The 12th Man: Wigan Athletic fans have their say ahead of the new season!

Sam Morsy
Sam Morsy

Last call for the Championship flight. Sup your 5am airport pint and climb aboard for another season of in-flight entertainment, no doubt interrupted by a spot of turbulence as we go.

Of course, it is the silly season yet again, and there are clear lines of demarcation between what comes out of the club and some of the noises being made by some of the fans.

If the first line on their CV isn’t “pestering Sharpey and Alan Nixon on Twitter”, then it certainly should be.

The lines of demarcation between on-field and off-field activity are less well-defined, though, and it is hard to provide a clear distinction given the ongoing uncertainty over ownership and funding, as clearly one is impacting the other.

The new owners are hardly sending out the message which inspires confidence given the time it has taken to progress the takeover, and the intent so far shows no signs of the proposed incoming billionaires some people were championing.

I’m not even sure how I feel about Joe Royle’s involvement. He’s a 69-year-old man with little left to prove in football and no allegiance to Latics, in fact, a lot of Latics fans dislike him intensely due to the play-off games when he was at Manchester City.

Alternatively, he is an experienced head with good football contacts, and it is good to see the new owners putting a football man in situ to make the key decisions.

Me, I thought that was the manager’s job, but maybe that’s an outdated way of thinking.

So long as Cookie is happy with the arrangement – and more importantly, the level of funding to be provided for him to sign the players HE wants – then so am I.

Leave him to get on with it, he’s earned that right after last year.

The endless drone of noise emanating from social media is understandable given the current uncertainty. However, you’ll have to forgive me if I’m less concerned whether or not we have a left-back when the club’s whole future is in the hands of the mysterious International Entertainment Corporation.

The club itself has been brilliant all summer, and the existing staff certainly are doing their best to create a buzz for the new season with great content and videos and interaction with the fans, so for them it’s business as usual. Ultimately, as ever it is about 11 blokes on the pitch, but I do hope throughout the backroom, all staff are retained and allowed to continue as normal and we can continue last year’s buzz.

We know we’re not going to be winning as many games, and playing against much bigger teams now, but with the spirit Paul Cook has built, I’m sure we’ll give it a go, no matter who ends up wearing those 11 shirts.

So, Saturday 3pm at the DW Stadium versus Sheffield Wednesday: Business as usual. Can’t wait!

Predicted finish: 18th

MARTIN TARBUCK

It has been a pretty uneventful close season at Latics.

The most excitement has come from the photos of players in Vegas, the chairman at the World Cup and wondering whether Sam Morsy would get more game time than Will Grigg did at the Euros.

After years of managers complaining about the transfer deadline, and pleading for it to be brought forward to the start of August, it finally has been. But Paul Cook may be the first manager to feel aggrieved as the long-awaited takeover of Latics will no doubt be completed at 6pm on the 9th!

That said, we still don’t really know whether our potential new owners are willing and able to sink lots of money in.

Some fans are feeling so bad about the upcoming season that Callum Lang is being mentioned as the potential hero of the campaign after finding the target in midweek in a youth friendly at Rhyl.

We should also remind ourselves the last two young players that a sizable number of fans wanted to build our team around were Tim Chow and Lee Nicholls.

I am all for giving young player a chance, but there is no way Lang is getting into the starting line-up this season unless we have a lot of movement out before the deadline, or a plague hits the squad. He may get a handful of places on the bench but may well find himself out on loan again.

It is worth looking at the reasons to be optimistic and pessimistic ahead of the new campaign. So here goes:

Reasons to be pessimistic:

The squad is too small. I know small squads are quite fashionable these days and a small, tight squad served us well last season, but this squad is just too small. Any number of injuries will make us short on numbers.

Some serious positional weaknesses. Most of the attention has been focused on left-back. But defensive cover generally is weak. Remember the problems at right-back two years ago? We don’t want to go through that again.

Lack of proven players at this level. Who can you be sure is good enough to play at this level? Powell. Walton. Morsy. Burn. MacDonald. James (the second). To be honest, that is about it. That doesn’t make a team. That isn’t to say players like Grigg aren’t good enough and won’t play well. But so far they haven’t. Yes Grigg was unfortunate with injuries two years ago, but he hasn’t scored lots of goals in the Championship. Whereas someone like Cal Mac has performed at a higher level, but that is some years ago.

Reasons to be optimistic:

Paul Cook. He is a very good manager and created a special bond last season within a squad he largely inherited. There is no doubt in my mind he, and his management team, will be key to our success this season.

Momentum. When we were promoted to the Premier League in 2005, we took the momentum from the previous season into the higher level. Despite losing our first two game, we got that momentum, and our form, back and we won eight of the next nine games. If we can take the momentum from last season into this one, we will all soon be feeling a lot more optimistic. Let’s hope we get off to a good start on Saturday!

Predicted finish: 17th

STUART GLOVER

The long hot summer seems to be (almost) over, which is typical timing for the start of the new football season.

The Championship hasn’t been quite as kind to us in recent years as it once was, so it remains to be seen what 2018-19 will bring.

For some of our fans, though, the season is over before it’s begun. If you don’t use Twitter, and no one would blame you if you don’t, you’ll have missed a meltdown by some Latics fans.

Yes, we haven’t kicked a ball in anger, and we’re seeing phrase like “we’re down already” and “Sharpey, get out of our club”. All because we decided not to sign a 32 year old and a 33 year old.

Three months after a record-breaking season, some people have given up hope of survival in the Championship, and want our fantastic chairman gone. That’s Wigan for you! But enough about the dark side, because there’s a lot to be upbeat about.

We’ve still got the basis of the squad we had last year, which performed so well week in and week out. We’ve added Callum McManaman, which is a huge boost, and brought in one or two new names.

Does this mean we’ll be back in the Premier League next year? Probably not, but that’s not what this is about.

Given our up and down record in recent years, the coming season is all about survival and consolidation.

If we stay up, and I think we will, that makes it easier to attract players. Hopefully it’ll also be enough to attract casual fans but, one step at a time.

We’ve had worse times as Latics fans, despite the senseless screaming on social media. We’ll have both better and worse times again, that much is inevitable.

Whatever happens, this is still our club. Unless one of the new owners loses us in a poker game.

Predicted finish: 15th

PAUL MIDDLETON

The big kick-off has arrived at last, the squad’s been tweaked – slightly – the friendlies played and optimism abounds, well in this part of Wigan at least...and why not!

Entering the new campaign on the back of a Championship-winning season, with a settled squad, the big players still in place and most importantly the manager still at the helm. We showed last season we can compete in the big games, and the FA Cup run gives me the hope, nay the belief we will be a much stronger outfit than last time we were in the second tier.

The spirit in the squad is fantastic and Paul Cook, while not suffering fools, has created an atmosphere around the training ground the players love being involved in.

So I am going into the season with optimism – not false hope we are going to smash it, but optimism we will be at least competitive. I am looking forward to season without trauma or drama or any final-day disappointments.

I feel we have the ability to finish mid-table, keeping our heads well above the choppy waters of a relegation battle...we’ll leave that to the University of Bolton and QPR!

I am looking forward to Will Grigg having a good season, and hopefully he’ll steer clear of injury and get his form up and running early.

Dan Burn will also be a big player for us, and I can envisage Jamie Walker breaking into the starting XI, he does look a real talent.

I’m excited about the season ahead, can’t wait for the takeover to be finalised, let’s get this party started!

Predicted finish: 14th

BARRY WORTHINGTON

“As it stands, we’re as good as down...”

The above quote appeared on Twitter this week. You could be forgiven for thinking it was April 2019 and the end of a relegation-threatened season, as opposed to August 2018 without a ball having been kicked in anger.

There’s currently a lot of unrest through the Latics fanbase, certainly if a quick browse of social media is anything to go by. The takeover has yet to be completed and has clearly had an effect on our business this summer.

Things started promisingly enough in the summer – Paul Cook penned a long-term contract, Gary Roberts and Alex Bruce signednew deals and Leonardo Da Silva Lopes arrived with a hefty price tag and a glowing reputation.

England’s exploits in the World Cup further masked any simmering tensions among the Latics fans, before Callum McManaman walked back through the door as Yanic Wildschut hooked up with the team from Horwich.

Things seemingly were looking rosy, especially with trialists James Perch and Ross Wallace set to add some much-needed experience.

Fast-forward two weeks and Latics are seemingly in ‘crisis’. Perch and Wallace failed to sign, while an impressive first half against Rangers gave way to a heavy defeat.

A lot of the anger has come from that performance at Rangers , which admittedly wasn’t good enough – but equally it was a friendly!

Four years ago we beat Champions League qualifiers Besiktas and still got relegated.

You can’t really use a game in July as a barometer of how you will perform across the course of a season. Especially when Rangers had played a lot more games than we had - three of those in Europe.

I’d be more concerned with the lack of actual pre-season games (only three this year) than the results and performances in them.

Context has to be provided for all of this, and it’s been a frustrating summer for Cook. But with an ongoing takeover, it was always going to be.

Yes we need more bodies, but calls of crisis are wide of the mark. Surely the most important business we could have done was keeping the squad that did so well last year.

As of this week we’ve done that, a couple more additions would be welcome and in some cases required, but I think the angry tweets telling Sharpey to pull his finger out and accusing Dave Whelan of leaving us in tatters are ever-so-slightly over the top.

The transfer window ends early this year, but we can also sign loan deals right up until the end of August.

We’re in danger of losing the fantastic feel-good atmosphere from last season, and that’s a shame – but not at all surprising. Takeovers bring uncertainty, and uncertainty breeds dissatisfaction.

Latics for so long have had the steady hand of the Whelan family to guide it, as we leave that steady hand and prepare for a new dawn under owners we know very little about. Our end destination feels unknown, but thankfully there’s still a lot to be positive about.

We have a manager and a team who performed astoundingly well last season.

Just an ounce of that again this time should see us safe.

One of the ironic things regarding this pre-season is how Gary Caldwell was roundly criticised last time out for making wholesale changes to the 2015/16 League One title-winning side. Whether by design or default, Paul Cook has resisted those types of changes, in favour of sticking with the bulk of last season’s promotion-winning side.

They deserve to show what they can do in the Championship and it looks like they’ll get the chance to do that.

That’s not to say we don’t need reinforcements, but equally wholesale changes last time out didn’t translate to better performance.

So as we build-up to Saturday’s match with Sheffield Wednesday what can Latics fans expect this season?

Things will be different from last year, we won’t be steamrolling teams. We’ll need to get used to losing again, and chances are we will lose more games than we win. The key is to do enough to survive.

The Championship has morphed in to such a huge league, and we need to bear that in mind. Anything more than survival will be a fantastic bonus. Strap yourselves in for nine months of joy and heartache.

Predicted finish: 16th

SEAN LIVESEY

I’m sure I won’t be the only one who does this, but every day I open up Twitter and search #WAFC just to see what’s going on, I instantly

regret it. I will admit we are light of a few players in certain positions, we all know where, but what I can’t agree with is the finger pointing at the Whelan family. I guess what I would say to those sceptics and critics is don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

I’m 22 years of age and all I’ve ever known is the glory days: Eight years in the Premier League, winning the FA Cup and playing in the Europa League...but this doesn’t stop me from knowing the club’s roots and realising where we are now is still an over-achievement.

It was the Whelan family that brought us those highs by pumping millions of pounds into the club. They didn’t have to do it and it certainly wasn’t an easy thing to do, considering we’re not a club that generates revenue from big crowds.

Cash is clearly a bit tight, but we are still in a healthy financial position compared to a lot of clubs. Yes, we’re all eager for the takeover to go through, but everything the Whelan family has done is in the best interests of our club.

They won’t just sell the team they love to anyone with their cheque book out, they’re going to find the right deal. Just have some patience because they deserve that.

I am looking forward to the new season because no matter what league we’re in or who plays for us, I’ll be there backing the team.

Predicted finish: 18th

KIERAN MAKIN

Even though this summer transfer window has not been as frantic as those in recent years, we have done the vast majority of our business early doors and spent barely anything compared to most clubs in this division. We have managed to keep all of our ‘important’ players who were under contract last year and played regularly for a team who finished just two points away from the much-talked about 100-point tally.

This Saturday, we welcome Jos Luhukay and his Sheffield Wednesday team to the DW.

The Owls are still yet to make a summer signing and have suffered two defeats out of three this pre-season.

Standing at 6ft 4in, Atdhe Nuhiu will aim to cause chaos for Latics’ backline and will aim to free up some space for Fernando Forestieri to run behind him from midfield

whenever possible. Nuhiu scored the winner at the DW in December 2014, while Forestieri ran us ragged at Hillsborough in September 2016. Whether we win, lose or draw, the lads will need our support in what promises to be a long, hard season. Survival is the main aim, but a comfortable mid-table finish would represent a success.

Predicted finish: 14th

JACK UNSWORTH

Overall it’s been an unsettling summer and the protracted takeover has started to have a detrimental impact on team affairs. The delay in the takeover has prevented Cook getting in as many players as required for the start of the Championship campaign.

Trialists James Perch and Ross Wallace have moved on after training with the club all summer, reportedly because the club couldn’t find the funds.

There is still a concern about the motives of the IEC group, headed by pro gambler Fai Stanley, and their ability to deliver the investment required. The track record of foreign investors into English football is certainly a chequered one and the risk of failure is still high. But assuming the takeover does go ahead and the transfer funds are made available the club should be in a much stronger position to build on last year.

Latics already have a good spine with Walton, Burn, Morsy, Grigg, but they still need to recruit more quality if they are to compete in the top half of the division.

They say you can’t read too much into friendlies but there were some worrying signs in the 3-0 defeat to Rangers last Saturday.

Latics looked off the pace with too many players coasting when they should be pushing for a starting place in the team. Very few players looked capable of beating their opponent at a time when they should be reaching peak fitness.

Latics conceded three goals from headers after Dan Burn limped off at half-time, and he could miss the opening game, along with player of the year Nathan Byrne.

One bright note in amongst a dismal display was Chelsea loanee Reece James, who looked comfortable at right-back and showed great composure in possession.

The squad is looking thin with Ryan Colclough and Devante Cole likely to leave. Latics also urgently need defensive reinforcements.

All together these are not the best preparations for the opening day of the season against Sheffield Wednesday but our prospects may look much brighter next week.

Predicted finish: 12th

IAN ASPINALL