’t have wanted to happen.

“But it coincided with the chairman’s grandson being appointed on to the board of directors, and David Sharpe has been very active this season, operationally within the football club.

“That again has been a transition between the chairman and David Sharpe.

“It was planned that he would go on an extended holiday anyway until March, so really he has delegated that responsibility and authority to David and myself.”

Q Are you enjoying that added responsibility and authority, albeit at a difficult time?

“What is important is that we have a succession plan in place, and David Sharpe is very passionate and very committed to this football club, as his family is.

“Having spent close to £100million developing this football club, and producing 20 years of incredible memories for the fans, we will always be indebted to Mr Whelan.

“He’s not enjoying our league position at the moment, but he is as committed as ever to ensuring we get back to our successful ways once again.”

Q For the fans looking at the players leaving and the league position, and worried about the future, can you allay those fears? Is the infrastructure solid enough to handle the situation?

“We have to make sure that is the case. We have to.

“There are going to be painful decisions made. We’re going to have to be active in the transfer market – both in and out – because we cannot afford Premier League wages any more. It’s as simple as that.

“And ultimately we have to make sure that our costing structure is aligned to our turnover.

“That turnover, unfortunately, is reducing because our parachute payments are reducing.

“Last season, the wage bill was £30million. This season, it was over £20million.

“Next year, our parachute payments will be significantly reduced to £10million. We are having to make decisions in relation to the playing squad and future salary costs that are very difficult, but unfortunately have to be taken in view of the current situation.

“Our challenge is to make sure we achieve that transition without affecting our ability to get results on the pitch.

“The most important thing is that this football club is financially stable for the future, and we have to be as successful as we can based on that structure.

“You only have to look at other clubs to see how difficult it is, in the Championship, to maintain that structure.

“Blackburn recently released results that showed they lost £40-odd million last year, Bolton have lost heavily as well in recent years, even Brighton – one of the best-run clubs in the Championship – released results that showed they lost £10million a year.

“It’s an expensive job, running a football club, and for the owner it is very expensive.

“And I think we all sometimes lose sight of that.

“What we have managed to do is maintain that profitability, and made sure we are optimistic for the future, because we’re not incurring huge losses and running up large debts.

“Ultimately somebody has to fund those debts, and we have to make sure the football is run properly.

“We don’t emulate some of the clubs who have suffered really badly because they have been financially mismanaged.”

Q It’s possibly a bigger job than maybe Malky Mackay envisaged when he took over, but he’s focused on the long-term aims rather than a short-term fix...

“Malky is looking to the future, and he wouldn’t be looking to make the difficult decisions he is making now – losing players like Shaun and Ben and Callum – without knowing this is the right thing to do for the future.

“We’re not getting the results that we need to, and we have to change things.

“We’re doing this to make sure next season we’ll be stronger, and the season after that we’ll be stronger.

“The only way we can do that is to change things now.”

Q What are your hopes for the next year, two years, three years? Can you look ahead like that?

“It’s difficult, because football is all very short-termism.

“You’re looking this season about trying to win promotion, or trying to stay in the division.

“A lot of clubs only look at the next six months, and it is difficult to budget financially more than six months ahead.

“We’re fortunate in that we’ve got the security of the parachute payments which allows us to look forward.

“We want to make this football club a modern, forward-thinking football club with emphasis on producing and developing young players – something we’ve not done really to any great lengths in the past – and make sure we are financially sustainable.

“Those are the key points and, to be honest – working with Malky, and the chairman, and David Sharpe – we know this is a transitional period, and we know it’s not easy for the supporters to watch defeats like they have done this season, especially at home.

“But unfortunately sometimes you have to go through this transitional time to get to a point where you are stronger in the future.”

Q Does the current situation affect the academy, the new training ground and other long-term projects?

“We’ve been really pleased with the results of our Academy.

“Over the last couple of years we’ve really invested in staff, and Gregor Rioch has done a fantastic job in bringing in great coaches.

“The recruitment of players has been much better, and the results we’re getting at all levels are much, much better.

“The feedback we’re getting is fantastic, and you only have to look at the results of the Under-18s and the Under-21s to see there are green roots there coming through.

“Sam Cosgrove has been on the first-team bench in recent weeks, and we’ve got high hopes for a number of players – and that can only be good.

“We have to continue that, we have to, because that has got to be the future of Wigan Athletic. To do that, of course we need the facilities to be able to do so.

“We received planning permission last September for the new training ground, and there is a lot of work to do prior to the building of the complex in terms of ecological mitigation.

“There’s the plans and the designs to look at, and it’s not a very quick process. It takes a long time.

“But it is something that we remain very committed to.”

Q It’s always a balancing act between short-term ‘We need to win on Saturday’ and long-term ‘We need things like the academy’...

“That’s part of running a football club – you have to look at Saturday, but you also have to look to five years in the future.

“That’s something we’re doing all the time, and one thing I can assure the supporters is we have got a team of fully committed Wigan Athletic employees who are supporters, who are Wigan Athletic through and through, who are working very hard to make this football club as good as it can be.

“People like Matt Jackson, Joe Parkinson, Peter Atherton, Graham Barrow and all the staff are hurting as much as the supporters are.

“It’s important we get through this time, and I’m sure we will.”

Q You recently held the AGM...For fans who weren’t there can you provide a very brief summation?

“The AGM was to discuss the financial statements and the annual report of the previous season, which of course was a memorable, historic season for Wigan Athletic.

“We had a second successive FA Cup run, we reached the play-offs in the Championship and of course enjoyed a first-ever European campaign.

“The team, under Uwe, were outstanding and the results were outstanding, so it was a look-back to a very successful season.

“Ultimately, it ended in disappointment, but financially it was very healthy – we made a small profit of just over £2million which, for a first season in the Championship, I would suggest is a good result.

“That’s allowed us to build, financially, the future on a stable footing.

“The shareholders were very supportive of what we’re trying to do.

“They realise it’s a difficult job coming down from the Premier League – you only have to look at the clubs who have come down over the last few years to see very few have been promoted back to the Premier League. It’s that adjustment, both financially and within the playing staff – not to mention a change of manager – that can really affect a football club. We’ve seen other clubs like Wolves and Blackburn and Bolton have really struggled to adapt to life in the Championship.

“We’re no different, and you can’t hide away from the fact we have struggled with that adjustment.

“Overall it was a positive meeting, and I was enthused by the positivity that the shareholders showed us. A lot of supporters realise what a difficult job it is. They’re not happy at the moment, we’re not happy at the moment, but it’s something we desperately trying to address.

“And we are working very hard to ensure we start to improve on the pitch, because off the pitch things are still very healthy.”

Q Difficult times ahead then, but more important than ever to stick together as a club on and off the field?

“Absolutely. We have to prepare for difficult times, and we have always done that.

“We’ve made sure we haven’t gambled with the future of Wigan Athletic, even though we have remained very competitive in the transfer market to make sure we were able to compete in the Premier League for eight years, where we hope to return again.

“There are a lot of clubs that have suffered times like this, and you only have to look at Southampton – who were recently relegated to the third tier – for inspiration. We don’t want to get relegated to League One, but Southampton turned around its fortunes very quickly. We’re not the only club this has happened to, but the strength of Wigan Athletic is our unity within the club to ensure we can get through the difficult times, and there’s better times ahead.”