Wigan Athletic fans know all about the consequences of administration, specifically the fires sale that takes place the minute other clubs get wind of your financial situation.
Derby County found themselves in this exact position last season and had some prized assets in their squad that would inevitably be sold on to try and balance the books. Luke Plange, Kamil Jozwiak and Dylan Williams all left the Rams for reported 7 figure deals but they still found themselves desperate for money in January. One of the few sellable assets left at the club was 30 year old Graeme Shinnie, who would go on to join Latics in January 2022.
Before Joining Latics
Shinnie joined Derby on a free transfer from Aberdeen in 2019 who funnily enough snatched him right out of Latics’ grasp at the time. It looked as though then Aberdeen captain was to be Paul Cook’s first summer signing in 2019 but Frank Lampard’s Derby County moved quick to secure his services.
Nicknamed ‘Shinniesta’ by Rams fans he became a key player in the side and took to Championship football like a duck to water. His energy and enthusiasm made him a fans favourite and he showed a lot of quality on the ball, as Latics fans saw when he smashed home a late winner for the Rams against us at Pride Park.
As off the pitch events took a turn for the worst he remained a consistent performer in a youthful Derby side. He made 21 appearances in the Championship last season and was yet again one of the stand out performers for Wayne Rooney’s side as they battled against an inevitable relegation.
The graphic below, which was made by the twitter account @HenshawAnalysis, shows Shinnie’s main qualities. For the most part at Derby he played on the left of a midfield double pivot as he did when he joined Latics, so acclimatisation to a new role won’t really have been a problem.
It shows that his greatest qualities are his ball retention, his ability to attempt and complete a lot of defensive duels and finally his willingness to carry the ball forward from midfield. This video shows exactly what Graeme Shinnie is about in the box to box midfield role.
The Move to Latics
As I’ve mentioned already Graeme Shinnie was one of the only desirable options in the Derby County squad and when he became available Latics moved quick. For a reported fee of just £30,000 Latics secured their man and added much needed depth in midfield after Jordan Cousins picked up a long term injury in December.
Shinnie made it pretty clear in his first interview with Latics TV that he was both happy to join us but disappointed to be leaving Derby which I think is worth noting. I should also add that Latics reporter Paul Kendrick recently interviewed the midfielder and he opened up on the tough moments he experienced at times last season. For context I suggest you read that interview here.
At the time of his arrival we were still predominantly playing 4-2-3-1 which obviously suited Shinnie down to ground. In his debut against Gillingham he played on the left of the ‘2’ alongside Tom Naylor and looked impressive as you’d expect from a Championship quality player.
He started 4 games in a row after joining and looked handy enough, albeit not streets ahead of the players we already had. After being subbed off 70 minutes into our 1-0 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday on February 8th he played just 193 minutes of League 1 football and fell well behind Tom Naylor and Max Power in the pecking order.
When Jordan Cousins returned from injury in April he was fast tracked ahead of Shinnie in the pecking order too, so what is it that those 3 offer that Shinnie doesn’t?
As daft as it might sound it can’t be easy joining a side going well at the top of a division in January. In order for that side to be successful there has to have been a certain amount of consistency across the board and the players involved will all have built up ‘money in the bank’ so to speak.
Tom Naylor was arguably Latics’ player of the season last year and his performances in the first half of the season had made dropping him an unimaginable decision. Max Power had played a lot of his football at Right Back before January but following Cousins’ injury was moved back into the midfield. As the side’s primary set piece taker his inclusion was also pretty set in stone, and with his only other potential position occupied by club captain Tendayi Darikwa it left no room in the midfield for a newcomer.
In all of Shinnie’s first 4 matches he partnered Tom Naylor in the middle, with Max Power also starting but at Right Back. This was Leam Richardson cramming his main creator into the side as a way of trying to plug the gaps we had in our full Back positions at the time. When those full back problems were resolved one of the 3 midfielders would have to miss out and it was ultimately the new boy Shinnie that took the blow.
If you asked 100 neutrals who Latics’ ‘best Central Midfielder on paper’ was I’d suggest the majority would point towards Shinnie. He’s a better user of the ball than Tom Naylor is but less defensively sound, and he’s better defensively than Max Power but also not as creative. His problem is that he doesn’t excel at anything which makes him difficult to fit into our side.
If he’s replacing anyone I’d have to say it would be Max Power. In the Championship we’ll require more defensive solidity which Shinnie offers more of than Power, but as I’ve already said that would see us lose our set piece machine. Usually that role would go to a full back or forward, not a holding midfielder, but if we don’t bring in suitable alternatives I don’t expect Power to be dropped.
His main competition for me is with Jordan Cousins and I expect them both to play more significant roles next season should they both remain injury free. Having compared the two’s League 1 stats from last season they’re pretty similar in their outputs.
Shinnie is slightly better on the ball and Cousins is slightly better off it, but there isn’t a stand out 3rd choice CM. I get the impression that their performances in pre season will ultimately decide where they stand going into the upcoming season. Leam Richardson clearly rates them both so providing the pair with a blank canvas makes a lot of sense.
I started writing this article to try and get my head around the ‘Graeme Shinnie saga’ but as it reaches its conclusion I still don’t think I have. He’s clearly good enough to play for us in the Championship and I don’t think we’d be able to get an upgrade on him for the fee we’ll get after selling him.
However, I’m unsure whether or not his heart is in it at Latics. So often we see players join the club and immediately fall in love with the place, just think of Jack Watmough and Tom Naylor this season. With Shinnie I feel as though the circumstances surrounding his exit from Derby made it difficult for him to settle at a new club and the lack of game time won’t have helped this.
I hope we keep him and I hope he plays a much more significant role in the Championship than he did in League 1. We won’t be as successful next season and there won’t be as many players that are ‘undroppable’ so a lot of our fringe players should play a bigger part next year and Shinnie is absolutely one of them.
The general consensus from Latics fans is that they’d like him to stay around. One Latics fan (@ShirtyMorris on Twitter) believes a double pivot of Shinnie and Cousins is more suited to Championship football than Naylor and Power which is an interesting shout and I’m sure we’ll see the pair play together at times next season.
It sounds cliché but Graeme Shinnie could well be like a new signing for us next season, which could’ve been the plan all along. There have been murmurs of a move away and I hope they are just murmurs because he has a skill set well suited to Championship football.
Trust me, we’re yet to see the best from ‘Shinniesta’!
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