THERE could be various accusations levelled at WIGAN ATHLETIC owner Dave Whelan during his time as Latics chairman but he was no hire-and-fire merchant.
In his quest to lead Wigan into the Premier League, he tended to stick by his managers, and once the club got to the top flight, Whelan was praised for trying to maintain some stability as the team battled to stay up there.
While they were rewarded with an FA Cup win in 2013, they were relegated 3 days later, and since then things have changed. Roberto Martinez left for Everton that summer and in less than 4 years since, Wigan have gone through 5 permanent managers.
Owen Coyle was replaced by Uwe Rosler and although the former Man City striker led Latics to the Championship play-offs in 2014, he was sacked that November. Whelan made the controversial decision to appoint Malky Mackay and not only did he fail to halt their slide towards League One, he too was gone by the end of the season.
Whelan stepped down as chairman in March 2015 to be replaced by his grandson, David Sharpe, who at the time was just 23 years old. Whelan undoubtedly had some say in caretaker boss Gary Caldwell staying on for the 2015/16 season and with a squad financed by Premier League parachute payments, Wigan romped to the League One title.
With the team struggling to adapt to life back in the Championship, Caldwell was sacked in October. And with the team still struggling to get themselves away from trouble well into the New Year, his successor Warren Joyce was sacked too. He left the club on Monday after winning just 6 of his 24 games in charge.
If Sharpe made those decisions, which we’re led to believe, it doesn’t speak well of his judgement. Caldwell was a rookie boss and it seemed hasty to get rid of him so soon after he’d won a league title. Latics then appointed another inexperienced manager, handing him a whopping 3-and-a-half-year contract, and this time Sharpe seemed to wait too long before getting rid of Joyce. But some Wigan fans suspect that Whelan is still pulling the strings, that Joyce’s appointment was influenced by the owner’s close relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson.
Joyce is a respected coach from his time working under Ferguson at Man United and is seen as one of football’s good guys. Joyce even had a major eye operation on February 28 and came back to work days later, when he should have still been on medical leave.
But most Wigan fans seem to be in agreement that he had to go. They felt the style of football he wanted to play was too direct and too defensive. Joyce tried to get a partnership going between Will Grigg and new signing Omar Bogle but soon went back to playing one up front.
That’s fine if you’re getting results. Wigan weren’t. They were fairly tight at the back under Joyce but they just weren’t scoring enough goals. They only won one home game in the league so disillusioned fans have been drifting away. And although Latics won 1-0 at Birmingham last week, the manner of the 1-0 defeats to relegation rivals Blackburn and Bristol City either side of that win sealed Joyce’s fate.
Following his departure, Latics again turned to club stalwart Graham Barrow. The ex-Wigan player and manager has served as a coach under several bosses in recent years and now has 9 games to keep them in the Championship, with the team currently 6 points from safety.
Barrow had one game in charge after Caldwell was sacked in October and oversaw a 1-0 win at Cardiff. Today former boss Steve Bruce brings his in-form Aston Villa side to the DW Stadium and Barrow has vowed to throw caution to the wind.
“I’m not in this position by choice, I’ve been chosen by the owners to carry the can because of my experience,” he said. “It’s an unusual situation because I have to take gambles, I have to take risks. That’s the only way we’ll have any chance of staying up.
“If someone asked me when we played Cardiff months ago if I could keep the club up I’d have backed myself 100%. Can I do it now? I don’t know. All I’ve done all week is challenge the players to do better. We have to do something more than we’ve been doing to win games. We have to find that X factor to score goals and win games.”
This is one last roll of the dice to try to keep Wigan in the Championship, but even if it doesn’t work out then the club needs to think about its actions over the summer.
Whichever league Latics are in next season and whoever is making the decisions – be it Sharpe or Whelan – they need some stability again. They need to bring back that goodwill amongst the fans and restore Wigan Athletic’s reputation amongst outsiders, otherwise they face becoming known as a sacking club.