Wigan Athletic Sensible Transfers – Right Wing Back

Part 2 of my Wigan Athletic Sensible Transfers series sees me take a look at the Right Wing Back spot, an area that has caused a huge amount of debate all season long. Club captain Tendayi Darikwa is the first choice in that position but has often been needed on the left side which means Max Power, a midfielder by trade, has had to fill in on several occasions.

With Power far more useful in midfield I believe it’s absolutely vital that Latics dip into the market and bring in a quality alternative to compete for their place in the team with Darikwa. It might be difficult for a new player to oust the club captain immediately but competition for places is vital in any side and it’s something we desperately need in this position in particular.

Darikwa has found himself on the receiving end of criticism from some supporters across the year and there have certainly been moments where lapses of concentration have cost us in certain games. In terms of players you’d consider ‘upgradeable’ he’s probably one of the first names that come to mind for most fans.

Interestingly he looks to be one of the best full backs in the league according to the data. He ranks in the top 25% for Tackles won per 90, Interceptions per 90, Blocks per 90 and Passes Completed per 90 compared to other League 1 wing backs which might come as a shock to some supporters. He’s also pretty handy from a creative point of view, averaging 0.92 key passes and 0.12 assists per 90 which puts him in the top 30% of League 1 full backs for both metrics.

Whilst the data suggests that there isn’t necessarily a desperate need for us to bring in a new starting RWB anyone that has watched Latics consistently this season will know the struggles we’ve had at times in that area of the pitch.

What is unquestionably vital is someone that offers quality depth in the position should we need to use it rather than keeping Darikwa there because there are no better alternatives. It also means if absolutely necessary we can use him on the left side without weakening both full back spots as we’d have a proper alternative in that spot.

Here are 6 players I believe would be sensible signings for Latics to make.

Target 1 – Kaine Kesler Hayden. Aston Villa.

19 year old Kaine Kesler Hayden has burst onto the EFL scene this season thanks to 2 very productive loan moves away from his boyhood club Aston Villa. Having impressed in the first half of the season at Swindon Town in League 2 he moved to League 1 promotion chasers MK Dons where he continued his fine form.

A quick and energetic Right Wing Back who is just as comfortable going forward as he is going back he’s received many plaudits and has become part of the England U20 side, who he made his debut for in September.

Since joining Liam Manning’s side in January he’s improved on the ball a lot and registered an excellent 73% pass completion over his 15 games at the club. He also averaged a solid 0.89 key passes per 90 in a side that uses its wing backs differently to many other clubs. However, most importantly its a very similar way to how Latics use theres.

Often Kesler Hayden would find himself in central areas with a midfielder providing the width and delivering progressive passes in the area of the pitch you’d usually expect the wing back to occupy. Latics fans will know that Darikwa can often pop up in more central areas to allow Max Power time and space out wide for him to deliver his devilish crosses from, not too dissimilar to what Kyle Walker and Kevin De Bruyne do at Manchester City.

The importance of having a player comfortable with playing as a classic wing back as well as an inverted one is huge as it isn’t necessarily a typical role. As part of this role the player can find themselves in shooting positions and his 1.14 shots per 90 at MK Dons suggest he isn’t afraid to pull the trigger if the opportunity arises.

After MK failed to win promotion I can’t see him extending his stay there which means he should be available for loan to Championship clubs. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if several clubs came in for him, particularly Nottingham Forest if they don’t win promotion and aren’t able to bring Djed Spence back to the club. He and Kesler Hayden are very similar players, which tells you all you need to know about the 19 year old.

As young right wing backs go there aren’t many more exciting than Kesler Hayden and I absolutely expect to see him in the Championship, maybe in a Latics kit. He would offer stern competition to Darikwa whilst also not being established enough to demand first team football so wouldn’t need to be guaranteed it.

It’s also important to remember the success of Reece James when he came to the club. Having arrived as cover for Nathan Byrne he impressed so much during pre season that he managed to displace one of our best players from the previous year. If given the opportunity to do so Kesler Hayden might be able to do something similar.

Target 2 – Callum Johnson. Portsmouth.

Another player who impressed in League 1 last season is Portsmouth’s Callum Johnson, who spent the campaign on loan at Fleetwood Town. The 25 year old was part of the Cod Army side that secured safety on the final day but has now returned to the South Coast where his future isn’t completely certain.

His contract is set to expire this summer and at the time of writing there’s no indication that it will be renewed. His performances in League 1 last season show what a handy player he is and if Latics want a solid rotational RWB this could be their man.

Johnson is a hardworking wing back and averaged 1.07 tackles won per 90 and 0.89 interceptions for Fleetwood last season. Impressively he has never averaged below 1 tackle won per 90 across his whole professional career and the 25 year old continues to develop into a solid EFL full back. With a tackle success rate of 57% he’d be a reliable option to slot in when needed.

Standing at 6’2 he’s also very handy in the air and bagged a couple of goals from headers last season too. This is an underrated part of a full back’s game as it removes the ability for a tall striker to stand on and dominate against a shorter player when crosses come into the box. Darikwa is also 6’2 so bringing in another physically imposing Right Back makes a lot of sense.

A slight concern with Johnson is his ability going forward and it’s the area of his game he’s been weakest at this season. With a pass completion average of 67% and a pretty low 0.49 key passes per 90 he hasn’t been able to show the type of attacking talent you’d like to see from a wing back. With just 1 assist all season it’s an area of his game that needs improving.

With him playing in one of the divisions weakest teams it could be suggested that he hasn’t been able to contribute in attacking areas as much as he’d like simply because of the disparity in quality of his teammates. He has been one of the best players in a poor Fleetwood Town side but whether or not he’d be able to make the step up to Championship football is something I’m not 100% sure of.

However, if we are able to snap him up on a free transfer it could be a really smart bit of business. He’s a player that would be happy to fight for his spot in the side and as he approaches the prime years of his career it could be the perfect time to take a bit of a punt on him. There are similarities with Kal Naismith in the sense that he’s a player who’s entire career has been spent below the Championship and could relish the opportunity to prove himself at a higher level, even if he doesn’t necessarily join as a first choice player immediately.

The former Accrington Stanley man might also be keen to move back up north, as his loan move to Fleetwood would suggest. He has some work to do on his all round game, particularly going forward, but as a cheap option he makes sense, though it might not be an immediate upgrade.

Target 3 – Kane Wilson. Forest Green Rovers.

Forest Green Right Wing Back Kane Wilson has been one of the stand out performers in the EFL this season and would be a wonderful signing for Leam Richardson’s side this summer.

The 22 year old former West Brom man has been in wonderful form for the League 2 champions and was named in the divisions Team of the Season at the recent EFL awards. He’s been a huge part of their title winning side and I expect him to attract some interest from bigger clubs this summer.

Some of Wilson’s statistics from last season are mesmerising and show what a fantastic young player he’s turned out to be. Of course it’s worth noting he’s playing in a division two steps below what we will be in next season, and in one of the best teams at that level too, but even after taking all of that into account he looks like a hell of a player.

He averages 0.98 tackles won per 90 which is less than Tendayi Darikwa, but his tackle success rate of 71% is up there with the best Right Backs in the country and suggests he is an extremely reliable defender when called upon. He’s really impressive in other defensive areas too, with 0.29 blocks and 0.78 interceptions per 90 in the divisions most dominant side.

As well as being reliable in defensive areas Wilson has been wonderful going forward for Rovers too. He attempts an average of 6.32 dribbles per 90 which is the highest in the EFL for Right Backs by some way and although he only averages 44% completion with these runs it still puts him at the top for dribbles completed per 90. He’s quick, dynamic and a powerful runner who causes havoc down the right hand side.

This is something I really think Latics lacked at times last season. We don’t have anyone you’d consider lightning fast and by bringing in a player like Wilson on that right side we make ourselves far more threatening going forward without losing anything defensively. His end product is great too, averaging a huge 2.13 key passes per 90 and registered 13 assists in League 2 last campaign.

His contract is expiring this June but Forest Green are in talks with the 22 year old over a renewal. I wouldn’t be surprised if the reason for the delay in him resigning is because he’s received approaches from other clubs interested in his services and I for one really hope Latics have been in contact.

If we can snap Kane Wilson up on a free transfer it would be a wonderful deal both short term and long term given his age and ability. He improves our starting 11 and has plenty of sell on value should the time come for us to move him on, which is another reason why he’d be an extremely sensible transfer for Latics to make.

Target 4 – Nathan Byrne. Derby County.

It would be rude not to include this man wouldn’t it! Whilst on the surface putting Nathan Byrne’s name forward as a sensible transfer might seem like a decision born out of nostalgia the facts are he’d be an excellent addition to the side.

The 29 year old isn’t exactly a long term fix but there’s no denying he makes us a better side and with over 150 games of Championship experience he matches the kind of player our recruitment team focused on last summer.

I don’t need to explain what Byrne’s about to any Latics fans as they’ll remember what a wonderful player he was for us a few years ago, but I’ll do so anyway. He’s a quick wing back who likes to get on the ball and drive up the pitch where he delivers some teasing crosses into the box. Defensively he’s solid and this area of his game has improved as he’s gotten older, particularly this year at Derby County.

With 0.95 tackles won per 90 and a tackle success rate of 62% he’s shown much needed experience and grit in a young side this season that’s been destined for relegation since their points deduction was announced. His experience could help us if we find ourselves in trouble at some point in the season and packing the side with these type of figures seems to be the favoured approach of Leam Richardson and his staff.

Going forward he’s still a talented player too. With an impressive average pass completion of 75% he is comfortable in possession and as Latics fans will remember his crossing ability is useful too. At Derby last season he averaged 3.42 crosses per 90 which put him in the top 25% for Right Backs in the EFL, and this is whilst playing in a 4 at the back possession based system where crosses weren’t a large part of their game.

The ability for Byrne to get himself into dangerous crossing positions hasn’t left him since his time at the DW. He would give us a slightly different dynamic down the right side than Darikwa and having another experienced player to compete for that spot should bring the bets out of both players if the time comes.

Derby’s financial issues are well documented and with Byrne’s contract up in June you’d imagine he’ll be considering his options ahead of the new season. I’d imagine he’d be open to the opportunity of returning to Latics, especially given the sour circumstances in which he had to leave the club. It looked like he really enjoyed his time here and you’ve got to wonder if he wants to return to wrong those rights just as much as we want him to.

Perhaps bringing Byrne back could be sign as slightly unambitious given his age and the fact his time at Latics might’ve been and gone. He might also command a slightly higher wage than the other names on this list which could be a problem, but on the whole I believe this is a realistic, smart and almost poetic transfer we could make. Getting the band back together anyone? Maybe Reece James is my next choice!

Target 5 – Callum Brittain. Barnsley.

Another player relegated from the Championship last season, and another player that would fit right into Latics’ 3-4-3/3-5-2 system is Barnsley’s Callum Brittain. The 24 year old was a bright spark in an otherwise dull side and is too good to be playing League 1 football next season.

He’s another player with Championship experience but is much younger than Byrne and would give us a different dynamic going forward as well as providing a more long term solution to our Right Wing Back spot.

Considering he’s played in a really poor side this season his numbers are really quite impressive. With 1.23 tackles won, 0.23 blocks and 1.17 interceptions per 90 he was one of the best defenders in the league and would give Latics consistent solidity down that right hand side which is something we’ve been after for a while.

On top of the defensive side of the game he’s also a very capable attacking threat. He’s a confident and competent dribbler, averaging 2.98 dribbles at a success rate of 53% for Barnsley in the league. Whilst he isn’t the quickest wing back around he’s definitely a powerful runner and probably a more accomplished player than Darikwa in attacking areas.

He’s not the most disciplined player around and with 1.11 fouls per 90 he could leave us exposed if he was to pick up a booking, something he did 8 times last season. That being said no Wigan player received more bookings than Tendayi Darikwa in the 2021/22 season so it wouldn’t necessarily bring any added troubles to our side.

The main problem with this signing that I can see is the price. Despite their relegation I can’t imagine Barnsley will be too keen on losing a player of Callum Brittain’s quality and will likely look to price him out of a move. However, with just 1 year left on his current deal the Tykes could be tempted to cash in on the 24 year old to avoid losing him on a free in 12 months time.

In terms of what he’d bring to Latics like I say he’s a really well rounded wing back that improves our side at both ends of the pitch. At 24 years old he’s entering the prime years of his career and I believe he’d be a really smart pick up for us to make, assuming the price is right.

I do wonder if the recent issues between the two clubs could effect any potential negotiations but assuming both (or particularly theirs) sides remain amicable it could work out well for both clubs and the player himself. They get some money for a soon to be out of contract player, the player gets a move back to the 2nd tier and we get a top quality Wing Back to add to our side.

Target 6 – Nathaniel Atkinson. Hearts.

My final target is probably the most unrealistic of the lot but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to mention him on the off chance he becomes available. Nathaniel Atkinson only joined Hearts in January but has really impressed since making the move to Scotland from Melbourne City.

The 22 year old Australian international would be a really good signing for any Championship side and if Latics were able to get him I’d love to see it happen.

Since joining Hearts he’s put up some really good numbers in both defensive and offensive areas in a side that’s sitting comfortably as the ‘best of the rest’ in Scottish football. The success of the club this year makes the likelihood of signing him even more unlikely as they look set to earn the chance to play European football next year.

That aside lets delve into some of the impressive statistics that make Atkinson the sensible target he is. With 2.08 tackles won per 90 and a tackle success average of 66% he does the dirty side of the game really well, and when you add the 1.21 interceptions per 90 on top of that it starts to paint the picture of a really impressive defensive wing back.

However, there’s more to him than just the defensive side of the game. As a RWB in a 3-4-3 system he’s often tasked with getting high up the pitch and offering an option out wide. This gives him plenty of licence to dribble and cross in the final third, two things he does to a good level.

Atkinson averages 3.3 crosses and 0.87 key passes per 90 which demonstrates a decent end product particularly for a defender. He combines crosses from deep with bursting runs down the line and with 3.13 dribbles per 90 these are something we could come to expect should he turn up at the DW Stadium.

As I mentioned previously this is definitely the most unlikely target but it would show a hell of a lot of ambition to target players like Atkinson. It’s always difficult to estimate the cost of a player from the Scottish League, as the signing of Jason Kerr showed in the summer. To sign a cup double winning club captain for less than £1 million is superb and completely unexpected, especially for a League 1 side at the time.

With that in mind I can’t be absolutely certain on the price range but don’t be surprised if Hearts place a 7 figure valuation on the Aussie. Their European qualification could put him off leaving, but then again Jason Kerr left St Johnstone side in the Europa League qualifiers so who knows! If the fee is right and the player is interested it would be a really positive signing for Latics but don’t hold your breath on this one.

Final Thoughts

The Right Wing Back position is likely to be a key point of conversation all summer long and there can be no doubt that a signing needs to be brought in for this area of the side.

With Tendayi Darikwa being the club captain you’d imagine there aren’t any immediate plans to replace him so any player brought in would probably have to accept slightly less involvement in the first team than they’ll have had this season. But with it arguably being the weakest area of our ‘best 11’ there’s no reason why we shouldn’t look to bring in an upgrade on Darikwa, club captain or otherwise.

I really like the look of these 6 players and if any of them become available I am of the opinion that we should go for them. It’s important to think beyond next season as well, not to get ahead of ourselves but that’s always a ‘sensible’ thing to do when making a transfer.

Most importantly what do you think? Let me know your thoughts on which of these players you think would be the most sensible transfer, and if you have any other players you’d like us to sign let me know on my Twitter below.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and I hope you’ll be back soon!

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