Tuesday Team Talk: Forget Europe, Wigan Athletic must concentrate on staying afloat in Championship

Comment by Reece Lawrence

While it is all change in the Premier League, it will be all change in the Championship next season for Wigan Athletic – territory the club will enter for the first time in eight years.

More significant is that they will have to navigate that league’s murky waters without Spanish boss Roberto Martinez.

Despite leading them to the uncertainty of relegation, he also led them to an FA Cup and showcased a brand of football seldom seen in the lower parts of the table.

Now, however, with his seemingly inevitable departure – either to Everton or elsewhere – questions must be answered as to where they go from here.

For a team that has just gone down, Wigan’s squad is actually littered with talented players – players who, on the face of it, provide some contradiction to their final league position of 18th.

Arouna Kone, James McCarthy and Gael Clichy’s worst nightmare, Callum McManaman, are just three players who wouldn’t look out of place at clubs in the upper reaches of the top division.

Worryingly for Wigan, it is highly likely that some, if not all of them, will indeed want to realise their ambitions by moving and there will be little the club can do should offers come in.

At the same time, perhaps the new manager’s first challenge will be to convince the standout performers that a return to the Premier League at the first attempt is realistic.

A masterclass in persuasion may just squeeze another year out of them in a Latics shirt in the hope that at least the playoffs beckon.

Realistically, however, Wigan do not have the financial clout either to keep their best or to produce a new Championship team capable of bouncing straight back up.

A mid-table finish would not be the worst case scenario, especially as they seem to have avoided the multiple managerial faux-pas that beset Wolves, now facing a season in League One after successive relegations.

What Wigan need to do is establish themselves in the division – one deemed notoriously difficult to succeed in – in the first season, as several former Premier League teams can testify to.

The increase in parachute payments – now around £60m over four years – should aid the club in this, which is admittedly well run by Dave Whelan.

Whelan will have much to consider this summer, starting with appointing a new manager as soon as possible.

Owen Coyle is a possibility, as is former Manchester United coach Rene Meulensteen – his name not just an attempt by Whelan to save money on new coaching kits bearing the initials ‘RM’.

Meulensteen himself has had limited managerial experience but may be seen as a risk worth taking, considering the influence he had on United’s youth set up over several years.

Whoever takes over, Wigan’s playing style will undoubtedly move away from Martinez’s fluid continental 3-5-2 system, which sacrificed defensive stability for attractive attacking play.

Despite scoring as many goals as fellow cup-winners Swansea, who finished ninth, they conceded a startling 73, the joint worst in the league – highlighting the huge gap in quality between the front and the back.

The defence – clearly where most improvement is required – must be the focal point for the incoming man, even if it is at the expense of good football, as long as it secures results.

Wigan have never had the greatest attendance figures, but dwindling crowds and thus less income are a probable outcome of demotion – something else Whelan will have to prepare for.

For those regular supporters, they can look forward to at least six games in Europe thanks to their Wembley triumph.

Nevertheless, an early exit from the competition would be understandable – priorities at the DW Stadium next season lie elsewhere.

Picture courtesy of Terry Robinson, via Wiki Commons, with thanks

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