It has been four weeks since Latics played their last match, but the season has not concluded yet. The loser of Nottingham Forest vs Huddersfield Town in the Championship play-off final this Sunday will be the 24th and final club to cement their status in the second tier alongside us next season. However, it was never too early for some fans to look ahead to the 22-23 season. As a result, the conversation about our players stepping up a division and where we need to improve in the squad has been going on for months now, even though we just became a Championship club several weeks ago. How does one expect this summer’s recruitment efforts to look? That’s a great question, and I am struggling to come up with a clear answer given the unpredictable nature of last summer’s events. Players who had significant roles in our 20-21 survival campaign like George Johnston, Funso Ojo, Viv Solomon-Otabor and Joe Dodoo were replaced by the ‘premium’ signings of Jack Whatmough, Jordan Cousins, James McClean and Charlie Wyke. Over the course of one transfer window, we went from a club hoping to stabilise as a mid-table League One side to one that had legitimate aspirations for automatic promotion. We are still waiting to learn more about the club’s objectives for next season but, at the very least, we will aim to avoid relegation and instill a solid foundation to build upon in this division. We have a fair amount of players with Championship experience in the squad already, but many of those players are on the wrong side of 30. We have young stars like Callum Lang, Stephen Humphrys and Thelo Aasgaard, who possess a lot of untapped potential, but are also untested at this level of competition. Other players may have done a job for us this past season but are no longer in the gaffer’s plans going forward. One could make a case for the team only needing a few new signings, while one could also make a case for needing at least eight. The three positions I would aim to strengthen before anywhere else are right back, centre back and centre midfield. At left centre back, Kell Watts has returned to his home club, Newcastle, and Curtis Tilt is still recovering from a long-term injury. This currently leaves our largest hole to fill in the starting 11. Tendayi Darikwa was a tremendous captain for our club this past season. Despite his incredible leadership abilities, I believe we need to upgrade the right back position next season, especially if we’ll play wing backs on occasion like we did during this last campaign. As for our central midfield, it often felt like we were one Tom Naylor injury away from falling apart in the middle of the park. At the very least, we need to strengthen our depth for this part of the squad. If we can attract a bona fide Championship talent to walk into our starting 11, then we’re in even better shape. The summer transfer window can be one of the most exciting times of the year while also being equally stressful. I have the utmost confidence in our club’s ability to recruit the right players who will help continue our upward ascent in a manner that supports the long-term vision of Phoenix 2021 Limited. Something special has been brewing at Latics for quite some time now. It's time to add a few new ingredients into the mix.
The step up from League One to the Championship is, undeniably, a big one, so it's crucial that, during the summer period and going into the new season, we recruit the right talent in the right positions. We could probably do with strengthening across the field, but defence in particular is looking a little bit slim, especially in the full-back positions - and that's before we've even released a retained list. I think we could probably do with bringing in a couple of players for RB, we only really have Tendayi Darikwa for that role and potentially Max Power able to play there, though I'd much prefer Max to stick with central midfield as I think that area might be the only one that won't need much tweaking. It will be nice to see Graeme Shinnie and Jamie McGrath get a proper crack at the Championship and I think Thelo Aasgaard is determined to make his mark in the squad with his creativity. Again, on the left side we would benefit from one or two rotation players, Joe Bennett and Tom Pearce will no doubt be raring to go and James McClean ('aha') has been key for us since his return. But again, the increase in intensity and pace in the Championship is going to be difficult, and we will need bodies through the door that are prepared and ready to play their part when called upon. The much anticipated return of Charlie Wyke will be a huge boost for the squad, as and when he's ready to come back, but maybe one more striker to lend a hand (or a goal) to Humps and Josh Magennis wouldn't hurt.
Anyone who watched Wigan Athletic over the last year without knowledge of the realities of our squad would have been surprised to learn we had less than a handful of contracted players at the start of the season. For what was essentially a side built from scratch, to have the sort of season we had is absolute testament to our coaching staff of Leam Richardson, James Beattie, Rob Kelly and everyone else involved. But equally to our recruitment department and the board of directors to ensure we had a competitive team at the start of the season. I was amazed just how much we managed to coax out of the players. Consistently winning in the league, alongside long cup runs in both the FA Cup and the EFL Trophy, point to just how much this squad went through. When you consider post-November this was done without the main striker, it’s even more of an achievement. So looking ahead to next season, just where do we need to strengthen? Well the good news is we’ve got the basis of an excellent Championship side. Ignore the naysayers, there are plenty of players who should be ready to make the step up next season. Most pressing for strengthening, I imagine, will be the forward line to offer support to Will Keane and Callum Lang. The expected return of Charlie Wyke should assist with this, but I’d still be looking for an extra forward to help take the load off. Josh Magennis had a positive impact during March and early April until injuries curtailed his season, and is one to watch for next season. In midfield, the return of Jordan Cousins at the back end of the season was a huge plus. There’s been talk of pantomime villain Sammy Morsy making a return but, if we are after that driving defensive midfielder again next season, I’d prefer to look elsewhere (not everyone will agree). Could there also be a return for Jamal Lowe as that forward/playmaker. Jamal was much maligned in the first part of the 19/20 season, but showed his class during the second half of the season. If he’s the calibre of player we’re looking at, I would be very happy – but we’ll see. There’s also the question over what happens with our loan signings. Kell Watts will become a very good player and was a central part of our drive up the league. Would Newcastle be interested in his development continuing back with a Latics side now in the Championship? Tom Bayliss returns to Preston, having not really managed to make a meaningful impact. If he was available on a free transfer, would he be of interest to Latics? I wouldn’t say no, but recruitment isn't down to me, which is probably good. Whoever we sign, it’s going to make for an exciting summer as we rightfully retake our position in one of the strongest leagues in Europe. Strap yourselves in.