It would seem somewhat presumptuous to label any side prior to the beginning of next season as relegation candidates, even favourites, as this season proved at least as Birmingham and Wolves confounded their pre-season critics, but the challenges facing Wigan at present, which I feel at least we can say with a fair degree of certainty, are many and I fear for their survival next term.
With Chairman Dave Whelan stating that “I would say £15million for Rodallega isn’t outrageous. He is a player we do not want to sell and I would love it if he started next season with us. But equally sometimes we have to sell a player like this, we have no choice” It would appear as if the club are in genuine fear of losing their top scorer last season.
Hugo Rodallega bagged 10 goals last term after signing from Mexican club Necaxa in January 2009 and was by far and away their most threatening front man last season with Jason Scotland finding the step up difficult after his move from Swansea in the Championship, the inexperienced Scott Sinclair used sparingly and Victor Moses still a raw prospect. It’s hard to see where the goals will come from, if the likes of Arsenal, Stoke and Aston Villa were to follow up on their initial interest and put their money where their mouth is with regards to moving for the Columbian. Wigan only scored 37 goals last season, with only the relegated Burnley and Portsmouth side’s aswel as Wolves and Stoke faring worse in front of goal.
But it’s not their attack, although that is undeniably in a somewhat fragile state at present, that presents the most cause for concern, their defence leaks goals left, right and centre and with Paul Scharner angling for a move it looks about to get a far sight worse. The club let in 79 league goals last season, with only relegated Burnley beating this total and they finished rather worryingly with a goal difference of -42, the worst in the league. This horrendous total can be attributed to the goal difference distorting and moral sapping defeats away to Spurs 9-1 back in November and the 8-0 loss to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on the final day of the season.
On their travels Wigan’s defence conceded a whopping 55 goals in 19 games and they only mustered 8 clean sheets all season; they exited the FA Cup at the fourth round stage with a humbling at home to eventual League Two champions Notts County 2-1 and they fell at the first hurdle in the League Cup with a humiliating 4-1 defeat away at newly promoted Blackpool back in August. The club’s average attendance is the lowest in the Premiership at 17,998 and is someway short of their full capacity 25,133. This can only impact on the club’s budgets and turnover, although I won’t profess to be an expert in fiscal matters of this kind.
Charles N’Zogbia is also attracting the attention of some of the big boys and although he would command a large fee, possibly even in excess of £10m, manager Roberto Martinez would be facing a real uphill struggle to replace the outgoing quality of his squad, with no gaurentee that he’ll be allowed to spend everything that comes in.
Martinez is an affable manager and to an extent has done a decent job at Wigan, his side have earned eye catching wins throughout the season such as away to Aston Villa and at home to Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal, but these are not the sorts of results that can be relied upon season after season and without these four wins they would have been caught up a lot more seriously in the relegation quagmire. The Jekyll and Hyde nature of the team coupled with its relative lack of strength in depth all point towards testing times ahead for Wigan fans.
Of course this is just all conjecture, but the signs are worrying though. The fan base has shrunk as attendance figures show it competes with the city’s favourite sport, rugby league, the naive manager who has found his first season in the top flight more difficult than previously anticipated has found out that there is a significant jump in quality with signings Moses, Jordi Gomez and Scotland all failing to produce the goods going forward. Martinez’s persistence with a free-flowing style of play, although admirable in principle does not always equate to success, especially when you simply don’t have the layers capable of carrying out such a style and it displays an ignorance of the demands of the top flight, something that could not be aimed at Messrs Allardyce and Pulis, who both seemed to have worked out some time ago, that survival is the name of the game, good football is nothing more than a bonus.
I’m not saying that Wigan are doomed for relegation, you can never say anything with such certainty in football such is the beautiful game’s inherent inconsistency, just that with bigger clubs circling around their better players, a poor defence and paucity of guaranteed goals up top, this summer could prove a pivotal one when it comes to the club’s future and deciding which division they will be eventually playing in come the start of the 2011/12 season. Based on what I think is a pretty fair assessment of their failings, the cons certainly do outweigh the pros when it comes to Wigan retaining their Premiership status.