ROBERTO Martinez insists he has never been more optimistic about the future of Wigan Athletic despite the recent dip in form.
Back-to-back league defeats have seen Latics drop back into the bottom three ahead of a crucial run of fixtures against fellow strugglers Stoke, Everton, Aston Villa and Wolves. And Martinez’s men bowed out of the Carling Cup at the quarter-final stage on Tuesday at Arsenal.
Wigan’s cause has not been helped by serious injuries to the likes of Gary Caldwell, James McCarthy and Emmerson Boyce – a situation compounded by Victor Moses suffering a suspected dislocated shoulder on Tuesday night.
But the absence of such key players has at least allowed some of the stars of tomorrow to dip their toes into the first-team pool.
One of them, Callum McManaman, made an encouraging second-half cameo against Arsenal on his second appearance for the club, the 19-year-old leaving England winger Theo Walcott in a crumpled heap with one crunching, but legal, challenge.
And Martinez insists the development of youngsters like McManaman prove the club’s long-term strategy of creating a fruitful production line is paying off.
He told the Evening Post: “Callum has a great attitude, and his performance at Arsenal was probably the most pleasing aspect of the whole night.
“He came on and immediately looked ready to play – both tactically and mentally.
“When you add that huge desire he has and his real intensity to get involved, it is a major positive for the whole structure of the football club.
“It’s quite clear he’s going to have a massive say in the first-team picture the longer the season progresses.”
McManaman was joined on the bench for last weekend’s trip to West Ham by teenage left-back Jordon Mustoe, another highly-promising academy product.
“We are creating a very competitive environment at Wigan,” Martinez enthused.
“The group of players between the ages of 18-22 are at the most important time of their development, and they are doing very well in the reserve team at the moment.
“Callum in particular has been an outstanding performer this year, and he has deserved his reward of being involved this season. There are a couple more, like Jordan, who have been working really hard - and who knows? Maybe their opportunity will come in our current situation.
“It’s just nice to see that all the hard work we are doing behind the scenes on a day-to-day basis is paying off.”
McManaman made his debut in the final game of the 2008/09 campaign against Portsmouth, coming on as a substitute for Charles N’Zogbia, and Martinez believes he is destined for the top.
“Callum is a very arrogant boy, in the right way, and someone who takes things in his stride. Nothing fazes him,” the Spaniard added.
“He has come a long way in the last few months, and we are expecting very big things from him in the future.”