Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - 'It’s probably no coincidence that managers who had quite humble, mediocre careers turn into modern, well-balanced coaches once they retire. I can certainly see evidence of that within our own club...'
Our panel of Wigan Athletic experts assess another painfully long international break - including an examination of England’s chances of World Cup success – as well as looking ahead to Saturday’s return to action at Rotherham...
So, after what feels like a lifetime, we head to Rotherham on Saturday and it’s currently in the balance over whether they will have a new manager bounce. The new manager bounce is something we have been on the receiving end a few times over the years, but let’s answer the real question here. If you had to bounce a football manager, which one would it be? And how many bounces do you think you would get out of Steve Evans? I suppose we’ve got to concentrate on our own club and not worry about the opposition, but the situation is perhaps muddied by the fact Paul Warne was doing a good job at Rotherham. It’s not like they were terrible before, and a change in manager couldn’t fail to make them improve. I’ve got a lot of time for Paul Warne, aside from his barbed “Harlem Globetrotters” comment last season. And it’s not for his ex-Latics connection, it's because he seems like a decent bloke. It’s probably no coincidence that managers who had quite humble, mediocre careers turn into modern, well-balanced coaches once they retire. I can certainly see evidence of that within our own club and Leam Richardson. You only have to read around or listen to views of current and past players to realise how highly regarded he is, by the people who matter most in football. There are probably a lot of parallels between Rotherham and Latics, both were the best two in League One last year and deservedly got promoted, not doing it fortuitously through the play-offs. And we rely on graft and team spirit, not delusions of grandeur, or insisting we play superior football. I’d argue that starts with the man in charge in both cases. Rotherham probably haven’t had the highs or lows we’ve had, but they’ve certainly had a very similar bit in the middle - great in League One, but struggling to get established in the Championship. Our paths have been intertwined, right back to my earliest days watching Latics, going to Millmoor in the mid-80’s on Junior Latics trips. Still, enough of that love-in, I hope we stuff them on Saturday, I guess I just sort of see them as a Yorkshire version of us, surrounded by bigger clubs yet still proud, defiant and punching above their weight. But then I used to say that about Barnsley, and look how that turned out!
With it being an international break, I’ve got to be honest, I kind of half-watch the England games. It’s not some kind of protest statement, I’m just not a great telly watcher and I don’t have a massive amount of time to sit there and watch much football, other than Wigan Athletic. I can, however, admit to a wry smile as the comments (abuse) came flying out towards England, and Gareth Southgate as the pendulum swung in the Germany game. Once again, it all felt a bit too familiar and close to home. The psychology of the England job is fascinating. I don’t know if Southgate is any good or not, I just know that every football fan wants his job, or thinks they can do a better job. It is what makes football so beautiful, it is why we are so invested in the game. Furthermore, there are no fine margins when you are England manager. It is a binary job. You either win a World Cup / European Championship or you are a failure. It has been this way since time began. The problem is that, at any particular point in time, there can be between six and 10 other European countries who are all expecting the same (and have the capability). A couple more countries maybe, if we are talking about a World Cup. Even when we came within a couple of penalties of winning the Euros last summer, there were tirades of abuse aimed at Southgate and his players. We didn’t even lose the game! But then I don’t want to sound like Mr Moral Victory here, because second place is nowhere in international football, or in cup competitions. We know it’s not the same for the smaller countries that form the British Isles, they will celebrate just qualifying for a tournament, and if they don’t, well, they get even more pleasure from watching England NOT win a tournament. And who can blame them? Maybe it’s them who’ve got the more realistic expectations? I have no great hopes, or indeed demands, for this World Cup. Given its controversy, I feel a little uneasy with it but I’m sure, like everyone else, I’ll get on board. We may have a chance but so will Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, Holland, Spain, Croatia, Portugal, Brazil, Argentina. We tend to get to the quarters of these tournaments because we’re one of the top eight countries in the world. We neither over-achieve nor under-achieve. But in cup competitions, only number one matters. There are those who will insist that England are number one, because we have the best players (in the world, are you sure?), and Southgate is the problem for not getting the best out of them. Again, it all seems a bit too familiar. Even going back to Rotherham, and when they had their wobble last season, and the all-conquering HMS Wigan Athletic cruised past them, their fans were raging at Paul Warne, it was like the world had ended. But I’m not criticising Rotherham fans here, because some of our fans were doing exactly the same when we were second. Indeed, they are doing it now, while we sit 12th in the Championship! They can’t wait for the world to fall in, because it proves what they’ve been saying, that Leam Richardson has been 'found out', whatever that means. There is always that suggestion that someone else could do better, both with Latics and with England, but there’s also, equally, every chance that someone else could do far, far worse. I’d like to think we’ve learnt this the hard way by now. It might be that there comes a point in the future, regardless of performances in Qatar, that Gareth Southgate stands down. There might also be a point when Leam moves on. But I hope that day never comes. Paul Warne? Well, it will be interesting to see how he manages a much bigger club like Derby. In the meantime, in the spirit of Rudyard Kipling, I will refrain from screaming at the pitch/telly and I will continue to enjoy watching two decent men do two decent jobs.
Caddy from the 5:
It's all systems go again after the international break for the Tics this weekend when we make the arduous trip to Yorkshire (copyright Wigan RL fans) to face Paul Warne-less Rotherham. Personally, I like the trip, a cracking little ground size-wise that would've suited us perfectly when the (I won't tell you again -Ed) DW Stadium was first being sounded out. And with another 2,000 Wiganers making their way over by hook or by crook - because yet again there's no trains on - it's a great effort considering we've actually got no fans (copyright most of the other clubs in the league) and a great atmosphere is guaranteed. It's water off a duck's back to most of us the whole crowd debates, but we are an easy target by fans of usually the so-called bigger clubs that haven't done a 10th of what we've done in the last 20 years. Oh well, I suppose they could put all their 'we've loads of fans' in their otherwise empty trophy cabinets, it'll give the cleaner something to do. Been a rather quiet week on the socials this week football-wise, apart from the Fabian Delph/Danny Rose rumours that both seem to have come to nothing. Well Fabian definitely, seeing as he's retired, no doubt to join talkSPORT with the rest of brain boxes that now ply their drivel, sorry trade, on there. Back to the Tics, and hopefully another masterclass away performance (4-0 loss incoming then) waits for us, and another three points towards the 100 in the bag. With Paul Warne leaving to try and perform miracles at Derby, I fully expect a tough game...and hope Rammy sees it after his accident last season, and he doesn't need his diving gear and flippers this time (sorry pal, couldn't resist)! Right, I'm off doing my CV for the Rotherham job...'will work for Strongbow' should do it. UP THE TICS!
Now the cricket season is over, this 'cricket clown' can concentrate on football. And October is going to be a testing time for the squad, with the number of games crammed in between now and the World Cup. So on we press to Rotherham, a club pretty much on the same level as us, but searching for a new manager. I thought Paul Warne would stay there for life. For me, Rotherham and Hull next Wednesday look like very winnable games but, in this league, you never know. Stay safe.
The start of a very busy run of fixtures is upon us: 12 matches over the next 42 days. We will learn just as much, if not more, about the state of our squad during this period than we did over the first two months of the season. It would not be too far-fetched to find ourselves on the fringes of the play-off places come mid-November. We could also very well find ourselves near the relegation zone by that same time. If anything, it would be most unlike Latics to remain in the very heart of the league’s mid-table going forward. We’re nine matches into the season and sitting in 12th. What club am I watching again? Our next fixture at Rotherham features no shortage of storylines. The most prominent of them all will be the recent departure of longstanding manager Paul Warne to Derby. After his appointment, there was lots of chatter on Twitter about how much managerial turnover has occurred with this current group of Championship sides over the past 12 months. Leam Richardson is one of only six Championship gaffers who was in the same position as one year ago. Paul Warne’s open letter to the Rotherham fans was quite heartfelt, yet it also served as a harsh reminder that even the most loyal of managers can move on in the blink of an eye if the right job opens up for them. The timing of this transition happens to work out very well in Latics' favour. Rotherham will put their undefeated home record on the line against our undefeated away record. Last season’s League One fixtures found these two sides to be very evenly matched. The varied levels of stability in each team’s managerial situation could prove to be a difference maker this weekend. On the topic of difference makers, rumours of a new free agent signing have been at the forefront of Latics-related discussions during the break. Danny Rose has emerged as the mystery man, and the prospect of his arrival has proven to be quite a polarising topic. The best-case scenario sees a talented and experienced player rediscover his love for the game and emerge as a valued contributor to the team at left back. The worst-case scenario would not only see Rose fail to settle into the club but also disrupt a very tight locker room - one of the team’s strongest assets. If Leam deems Rose to be a good fit for our club, then I’m completely on board with him. To thrive in this division, clubs in our position sometimes have to take on big risks. The move would mark a notable change for a club that has been demonstrably risk averse over the past few months. From our summer signings to our line-ups and style of play, we’ve played it very safe with our collective approach to the start of this season. If this move works for all parties then I’m happy for us to change course. If it doesn’t pan out, I still remain very confident in the group that we currently have. Safe travels to everyone heading to the New York Stadium! There'll be no better way to start a wild six-week run than with three points this weekend.
Back to the grind it is then...I don’t have an issue with international football, but it certainly ruins the rhythm of a season. None more so than this year, where a month-long break is quickly approaching. It also doesn’t help when you’re heading in to that international break on the back of a defeat, like Leam Richardson’s side were after that disappointing loss to Reading earlier this month. Still as I wrote last week, that shouldn’t detract from what has been a more than decent start to the season for Latics as they look to consolidate in the Championship. The key now is to start turning dominance into wins, and away from home we’ve managed to do that. Perhaps it has something to do with the way we set up away from home. Where sides have to come at us, we seem confident in being able to soak up that pressure and then get chances on the break which, for the last few away games, we’ve certainly managed to take advantage of. Back at home, that’s a far more difficult game to play and it shows with the results so far. Another consideration as to why our away form may be so strong is the fantastic support we’ve received on the road so far this season. Three consecutive wins at Birmingham, Luton and Huddersfield had sold-out or close to sold-out away ends and that support can really make a difference. Without wanting to dig too deep in to the realities surrounding our support at home, the partisan atmosphere we can generate away simply isn’t there. Maybe it doesn’t have an effect. There’s been times when our away form has been poor in the not too distant past, but it does make you wonder if it’s a contributing factor. That journey on the road continues this weekend as another sold-out away following heads over to South Yorkshire. Rotherham won’t be an easy match by any stretch of the imagination. They pushed us hard last year, and it looked for a long time that the title would be heading to the White Rose county. It was surprising to see Paul Warne and all of his staff depart Rotherham last week. But does that make our job easier? Who knows, but I’m sure losing a respected figure like Warne will have some effect, especially as their first choice Mark Bonner has elected to stay with Cambridge. From our point of view, it’s more evolution than revolution, and if we can show a bit more bravery than we did against Reading, we’ll be in good shape.