Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man PART ONE - 'It’s going to be very difficult for anyone to meet expectations. I am excited to see who we bring in, but also prepared to be underwhelmed, or maybe just whelmed. Who knows...'
Our panel of experts run the rule over the biggest decision Latics will make all year – who will take on the reins from Leam Richardson...
Martin Tarbuck:So, let’s have a quick canvas of who we want as Wigan Athletic manager then, based on comments I’ve seen this week on various social media platforms. It’s got to be someone with a long-term philosophy, but they also need to deliver results quickly. We want someone who plays on the front foot and can turn defence into attack by getting the ball forward quickly, but we don’t want someone who will employ hoofball. It’s got to be someone with extensive Championship experience, but we don’t want some old has-been. No, they’ve got to be a young, progressive manager, but have experience too. They must be prepared to put a rocket up their backside, but also to gently put an arm around their shoulder. They’ve got to be an exciting, innovative foreign manager but also a traditional British coach who understands the game in the UK. They must be tactically aware, capable of outsmarting the opposing manager but also capable of keeping it simple and not over complicating things. They should always play to our strengths and not constantly change their game plan week after week to suit the opposition. Although if they do fail to match the opposition, then we reserve the right to criticise them for not being up to scratch tactically. We want a big name to attract the best players, and by being our manager, they will be expected to attract lots of other big names, but on a small budget. And that is because we need to be self-sustainable on our minimal revenue and crowds, but woe betide we should end up near the bottom of the league. If that happens, then we’ll demand that they are sacked until the owners do the deed. Conversely, if they can get us up to the top half of the league, and other bigger clubs come knocking, then they will be labelled as a Judas if they even think of leaving us, even after years, let alone a few months. Either way, if they’re sacked, we’ll then make excessive, contradictory demands of their replacement and if we don’t like who replaces them, we’ll complain about that too. Repeat as above. I could go on but I won’t. I think I’ve highlighted just how difficult it can be to satisfy even our small but demanding fanbase. There is a significant contingent who are only truly happy when they are moaning, so they will continue to moan whatever happens.Look, if we’re going to aim big, I’ve started to listen to the High Performance podcast for my sins, partly to get personal inspiration, but the ones with Rio Ferdinand, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Phil Neville all speak so highly of Sir Alex Ferguson, and rightly so. Of course, there will never be any manager like Sir Alex ever again, not just because of his supreme managerial ability, but because every manager is unique. But maybe we can take something from it. The key take I am getting though, aside from building a ruthless team of winners by setting very high standards, was by being professional in everything he did and expecting the same of his players. Turns out the great success of Manchester United under his stewardship, actually had very little to do with tactics and formations, but actually by setting high standards in the dressing room, bringing in the right sort of players and building an excellent team spirit. It seems the main overriding quality Sir Alex - the most successful football manager of a generation - had, was that basically, he was a decent human being. Now, I wonder where we could get one of those from? The thing is, in this day and age, United (or any club) would have sacked Ferguson long before he endured his long lasting success. They finished 11th in his second season. They got battered 5-1 by Manchester City the year after. Later that year, a trip to Forest in the FA Cup would seal his fate. The fans were revolting, the board were contemplating and his tenure was on the verge of being ended. But United won, thanks to a Mark Robins goal, and the rest was multiple title-winning history. I’m no fan of United, but I can acknowledge a great story usually comes from turning around a spell, or even multiple spells of adversity. I think you know what I’m alluding to here, so I will go no further, except to say, that form doesn’t always turn by sacking the manager, and that a poor run of eight games isn’t very long in the grand scheme of things, even now in 2022. And no, I’m not comparing Richardson to Fergie. I’m saying only time will tell whether the change has been made for the better. Except it won’t, as Leam won’t be given the chance to address his first and only short decline of his tenure, it will be a new man.Given the requirements laid out in the opening paragraph, it’s going to be very difficult for anyone to meet expectations. I am excited to see who we bring in, but also prepared to be underwhelmed, or maybe just whelmed. Who knows? I am sure we will try and get the best manager we can, who is willing and able to work under the constraints we have got. And yes we have to stick with them, no matter what comes next, because hiring and firing is a costly business, both financially and in terms of performance and disruption on the pitch. Regardless, I think we all enjoyed Saturday and it gave us a boost ahead of the enforced break. It doesn’t take anything away from the task that lies ahead, though, as I don’t think anyone would be naïve enough to suggest Saturday would have been that way, had we not been playing against 10 men for most of the game. BTW, last point on the High Performance podcast, I also listened to the Shaun Wane interview. Let’s face it, his command of the Queen’s English might not stand up to Stephen Fry’s, as he’s as broad a Wiganer as you will find, but his concepts and sentiments were as strong and powerful as anything I’ve ever heard, not to mention his brutal honesty about his tough upbringing. Absolutely awe inspiring. Now who’s next on my playlist: Reece Wabara! Erm, maybe I’ll skip that one……
The classic game of two halves against Blackpool. First half was probably the worst 45 minutes seen at the DW since the Coyle/Mackay/Joyce era. I don't know what was said at half-time, but the team came out with determination, positive intent and a never-say-die attitude, which is what the fans want. We can take losing, if the team plays that way. Now onto the break, and the players have a week off,. By the time they next turn up at Christopher Park, the new manager will hopefully be in the building. Some wild names are being thrown about on social media, and I will not comment on them. Hopefully we can pick the right man to manage the greatest football club in the world. Stay safe.
For the first time in a long time, it feels good to be a Latics fan. We enter the four-week World Cup break coming off an exhilarating derby win at the DW. Although it was far from a pleasing 90-minute performance, the resilience and perseverance we displayed was inspiring. We played with a purpose in the second half and rewarded over 10,000 home fans with two well-deserved goals. The victory marked the first time Latics had come back from a losing position to take three points since Luton away at the beginning of September. After just one win, the second half of the season doesn’t seem nearly as intimidating. Latics currently sit just three points off lower mid-table and eight points off the play-offs. We’ll return in December with a new manager and a fresh start for everyone, regardless of whether they were happy with their football or not through the first four months of the season. We have entered a period of transition where limitless possibilities await. Our new gaffer can have a Steve Cooper-like effect on the squad and propel us to the play-offs in the same way Forest rose through the Championship ranks last season. The change can also be for the worst like when Malky Mackay and Warren Joyce both joined us mid-season over the last decade. Monitoring the ongoing betting odds for our new manager has become a sport in itself for many fans. For someone like me, who does not follow the English game very closely outside of Latics, I can only trust the opinions of the majority, as I know very little about the candidates themselves. Unless the person has a close connection to Latics or was once a well-known Premier League player, I’m not too privy to our field of nominees. Neil Critchley? Sounds great. Duncan Ferguson? Fine with me. Shaun Maloney? I won’t complain. No matter who signs on for the job, the January transfer window will play a huge role in our success for the first half of 2023. Will we keep the core of the squad together or will there be a significant number of outgoings? Will the new players we bring in be a part of the gaffer’s long-term vision for the club, or will they simply be stop-gaps for the remainder of this season? Will notable players on loan like Steven Humphrys, Jamie McGrath and Jordan Jones have the chance to return and contribute to our first-team success? For now, all we can do is wait and put our faith in the decision makers to get the choice right.
As week’s go, that’s one I wouldn’t want to repeat in a hurry. There was a feeling last week I haven’t felt for a while, probably not since Gary Caldwell was so unceremoniously dumped in favour of Warren Joyce. A situation that made no sense then and makes even less sense now. Now I’m not about to compare Leam Richardson’s eventual successor with the hapless Joyce, but there are parallels with the situation and as a result, pitfalls the board need to be aware of in the search for a successor. Back in the autumn of 2016, a popular manager (at least with his players) was dispatched after winning the league title the previous season. Admittedly, we were in a worse position under Caldwell than we were under Leam, even though we found ourselves in the same position in the bottom three in recent weeks. There was clearly a mistake made with Joyce’s appointment, which ruined any sort of chance for redemption that would have allowed us to have a strong second half of the season, and eventually stay up. So now we finish reflecting on the departure of Leam, and instead start to look towards the future, it’s important the board set a vision and get the right man (or woman) in place. There have been some outlandish names in the betting markets so far, ranging from what seem like sensible options like Neil Critchley and Rob Edwards, to Duncan Ferguson, Shaun Maloney and, outlandishly, Rafa Benitez. It was also reported Yaya Toure had asked not to be considered for the position. I’m sure it’s lots of fun across the social networks and, like the transfer window, provides entertainment during a four-week break due to the World Cup. But - and it’s a big 'but' - are any of these names going to get more out of a limited squad than the manager and backroom team that were already in situ? What equips Ferguson with the tools to get this squad playing again, playing with confidence and cutting out some of the individual mistakes we’ve seen in recent weeks? Would Ferguson manage to do better than Leam did? Maybe he would and, if he or any other manager does, the decision of the board will be vindicated. But it’s a big risk. I also accept things couldn’t continue indefinitely with Leam. We had a torrid October but, as shown by the win on Saturday over Blackpool, there’s still endeavour in this squad. What they looked desperately short of on Saturday was confidence, but hopefully that wonderful second half will have given them a boost. Management changes, especially those enforced, are always a risk. Does the board stick with a similar formula, or do they go for something completely different? I’m not sure the board is too sure what to go for either. As stated in the Wigan Post earlier this week, ‘a knowledge of the club, the budget and a positive brand of football’ will be central to that. Will the managers linked be willing to work under those restrictive budgets as willingly as Leam was? Only time will tell. I said earlier in the year to not write off this squad, and I remain committed to that. There’s more than enough to keep us in the Championship. I hoped and expected Leam would be the man to do that, but times change - even a manager with the list of achievements Leam had. Even a man armed with a three-year contract in hand and a stand named after him isn’t immune to the bullet. The key now is getting the right person in to preserve our Championship status. Over to Talal, Mal and the rest of the board.