In what can only be described as an unfortunate case of circumstance, the Huddersfield Town vs Wigan Athletic match occurred on the same weekend as the Huddersfield Giants vs Wigan Warriors clash. Whilst the constant reminders of this only served to prove that we will never manage to shake the ‘rugby town’ tag, the respective results of the games suggest that Wigan does also have a football team to be proud of.
As the topic has been dragged out to death by the media, and there’s a Six Nations going on, that’s the last I’m going to mention of rugby, league or union. Ever.
Back to football: Wigan finally showed their Premier League class against lower league opposition in a routine victory on Saturday evening. Although Huddersfield are far from the best the Championship has to offer, this game made me slightly more confident in our Premier League ability. Roberto Martinez also appeared to be pleased with the day’s events, praising the squad for being able to ‘compete in two competitions’. That’s what confuses me about the cup, get through and it’s a sign of strength in depth or get knocked out and praise it as an opportunity to concentrate on the league. I suppose if you’re an eternal optimist, you have to contradict yourself sometimes?
The star of a satisfying performance was undoubtedly Callum McManaman, who tore apart a highly rated full back, Jack Hunt, and played a hand in three of the goals.
Afterwards, it was interesting to hear about Martinez’s deceitful strategy to avoid Callum’s PMS (pre-match stress), which was basically by lying to him. After Callum’s man of the match display, it can be considered a fine piece of man management by Roberto, how it will work as a long term strategy is slightly more questionable.
If Callum continues to perform like he did at Huddersfield though, I doubt he’ll have many nerves to worry about. He was a constant threat on the left wing and always wanted the ball; unlike Jean Beasuejour, he was more than willing to take his full back on and usually succeeded. He also had a final product, coolly slotting past Alex Smithies for the opener and picking out Jordi Gomez in a crowded penalty area en route to the second goal.
For a Premier League side, I think it’s crucial that the club are able to develop players through the academy that are good enough to challenge for the first team. In recent years, that hasn’t really been the case. This isn’t a criticism of the club as such but more a drawback from the rapid development of the club itself. The players that are old enough for the first team now would have been taken on by the club as youngsters as long as ten years ago, when the club was in the third tier and had lower standards in terms of players. These same players can’t really be expected to challenge for a place in a Premier League side, therefore, most of the young players that are in with a shout of first team action have been youngsters picked up from other clubs, such as Callum and Roman Golobart.
It’s encouraging to see that the club are looking to develop the youth system by investing more money into it, as the club revealed their plans for youth development recently. I think it’s crucial that the club’s youth team obtains academy status, not just to attract more talented youngsters, but to state our intentions to stay in the Premier League long term. To do so we must invest like a Premier League club, now we have the facilities of a top flight team, it will be much easier to remain as one.
Our brightest young player must indeed be Callum McManaman, as he is one of the few who has broken into the first team in our Premier League spell. Although Roman Golobart and Jordan Mustoe have also featured this season, Callum has been on the first team fringes for several seasons since making his debut under Steve Bruce in May 2009 vs Portsmouth. Martinez even said that he would have loved to have played McManaman more in recent seasons if it wasn’t for the precarious positions we’ve found ourselves in, which were not ideal for fielding a timid youngster who apparently gets very nervous before games.
Like our most successful ever youth team graduate, Leighton Baines, Callum was released by Everton before flourishing as a Latic. In the summer of 2007, as Baines swapped the blue of Wigan for Everton, Callum did exactly the opposite after nine years as a Toffees’ youth player. Since then, he has grown as a player with great first team potential and is quickly becoming a fans’ favourite. That’s the beauty of having young, local players breaking through; the fans endear them as one of their own, which isn’t exactly the case with a South American import who barely speaks English (or even slags off the local females).
It would be nice to see more like Leighton, Callum and Roman burst onto the Premier League in a Wigan shirt. Although they may end up being sold as our prize assets, I still take pride in seeing Leighton Baines playing for England and being compared to the best left backs in the world because I continue to consider him as one of us. I’m fairly sure that would be the case for someone like Callum if he left the club.
I think if we had a young, English core, it would bring a little bit of the old, Jewel era, Wigan back. Although players like Bullard and Ellington weren’t products of Latics’ youth team, it’s always better to see young, English talent fans identify with as key players rather than foreigners who are using the club as a stepping stone to a more lucrative contract in my view.
I’m not being racist or anything here, but I’d prefer to see local lads in the Wigan team in an ideal world. Although the hometown of McCarthy and McArthur, Hamilton, is a little closer to home than Ecuador, Honduras and Chile, it’s not quite the same as having lads from Orrell or Ince, is it? Although, having said that, when you’re hanging to your Premier League status by a thread most seasons, beggars can’t really be choosers on this one.