Wigan vs Newcastle: Call Off The Callum McManaman Witch Hunt

McManaman's foul on Massadio Haidara was horrible, yes. But it wasn't intentional - just the action of a young English player overexcited at the prospect of playing at Wembley.
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McManaman's foul on Massadio Haidara was horrible, yes. But it wasn't intentional - just the action of a young English player overexcited at the prospect of playing at Wembley.

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Wigan vs Newcastle: Call Off The Callum McManaman Witch Hunt

It’s that time of the season where Wigan Athletic start to make the headlines again. Not bad for a team who are frequently on the end of the “What do Wigan Athletic bring to the Premier League table?” soundbites from friendless bores up and down the country. These kind of headlines however aren’t exactly going to do us any favours.

Let me set my stall out from the start: I like this Callum McManaman kid, there’s a touch of the Rooney’s about him, yes I know he’s got nothing like the talent but in the way he plays. Not the brightest but a bright spark on a football field. A lad with genuine fire in his belly, a raw Scouse council estate kid who wears his heart on his sleeve. Does he deserve to be Public Enemy Number One? No, in my opinion. Well, maybe a little bit.

My first sympathies obviously lie with Massadio Haidara that is a given, being on the receiving end of that tackle can’t have been fun and to see a young lad with promise taken out of the game, well, let’s hope it’s not for too long.

However, I also sort of sympathise with McManaman as well, playing for Wigan Athletic you’re probably not going to get many chances to play at Wembley in your lifetime and given the emotional state of the lad I do genuinely believe he will have been seriously upset by his actions, and only the fear of a media frenzy is causing him to maintain his silence. This is the player who Martinez told he wouldn’t be playing in a cup game to settle his nerves as he wouldn’t be able to sleep if he thought he was. The fact he wasn’t sent off and is yet to be punished is also probably accentuating the clamour for the former England Under 20’s international's blood.

The other reason I want him to succeed is that he’s English – and you wouldn’t believe the amount of stick we get over this. We’re one of those clubs who constantly gets pilloried for not having any English players. Even though half our team is Scottish. Is that so bad? After all Wigan is probably closer to Glasgow than London, why should English player = good, Scottish player = bad? Wigan fans have been clamouring for Callum to start a Premier League game for the last couple of years as he’s probably the first product of our floundering youth policy to come through the ranks since Leighton Baines.

He’s not a Wigan lad, he’s from Huyton, the same town situated on the Liverpool perimeter of St Helens which spawned Joey Barton. Oh dear, this case for his defence isn’t going very well is it? It would be lovely to actually see a Wigan lad playing for Wigan in the Premier League but given the penchant of the local council schools to throw a scrumcap and gumshield at a five year old we may be waiting some time. Of course, it’s not just a Wigan problem, there is a dearth of English talent and local lads coming through throughout the top flight and if you’re looking to buy a team of English players then it’ll cost you around £100m per handful, money the likes of Wigan just haven’t got.

There’s no point me putting forward a case for his defence any more than that right now. He did a very, very bad thing. There is no point of debate there. It was an awful tackle. Well it wasn’t a tackle at all it was a lunge – a studs up, knee high challenge and nobody, nobody at all likes, to see a player get seriously injured. Did he mean it? I very much doubt it. That doesn’t excuse it but having seen some of the vitriol aimed at him, suggesting anything from a lifetime ban to a spell in prison. Come on, call off the witch hunt.

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From what I can see, he challenged for and won a bouncing, spinning ball and then followed through catching the Newcastle player’s leg with his studs after the ball had gone. It’s a red card all day and needless to say you won’t hear me piping up about refereeing bias against Wigan Athletic for a while. I feel more sheepish than a Camarthen knocking shop right now on that front.

I don’t buy the approach some Wigan fans are taking by finding parallel examples: Wayne Rooney smashing his elbow in James McCarthy’s face or Raheem Sterling breaking Ben Watson’s leg at Anfield or referencing a particularly bad tackle Kevin Nolan made for Newcastle a few years back. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

If McManaman meant it, and I mean really meant it, then throw the book at him and ban him for much more than the usual three games, that’s going to be very difficult to prove though. No team can accommodate a footballer who does that thing intentionally and I would expect that no football club would tolerate anyone who did that kind of thing deliberately. I’m not sure I want him at our club if it was deliberate as that type of tackle is no good for our club and no good for football.

I genuinely don’t believe he did though: it was an enthusiastic challenge which turned into a dangerous one as he was off balance and chasing the ball. He needs to be punished and I’m sure he will be. I suspect this sort of challenge takes place hundreds of times up and down the country on any given weekend though. It probably takes place at least a dozen times in any Premier League season with serious injury occurring once or twice. This time the offence has been done by one of my own team’s players, a particularly promising youngster, and it’s not too easy for me to digest.

If I wasn’t squirming enough, the following afternoon where Wigan fans were faced with the wisdom of Dave Whelan who is getting older and more random by the day, and has taken even more goodwill away from Wigan Athletic following his comments that the tackle was “as clean as a whistle”, before rambling on about his own leg break from five decades ago for about the 756th time this week. Absolutely ludicrous and it’s about time the old man was muzzled as he is doing our (his) club no favours.

Martinez himself is suitably cagey, always fiercely protective of his players and choosing his words carefully but in my opinion needs to condemn the player and the challenge and be more political about the message. When another player has suffered a serious injury, it’s not enough just to say his assailant was a “bit enthusiastic”.

Of course, nobody needs an invite to get stuck into Wigan fans and there was more outrage when we apparently stood up and applauded McManaman off the field because he maimed a Newcastle player. Did we? I thought we were merely giving a round of applause to a substituted player, like we do every time a player is substituted, like they do at every game in the country. To link that to the tackle is simply looking for sticks to beat people with. Why do people set out to twist things and make them bigger than they are?

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I want to believe he never set out to seriously injure another player but I recognise that it was a horrible challenge, and if a Wigan Athletic player had been on the receiving end of it, I’d be as fuming as those Newcastle fans. Dangerous – definitely. Malicious – arguably. Career threatening – only time will tell.

My personal preference is to hope and pray that Massadio Haidara’s injuries are not as bad as first feared and this young lad makes a full and speedy recovery and Callum takes his punishment of a three match ban and serves it out. Whereas he does have the appearance of a slightly agitated Gremlin at times, he’s a young lad – not as young as his victim but a very inexperienced player with an immature temperament.

The strange thing is that before the last couple of weeks and his wonderful goal at Goodison, there was some doubt that Callum McManaman would ever make it as a Premier League player. Perversely, even having his name in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons will only serve to see his stock rise.

It appears that Wigan Athletic and Callum McManaman are the subject of a nation’s outrage, and I’m not about to defend that. It feels like every time something like this happens the frenzy intensifies as a watching nation throws their two penny’s worth in. I suspect these sort of challenges have been going on for decades with hardly any of the fuss today’s media spotlight brings but again that is no excuse for what happened at the DW Stadium on Sunday. The fact that footballers are now million pound assets exacerbates the offence compared to fifty years ago when cameras were scarce.

So maybe the rules will have to change and punishments will have to get tougher as a consequence but this wasn’t the worst tackle of all time, it was just the worst tackle for the past few months in the Premier League. Yet every time it happens the nation gets angrier.

Again, I offer my sympathies to Haidara and hope he is back playing again soon. If Wigan Athletic are to do the right thing, they need to come out and make the right kind of gesture, choosing their words much more carefully than our daft old goat of a chairman and offer a proper apology.

Whereas I took great delight from the late 2-1 victory, it feels like a win earned under a cloud, although if it’s any consolation it may go some way to earning the Geordies the right to give us another heavy tonking up at St James Park next season.