12th Man: Return of Saint Jordi

The big news this week wasn’t the last minute equaliser against Birmingham, it wasn’t the mightily impressive 4 points in the space of 4 days. It wasn’t even getting one over Owen Coyle. It was all about the return of Jordi Gomez to Wigan Athletic.

Jordi Gomez

A move that had been mooted all summer finally transpired as the Catalan put pen to paper on a year contract, two years after departing for Sunderland. Jordi quite obviously split opinion amongst the Latics support – certainly in the Premier League days. Jordi for many came to symbolise the Roberto Martinez era – ambitious but sometimes not good enough.

Whether or not you agree with that is another matter and I fall firmly in to the don’t agree camp, the Championship is where Jordi can and has shone in the past. Nobody can doubt that he was the beating heart of our first season back at this level, shining in both the league and European campaigns and of course also having a starring role in our second FA Cup run in as many seasons.

A lot has changed at Latics since the former Barcelona and Espanyol player left for Sunderland and if there is anyone who can get the best out of Jordi it’s his former captain. Gary Caldwell doesn’t seemingly do sentiment – especially with how the likes of Emmerson Boyce and Jason Pearce have left the club in recent times.

This isn’t a move grounded in sentiment, Jordi is only recently turned 31 and has never been blessed with pace so that won’t be an issue on his return. This is a move for a midfielder who should and could be a class apart in this division. A midfield with the likes of Yanic, Michael Jacobs, Alex Gilbey, Max Power and Nick Powell supplying Will Grigg is an exciting prospect and one that should see any defence in this league worried.

So welcome back Jordi, the ‘bloody hell Gomez’ club will also be relishing your return – but you know they love you really.

Originally published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 19th August 2016

Olympic Football – A potted history

Football at The Olympics – A potted history

The Maracana

The Maracana will host both the men’s and women’s Gold medal finals

N.B This article was first published in the Wigan Athletic ‘Mudhutter’ fanzine in January 2016, with the Olympic football finals now upon us I thought it was an ideal time to re-post it.

At the time of writing this it’s currently 146 days until the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro begin. It’s hard to believe that it’s been four years since London 2012 and the tagline inspire a generation. For all of the Olympics faults and indeed London 2012’s faults the natural cynicism ahead of any major event like that melted away and the nation was enthralled with nearly three weeks of top class sporting action.

The big names synonymous with London and indeed Rio later this year are well know, track and field competitors such as Jessica Ennis-Hill, Mo Farah, Greg Rutherford, Usain Bolt. How about Neymar, Sandro, Isco and Cleverley? Well maybe not Cleverley. These names and many others were still Olympic athletes but where as The Olympics is the pinnacle for an amateur athlete’s career it’s considered less so for a footballer. The World Cup or the European Championships are considered the be all and end all for International players in football and The Olympics often isn’t considered worthy of a foot note.

I think that Football at the Olympics is unfairly maligned the game has been part of the modern Olympics since 1900 and has been present at every games since then apart from 1932 before being swiftly re-introduced in 1936. Women’s football was introduced in 1996 at the Atlanta Games and has ran alongside the men’s since then.

Fifa being the un-doubted guardians of fair play and equality didn’t want the World Cup to be challenged by The Olympics so pressured the IOC to only allow amateur players to compete in the Olympics. With the professional game on the rise across the world the standard of players and football continued to fall, this impasse lasted until 1984 where the IOC decided to allow professional footballers to compete for the first time.

This still wasn’t enough for Fifa who insisted that the sides representing Uefa and Conmebol (the strongest governing bodies) were not permitted to feature players that had played in the World Cup. Limiting their squad selections left a lop-sided tournament with wins for the likes of Nigeria, Cameroon and the now defunct Soviet Union alongside more familiar names like Argentina and Spain.

Further changes were made ahead of the Barcelona games in 1992 when it was announced that players had to be under the age of 23 effectively reducing Olympic football to the same standard as a youth tournament.

Slight relief for nations wanting to actually compete at the Olympics came four years later again in Atlanta as three players over the age of 23 were permitted. Similar to the restrictions in place to this day which saw the Team GB squad selection descend in to farce when David Beckham was denied a farewell tournament in favour of Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy and Micah Richards named as the three over age players.

Team GB

Team GB line up at the London 2012 Olympics

Despite Fifa’s best efforts Football at The Olympics is still an integral part of the games and for many nations an important development tool for younger players to gain tournament experience. Seen in a wider context alongside the U18, U20, U21 tournaments the Olympics is seen as a decent grounding in tournament football and what to expect when they reach senior level.

Indeed many nations do take it seriously and some stellar names from the world of football both past and current have graced the Olympics.

Who could forget a Spain side captained by Barcelona legend Pep Guardiola taking the Gold medal in the Nou Camp as they came from behind to beat Poland 3-2. That Spain side also featured current Barcelona manager Luis Enrique.

Pep Guardiola

Pep Guardiola scores for Spain at the Nou Camp

Or more current the 2008 Gold medallists, Argentina who beat Nigeria in the final 1-0 with a side containing the likes of Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero, Javier Mascherano and Juan Riquelme. All of these players and many more hold a gold medal in the Olympics, it isn’t a World Cup winners medal but surely it must be high up on the list of achievements for those players. Even more so for those who don’t fulfil the expectations laid on them later in their career.

Pep Guardiola realised the importance of the Olympics in a young player’s career as he overturned a decision from the Barcelona board to ensure that Messi would be able to compete at the 2008 Olympics. He understood the impact it had on his career and was determined that Messi shouldn’t be denied the chance he had had.

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi helped Argentina to Olympics gold in 2008

Because of the various restrictions over the years some of the teams who are successful at the summer Olympics aren’t the usual names you would expect to see succeed in international football. Hungary those past masters lead the men’s medal table with a total of five medals, three gold, one silver and one bronze.

Yugoslavia are level on five but only one gold amongst their lot, Uruguay and the Soviet Union both have two gold medals but the most interesting admission in the leaderboard is Great Britain who currently sit second in the table despite only participating sporadically and having a gap of 48 years  between their last appearance in 1960 and their return to competition in 2012.

With the governing bodies of the United Kingdom refusing to enter a Great Britain side to the Rio games and indeed any future Olympics it could be a while until we see Britain add to their total of three gold medals. So who can we expect to make an impression in Rio? A young Brazil side will be hoping to make up for the failure of the senior side in the World Cup, while Argentina always pose a threat.

Neymar

Could Neymar lead Brazil to Olympic gold in 2016

Mexico won the Gold in London by beating Brazil at Wembley  and although strong at all age levels there is no guarantee they will repeat their performance from four years ago. From a European perspective, Spain have failed to qualify after going out in the group stage in 2012. So Germany could well take over the mantle as favourites.

It’s a shame that Olympic Football is so often derided and ignored, I believe it’s a worthwhile event to be included in the Olympics. It offers an invaluable platform for young players to compete on the highest stage with the benefit of gaining competitive tournament experience. Whether Fifa or certain governing bodies realise that i’m not entirely convinced.

12th Man: Time to celebrate

Wigan Athletic celebrate

The finish line is in site – the best part of nine months’ work, in fact twelve months work if we think back to the start of Gary Caldwell’s reign.

It would take a collapse of epic proportions for Wigan Athletic not to be playing in the Championship again next season, what isn’t yet confirmed is whether Latics will be promoted as Champions. Gary Caldwell and David Sharpe laid out their plans during the summer and many scoffed at those ambitions, Latics were still tainted by last season’s disaster and the subsequent relegation with all the controversy that went with it. But the young manager and chairman duo were steadfast in their belief that Latics stay in League One would be a short one and they’ve been proved right.

People will say that this Latics side have achieved nothing more than was expected of them, many opposition managers point to the club’s supposed advantages in terms of finances. All that is well and good but doesn’t stop Wigan’s achievement being any less impressive – this bar the odd one or two players is a completely different side. Made up of many younger players who hadn’t played at this level before along with seasoned pros who had. When you take a step back from the partisan grind of week to week football and think about the achievement of this season it makes it all the more impressive.

Yes Latics have had an advantage but it still needed someone to bring it all together and Gary Caldwell’s first full season in management should be viewed as an absolute success. Blackpool on Saturday can act as a party, the best part of 3000 Wiganers visiting the sea-side to toast a successful season and hopefully go some way to clinching that title that Gary Caldwell and David Sharpe so craved last summer.

Comparisons will undoubtedly be made with Paul Jewell’s side that last won promotion from this division, that’s only natural and although this side have a long way to go until they can be compared with the likes of the Duke, Bullard, Teale and McCulloch if they can carry their form from this season in to next they could yet be labelled legends as well.

Let’s celebrate, the lads have done well.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 29 April 2016

12th Man: Time to capitalise

jussi

Even though Latics failed to pick up all three points in a disappointing result against Peterborough they still managed to make up ground on their promotion rivals and once again increased the gap from 2nd to 3rd.

 A point wasn’t what we wanted but after how the side had manfully battled for a point when down to ten men at Millwall a few days earlier a below par performance was probably to be expected.

Sam Morsy was a big miss before the game as a result of his one game suspension but worse was to come with injuries to Jussi Jaskellainen and Connor Mcaleny before half time. The loss of Jussi in particular was a big blow after how influential he had been in the previous few weeks.

To compound that having to bring off Jason Pearce at half time left us with little room to freshen things up in the second half. A point was probably a fair result in the end but it makes it all the more imperative that we get the win at Colchester on Saturday.

Especially now that Burton are showing signs of faltering. I’m not convinced that Burton will be able to last the pace at the top of the league, the question is can Latics keep up the pressure on Nigel Clough and his team and capitalise. Three points on Saturday would  certainly help.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post Friday 11th March 2015.

12th Man: Time to bounce back

Barnett @ SouthendA disappointing week for the Latics was rounded off by a well earned point at Southend, and although it wasn’t a classic by any stretch we did have chances to win it.

I suppose it shows the progress of this side that we’re disappointed with a return of 4 points from 3 games in a week.

Although we didn’t manage to get that elusive goal against Southend we showed our improved defensive resilience with another clean sheet away from home.

Saturday is the perfect opportunity to get back to winning ways and get that bit closer to Wembley, although on paper everything points to a home win we shouldn’t underestimate Barnsley.

A break from fighting at the bottom of the table can do wonders for a side and we need to make sure that we go about the tie in the same manner we did Blackpool and Crewe before that.

I would expect starts for the likes of Hiwula, Murray, Kellet and Vukic who can count themselves un-lucky to miss out in recent weeks after their performances against Blackpool.

Saturday has the potential to be massive for the club and it’s good to see the game moved to a Saturday to get the best possible crowd. Both clubs should be applauded for that along with another excellent pricing initiative from the club. Let’s hope the lads make it worthwhile.

Originally published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 4th Deecember

12th Man: Key Period

wiganbradford

A return of seven points from a possible nine with two difficult away games thrown in for good measure is an excellent return for Latics and sets Gary Caldwell and the lads up nicely for a key period of games.

It has been a slow start to the season in many ways but was it ever going to be anything else? With a brand new squad of players to bed in, a drastic change in style of play and all the upheaval of relegation meant that we were never going to start the season in blistering form. Indeed many of the Latics faithful said before the start of the season that they would be happy with a season of consolidation and then a promotion push next year but as it is and with the current performances I think that would be a disappointment.

After two hard away games we get a welcome return to the home comforts of the DW on Saturday, Swindon look to be in turmoil off the pitch at the moment. Still without a replacement for Mark Cooper who was sacked by chairman Lee Power earlier this month Power himself has been in charge for the last two games and looks to carry on as caretaker manager on Saturday. Where Latics have been unbeaten in nine games Swindon have failed to win in the same number of games. Everything on paper points to Latics keeping up their impressive run of form but be wary of a wounded Swindon – they scored two goals in the last five minutes last weekend to earn a credible draw with play-off chasing Coventry so clearly aren’t the push over many would expect.

It’s been over three years since our last game against Swindon, when a very different Wigan Athletic exited the FA Cup at the first hurdle following that defeat Roberto Martinez’s side went on one of the best runs of any Wigan Athletic side in history playing fast free flowing football and wiping aside some of the biggest names in world football. It would be nice if this new incarnation could follow a similar path as we look to get back to the Championship.

A note about the FA Cup – although many of us were hoping for a glamour tie against one of the many non-league sides left in the competition Bury could still be the ideal tie, David Flitcroft’s side are currently in the midst of an injury crisis. The last thing you want is an extra game against one of your nearest rivals. With what should be a large away following at Gigg Lane Gary Caldwell could have the ideal opportunity to progress to the second round of the competition.

 

12th Man: A forward line to rival any

peterborough-united-2-wigan-athletic-3-max-power-and-grant-holt-celebration73-2755430_478x359

Two wins in a week displays the growing maturity of this Wigan Athletic side. Those two wins now form part of an un-beaten eight game spell in all competitions and although many of those have been draws I think it’s safe to say that the Latics are finding their feet at this level.

Many of us have said the same over the last few months that this side needed time to gel, time to get to know each other and time to get used to the managers style of play and hopefully that’s now happening.

It was always going to take time and we still have a long way to go but the determination showed in the two wins this week – firstly over Colchester and then Peterborough will stand us in good stead over the next few months. Both wins were totally different but showed important parts of our play, in both games we showed the increasingly clinical nature of our attacking play which looks a world away from the early games of the season were we struggled to make an impression on the oppositions goal.

Where the Colchester game was comfortable, Peterborough was nothing but. Once again we showed our defensive frailties in conceding the two goals but as per usual there’s no giving up with this Latics side and the immediate response from Craig Davies and Max Power paid dividends.

It was pleasing to see Max Power get on the scoresheet again, he had been unfairly criticised in some quarters earlier this month and considering he’s only 22 it looks like he’s now fulfilling his potential with us.

It was good to see Craig Davies return and with Grant Holt impressing in his four recent cameo appearances we’ve now arguably the strongest forward line in the division.

Hiwula, Grigg, Davies, Holt, Wildschut and not to mention Vukic and Coulthirst still to return from injury.

All in all it points to a positive last few weeks for Gary Caldwell’s side if we can keep that up with a result at Bradford we’ll be well on our way.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 23rd October 2015

12th Man: Dividing opinion

crewe-alexandra-2-wigan-athletic-3-jordy-hiwula-goal-celebration-for-highlights-4x373-2733053_478x359Only one loss in eight games, unbeaten at home, on the periphery of the play-offs and through to the next round of the Johnstones Paint Trophy. Some would deem that a successful start to the season but still there are rumblings of discontent amongst the Latics faithful.

I left the stadium on Saturday surprised and a little disappointed at the reaction to the draw with Walsall. Admittedly it was a game we should have won, but the fact we came out of the game with a draw after going down to ten men whilst on top is testament to this team and it’s ethos.

If we’re being truthful a draw against one of the top sides in the division shouldn’t require a reaction like that anyway. I understand that the style of football we’re playing under Caldwell will always divide opinion amongst Latics fans. As it did under Roberto Martinez before him but we need to get used to it – because it isn’t going anywhere. After last season and the disastrous reign of Malky Mackay the club will stick with this for as long as it takes.

In all the games I’ve seen so far this season I’ve been entertained and that was the case in point again on Tuesday as Latics progressed to the quarter finals of the Johnstones Paint Trophy.

I said at the time it was one of the most enjoyable nights I’ve had watching Latics in a long while. It’s a competition that’s often derided but I think most Latics fans would be happy with the value they got for their ten pound ticket. With the draw coming up on Saturday let’s hope it’s a favourable one as Latics aim to return to Wembley.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 9th October 2015

12th Man: Taking the positives

Will Grigg

I thought there was a lot to be pleased about after Tuesday’s match with Millwall, admittedly it wasn’t a great performance. Some would even argue it was a bad performance which is understandable but if we take a step back and look at things subjectively there are a lot of positives to take from Tuesday’s game.

Millwall came in to the game on the back of four games unbeaten away from home with three of those being wins – away form in stark contrast to our own. We were still missing a number of key players from our starting line-up including Jason Pearce, Craig Morgan, Will Grigg, Craig Davies, Haris Vukic and Francisco Junior.

We dominated the first half and it wasn’t a surprise when we went ahead through Jacobs but as too often this season we couldn’t capitalise on our lead, we looked nervy at the back when Millwall pushed forward and it was only a matter of time until they equalised. A bigger disappointment was to see Millwall go ahead in a game which we had dominated their physical tactics had us struggling – we quickly need to learn to close teams out and to be more clinical in the games that we dominate. I go back to my original point with all of those players missing and a patched up defence a draw against a team with one of the best away records in the football league shouldn’t be looked on as all doom and gloom.

Despite the continued absence of Jason Pearce there was brighter news as Will Grigg made a goal scoring return to earn us a point whilst the return to midfield of the on-loan Francissco Junior made a massive difference to our attacking play in the second half. It isn’t perfect at the moment – not by a long stretch but it also isn’t as terrible as some would believe, unbeaten at home and only two points away from a play-off place at this stage of the season with all of the changes we made in the summer is a promising position to be in. The key now is to build on that – starting with second placed Walsall on Saturday – it won’t be easy but if we can do that we’ll be flying again.

Sean Livesey

First published in the Wigan Evening Post, Friday 2nd October 2015

12th Man: Positivity

Jordan Flores

I’ve been quite surprised by the reaction from some quarters to our win over Fleetwood – many saying we were hanging on at the end, some even saying we were lucky others arguing that we don’t deserve to be where we are in the League. Or even that we should be doing a lot better than we are.

I know that football in its very nature sometimes generates views that are polar opposites and we can’t always agree but the reaction still surprises me. If someone had said at the start of August that we would be in touch with the play-off places, unbeaten at home and only four points off an automatic promotion place I think I would have snapped your hand off.
This doesn’t mean that the side shouldn’t be criticised but at the moment I can only see positives.

To make as many changes as we have in terms of the players representing us and the style of play we’re asking them to play there was always going to be a bedding in period and for us to be challenging in the top half of the table is tribute to Gary Caldwell, Graham Barrow, David Sharpe and all of the players.

Wins like those over Crewe, Fleetwood and even Chesterfield may be seen as lucky by some but for myself it shows something that was missing throughout the majority of last season and that’s a determination to see the job out.
As we head over to Oldham on Saturday we’re in a great position and we aren’t even firing on all cylinders yet. If we can sort out our away form, imagine what could happen to us this season.

It was encouraging to see that we still had goals in the side on Saturday despite missing both Will Grigg and Craig Davies, it looks like they’ll both be unavailable for Oldham so it gives Jordy Hiwula another chance to make that number nine position he’s own.

Despite being linked with a move away Samni Odelusi could well have a part to play whilst Grant Holt edged closer to a return with 90 minutes for the Under 21’s this week. With Shaq Coulthirst returning from injury it makes a weakened forward line look that bit stronger.

If we can start to be more clinical – especially away from home we’ll start to get the results expected of us.

First published in the Wigan Evening Post – Friday 25th September 2015