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Spurs' Wembley woes won't go away


Latics facing tricky second term

After such an outstanding debut season in the Premiership many people are expecting Wigan to find it much tougher in 2006/07.

While the Latics retain a spending power which many of the top division's rival clubs would envy, they still do not have the prestige to attract the kind of quality players their money should buy.

And on the flip side, manager Paul Jewell's better players have found it all too easy to jump ship for more established clubs as they look for the perceived step up the ladder.

Wigan have already lost two of their best players from 2005/06, and it seems certain that a third - France international Pascal Chimbonda - will follow suit.

Jimmy Bullard will be a huge loss. He provided great energy and drive to the midfield and was one of the stars of the club's rise up through the divisions under Jewell. Wigan fell into the now infamous minimum fee release trap which triggers a player's sale, something which Fulham took full advantage of before last season had even finished.

The team was further weakened by David Thompson's decision to turn down a new contract after he had done well on a short-term deal, opting to sign for Portsmouth instead.

The blow has been softened by the signing of Denny Landzaat, an attacking midfielder who featured as a substitute in three of Holland's games at the World Cup finals and has 45 caps to his name. He caught the eye as a member of the AZ Alkmaar side which became a force in the Eredivisie over the past few seasons, splitting the power base of PSV Eindhoven, Ajax and Feeyenoord.

His scoring prowess has been particularly impressive - netting 19 goals in the past two seasons for AZ. Bullard was not nearly as prolific in his Wigan days but the 30-year-old import will have a lot to do if he is to replace the work-rate and enthusiasm.

And perhaps one of the buys of last January was Austrian international Paul Scharner, a player signed as a defender-cum-midfielder who was brilliant as the latter. The 26-year-old will be an important player if Wigan are to build on their 10th place finish of 2005/06.

Also leaving the JJB Stadium is Jason Roberts, meaning Wigan have now lost both of their goalscoring heroes of their promotion season following Nathan Ellington's departure 12 months ago. Though Roberts may not be the most stylish of strikers he still bagged 14 goals in all competitions, making him the club's top scorer.

Roberts was sold to Blackburn Rovers for a fee believed to be in the region of £2.2million and unless Wigan move into the market again for another new face much will depend on Henri Camara showing further improvement.

Camara's strike partner will be Emile Heskey after Wigan paid an astonishing £5.5million to rescue the former England international from Championship football with Birmingham City. That Blues lost just £750,000 on a player who scored only four Premiership goals in 2005/06 will remain one of football's great mysteries.

Heskey, 28, has looked disinterested and was the subject of a stinging rebuke from Birmingham co-owner David Sullivan centred on his contribution to the cause for £7,000-a-day wages.

It's a huge gamble by Wigan as the ex-Liverpool striker will still command considerable wages. It's a gamble that Heskey will rediscover his touch, desire and goals. And at £5.5million it's a risk surely no other Premiership club was prepared to take.

Heskey will partner Camara as the target man, looking to win the flick-ons and provide the strength alongside the Senegal international's extreme pace. But Roberts' goals need to be replaced - and Heskey scored just 16 in two seasons with Blues.

The biggest loss for Wigan would be Chimbonda, a player who arrived as an unknown after signing for a snip from Bastia last summer. The attacking right-back was without doubt the find of the season and even though the Latics managed to tie him to a new deal in January he then handed in a transfer request on the pitch, still in full kit, right after the last whistle of the season.

There would appear to be no way back, with Chimbonda stating he is desperate to move to Tottenham Hotspur. Wigan are standing firm, refusing to budge on their £6million valuation of a player who would now be taken by just about every other Premiership team.

Jewell has signed a readymade replacement in Emmerson Boyce from Crystal Palace, and he also has the promising Ryan Taylor to return from a long-term knee ligament injury. But neither will be able to add the zip and impetus to the play that Chimbonda could.

It's the challenge that Jewell now faces - attracting and nurturing talent and then relying on these players to stay loyal to what he is trying to create. In Jewell, Wigan have one of the best young managers in the game who continues to earn respect from his peers but, just like his players, he may have to eventually move on to achieve all he wishes.

After enjoying such a superb start to their Premiership life, Wigan were being tipped to reach Europe. Chairman Dave Whelan, who has bankrolled Wigan's rise from obscurity, also bought into the idea but Jewell scoffed at it. The Latics actually came very close by reaching the Carling Cup final, losing out to Manchester United in the final and thus a UEFA Cup place as well.

Whelan will target Europe once again and considering Wigan finished in the top half last season that does not seem an unrealistic aim. But Wigan would have found it much harder this season anyway without the loss of their better players.

It's far more realistic to suggest that Wigan should see this season as one of consolidation as they try to mould a squad of Premiership quality, as last season they were fortunate to suffer few injuries to key players.

However the Latics perform in 2006/07, they have brought a breath of fresh air to the Premiership by proving the smaller clubs can come up and compete - and do it in style.

  • Any thoughts on this article? Feel free to email Dale Johnson