WIGAN boss Roberto Martinez has hailed the impact Paul Scharner has had following his return to the DW Stadium in January.
The Austria defender became a hugely popular figure during a four-and-a-half year stint with the club when he joined from Brann in 2005.
A scorer in the 2-1 last-day win at Sheffield United which secured Wigan’s survival in 2007, Scharner’s wacky dress sense also earned him hero status and following his exit to West Brom, the defender opted not to celebrate when he scored against his old club last season.
And, when Martinez came calling during the mid-season transfer window, Scharner had no hesitation in accepting, even though he was only six months into a two-year contract with Hamburg.
Once again he finds himself embroiled in a relegation fight, and cast in the role of key man following the recent injuries to fellow defenders Antolin Alcaraz and Maynor Figueroa
“Paul has been a very good influence so far,” said Martinez.
“He brought a real experience at the back and has taken a lot of responsibility in helping the team to get results.
“Obviously he had prior knowledge of the club, which meant he didn’t need any adaptation or transitional period.”
Scharner’s popularity could be a crucial factor in ensuring Wigan’s supporters stay with their team for a tense three weeks, in which huge doubts over their Premier League future are clouding a first appearance in the FA Cup final.
On Saturday, Scharner heads back to West Brom with his team five points adrift of safety and time running out to save themselves.
Wigan do have the knowledge of losing just once in their last four visits to the Hawthorns, including gaining a narrow victory last season.
But clearly Wigan are reaching the point of no return, which is why they are urging supporters to make the trip down the M6.
“The relationship between the players and the fans is crucial at this stage of the season,” said Martinez.
“Paul has always been an admired player by the fans and he brings that chemistry.
“It is important we are closer than ever because of the magnificent year it can be.
“We need to make sure we keep playing our football and use every opportunity in the league to get the points we deserve.”