Well that’s that, the 2022/23 season is over and done with and the curtain has come down on one of the most disappointing and harrowing seasons in Wigan Athletic’s proud 91 year history. On the pitch it’s been very underwhelming, finishing 24th in the Championship and being eliminated from both cup competitions at the first hurdle, and off the pitch it’s somehow been even worse. Ownership failures, rash decision making and naïve planning have all contributed to what has been a dismal campaign.
The late payment of wages that has hovered over the club like a raincloud all season long has reached a new peak in recent weeks. 6 late payments since last June have made the club a toxic place to play, with several first team players going on strike for the last game of the season against Rotherham having been let down once again.
With relegation to League One confirmed and an obvious lack of funds in our owners bank accounts it is absolutely vital that we scale back the cost of running the club. With several first team players out of contract this summer there’ll be a huge turnover of players this summer, and that’s before considering the fact we may well sell some of our contracted players too.
Today I’m going to analyse the performances of all our first team players, discuss whether or not I believe their future is best served at Wigan or not and review their time at the club as a whole. I’ll be covering it all; wages, transfer value, ability and profile, suitability to Shaun Maloney’s system and more.
Strap in, and enjoy.
Disclaimer – Nobody outside of the club truly knows the wages of the players so don’t take what I say they are as gospel. I’m using a couple of trustworthy websites as sources but whether their figures have taken into account the hefty wage increases the players received after winning promotion I’m not sure, so it could easily be even more than what I say!
Latics have used three goalkeepers in the Championship this season but the man with the most appearances between the sticks is 33 year-old Ben Amos. He was brought in as first choice keeper at the start of last season and despite having one of the division’s better defences in front of him he didn’t stand out in our title winning campaign. In fact for me and many other Tics fans the goalkeeper position was in desperate need of strengthening last summer.
However, it wasn’t and Amos played 29 games in the Championship this season, conceding 36 times and keeping 7 clean sheets. However, where he really falls down is the fact that too many of the goals he conceded were avoidable. It felt like I was writing the words ‘Amos should’ve done better with it’ too often throughout the season and he conceded 2.96 goals more than the xG model suggests he should’ve done.
Before the arrival of Shaun Maloney that figure was considerably higher, peaking at just under 6, so at least his time under the new boss has been productive. That being said he’s simply not good enough with the ball at his feet and has visibly annoyed the Latics boss on a number of occasions to my memory with his poor distribution. Sometimes compromises are made if a keeper is excellent at one facet of the game but unfortunately Amos ranks well below average as a shot stopper and a sweeper keeper.
His contract expires this summer and I fully expect him to move on, probably to a lower League One / top end League Two team. He did his job for us last season by helping us get promoted and I’m sure he offers value behind the scenes as an experienced head, but there is simply no need for him as we look to take the club in a new direction. His wage isn’t too much, around the £5k a week mark according to several sources, but it’s better used elsewhere in my opinion.
Verdict – Release
Considering Jamies Jones has been the club’s ‘back-up’ goalkeeper for six seasons now it’s remarkable that he’s played almost 100 games for the club. Not only that, Jones is one of the few players who remained at the club during the time we were in administration and captained the club to our heroic survival in League One during the 2020/21 season. I think all Latics fans think fondly of the 34 year-old stopper.
He’s probably played more than he would’ve expected this season, initially brought in when Ben Amos was going through a poor run of form and then at the end of the season when Amos was injured. In 17 games Jones conceded 30 goals and kept 2 clean sheets which isn’t much to shout about whatsoever. In fact it actually makes him the worst performing keeper to play more than 6 games in the league this season.
He’s also conceded more than the xG model suggests he should’ve, 5.87 more to be exact. Similarly to Amos he’s also not really up to the levels required with the ball at his feet either and whilst he’s made strides in that department it’s still a weak area of his game. Ultimately the data shows that his best years are very much behind him.
His contract is also up this summer and he was one of the players who went on strike, rightly so, having not been paid. He’s only on a reported £3k a week which is manageable, but if the club is serious about moving forward it makes sense to move him on and give him our best wishes on the way out. He’s undoubtedly a key figure in the dressing room but the only way I’d see value in him staying is as a 3rd choice keeper / coach. If that’s a possibility, go for it!
Verdict – Release
Bringing the age range right down in the goalkeeper union is 21 year-old academy graduate Sam Tickle. The U21s keeper made his league debut for the club in the last game of the season at home to Rotherham and kept a clean sheet in a performance that included a couple of smart saves and an awful lot of composure and smart decision making for such a young man.
It’s worth mentioning that Rotherham didn’t threaten him an awful lot but all a goalkeeper can do is be there when called upon and he did exactly that. I was really impressed with him when he had the ball at his feet and the highlight of the first half was definitely him sending Jordan Hugill home early with a brilliant dummy.
His passing range looks good and he’s got a really long kick on him which is a brilliant trait to have when launching counter attacks. I’m sure there’s lots of improvements still to come in his game but as debuts go for young keepers it was a good one. I think it’s fair to say that he squashed any doubts that he wasn’t ready for the first team.
He recently signed a new four year deal and I’m pretty sure he’ll be involved in the first team next season. Whether that is as first choice or as the cup keeper I’m not sure but we definitely need to sign another keeper and I guess his squad status will be determined by the quality of player we’re able to bring in. He’s definitely ready to play his part though!
Verdict – Keep
One of the shining lights in a dismal season. I was excited by the signing of Jack Whatmough at the start of last season but he has performed well above expectations and is genuinely one of the best centre backs I’ve seen at the club. It just goes to show the value in recruiting younger players (he was 24 when we signed him) and developing them into genuinely quality players.
He’s our best defender in terms of his defensive and aerial duels won % (76% and 64%) and is also the most comfortable in possession. I think he’s found his best position at the heart of a back 3 as it makes up for one of the few weaknesses in his game which is a slight lack of pace. He’s also shown a willingness to carry the ball forward from this position too which offers us a nice line breaking option.
We’ve seen him go down with a couple of injuries this season which isn’t ideal as he arrived at the club with the ‘injury prone’ tag on him. Whatmough missed 9 games this season and we didn’t win a single one of them which shows what a positive impact he has on the team. He’s so dominant in League One and if we can keep him it’d be brilliant news.
Thankfully he signed a new contract a couple of weeks ago that means he’ll be around for another few seasons. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are offers for him this summer from Championship clubs as he’s proven he’s good enough to play in the second tier of English football. He seems very settled at the club but who knows what’ll happen. I know what I hope happens though that’s for sure!
Verdict – Keep. Consider sale for upwards of £1.5m.
A forgotten man in many ways, Curtis Tilt hasn’t played a single minute of first team football since Shaun Maloney took charge. Despite that he’s still played the second highest amount of minutes this season of our CBs which I think says more about the problems we have in that position to be honest, particularly on the left side of defence.
It’s pretty clear that Maloney doesn’t rate him and a large part of that I would assume is down to his lack of quality on the ball. He’s an old school defender and is probably more suited to how the game was played 30 years ago, but nowadays given the intensity of opposition presses and the responsibility CBs have in a team’s build up he just doesn’t cut it.
He’s out of contract in the summer and I’m pretty sure Shaun Maloney will be happy to get his reported £3.5k a week contract off the wage bill. The club will forever be grateful for him stepping up during the 2020/21 season and helping us stay up but I think we’ve outgrown him somewhat now, even with the relegation in mind. At 31 he still has something to offer in the EFL and I wish him the best, but I think he’ll be off and I’d hope that’s the case.
Verdict – Release
Ryan Nyambe has had a strange time at Latics this season. He was the club’s first summer signing and the fact it was a free transfer for a young player with lots of Championship experience made it an exciting one. Profiling him is pretty simple, a very one dimensional full back who is excellent defensively but offers little going forward and is very much a RB in a back 4 only. The problem with that, and it’s sort of a representation of the wider problem with our recruiting structure, is he was barely used in that role.
He struggled as a RWB because his attacking play isn’t good at all but when Leam Richardson made the decision to change to a back 3 early on in the season it pretty much made Nyambe unusable. His only other potential role was as a RCB but Jason Kerr was performing well and it left Nymabe without a chance in the first team.
Kolo Toure used him as a FB in a back 4, ironically profiling him better than Richardson and Maloney have but even then he wasn’t great. He’s been used as a LCB under Maloney which has always confused me as he’s not great with his left foot but in fairness he’s played his best football under the current manager. Is it enough to keep him around though?
My initial thoughts are no. He’s out of contract but I believe there is an optional extension clause that is yet to be activated. His reported £8k a week is a lot of money for not a lot of return and I can’t imagine he’ll be too keen to stay around in League One. I think it’s best for both parties if he moves on.
Verdict – Release
Without doubt the best thing to come out of this season was the emergence of Latics’ newest home-grown star Charlie Hughes. The young CB was handed his first team debut by Kolo Toure, one of the few things the guy actually did right for us, and has gone from strength to strength ever since. He’s now one of the first names on the team sheet.
His ability on the ball is what sets him apart and he’s got the best cross-field pass at the club. He’s also one of the best at passing into the final third which has given us a new method of playmaking, something not often attributed to a CB. Defensively he’s been solid enough, occasionally is outdone by a more experienced forward but that’s to be expected.
I think a season of League One football will do him the world of good. He’ll definitely show himself as one of the best defenders in that division and whilst I’d love him to stay at Wigan for the next decade it’s important that we develop him to sell him for the highest fee possible. After all, that’s how we’ll become a truly sustainable football club.
We signed him to a new contract recently which is honestly fantastic. I don’t think there’ll be many, if any, offers for him this summer and for Charlie’s sake he should stay around for another season, prove himself as somebody too good for League One and go from there. His wage isn’t much and his output is second to none. He embodies everything that the club should look to become.
This is a real what might have been situation for me. If Jason Kerr’s season didn’t end with a ACL injury in November would things have turned out differently? Probably not drastically but it was something that undoubtedly had a negative impact on the side’s performances. It also meant we had to bring in another CB which obviously has it’s financial impacts too.
Kerr was signed as a specialist RCB in a back 3 which is a role he perfected at St Johnstone. Under Shaun Maloney that spot has been taken by Charlie Hughes but I think the youngster is more than capable of switching to the left side which would allow Kerr to reclaim his spot. A back 3 of Hughes – Whatmough – Kerr would be the best in League One next season, easily.
There’s a bit of work for him to do in possession, completing just 77% of his passes this season. However, we play shorter passes on average now so I’m sure that number would increase under Maloney’s stewardship as it did with everyone else. Defensively he’s very good and he already has a relationship with Whatmough which is vital for a defensive unit to work well.
If the injury hasn’t effected him too badly I’d expect him to play a big part next season. However, with his £5k a week contract up at the end of the season this is our last chance to get some money from him if we choose to sell him so it’ll be interesting to see what happens. I like him and hope he stays but this could go either way.
Verdict – Keep, but consider sale for upwards of £800k
I’m a big fan of Omar Rekik and I’d like to think his time at the club will be enough to secure him a positive next step in his career. A stylish defender who prioritises possession play ahead of defensive grit, he perhaps wasn’t the ideal CB given our circumstances but in a team that aren’t fighting for their lives constantly under attack from the opposition I think he’d be ace.
Unfortunately I think he’s better than League One and I’m sure there will be suitors who’ll look to take him on loan, or maybe even permanently from Arsenal. Latics aren’t in the position to be spending money on players and whilst he appears to have enjoyed his time here I can’t imagine he’s desperate to return.
I’m glad we played a part in what could be an exciting career for the young Dutchman and I’ll keep an eye on his career path which I assume will continue away from the DW Stadium. Had we stayed up and had we got capable owners in charge I’d hold a different opinion but as it is we’re best off letting him move on.
Verdict – Return to Arsenal
I reckon if you asked Steven Caulker whether or not he regrets joining Latics his answer might be yes. He joined to link up with Kolo Toure again but when the Ivorian was sacked two weeks later it left Caulker stranded at a club he probably wouldn’t have joined without the pull of his former teammate.
His debut was impressive but a mistake against Luton in the 2-0 defeat at the DW didn’t help his cause, and under Shaun Maloney he’s featured very rarely. He did play the last game of the season despite being unpaid and injured and that deserves huge respect, especially given what I’ve mentioned in the paragraph above.
It was only a short term contract and I expect he’ll move on, maybe somewhere closer to home in London. If the wage was low enough I’d consider offering him another year because he has a lot to offer off the pitch whilst being a 4th/5th choice CB, but I can’t see him accepting that offer considering he’s on around £6k currently. Thank you and good luck, Steven!
Verdict – Release
What a gutting tale this was. 70 minutes into one of the best debuts in Latics history Martin Kelly’s left leg gave way in the centre circle at Ewood Park and boom, ACL injury and season done. We only got to see the experienced defender in a Latics kit for 70 minutes and yet the impact he made has got people debating his future at the club even still.
The worry with this kind of injury, especially for a 32 year old, is the impact it has on their physical attributes. You’d assume he won’t be fit till October at the earliest and we won’t know how it’s impacted his game till then. That being said I genuinely wouldn’t be surprised if we offered him a permanent contract this summer.
His influence in the dressing room is clearly massive and Maloney is a huge fan of his. With the squad likely to be a lot younger next season it’s important to have experienced pros around and he’s the model professional in that sense. His current wage is reportedly £7.5k a week but if we can get him on half of that in League One I’d certainly support it.
Verdict – Offer a smaller contract
Sam Tickle – Goalkeeper – £1k per week
Jack Whatmough – Centre Back – £5k per week
Charlie Hughes – Centre Back – £1.5k per week
Jason Kerr – Centre Back – £5k per week
Martin Kelly – Centre Back – £8k per week currently. Would renew for £4k per week
Estimated Total Spend – £16.5k per week (£858,000 per annum)
Ben Amos – Goalkeeper – £5k per week
Jamie Jones – Goalkeeper – £3k per week
Curtis Tilt – Centre Back – £3.5k per week
Ryan Nyambe – Centre Back – £8k per week
Steven Caulker – Centre Back – £6k per week
Omar Rekik – Centre Back – £8k per week
Estimated Total Saved – £33.5k per week (£1,742,000 per annum)
First Choice Goalkeeper (Permanent or Loan)
First Choice Left Footed Centre Back (Permanent)
Rotation Left Footed Centre Back (Permanent or Loan)
Dependent on circumstance
Right Footed Centre Back ((Assuming Kelly doesn’t sign)Permanent or Loan)
Replacement for Whatmough / Kerr / Hughes if sold (Permanent)
Funds available – £1,742,000 – £858,000 = £884,000 per annum (£17k per week)
Sensible Transfers Articles coming soon – June 2023