Martinez adds a touch of style to Wigan
Wigan Athletic is one of the Premier League's most unfashionable clubs, but the difference between their public image and the reality of their football could hardly be greater...
The road to Wigan Pier
Wigan Athletic. The very name conjures up dreary visions of grey, windswept fields and half-filled stands, labored players and bitter relegation scraps. Regularly priced short by the odds makers to make a return to the Championship, Wigan is one of the Premier League’s least fashionable sides, a club often obscured by the division’s relentless pursuit of glamour and commercial fame. The difference between the Latics’ stereotyped public image and the reality of their football, however, could hardly be greater.
Since the club’s promotion to the top flight in 2005 Wigan has often struggled to stay in the division, regularly escaping relegation by the narrowest of margins, but not once has it compromised it commitment to free-flowing, attractive, attacking football. While the foundations of this approach were laid by Paul Jewell and Steve Bruce in the early days of Wigan’s Premier League tenure, it was not until the appointment of Roberto Martínez in 2009 that the club really began to flourish from a stylistic perspective.
A manager blessed with great self-belief and schooled in the aesthetic ways of his homeland, the genial Spaniard – a former Wigan player himself – first impressed at the helm of Swansea City before taking over at the DW Stadium and setting about building a competitive team in his own image.
While both of Martínez’s two full seasons in charge saw protracted flirtations with the drop, his team's continued survival despite a relatively small budget and an even smaller fan base can be taken as tacit vindication of his methods.
While again much-fancied for relegation this season, Wigan has begun the campaign in encouraging form, still yet to be beaten having taken five points from its first three games. Indeed, Saturday brought the team’s first victory of the season as it beat QPR 2-0 in front of another disappointingly meagre home crowd. The scoreline may not have reflected the number of good chances created by Neil Warnock’s visitors, but Wigan was impressive going forward and continually threatened the QPR back four.
Set up in an ambitious and offensive-minded 4-3-3 formation, the hallmark of Martínez's side is its intricate attacking movement and beautifully controlled short passing game (which is surely as good as any team's outside of the top six).
Saturday’s forward trio of Victor Moses, Hugo Rodallega and Franco Di Santo may not be the league’s most star-studded, but all three players are capable at this level and looked at ease alongside one another. Wigan's first goal against QPR may have been aided into the net by a deflection, but the 14-pass move which led to Di Santo’s well-struck shot represented the very best aspects of Martínez’s aesthetic ideology.
Admittedly, as strong as it is going forward, Wigan's defending can appear haphazard and disorganised at times, although the inspired Ali Al-Habsi has bailed the team out more often than not more recently. As the likes of Adel Taarabt and Tommy Smith demonstrated at the weekend, Wigan occasionally makes it too easy for the opposition to get in behind, that being one of a number of defensive weaknesses which must be remedied if it is to lift itself above the lower mid-table and begin building on improved on-field performances with a greater consistency.
Wigan Athletic may not historically be one of England’s most alluring sporting institutions, but the club’s reputation is undergoing a gradual transformation as Martínez brings a dose of continental flair to the north-west.
His team has its imperfections and still has a long way to go if it is to be regularly competitive, but Saturday's victory showcased the best of a club which has defied the odds to maintain its Premier League status and delighted many with its football along the way.