Map of the Proble-Latic

One sporting team in Wigan is flying. In the final of the biggest knock-out competition in rugby league, top of the top flight in Britain, the Wigan Warriors have kicked aside Leeds Rhinos and St. Helens and become the dominant force in British rugby league. Champions in 2010 and overall one of the greatest teams in rugby league history. It’s without much doubt that Wigan is very much a rugby town.

Despite this, the football teams have in recent years come to much prominence. From their promotion into the Premier League in 2005, they have remained in the league, coming as high as 10th in the first season, as well as reaching that years Carling Cup final as well (before being comprehensively thumped by Manchester United).

But since then it has been a continual struggle to stay in the Premier League. Their second season, 2006/07, saw the team avoid relegation on goal difference. Last season they stayed up on the last day of the season. They’ve never finished in the top half since their debut campaign and are now beginning to be highly tipped for relegation.

Phil McNulty on the BBC Sport website expects them to finish 20th, and it feels like a common trend amongst everyone. Relegation fodder, all is lost for Wigan Athletic.

No it isn’t.

They have their problems, a fair few of them. But none of them are going to bring relegation onto themselves, there are in fact, several teams in a far worse situation than themselves. Wigan will stay up this season, I don’t care what the so called experts say, that is what is going to happen.

As I’ve said, there are problems in the club. Money isn’t exactly on the high side for example. Although chairman Dave Whelan, whom the stadium in named after, has brought the club he loves to the top division from obscurity down in the Third Division right up to the top flight in just ten seasons, financing the club is a tough business. The highest fee ever paid is £6.5million, for a rather big flop in Mauro Boselli, the only money parted from the hands of Dave Whelan this summer is the £4million paid for goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi.

This is by no means helped by the attendance. Every single home fixture, the DW Stadium sees scores of empty seats in the areas where Wigan fans are supposed to sit. Last year only one team had a lower average attendance, which can’t be good for gaining money. Yes it is difficult for Wigan, the population of the town is only seven times the average attendance, but this sets a specific type which is hard to shake for the team. It is unfortunate, fans nearby tend to flock to support the bigger and more successful clubs, Manchester United, Liverpool and of course more recently, Manchester City.

But the fact remains that they have survived two close calls and remain in the Premier League. Something which can’t be applied to some of the other clubs near them, Blackpool and Burnley for example, and there are many positives going for them.

Despite the temptation from a bigger club in Aston Villa, Roberto Martinez decided to stay at Wigan. Although it could have been seen as a missed opportunity for the young Spanish manager, he had gone on to make the right decision. Aston Villa is in a state of free fall at the moment. Although some stability has occurred after the departure of Gerard Houllier, the appointment of Alex McLeish as manager as well as the likes of Ashley Young and Stuart Downing leaving for brighter lights, fails to strike me as moves that are going to help the club in the coming season. Wigan, although not the same quality, have a better team unit and with it some very decent players.

One of them is their main summer signing, Oman keeper Al-Habsi. Last year he kept Wigan in many games, and when he couldn’t do that, he kept the score in single figures. His loan stint last year earned him Wigan player of the year, with performances against Tottenham Hotspur, with the home team firing thirty shots off and failing to even score, making a string of impressive saves in the process. The backbone of any team is a strong goalkeeper, and certainly that someone is currently playing for Wigan.

The rest of the team isn’t brilliant, otherwise they would be fighting for the top half, but it is capable of putting in a good show in the Premier League. And generally this squad, this management, is better than the teams that are going to have to fight to stay up.

Blackburn Rovers aren’t in a healthy situation. Promoted from assistant managerial duties when Sam Allardyce was unfairly sacked by the somewhat crazy owners from India, Steve Kean has so far yet to really prove himself worthy to manage the team. The Venky’s group had at one stage promised Ronaldinho and David Beckham, they’ve only got David Goodwille from Dundee United and Radosav Petrovic from Partizan Belgrade. Hardly signings to wet the fans appetite.

And like with Wigan, they stayed up on the last day of the previous season, albeit in more comfortable fashion. And like with Wigan, they have lost one of their best players, Phil Jones heading off in a big money move to the red half of Manchester. But unlike Wigan, they have unpredictable ownership, poor management and a weaker set of players. Although a fantastic keeper in Paul Robinson is their number one, they don’t have a squad where someone looks like they can score for fun, the defence is up for grabs and it is all down to if they can keep Christopher Samba, which at the minute, is looking like an unlucky scenario. Signings need to be made, or the former Premier League champions could be heading for the Championship.

Of the promoted clubs, usually some like to spring a little surprise and beat a few respected teams. The usual formula for this is the play off winners, coming up, taking a few big name scalps in the first few weeks, flying high, playing attractive football, getting praise from everyone, talk of Europe and other such things, before plummeting down the league and avoiding being/getting relegated on the last day of the season. It happened with Hull City, it happened with Burnley, it happened with Blackpool, and I can certainly see it happening with Swansea City.

Brendan Rodgers is a promising manager and has brought in a few players which show they are going to be making a rather large fuss about this whole Premier League thing. Steven Caulker on loan from Tottenham is a good signing, someone who impressed in the Championship last term and can do the same this year at the bottom of the Premier League. Leroy Lita and Wayne Routledge both have Premier League experience while Michel Vorm was part of the Dutch squad which finished runners up in South Africa.

But for me it doesn’t feel like enough, and the same can be said for QPR and Norwich City. They have made some signings, but neither team make me feel they are going to be enough to stay up.

It might be unusual for it to happen, but I generally think the three promoted teams, will also be the same three to go down in May.

As for Wigan Athletic, they’ll find themselves in a cosy bottom half position. It won’t be a grand season, but it won’t see them end it in relegation. They have the right man in charge, and just need maybe one or two more players to bolster the squad. They won’t be going down, no matter what the pundits like to say. It won’t see them in finals like their rugby league neighbours, but it will do for now.

Posted on August 11, 2011, in Premier League and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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