“Life is a roller-coaster”. So sang that Ronan Keating fella back in 2000. He should be paying every Wigan Athletic fan copyright fees or royalties or something, because we’ve been singing along to that tune for nigh on forty years, every since we arrived in the Football League.
Even by Wigan Athletic standards, however, the last four of those forty years have borne witness to some incredible swings of fortune. Forget the actual, barely comprehensible, rise to the Premier League in 2005; that seemed to be a simple, natural and gradual inevitability once Dave Whelan had taken over in 1995. As meteoric a rise as that was it all positive. Relatively speaking, the events of the last four years that have seen more ups and downs than a bride’s nightdress.
In the autumn of the 2011/12 season, Latics endured a run of eight straight defeats. Relegation was a racing certainty, until seven wins from the last nine games saw the dreaded drop avoided with a whole game to spare. The following season, the eight-year wait for the inevitable relegation from the top tier finally ended, but not before the FA Cup was added to the DW Stadium trophy cabinet. The early part of 2013/14 saw a first-ever (only?) European campaign and a slide to the lower reaches of the Championship before bouncing back up to make the end of season play-offs. This season, we have never really got going, and a second relegation in two years is very much on the cards.
Are you dizzy after reading all that? Life is certainly never dull as a Latics fan. Every one of them has their opinion as to what has gone wrong – and, to a lesser extent, right – over the last few years, whether that be the players, the Board, the coaching staff, the manager or a combination of all the above. Mostly, though, it is the managers who have copped the flack, as always. Here’s my appraisal of the five managers we have had in charge during these last four years.
Roberto Martinez – The ultimate “marmite” manager! You either loved him or hated him, mainly depending on how you liked to see your football played. Personally, I loved it and thought it a minor miracle that he managed to keep Wigan stick in the Premier League for four years, however depressing the results might have been. Ridiculously labelled a Judas for trying to further his career, he will never be forgiven by many despite delivering the greatest day in the club’s history.
Owen Coyle – As an ex-Bolton man, Coyle was always going to face an uphill battle to be accepted. Following the drop from the Championship, and facing the demands of a Europa League campaign, he oversaw a huge turnover in the playing staff. Most people, at the time, thought he did a pretty good job in the transfer market. Allegedly, however, his training methods and man-management left a lot to be desired, and the less said about his pitch-side attire, the better. The Bolton link dictated that his achievements would needed to have been exceptional for him to be a winner with the crowd and, in truth, they were far from that.
Uwe Rosler – Next up was the popular German who, at the time, was heralded as a brilliant appointment by all and sundry. I don’t recall one single voice of dissent when he got the job. And the early signs were good as the club re-acquainted itself with Wembley, losing out to Arsenal on penalties in the FA Cup semi-final and going down to a narrow play-off defeat to QPR. Full of optimism for this coming season, the bubble was quickly burst as results and performances were poor, while team selections baffled even the most supportive and loyal of fans.
Malky Mackay – A brave or foolhardy appointment? Highly regarded as a coach and manager, Mackay has enjoyed unquestionable success in the past with both Norwich and Cardiff. From a purely footballing viewpoint, it seemed a bit of a coup. Those who participated in the hysterical out-pouring of liberal, hand-wringing that erupted because we appointed a man with disciplinary charges hanging over him relating to inappropriate text messages said his failure was inevitable. Well, 99% of all managers fail eventually. I personally think that the bad press that surrounded was all a bit of a red herring in terms of his demise. If it turns out that you are not all you were cracked up to be and you can’t win even a single home game, then the odd good result against teams at the top of the table means that the chop can’t ever be very far away.
Gary Caldwell – And after three new managers in less than two full seasons, it seems as if the club has now turned full circle. In Gary Caldwell, we clearly have a disciple of the Martinez methodology. He as pledged to play attractive, possession football and impose that doctrine throughout the whole club from the first team down the age groups. I suppose that those who despised Martinez will not be too thrilled but they had better get used to it. We’ve already heard him mutter about “being in the moment” and waxing lyrical about possession stats. He even wears a blue suit and brown shoes on match days. It really is a case of back to the future! And I, for one, am all for it. Keeping it in the Wigan Athletic family; it’s what we do best.
See you in League 1– or maybe not.