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An uncertain season ahead for Whelan and Wigan

Dave Whelan and the majority of Wigan Athletic players, fans and staff will be going into this coming season with a fair bit of trepidation. For the time they spent in the Premier League, they knew what their goal was; survival.

What is the goal for Wigan for the 2013-14 season? The obvious answer is promotion back to the Premier league, but with so much uncertainty surrounding the club, is this actually a realistic prospect?

There is no word on a new manager yet, but Whelan will have had irons in the fire long before Roberto Martinez’s departure was confirmed. What is certain for whoever comes in is the side which kicks off the first game of the Championship season will be one which looks vastly different from the one which won the FA Cup.

Winning the FA Cup, while great for the club has also thrown up another issue for them. The Europa League.

Wigan now have the unenviable task of keeping hold of their best players, playing second tier domestic football, and also second tier European football. Balancing a squad which is capable of doing that is not going to be an easy task for anyone, especially if promotion is going to be the primary aim.

The likes of James McArthur, James McCarthy and Callum McManaman are of an age now where they have done their apprentiships and will be looking to kick their careers on. Surely they will want to continue as Premier League players.

There has already been noises of interest in them, not least from Everton where they have been tipped to follow Martinez to Goodison.

Then there are players like Shaun Maloney, Ben Watson, Franco Di Santo, Jean Beausejour and Ali Al-Habsi who would all be able to return to the Premier League and should comfortably be able to find top flight sides. These players are not gambles, they have years of experience, of winning cups, of surviving relegation and of course not surviving it.

These experiences make the player stronger, and will be qualities which managers will be looking at. They are also proven performers, and would not take half a season to adjust to the pace of the English league, as some foreign players might. From a buying clubs point of view, Wigan’s top performers over the last few years will make enticing prospects to purchase.

From Wigan’s perspective though, selling players will not aide their chances of promotion, defending their FA Cup or making any progress in the Europa. The core of their side could be ripped out, and the stability which came with Martinez’s rule will be disrupted. The cash will undoubtedly come in handy, but Wigan have always been a well run club, and getting money into the club is not as essential as it could be for other sides.

So, as the master of his own kingdom, Dave Whelan now has some big choices to make. The appointment of a manager to follow in the footsteps of Martinez is a huge decision, and it wouldn’t have been an easy job even if The Latics had maintained their Premier League status, and retained their best players. The new man seems to be on a bit of a hiding to nothing.

Wigan have the least resources out of the three sides relegated, and the Championship will be as competitive as ever in the coming season. The likes of Leicester City, Watford, and many others in such a strong league will see Wigan as a scalp and will raise their game. It will be one of the most unpredictable seasons in general, and for Wigan in particular.

There is no easy solution for Whelan. While proud of the achievement of getting into the Europa League, it is likely to be more of a hindrance to his plans. If they manage to get a glamour tie, then a couple of magical European nights could be the highlights of what is shaping up to be the most trying of seasons since Whelan took charge.

What is for sure, is that the ride that Wigan fans have been on since Whelan took the reigns shows now signs of slowing down, and for that they should be thankful. Having spent the last eight years at the top table though, expectations have to be realistic and it is unlikely Wigan will be dining with the big boys again come the end of the season, and then the ultimate question has to be asked. Will they ever again?

image: © illarterate

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