Wigan: How Long Can Martinez Make Magic?

Philip Cornwall compares Wigan to the Coventry of old - just about hanging on year after year. On paper it looks like it will be even harder this season. But it always does...

Last Updated: 13/08/12 at 16:26 Post Comment

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Last season:
Premier League
15th; FA Cup Third round; Carling Cup Second round
Manager Roberto Martinez (since June 2009) Odds on being first out of his job 12-1 (joint fourth) Transfers in Ivan Ramis (Mallorca), Fraser Fyvie (Aberdeen), Ryo Miyaichi (loan, Arsenal)
Transfers out Hugo Rodallega (Fulham), Mohamed Diame (West Ham), Chris Kirkland (Sheffield Wednesday), Lee Nicholls (Northampton)

The Latics have a long way to go to match their achievements, but Wigan are gradually becoming the Coventry City of our era. The Sky Blues somehow survived in the top flight from 1967 to 2001 despite perennial engagement in relegation battles, no serious prospect of sustained improvement and crowds that struggled for respectability. On occasion they played some decent football, mind.

Wigan have a couple of decades to go before they can emulate Coventry's longevity but despite being annually tipped for relegation they are now embarking on their eighth campaign. They looked in severe peril at times last season but the final margin was surprisingly comfortable thanks to some outstanding results and indeed performances from late March. Winning at Liverpool meant less than it would in previous seasons but they did win at Arsenal too and should have beaten Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, while Manchester United and Newcastle lost at the DW.

At the end of the campaign, Roberto Martinez's standing was remarkably high for a relegation fighter, even if some of Dave Whelan's remarks can be dismissed as hyperbole. The Spaniard did not accept any of the reported offers, but will he regret staying at the DW Stadium? Can things actually get much better at a club hemmed in by far bigger names?

If they can pick up where they left off in May then it is possible. But Chelsea visit on Sunday and Manchester United away is the first game after the international break, so the other early games - Southampton's first at St Mary's and Stoke;s trip to the DW - are surely important if the usual pattern of struggle is to be avoided.

Transfer activity has been minimal, with the 19-year-old midfielder Fraser Fyvie arriving from Aberdeen and the defender Ivan Ramis swapping Mallorca for mid-Lancs. They must hold on to Victor Moses and the loan of Ryo Miyaichi will not make up for his loss. Mohamed Diame and Hugo Rodallega have gone and that surely represents a net loss in quality.

Forget - I know it will be hard - Dave Whelan's endless pontificating and the unforgivable oxygen given his views by certain 24-hour sports news channels, and remember what he has done for his club. They may not be anyone's favourites but nonetheless Wigan have been sustained by Whelan and in the run-in last season they contributed greatly to one of the most exciting seasons we have seen, for which credit goes to chairman as well as coach. But any upswing is bound to lead to key players leaving because the club cannot grow. Geography, as well as the economics of modern football, works against them.

Good luck to Martinez - he will need it.

Philip Cornwall

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