A small group of website and fanzine editors, forum co-ordinators and a couple of fans who had won a competition met on Thursday afternoon at Christopher Park for a chat with Gary Caldwell, accompanied by Jonathan Jackson.
I have been to a few of these events over the years – some managers like Roberto were charming. Some like Uwe had me feeling “hmmmm”. But Gary? After meeting him yesterday, I can say really like him. He is intelligent, wise about the game, and focussed. There was no agenda for the meeting, and we were told that no questions were off limits, and the hour long discussion covered a range of issues.
I will attempt to give the main points. You will probably be able to find a recording of the meeting elsewhere if you want to sit through an hour, but this is my take on it. Not necessarily in the order discussed, and I have precised a number of points/questions under one group or other.
We dealt with Gary’s hopes and aspirations for the team, and our progress so far. He is adamant that we will be promoted. I looked in his eyes and this was not “manager speak”. He believes it. Play-offs are not good enough, he says. We have the squad – depth and ability – to top this division. He has seen all the teams in the division and believes that.
We haven’t had the start he (or we) would have liked, but we were a completely new team put together late on in the transfer window. Injuries have hit us, although we do have good depth. He has had analysts looking at the early performances of teams who have won this division over the last 20 years, and we are on course. Only just – but on course. A telling phrase was that “in Summer he was a bit worried. Not now”.
Last year, as we all know (but sometimes it’s nice to hear a manager thinking the same way we do), defeat after defeat lowered morale, which led to more defeats. The whole thing spiraled downwards. But we are on the way back. The draws recently have been a little disappointing, but we are on a 6 game unbeaten run and that breeds confidence. There appears no-one we are concerned about. We just need to start turning those draws into wins and we can win this division.
He was asked the obvious question – “do we have to go 2-0 down every game?” and he sighed. “I don’t know” he said. “I don’t know”. He is as frustrated about it as we are, and he appears to be a good observer and a quick learner of how to change things. He is pleased, delighted even, about the character that has enabled us to fight back, a character that wasn’t there last year. But we shouldn’t need to be doing that.
He makes the point (not an excuse, just an observation) that if a team has a lot of possession then the defence may go for a while without heading the ball for example, and so “switch off” at the next corner. There is almost nothing that can be done in training to rectify that. Similarly for attacking corners he has been getting the team to practice, practice, practice. But when they get on the field something sometimes seems to go “click” and they don’t beat the first man. Frustrating.
Someone asked about opposing managers saying they were happy for us to maintain possession without getting anywhere. Gary’s response was “do you believe that – that any manager is happy his opponents have the majority of the possession?”
We need to be more ruthless, we need to kill off games, we need to shoot more. All things that we fans say, and it is good to hear the manager saying the same things, and presumably trying to get that message across to the players.
We covered a number of specific players.
Yanick has obviously made an impact and although on loan only until January we will be looking to keep him. He is then out of contract in Summer, and we could be looking to keep him. But a lot is in others’ hands, so watch this space.
Similarly Junior has impressed, a great find. Definitely a sound prospect for the future; he has the vision to see the “killer pass” and makes it. Many others see the pass, but don’t make it.
Gary believes Chris McCann’s best position now is left centre back. He is at core a midfielder, with the energy of a midfielder, who can bring the ball out from the back , and the team can change to 4-3-3 without having to make a substitution.
Gary is not rigid in adherence to any particular formation (unlike some of his predecessors), “even willing to try 4-4-2 which I don’t like” as he said. If he had to choose a favourite it would be 3-4-3, but he is adaptable. What this gives us, he believes, is the advantage that when we hand in our teamsheets, because of the ability of a number of players to play differing roles it will be difficult for opponents to tell how we are going to play.
Gary has analysts look at all our opponents, but has discovered that almost every team we have played have altered formations when playing us – to the point that for example although he has had Colchester analysed he is almost saying “what’s the point – they’ll line up differently”. We are a big scalp. But – we have the depth and ability to be flexible.
Tim Chow is a very good prospect, able to play anywhere, with the heart and desire to do so. Michael Jacobs doesn’t realise how good he is. Gary thinks a lot of him – he wants to play. Don Cowie is a very experienced professional, best in a midfield role.
What shone through the discussion was that we have a group of players who want to be at the club and playing. We touched on some who had left. “Ist the door still open for Emyr Huws to come back?”.. “Yes – if he wants to, but …” Gary had a good quote. “Some players say they don’t want to play in League One. Good – he tells them. Nor do I”.
Juusi is doing well for us. Richard has just had a bit of a poor run, and Juusi has tons and tons of high-level experience that is giving the defence confidence that filters through the team. However even with all that we have still conceded 4 in 3. But he has brought a calmness.
We discussed wider matters. We talked about the academy, and home-grown players. How we are working in the community trying to identify talent and develop it.
There is a reality check that of course if we get back to the Premier League then, although our academy programme will progress and progress, we may then again start bringing in the finished article from elsewhere. A balancing act – do we want a team of local lads, or a team of experienced players? But that is for the future. At the moment we have a few players knocking at the door – Jordan, Robles et al. Our under-18s are a good team.
Are we up for a trip to Wembley in the JPT? Gary would love another trip to Wembley but is a realist. Competition rules say you have to field at least 6 players from the previous or next League game. He is clear – he will be changing those 5. An example was at Crewe where he wanted to play Don Cowie, but had to start with Chris McCann, who was later subbed by Cowie. However, again, we have the depth that any team he puts out will still be very good.
He is genuinely excited at being Wigan’s manager. You can feel that. He had planned on taking the managerial route at some point – he just perhaps hadn’t expected it so soon. One thing that was interesting was that when he came to Wigan, after having been round various clubs and international set-ups, he says he though the knew it all.
Seeing Roberto opened his eyes to different ways. I personally got the feeling that he has taken to heart the idea of thinking outside the box. He is not following Roberto’s tactics slavishly – but he has learned from him how to go about things.
We have pretty well a full squad available (bar Kevin McNaughton), we have confidence, and in my opinion we have a good manager.
As a parting shot he was asked “what will you think in Summer when England, Northern Ireland, Wales are in France and Scotland aren’t?” At that point he jokingly made to leave.