In order to prepare properly for the next ten glorious months of hot club-on-club action, we’re previewing various leagues from around the globe.
Next up, our bread and butter, the best league in the world… the English Premier League (Suck it, Barclays!)
Let’s get our learn on.
Quick quiz: Name Wigan’s manager (Hint: it ain’t Steve Bruce).
Four… three… two… and time’s up.
I couldn’t either. It’s Roberto Martinez. After guiding Swansea City to an 8th place finish in the Championship, the Spaniard was a managerial target of both Celtic and Wigan in the off-season. He had pledged he would only leave if he was forced out, indicating a desire to stay at the club, but Premier League, money, etc.
The only down side is that he’s managing Wigan.
Oh, and Wigan isn’t exactly a financial juggernaut.
So far in this calendar year money has, to some degree, forced the club to move Wilson Palacios, Antonio Valencia, Mido, Amir Zaki, and Emile Heskey. Even manager Steve Bruce left because he got tired of having to sell off all of his talent. And rumors are circulating that Lee Cattermole might be following Bruce to Sunderland.
Meanwhile, the Latics have held on on to Titus Bramble.
What’s it say about the quality at the bottom of the Prem that Wigan are not a good candidate for relegation?
To replace Palacios, Wigan returned to Honduras and plucked Hendry Thomas from Deportivo Olimpia. El Doctor (wonderful nickname) should pair well with Charles N’Zogbia to provide decent linkage going forward as well as decent midfield cover for an often suspect backline.
Offensive help comes in the form of Jason Scotland and Scott Sinclair. The former was brought over by new manager Martinez on a 2M deal from Swansea where the Trinidadian and/or Tobagan netted 45 goals in 90 appearances for the club. Sinclair is a 20-year-old who is already on his 6th different loan spell from Chelsea–Plymouth Argyle, QPR, Charlton Athletic, Crystal Palace, Birmingham City, and now Wigan–because there is no need to develop talent when you can just go write checks for it.
Sinclair is still relatively young, but has hardly been prolific scoring all of five goals in 47 combined appearances with those clubs.
But offensive firepower won’t be a large concern for the Latics as they have resigned Titus Bramble to a deal through 2012. D’oh.
Wigan finished 11th last season. And just eyeballing the table now, it’s easy to count at least a handful of teams that are far worse than they are on paper. Figure the three that came up, Hull and Portsmouth, and the Latics are already way safe. They’ll likely jockey season long with Blackburn Rovers, Stoke, Sunderland, and Stupid F**king Bolton for the coveted 12th place slot.
Much better would be surprising, but only mildly so. Wigan isn’t the easiest place to play as the season wears on. The Latics split the their grounds with the Wigan Warriors, so by Boxing Day the pitch gets to be like a 17-year-old’s pre-prom complexion. Correspondingly, Wigan was undefeated at home from December through the end of February in the Prem last season.
The wildcard is Martinez. Just 36, he was lauded by his peers as one of the top managers in the Championship. A League One team when he took over Swansea City in 2008, he set a club record for points in his first season, earned promotion, and was awarded the League Managers Association’s Manager of the Year award for League One. This past season, highlighted by Swansea’s knocking cup holders Portsmouth out of the FA Cup, he guided the side to the top half of the Colaship.
To get to the top half of the Prem, that’s a taller order. But someone is going to be the best of the crappy teams. Not that that gets you anything.