Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - 'I ultimately decided on the player who I most adamantly believed Latics could not have done without for this campaign...'
Our 12th Man panel run the rule over the near-impossible job of selecting a Latics player of the year...
Latics fans have been tasked with a difficult challenge over the past several weeks: choosing a Player of the Season from a title-winning team. It’s a dilemma that should be welcomed with open arms. I personally identified six legitimate contenders for this award. While reviewing each candidate’s best contributions to our success, it became all the more apparent how well-balanced of a team we were this past season. We were not short of goal creators, work horses, and all-around leaders. How does one distinguish between so many quality options? I tried to incorporate qualitative and quantitative criteria into my decision as best as my simple mind could do. I only played organised football up until the age of 12 in the States. I only started watching Latics on a full-time basis just over a decade ago. Yet, I’d like to think I know a star player when I see one. My choice for this honour consistently stood out as someone who was a cornerstone to our success. They seemed ever-present in the starting 11 and seldom put in less than a 7/10 performance. They always seemed to make at least one play every match that had a direct effect on the scoreline - almost always in Latics’ favor. They continuously were in the right place at the right time and their quality on the ball left little to be desired. This player was a new signing last summer and filled a key void in our team at the time. They arrived at the DW highly regarded from their previous club but still had much to prove. This player was leaving the comfort of what was familiar and took a great leap of faith by moving several hundred miles across the country in an effort to advance their career at a pivotal point in time. This player joined Latics during the early part of last summer’s window and indicated a major statement of intent by the club. New signings weren’t joining Latics to linger around in the middle of the League One table for the next few seasons; they were buying into a vision set on immediate promotion. This player featured at the center of a defence that finished as joint-second best in the league and conceded less than one goal per game. No matter the opponent or the match situation, this player provided a calming presence at the back and kept Latics competitive with many key tackles, blocks, and clearances. They led all outfield players in minutes and started every league match. They added four goal contributions during the league campaign and were credited with a crucial goal during our emphatic FA Cup win over Blackburn. I wavered on this decision quite a bit over the past month. I ultimately decided on the player who I most adamantly believed Latics could not have done without for this campaign. I cannot wait to see how this lad blossoms in the Championship next season. Jack Whatmough is my Player of the Season.
Jack Whatmough, James McClean, Tom Naylor, Callum Lang, Max Power...all well within a shout of player of the season and all names that will live long in Wigan Athletic folklore after the last 12 months. With players like that making up your side, it's difficult to choose just one as player of the season. Indeed, there's a big percentage of the squad who are in with a shout of player of the season. But for me, there was only one I could choose, and it's as much about his contribution last season as it was this season. When we last played in League One (due to the incompetence of Warren Joyce, rather than the underhand business practices of Au Yeung and Stanley Choi), we had a certain Nicholas Edward Powell pulling the strings. Many people commented how ridiculous it was that a talent such as Nick was plying his trade in League One, and indeed it was. If Nick's career had been different, he would and probably should have been running Manchester United's midfield at Old Trafford. But for a multitude of reasons that didn't happen and, after some unhappy spells elsewhere, he finally found a home with us. Will Keane is very similar to Nick Powell. A United graduate (albeit Powell came through the Academy at Crewe) tipped for great things. Injuries hampered his chances at United, and what was a promising career soon seemed to be hitting a dead end. Like Powell, Keane came to us with a point to prove and, thanks to the foresight of our medical and management teams, they managed to get him playing every week. Building up his fitness levels and managing to avoid the injuries that had plagued his earlier career. Last season's Covid-affected battle against relegation showed us glimpses of what Keane could do, with him finishing as top scorer on 11 goals. I was delighted when he signed on again for this season, and I think he surpassed expectations. Some 26 league goals and a golden boot in a highly competitive division is a fantastic achievement, and saw him deservedly named players’ player of the season. An intelligent young man both on and off the pitch, Will Keane deserves every plaudit that comes his way. And like Nick Powell, it shows it's never too late to fulfill that well-earned potential.
It is a big testament to the hard work and quality that has been put into Wigan Athletic over the last 12 months that, when the conversation around 'player of the year' arrives, there are a handful of names that spring to mind. It's not uncommon for one or two players to stand out over a season but, for the 2021/22 campaign, it has been almost impossible to narrow it down. There are several players that deserve a mention for their efforts this term, starting with assist king Max Power, who has flourished on his return to the club as the skipper's right-hand man with four goals and a huge 13 assists under his belt. After failing to secure promotion to the Championship with Sunderland, Max made his return to Wigan to complete his hat-trick of league titles. Solid in central midfield and even trying his hand at right-back this season has earned him a mention in the stand-out category. Another returning familiar face that's had a successful start to his second spell with the 'Tics is James McClean, who announced neighbours Bolton Wanderers had expressed interest in him prior to his return...which succeeded in winding up 'He Who Must Not Be Named' up the road when he publicly declared he would 'never in a million years' have signed for Bolton and opted to return to his old club instead. James has been the provider of many welcome laughs with his tendency to get under people's skin, as well as nine goals this term and THAT song, which I'm sure will be ringing around the DW going into the new season, as chairman Talal Al Hammad appeared to confirm Jimmy Mac would indeed be extending his stay after his initial 12-month contract expires in June. It could be argued golden boot winner Will Keane deserves a spot in the top three this season, smashing through his personal best goal record tallying a whopping 26 goals for his efforts. But for me, he has to narrowly miss out...anyway, he's had enough recognition this past month! So, third place for me is the silky scouser, Callum Lang. In his first full season with Latics after graduating from the academy and a hatful of successful loan spells across the country, he's managed to rack up a very pretty 18 goals for himself, as well as many, many yellow cards, and firmly cemented himself in the 'fan favourite' bracket with his personality, both on and off the pitch. Leading the choir in the away end at Shrewsbury with a rendition of 'Pump It Up', singing and dancing with the fans on King Street, and some questionable practical jokes last week in Las Vegas showcases just how much he is 'one of our own'. Narrowly pipping Langy to second place, for me, is 'Mr Consistent' Tom Naylor, who seems to have covered every blade of grass in League One this season with his ability to be absolutely everywhere at once. From giving a helping hand to the back line when required, to providing a couple of important goals at the top end when really needed, it has been a solid season for the midfield maestro who opted to come to Wigan over League Two outfit Mansfield Town back in summer. Tom Naylor in League Two. It's laughable! And finally, first place... Tom Pearce! Only kidding, I have to give to the 'brick wall', the 'Rolls Royce', Super Jackie Whatmough. A constant solid in the back line, playing all but 30 minutes of the entire season. The ex-Pompey man arrived in the summer carrying a reputation for being 'injury prone'. Whether it's a result of an enormous amount of work from Jack, or a nod to the abilities of the physios and medical staff for keeping him fit, he has had a fantastic first season with the 'Tics, with his strong performances at centre half and refusal to be beaten in an aerial dual...the man has never lost a header! I'm personally very excited to see what Jack has to offer to the Championship. Hopefully next season will bring more success and reasons to celebrate, so Jack can be reunited with his favourite lampshade (check the King Street footage)...