12th Man: A fitting tribute

Dave Whelan with Emmerson Boyce and Roberto Martinez

Dave Whelan announced somewhat in jest that if Warren Joyce manages to get us back to the Premier League he would commission a statue of Joyce next to his.

He must have seen the previous game at Oakwell on Saturday because at present this Wigan Athletic side ae as far away from a promotion push as at any time this season. It was surprising as we arrived at Barnsley on Saturday that we started the game without a recognised striker on the pitch.

Will Grigg, Craig Davies and Adam Le Fondre all started the match on the bench with Nick Powell and Yanic Wildschut playing as forwards. I thought Latics started well and initially looked dangerous with Powell leading the line, sadly any plans that Warren Joyce had for the afternoon were sent in to disarray as Powell left the game through injury midway through the second half. Luke Garbutt was the man to replace Nick Powell – surprisingly not one of the three strikers on the bench.

After the result against Reading in the previous match a hard earned point away at Barnsley could be considered a decent point but in our position we really need to start getting wins, some would argue that’s why Gary Caldwell lost his job. Not many would criticise Joyce for his approach to the Barnsley game, after the disastrous result in his first match coming away from Barnsley with any sort of result was of the utmost importance but it was still disappointing to see us lack any sort of attacking intent during the game.

But then on the other side of the coin numerous Barnsley fans were full of praise for Latics and how we had ‘done a job’ on them. Indeed Joyce was praised for his approach to the game and how he managed to nullify the threat from Barnsley. Next up it’s another trip over the Pennines – this time to Huddersfield. David Wagner’s side took the league by storm at the start of the season but have dropped off slightly since then. Any sort of result from Huddersfield would but welcome but we really need to start winning games. Let’s hope Joyce can get his first win on Monday night.

I didn’t manage to get over to Wigan on Thursday to witness the unveiling of Dave Whelan’s statue but it looked a wonderful event, befitting of the man and a wonderful honour for someone who has given Wigan so much. Dave Whelan is often much maligned – by myself and others but there is no escaping the fact that without Dave Whelan – there would be no Wigan Athletic. Certainly not in its current guise – it was great to see Roberto Martinez and Emmerson Boyce return to celebrate with Dave Whelan.

The statue itself is wonderful and adds character to the Stadium. There is now a permanent memorial now to the most famous day in Wigan Athletics history and although some will laugh there is no better monument than seeing the man behind that day honoured permanently outside of Wigan Athletic’s stadium.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Saturday 26th November 2016.

12th Man: Happy Hunting

Warren Joyce

So it’s back over the Pennines on Saturday afternoon and a return to Oakwell which has been a happy hunting ground of late for the Latics. Possibly the high point of Owen Coyle’s short tenure came at Barnsley as the relegated FA Cup winners came away from Oakwell with a 4-0 win.

Last season’s match at Barnsley could arguably have been considered a turning point in our season, going in to the game Gary Caldwell’s side had failed to win in four games with a damaging defeat to Blackpool in the previous game leaving any thoughts of promotion right at the back of the mind.

Goals from Andy Kellett and Yanic Wildschut saw Latics take all three points and the win over Barnsley was the catalyst for an unbeaten run of 19 games that saw us reach the top of the league and become favourites for promotion. Can this weekend’s match with Barnsley act as a similar catalyst?

Warren Joyce has now had a full two weeks with his team and will hopefully be better prepared to deal with what Barnsley throw at us. There have been positive sounds coming out of training from the senior players over the last week and an acceptance from Stephen Warnock that they let Gary Caldwell down. Whether you agree with that or not hopefully the club can now move forward under Warren Joyce’s tutelage and start to move up the Championship league table.

Joyce can’t expect to be judged on the Reading defeat with so little time with the squad beforehand so hopefully we’ll get more of an insight in to how his Wigan Athletic side will line up over the coming months after Saturday’s game.

Interesting sounds came out of the press last week with rumours circulating that Paul Scholes would be named as part of Warren Joyce’s coaching staff.

As of yet those rumours haven’t come to fruition and with a comfortable job with BT Sport and a lack of coaching badges it remains to be seen whether someone like Scholes would even consider taking a job with Latics.

It will come as no surprise that Wigan Athletic were named the cheapest club in the Championship in this year’s BBC Price of Football survey. The most expensive season ticket at Latics was also the cheapest in the league which shows just what good value it is to watch Latics and how lucky we are to have an ownership structure who recognise the need to keep football affordable.

If we can get the on pitch side of things right we can still be in for a decent season.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 18th November

12th Man: Baptism of Fire

Warren Joyce

As Baptisms of Fire go Warren Joyce couldn’t have been given a hotter reception on Saturday.

Two goals down within four minutes and a Latics side that looked a shadow of the side from a week earlier in the win over Cardiff. Saturday’s defeat was the heaviest of the season and the first time Latics have lost by more than a one goal margin. It was also arguably the worst performance of the season.

If Joyce was in any doubt to the task facing him Saturday would have given him a clear indication as to what’s needed. Joyce shouldn’t face any of the blame for Saturday’s defeat but we have to hope he can get his ideas over to the players quickly – too many more performances like that and we’ll be looking at an instant return to League One.

The international break has come at the right time for Latics and should give the new manager valuable time to get to know his squad. It’s very unusual for a manager to come in to a club and have every player signed by the previous manager but that’s what Joyce will have to get around and hopefully the players loyalty to Gary Caldwell doesn’t damage our chances under the new manager.

I see that Red Bull are reportedly interested in buying an English club to add to their portfolio of football clubs across Europe. One would hope they don’t cast a glance towards this tiny part of Lancashire. Despite their undoubted riches winning the FA Cup as Wigan Athletic was far more satisfying than winning it as Red Bull Wigan could ever be.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 11th November 2016

12th Man: The new gaffer

Warren Joyce

Joyce oversees his first training session as Latics manager

So just over a week after Gary Caldwell was sacked as manager of the Latics we know who is replacement is. You could be forgiven for thinking ‘who’ when you read about the new appointment. Indeed many of our more vocal supporters across social media have done just that. Many deriding a supposedly cheap option.

I think that’s harsh. On reflection Joyce was probably the least cheap option out there. The fact we’ll have had to pay compensation to Manchester United and have offered the manager a 3 and a half year contract.

Also he’s not an untried manager. He was manager of Hull in the early 2000′s and was also manager of Belgian side Royal Antwerp during their link up with Manchester United whilst his record with that club of 14 titles in eight seasons is unsurpassed. He has a reputation for playing exciting football and developing young players so should be an ideal fit for Latics.

What’s more surprising is how we got to this appointment in the first place. I appeared on BBC Radio Manchester’s Monday football show earlier this week along with Paul Middleton from the MFE fanzine and Paul Rowley the BBC’s owm Wigan Athletic correspondent. We spent an hour discussing the managerial situation at Latics and we were all in agreement that Gary Caldwell had been sacked too soon.

All season we’ve looked like just ticking and Gary Caldwell had been adamant that a win was just around the corner. He was proven right on Saturday and although he wasn’t in the dug out I thought it showed the man’s class that he had contacted Graham Barrow and the staff to offer luck on the morning of the game. Barrow also alluded to the players wanting to do it for Caldwell. Indeed all of that squad are Caldwell’s not one player has been signed by another manager.

Which brings us back to why did Caldwell lose his job so early in the season? Did the club panic or did something go on behind the scenes? I suppose we’ll never know but I still think Gary Caldwell can feel harshly treated. We reportedly offered the job to both Ryan Giggs and Phil Neville before approaching Joyce tells me we didn’t have a plan in place before letting Caldwell go.

But football is a results business and it’s now on Warren Joyce to get those results.  Latics need to stay in this division.

There’s no two ways about it so let’s hope Warren, the coaching staff and players all manage that come May.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 4th November 2016

12th Man: Thanks Gary

It was only five months ago that Gary Caldwell and his side lifted the League One trophy

It was only five months ago that Gary Caldwell and his side lifted the League One trophy

I didn’t realise that Gary Caldwell had been sacked until 7.30pm on Tuesday, a full two and a half hours since he had been relieved of his duties. I was busy trying to feed a fussy toddler and hadn’t bothered to check my phone, let alone take a look at twitter.

When I finally got round to checking my phone, the countless messages, the twitter explosion and the missed calls from Radio Manchester absolutely shocked me. Surely there was some mistake? Things haven’t been great this season but sacking him? Sacking him before we’ve even reached the end of October?  Sacking him when we’re a win away from getting out of the relegation zone? Sacking him following a four game unbeaten run before Saturday’s defeat to third placed Brighton?

Nearly 48 hours later I still can’t make sense of the decision, last year was built on the feel-good factor and unity that Caldwell and his team brought to the club after two years of turmoil. The foundations laid that were supposed to last us for years. It feels like all of that has been thrown away in haste, there were growing murmurs of discontent at the game on Saturday but up until that Brighton wonder goal we had more than matched another top of the table side and like Leeds a few days earlier we had deserved to be ahead let alone behind.

Yes there were issues, yes it hadn’t been good enough, yes we desperately needed to start winning games but if you’re worried that we haven’t carried the momentum of the League One winning season in to this the way to counter that isn’t by getting rid of the architect of that – at least so early.

Injuries have robbed the team of some of it’s more established squad members – Reece James, Andy Kellett, Donervon Daniels, Alex Gilbey and Kyle Knoyle who hasn’t even made an appearance yet. Add to that new players settling in and last season’s side struggling it’s no wonder it’s been a sluggish start but we’ve got one of the best defensive records in the division and looked like we were on the verge of turning things around.

I feel like we’ve acted in haste and I feel for Gary Caldwell and his staff, he is far from blameless for our current predicament but equally I’m not sure we can lay all the blame at his door. I thought after last season he had done more than enough to earn a bit of loyalty from us. Sadly David Sharpe and the club hierarchy felt otherwise.

So where now? Some of the names being linked with the job are un-inspiring at best whilst Ryan Giggs who seems to be favourite has even less experience than the manager we have just sacked for not having enough management experience.

This will be David Sharpe’s biggest decision to date if indeed it is Sharpey who makes the decisions, this is far more serious than when the hapless Malky Mackay was given his marching orders. I just hope he has made the right decision and we get the right man in to replace Gary Caldwell.

Time will tell of course but I’m worried at the moment, far more worried than I was on Saturday night.

No matter your thoughts on Gary Caldwell he’s been a presence at the club for well over six years, first as Captain second as manager. He’s been there through all of our highs and our lows. Last year was one of the most enjoyable seasons I’ve had watching Latics and that was down in no small part to Gary Caldwell.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday October 28th.

Cheers Gary.

12th Man: What a difference a weekend makes

Nick Powell and Will Grigg

What a difference a weekend makes. I spoke in last week’s column about Preston being a season defining game. It was a game that Latics really didn’t deserve to lose and if truth be told couldn’t really afford to lose before kick off.

The result left a lot of the Latics faithful downhearted and Gary Caldwell under some of the more intense pressure of his reign. It needed a performance and change of fortunes at home and we certainly got that four days later.

Wolves came in to the game on the back of an excellent run of form and had been one of the more consistent sides in the opening weeks of the season.

Gary Caldwell’s decision to rest Will Grigg and start Adam Le Fondre against his former club paid dividends as Latics got that goal that had been missing for the past two weeks. Wolves came back strongly and equalised through another individual mistake.

It looked as though another win would allude Latics but Will Grigg who had replaced Le Fondre late in the second half had other ideas and there was no way back for Wolves after Latics got the winner in the 88th minute.

The win at home to Wolves could well be the season defining game we needed. The key is now to follow that up with another good performance and some sort of result away to Brentford on Saturday.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 30th September 2016

12th Man: Return of Saint Jordi

The big news this week wasn’t the last minute equaliser against Birmingham, it wasn’t the mightily impressive 4 points in the space of 4 days. It wasn’t even getting one over Owen Coyle. It was all about the return of Jordi Gomez to Wigan Athletic.

Jordi Gomez

A move that had been mooted all summer finally transpired as the Catalan put pen to paper on a year contract, two years after departing for Sunderland. Jordi quite obviously split opinion amongst the Latics support – certainly in the Premier League days. Jordi for many came to symbolise the Roberto Martinez era – ambitious but sometimes not good enough.

Whether or not you agree with that is another matter and I fall firmly in to the don’t agree camp, the Championship is where Jordi can and has shone in the past. Nobody can doubt that he was the beating heart of our first season back at this level, shining in both the league and European campaigns and of course also having a starring role in our second FA Cup run in as many seasons.

A lot has changed at Latics since the former Barcelona and Espanyol player left for Sunderland and if there is anyone who can get the best out of Jordi it’s his former captain. Gary Caldwell doesn’t seemingly do sentiment – especially with how the likes of Emmerson Boyce and Jason Pearce have left the club in recent times.

This isn’t a move grounded in sentiment, Jordi is only recently turned 31 and has never been blessed with pace so that won’t be an issue on his return. This is a move for a midfielder who should and could be a class apart in this division. A midfield with the likes of Yanic, Michael Jacobs, Alex Gilbey, Max Power and Nick Powell supplying Will Grigg is an exciting prospect and one that should see any defence in this league worried.

So welcome back Jordi, the ‘bloody hell Gomez’ club will also be relishing your return – but you know they love you really.

Originally published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 19th August 2016

Olympic Football – A potted history

Football at The Olympics – A potted history

The Maracana

The Maracana will host both the men’s and women’s Gold medal finals

N.B This article was first published in the Wigan Athletic ‘Mudhutter’ fanzine in January 2016, with the Olympic football finals now upon us I thought it was an ideal time to re-post it.

At the time of writing this it’s currently 146 days until the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro begin. It’s hard to believe that it’s been four years since London 2012 and the tagline inspire a generation. For all of the Olympics faults and indeed London 2012’s faults the natural cynicism ahead of any major event like that melted away and the nation was enthralled with nearly three weeks of top class sporting action.

The big names synonymous with London and indeed Rio later this year are well know, track and field competitors such as Jessica Ennis-Hill, Mo Farah, Greg Rutherford, Usain Bolt. How about Neymar, Sandro, Isco and Cleverley? Well maybe not Cleverley. These names and many others were still Olympic athletes but where as The Olympics is the pinnacle for an amateur athlete’s career it’s considered less so for a footballer. The World Cup or the European Championships are considered the be all and end all for International players in football and The Olympics often isn’t considered worthy of a foot note.

I think that Football at the Olympics is unfairly maligned the game has been part of the modern Olympics since 1900 and has been present at every games since then apart from 1932 before being swiftly re-introduced in 1936. Women’s football was introduced in 1996 at the Atlanta Games and has ran alongside the men’s since then.

Fifa being the un-doubted guardians of fair play and equality didn’t want the World Cup to be challenged by The Olympics so pressured the IOC to only allow amateur players to compete in the Olympics. With the professional game on the rise across the world the standard of players and football continued to fall, this impasse lasted until 1984 where the IOC decided to allow professional footballers to compete for the first time.

This still wasn’t enough for Fifa who insisted that the sides representing Uefa and Conmebol (the strongest governing bodies) were not permitted to feature players that had played in the World Cup. Limiting their squad selections left a lop-sided tournament with wins for the likes of Nigeria, Cameroon and the now defunct Soviet Union alongside more familiar names like Argentina and Spain.

Further changes were made ahead of the Barcelona games in 1992 when it was announced that players had to be under the age of 23 effectively reducing Olympic football to the same standard as a youth tournament.

Slight relief for nations wanting to actually compete at the Olympics came four years later again in Atlanta as three players over the age of 23 were permitted. Similar to the restrictions in place to this day which saw the Team GB squad selection descend in to farce when David Beckham was denied a farewell tournament in favour of Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy and Micah Richards named as the three over age players.

Team GB

Team GB line up at the London 2012 Olympics

Despite Fifa’s best efforts Football at The Olympics is still an integral part of the games and for many nations an important development tool for younger players to gain tournament experience. Seen in a wider context alongside the U18, U20, U21 tournaments the Olympics is seen as a decent grounding in tournament football and what to expect when they reach senior level.

Indeed many nations do take it seriously and some stellar names from the world of football both past and current have graced the Olympics.

Who could forget a Spain side captained by Barcelona legend Pep Guardiola taking the Gold medal in the Nou Camp as they came from behind to beat Poland 3-2. That Spain side also featured current Barcelona manager Luis Enrique.

Pep Guardiola

Pep Guardiola scores for Spain at the Nou Camp

Or more current the 2008 Gold medallists, Argentina who beat Nigeria in the final 1-0 with a side containing the likes of Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero, Javier Mascherano and Juan Riquelme. All of these players and many more hold a gold medal in the Olympics, it isn’t a World Cup winners medal but surely it must be high up on the list of achievements for those players. Even more so for those who don’t fulfil the expectations laid on them later in their career.

Pep Guardiola realised the importance of the Olympics in a young player’s career as he overturned a decision from the Barcelona board to ensure that Messi would be able to compete at the 2008 Olympics. He understood the impact it had on his career and was determined that Messi shouldn’t be denied the chance he had had.

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi helped Argentina to Olympics gold in 2008

Because of the various restrictions over the years some of the teams who are successful at the summer Olympics aren’t the usual names you would expect to see succeed in international football. Hungary those past masters lead the men’s medal table with a total of five medals, three gold, one silver and one bronze.

Yugoslavia are level on five but only one gold amongst their lot, Uruguay and the Soviet Union both have two gold medals but the most interesting admission in the leaderboard is Great Britain who currently sit second in the table despite only participating sporadically and having a gap of 48 years  between their last appearance in 1960 and their return to competition in 2012.

With the governing bodies of the United Kingdom refusing to enter a Great Britain side to the Rio games and indeed any future Olympics it could be a while until we see Britain add to their total of three gold medals. So who can we expect to make an impression in Rio? A young Brazil side will be hoping to make up for the failure of the senior side in the World Cup, while Argentina always pose a threat.

Neymar

Could Neymar lead Brazil to Olympic gold in 2016

Mexico won the Gold in London by beating Brazil at Wembley  and although strong at all age levels there is no guarantee they will repeat their performance from four years ago. From a European perspective, Spain have failed to qualify after going out in the group stage in 2012. So Germany could well take over the mantle as favourites.

It’s a shame that Olympic Football is so often derided and ignored, I believe it’s a worthwhile event to be included in the Olympics. It offers an invaluable platform for young players to compete on the highest stage with the benefit of gaining competitive tournament experience. Whether Fifa or certain governing bodies realise that i’m not entirely convinced.

12th Man: Time to celebrate

Wigan Athletic celebrate

The finish line is in site – the best part of nine months’ work, in fact twelve months work if we think back to the start of Gary Caldwell’s reign.

It would take a collapse of epic proportions for Wigan Athletic not to be playing in the Championship again next season, what isn’t yet confirmed is whether Latics will be promoted as Champions. Gary Caldwell and David Sharpe laid out their plans during the summer and many scoffed at those ambitions, Latics were still tainted by last season’s disaster and the subsequent relegation with all the controversy that went with it. But the young manager and chairman duo were steadfast in their belief that Latics stay in League One would be a short one and they’ve been proved right.

People will say that this Latics side have achieved nothing more than was expected of them, many opposition managers point to the club’s supposed advantages in terms of finances. All that is well and good but doesn’t stop Wigan’s achievement being any less impressive – this bar the odd one or two players is a completely different side. Made up of many younger players who hadn’t played at this level before along with seasoned pros who had. When you take a step back from the partisan grind of week to week football and think about the achievement of this season it makes it all the more impressive.

Yes Latics have had an advantage but it still needed someone to bring it all together and Gary Caldwell’s first full season in management should be viewed as an absolute success. Blackpool on Saturday can act as a party, the best part of 3000 Wiganers visiting the sea-side to toast a successful season and hopefully go some way to clinching that title that Gary Caldwell and David Sharpe so craved last summer.

Comparisons will undoubtedly be made with Paul Jewell’s side that last won promotion from this division, that’s only natural and although this side have a long way to go until they can be compared with the likes of the Duke, Bullard, Teale and McCulloch if they can carry their form from this season in to next they could yet be labelled legends as well.

Let’s celebrate, the lads have done well.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 29 April 2016

12th Man: Time to capitalise

jussi

Even though Latics failed to pick up all three points in a disappointing result against Peterborough they still managed to make up ground on their promotion rivals and once again increased the gap from 2nd to 3rd.

 A point wasn’t what we wanted but after how the side had manfully battled for a point when down to ten men at Millwall a few days earlier a below par performance was probably to be expected.

Sam Morsy was a big miss before the game as a result of his one game suspension but worse was to come with injuries to Jussi Jaskellainen and Connor Mcaleny before half time. The loss of Jussi in particular was a big blow after how influential he had been in the previous few weeks.

To compound that having to bring off Jason Pearce at half time left us with little room to freshen things up in the second half. A point was probably a fair result in the end but it makes it all the more imperative that we get the win at Colchester on Saturday.

Especially now that Burton are showing signs of faltering. I’m not convinced that Burton will be able to last the pace at the top of the league, the question is can Latics keep up the pressure on Nigel Clough and his team and capitalise. Three points on Saturday would  certainly help.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post Friday 11th March 2015.