Alan from This Northern Soul has talked in detail about Wigan’s hopes and aspirations for this season after retaining their place in the Premier League for yet another year.
Scott the Red: Were you happy with your team’s performance last season?
Alan: After six (yes six, count them) full seasons in the Premier League we would have ideally progressed from perennial relegation battlers to… well, I don’t know but something else all the same. The reality of the situation is that we don’t have the financial wherewithal nor the infrastructure to be anything but right now.
Things are improving on the infrastructure front, with the club looking to a long term plan for the first time in a good while, but I suppose your question is about our performance on the pitch and things weren’t always as encouraging in that respect last season, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom.
Pundits have reduced the whole of Wigan Athletic’s 2010/11 season into four games, the first two and the last two, the disastrous start and the dramatic finish. Such laziness hides a fairly steady improvement, particularly over the second half of the season. There’s no denying that we were left with plenty of room for improvement but, at the same time there’s a fair bit to write home about, not least the additional year’s top flight experience gained by our young squad. Or, in short, sort of.
STR: You mention the six years Wigan have had in the top division. Do you think you deserve more credit for managing to stay in the league for so long?
A: The question is a no brainer really we’ve been in the Premier League for more than a third of it’s existence and even without the usual “for a club of their size” and “with their resources” riders, that’s a real achievement. Of course we deserve credit and to see pundits who still have us as a banker to go down is a real testament to the worth of the profession. But the truth is, I like it that way. I’d rather be bucking the trend than failing to meet expectations. It’s just a pity that many of our fans buy into all that crap and would rather whinge about lack of progress than turn it into something positive. It would be great if we could all get behind the idea that none of these people like us being around and that proving them wrong is the real joy in staying in the top flight. Building the sort of siege mentality that we saw at the proper Wimbledon back in the eighties could be a real boost for the club on top of all of the good things we’ve got already.
STR: Who were your most important players in helping you avoid relegation?
A: Charles N’Zogbia caught the eye & stole the headlines and rightly so. His direct running and willingness to have a blast played a massive part in our run in. His departure leaves a massive hole in our team and a question over who got the better deal out of you & Villa over Young & N’Zogbia. It strikes me that the Frenchman is at least as good as Antonio Valencia and ten times less odious than Young.
However, the key to our side over the last 18 months has probably been James McCarthy. He spent 2009/10 showing up some supposedly more senior pros and the club and last season glueing the side together. We had to manage without him for three months last season and at best it was a struggle. His return to the side brought fluency and direction and took pressure of some players who’d been struggling to impose themselves on games, setting us up for survival. For such a young lad, his football intelligence and willingness to take responsibility are astounding. His reaction to getting clobbered by Rooney at our place last season is a good measure of the man and, to my mind, he is a certainty to not only play for, but to captain a top side in the future. He’s also very level headed and seems comfortable at Latics, so hopefully that won’t be for a few years yet.
STR: How has your team done in the transfer market this summer?
A: In short, they haven’t. The last of the deadwood of previous managers has been cleared away with Jason Koumas and Daniel de Ridder reaching the end of their contracts, Uncle Dave has done one for the fans by bringing in local hero Ali al Habsi for between £3-4m and N’Zogbia has left for between £9-10m. All that means we’ve got space on the wage bill for players but not much in terms of a transfer budget.
There are clear gaps in the squad now and it’s clear that things are going to be left late, with a probable reliance on loan deals, that tactic served us well last year with al Habsi and Cleverley being two of our better players but it does very little to calm the nerves of our fans who are clamouring for a striker and a replacement for N’Zogbia, regardless of the financial realities.
STR: What are your aspirations for this season?
A: I know that fans of other clubs despair at this, but, as always, our starting (and perhaps our finishing) point is survival. That can’t be enough though and there’s increasing talk around the club of stepping up a level which I guess puts us at the equally glamorous “getting forty points early enough in the season to have a serious tilt at a cup and/or top half finish”. My personal aspiration would be to see the push for stability across the club to continue. There’s talk of our top performers being offered new contracts, something which is as rare as hen’s teeth around here and would be a real step forward for me. Yes, there are gaps in the squad, but keeping players around for more than that first ‘stepping stone’ stage is our only real way of building a squad with real Premier League experience, which more often than not can make a massive difference in the lower reaches of the table.
STR: Wigan fans always seem to speak highly of Martinez. Do you still rate his ability to take the club forward?
A: I’ve never wavered. As i’ve said above, there’s more than one kind of progress and Bobby ticks all the boxes on the page headed ‘Turning Wigan Athletic into a proper club again’. There are still plenty of debates about his merits as a coach or tactician, but these are generally just aesthetic, either that or I’ll-founded.
I did a piece in our club’s fanzine summer special that covered just how I think Bobby performed last season maybe your readers would like to read for theirselves. (It’s a free download and avaiable from here – http://www.thisnorthernsoul.co.uk/downloads/view.download/5/5).
STR: Where do you think you will finish this season?
A: Higher than the average prediction of all the national media pundits’ predictions which I think currently has us finishing 21st. I don’t like making actual predictions about Latics’ but as it’s you, I’ll say 14th.
STR: Which player do you think will most important in helping you achieve this?
A: Overall our tactics make it a team effort, but you don’t want to hear that so, more specifically, our midfield will be key and I’m hoping for an early confidence boost to see them really go and stamp some authority on later games. Individually, all eyes will be on Victor Moses. It’s looking increasingly likely that he’s been anointed to take the mantle held by N’Zogbia and Valencia before him (and Garry Teale before him, but that’s a different story). Moses is a bundle of raw energy and talent and could end up a real talent if the responsibilty doesn’t get to him first. Pre-season indications are positive but trips to Nigeria (he chose them over England in what appeared to be a bit of an U21 spat last season) for internationals may be too much strain for a lad who’s still only 20.
STR: Which two current United players would you most want at your club? Why?
A: I think I said Ferdinand and Vidic last year and I think I’ll stick with the latter this time around. He’s the sort of centre-back that every team needs with goals to match. Of course he’d find staying on the pitch a lot more difficult at Latics though. For the other slot, I think it’s as simple as having Tom Cleverley back. He’s a good player, with the right attitude and, most importantly he knows the club, tactics and his new team-mates already, we’ll probably end up with a replacement who’ll need two months bedding in and time isn’t a luxury that we can really afford at the moment.
STR: Who will finish in the top 4? Who will go down?
A: Both Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Liverpool will finish in the top slots and I reckon you men will take the title again. Arsenal miss out because it looks like they’ll lose key players late in the summer, which from experience is hard to recover from.
STR: Anything else?
A: Just two requests, first for a brew, I’m dry after all that. Second, would it be possible to have something different from our regulation four/five goal drubbings this year? I wouldn’t go as far as a point, but it would be nice. I might even stop going on about Rooney’s elbow.
STR: No promises, mate. Cheers. Good luck for the season.