Is Roberto Martinez Really To Blame For Wigan's Winter Of Discontent?

He's slashed the wage bill and developed the youth system, but on the other hand we're shipping goals and look in trouble. What are the real objectives for Wigan?
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He's slashed the wage bill and developed the youth system, but on the other hand we'res hipping goals and look in trouble. What are the real objectives for Wigan?

It’ll soon be Christmas which is traditionally the time of year when a lot of people turn into gluttons. However, it seems that Wigan Athletic fans are also gluttons for punishment if the forthcoming fixture list is anything to go by. As I write these notes on the eve of the West Brom game don’t expect too much festive cheer in the next few paragraphs either as the rumblings of discontent grow louder in one little corner of Lancashire.

Maybe we’ve been a tad spoiled against Arsenal the last two years with that amazing 3-2 win to keep us up two years ago followed up by a credible 2-2 draw last Xmas. And on a weekend when the Big Six clubs posted a 16-1 scoreline over their opponents, it would be easy to point to the massive gulf which exists between the footballing super powers and the rest.

Nevertheless, I think we’re letting the manager and team off lightly if they think we’re supposed to shrug our shoulders and say ‘well that’s that then’. Losing 4-0 at home to anyone simply should not happen and it shows huge disrespect to the home fans who have forked out their hard earned cash at a very expensive time of year.

Wigan Athletic are a defensive shambles and it is a case of when rather than if we let the first goal in. Aside from the first three games of the season against newly promoted clubs, we have been the first to concede in every game we have played bar Everton, where we conceded two minutes after taking the lead. It’s taken us an average of 25 minutes to let in our first goal, 20 if you exclude Newcastle where we held out till 81 minutes. We’ve let a goal in during the first 15 minutes of the game on 5 occasions in the last 12 games and we’ve conceded a first half goal in a staggering 11 of the last 12 games.

It is the speed at which we are letting goals in which is doing us the most damage

Forget the talk of us not scoring enough, or letting in too many: it is the speed at which we are letting goals in which is doing us the most damage. Although the game lasts 98 minutes (according to Andre Marriner) going in at half time at The Hawthorns with the scoreline of West Brom nil may at least be a start. As it stands, we went nearly 30 minutes without conceding against Arsenal but the first time they tested us, we backed off and let them get two as if to make up for it. This ill-discipline and appetite for self destruction is hurting the fans and we deserve better to be perfectly honest. We all know what Arsenal are capable of and losing to them is no disgrace. Losing without a fight like we did is utterly pathetic.

Who’s to blame? Well, the manager perhaps? It used to be running joke with our Twitter chums that a certain section of our support would look to blame Roberto Martinez for absolutely everything including games getting called off due to icy car parks ‘he should have hired a snow plough’ or poor form from certain players ‘he’s not coaching them properly’. However, the amiable Spaniard must be looking at the task ahead and wondering whether he did the right thing turning down the Villa job in the summer.

Eight losses on the bounce, several of which came against teams in the mix as they say, including dreadful, weak 3-1 defeats to Bolton and Wolves teams who are hardly pulling up trees elsewhere fans were followed by a bit of respite with a late win at Sunderland getting serial deserter Steve Bruce sacked in the process. Yeah we can stay up! The roller coaster chugs back upwards again - all it took was a bit of belief and the player’s confidence to return. One week on and we’re back to spiralling downhill by giving Arsenal the freedom of our own half as they waltz through our defence to score four unanswered goals with considerable ease.

The mood within the fans has been a strange one and as divided as ever. It’s like a political campaign: the Pro-Martinez camp are quick to point out that Martinez has kept Wigan Athletic up against the odds twice now and managed the club to break even when his predecessor, Steve Bruce racked up a £15m operating loss in a single year. The anti-Martinez camp will tell us that we’ve only stayed up because there were three worse teams, Charles N’Zogbia kept us up single handedly and basically it was all achieved in spite of Martinez not because of him.

Who on earth would want to come to a club like this?

The pro-Martinez camp will then say – well who else do you want then? And apart from a few fanciful notions from overly optimistic idiots suggesting the likes of Martin O’Neill, Mark Hughes, Sam Allardyce (before two of them found jobs at most bigger clubs) that particular well runs a little dry. I mean what’s Alan Curbishley up to? Or Billy Davies? Joe Royle anyone? All three have had successful spells in the Premier League but it’s been a while and I think I’m right in saying that all three have also been relegated with teams they’ve managed as well. But would they come? Who on earth would want to come to a club like this? Doesn’t Whelan play golf with Graeme Souness? It’s all has beens or maybe the odd lower league starlet like Adkins or Poyet. Again this is delusional: they are working at bigger clubs who are on the up, they’re aren’t going to take over a club who will in all likelihood in the Championship next season and on the way down.

IF, and it’s a big if given Dave Whelan’s very public backing of his manager, Roberto was to get the push, the most credible option I can muster would be Steve McClaren, whom I would have opted for had Martinez dumped us when Villa came sniffing around him in the summer. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a bit limp with his Pat Coombs sad face but I’d liken him to a few of the players we’ve taken a punt on over the years such as Titus Bramble, Chris Kirkland, Emile Heskey, the aforementioned Charles N’Zogbia – maligned elsewhere but given an opportunity to successfully re-establish themselves at a lower profile club.

He would also fit the bill of being someone who promotes youth within the squad, an area Wigan Athletic are really looking to strengthen given that most other clubs have cottoned on to our trick of scouring Central America for cheap talent making it harder for us to flush out bargains. I’m desperately searching for positives here however, those famous positives Roberto himself sees in triple vision and I’m sure a quick chat with a Nottingham Forest fan would soon have me recoiling in horror at the prospect of the brolly wally taking over my team. And maybe EVEN HE wouldn’t come to Wigan?

In any case, Dave Whelan has come out today and said he’s sticking by his manager and all the fans are happy. Well that’s not strictly true is it Dave? Personally I’m quite happy but then I only go to football to get out of the house for a few hours and to get pissed and being in the Championship means more games and therefore I’ll be able to do it more regularly. But as I’ve stated above, many fans seem to be calling for change – either for a change in manager or a change in tactics from the manager.

It seems unlikely that Roberto Martinez will ever change or compromise his footballing principles

It seems unlikely that Roberto Martinez will ever change or compromise his footballing principles and he has alienated the more earthy section of our support by refusing to play two up front and encouraging clumsy error prone defenders to pass it around at the back until they deliver it straight to the opposing centre forward. We have however seen in patches a slightly more direct approach and a move to utilise three centre halves and wing backs with a view to adding versatility to our play and hopefully stopping the rot of conceding so many early goals – all with mixed results.

Whether you are behind the manager or not, there is a general consensus that playing the way we do may well be not enough to keep us up this year. The Martinez approach to football is a philosophical one. Play the right way: build from the back, look to dominate possession, be patient with the ball, the rewards will come. Most of all, let the players take responsibility for their actions. Sadly, Roberto has yielded his best results revolutionising a Swansea side completely on their arse in the fourth tier of football with very little to lose and getting the time required to build something and getting upward momentum. At Wigan Athletic, he took over a side from Steve Bruce, which had had four of it’s best players sold from under him in the six months prior (Heskey, Palacios, Valencia, Cattermole) and although this generated a small transfer budget – finding the players to mould to his system and adapt immediately at a Premier League level, where there is no margin for error and every mistake is punished has proved difficult.

It feels ironic that Swansea seem to be performing a lot better than Wigan this season using a system that was introduced to the Welsh club by Roberto Martinez and maybe it’s the sort of ideological footballing principle that requires you to be able to walk with it rather than run. It would work perfectly if we weren’t trying to play it against 18 of the best teams in the world every week. And Bolton.

There goes the pro and anti-Bob factions again in my head!

Maybe the finger instead should be firmly pointed at the players. They earn high salaries, maybe not compared to their peers but enough to make them at least want to put a shift in for 90 minutes on a Saturday. This season has been littered with individual mistakes at the back, gifting opponents goals and glaring errors up front from misfiring attacking players. That isn’t the manager’s fault is it? Or maybe it is because he is telling them to play that way? There goes the pro and anti-Bob factions again in my head!

How will it look on Martinez’s CV if he takes Wigan Athletic down though? Will he hang around and look to build us back up and why isn’t the chairman taking more decisive action – he’s sacked plenty managers for less as I’m sure most people are aware. I suppose at this point we need to look behind the scenes and tune in to the cryptic clues Whelan is feeding the press with that often quoted mouth of his.

He has over the past 12 months let it be known that he would be prepared to sell the club ‘to the right bidder’ which suggests he has been actively trying to find a buyer. With all due respect if Everton can’t find investment, what chance Wigan? Lest we forget all these rich foreigners coming over here taking our clubs aren’t all they are cracked up to be as fans of Blackburn, Pompey and Birmingham will no doubt testify.

Only in Wigan do they knock down a gym and build a chippy!

So this foreign knight in shiny armour hasn’t materialised it’s safe to say. Recently he has talked over handing over the reigns to his grandson or more worryingly Ian Leneghan, chairman and owner of Wigan Warriors Rugby League Club. Either of these could be seen to have negative or positive connotations. His grandson appears to be a particularly passionate Wigan Athletic fan if his recently discovered Twitter account is anything to go by and he is clearly enjoying the attention – but he’s 21 – and liable to roll up with a hangover one Saturday morning and decide to pick himself to play up front. And why not? If I was 21 and owned a football club that’s exactly what I’d do!

Whelan Jnr has been pictured in the press with his granddad recently as a young entrepreneur building a fish & chip restaurant next to the DW where there once was a Fitness First – yes only in Wigan do they knock down a gym and build a chippy! The current CEO of Wigan Athletic, Jonathan Jackson, is a lifelong fan and close family friend of the Whelan’s and may act as a guiding arm and I think most Wigan Athletic fans would be happy with this, although some of our more demanding fans may need to understand that this will mean reverting back to our natural level, which is truth be known might be Championship, or more likely League One. A lot depends on how many of the fans we’ve picked up on the way up hang around to unblock the bogs and clean the vomit up once the party is over.

The Leneghan one is also an interesting one. Clearly, he’s a rugby man and has rejuvenated Wigan Warriors into a club who were averaging gates of under 10k ten years ago to one that is now averaging just over 16,000 meaning that all those whoppers who continually tell us that we only fill our ground for the rugby are getting a little closer to the mark. He has rebuilt pride in the rugby club in the town, particularly in the last two years with a Grand Final and a Challenge Cup win and given that the rugby league world is such a narrow gene pool and Wigan are so well established, well it was only a matter of time before they bounced back from a period in the doldrums.

Most people I know including myself rarely have a bad word to say about Leneghan – which is more than can be said for Dave Whelan, but maybe that is because Leneghan operates his businesses down South rather than being one of the chief employers in Wigan. But what would he want with a football club? Especially since he’s got already one in Oxford United. The conspiracy theorists particularly on the Pravda like rugby league forums are hopping with glee at the prospect believing that this will mean that Leneghan will also get his hands on the ground and begin the procedure of winding up football in the town for the sixth time.

Those who haven’t had a frontal lobotomy are more astute in pointing out that the DW Stadium will operate far more profitably if it has the incoming revenue of two sporting entities and even a football club at Championship or League One level will match the revenue of a Super League club. Running the two as one commercial sporting entity with the stadium as well makes a lot of sense and could help unify the town of Wigan and break down the long held hostilities between the football and rugby club.

Maybe he is actually delivering against all of Whelan’s objectives

From a Latics fan’s point of view, we have not borne a grudge against the rugby club for many years. A certain former chairman who has recently retired from trying to bankrupt PNE did everything in his power to try and wipe out Wigan Athletic in the 80’s and failed so it’s perfectly understandable why some Wigan Athletic fans don’t like the rugby club. After all, we were an insignificant third division club at the time while the rugby were busy going to Wembley every year, winning eight challenge cups in a row. Since Wigan Athletic landed in the Premier League, Wigan Warriors have barely warranted an ounce of animosity from football fans in the town. The rugby fans however still detest Latics with a passion as the next generation have been brought up to hate their town’s football club and to add insult to injury, we have actually established ourselves in the biggest league in the world and are now a global name – even if it is just that team who comes after ‘Manchester United 5’.

Being perfectly honest there is bad blood on both sides and there will be people out there who will say ‘over my dead body’ about any proposal involving the rugby club, just as RL Fans will not want Leneghan to get involved with Wigan Athletic for any other reason other than to bankrupt them – as if it’s the morally right thing to do because we had the audacity to put them in our shadow for a few years.

But to return to topic – would it be better to have a Wigan man in charge of Wigan Athletic than a mystical foreign owner? Only time will tell.

So, Wigan Athletic are very much in limbo at the behest of one 75 year old man and his next decision. The other man, Roberto Martinez is now started to receive criticism from mainstream pundits who are now implying there is a touch of the ‘Emperors New Clothes’ about him when they were touting him as one of the brightest new managers around just six months ago.

Undoubtedly, if he takes Wigan Athletic down this will be a blot on his record but maybe he is actually delivering against all of Whelan’s objectives: get the wage bill down, balance the books, develop the youth system, acquire and develop good promising players and look to sell on at a profit. Every objective bar one of course: staying in the Premier League. But when you look at it all in the context of the above, and the long game at work, is that still an objective?

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