Our club-by-club Premier League preview essays continues today with fan favorite, Wigan Athletic.
"I'm like a weed in Hitler's Bunker." -- George Costanza during his standoff with Play Now Sports.
If I've used that refrain to describe the fortunes of Wigan Athletic once, I've done it a thousand times.
It all stems from Wigan's promotion to the Premier League in the 2005 season. Leading up to the season nearly all the stories emanating from England about the Latics focused on how "unfancied" they were, basically labeling them a black sheep or irrelevant. Nobody came out and labeled Wigan a bunch of lepers, but let's just say, if you passed around the hat, it would take very long to pay for a couple tickets to Hawaii.
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While other, established, dare I say "classic" English clubs like Leeds United, languish in the Championship, Wigan presses on its in unglamorous manner in the top flight.
Yet from its Premier League debut, ruined by a last second thunderbolt by Chelsea's Hernan Crespo, Wigan has kept on keeping on. Through thick and thin, with a League Cup final tossed in, here the Latics stand.
Through Paul Jewell, the first manager I know who may or may not of resigned over an S&M sex scandal, then to Steve Bruce's savvy central/south American transfer policy and now to ex-club standout Roberto Martinez, Wigan has preserved.
Has it been memorable? No.
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Has the pitch at the JJB/DW Stadium during the winter looked more like a World War I era trench than a football field? You bet.
Did this team gainfully employ Titus Bramble(*) and live to tell about it? Yep.
(*) More on him when we get to Sunderland.
When we live of the bright lights and glamo(u)r of the Premier League does Wigan ever even cross into our minds? No way.
Somehow, this club has found a formula.
Grabbing a disgruntled Charles N'Zogbia away from Newcastle. Picking up capable Hondurans Hendry Thomas (likely Liverpool-bound) and Maynor Figueroa. Unearthing players like 23-year-old Frenchman Mohamed Diamé and England U-19 striker Victor Moses, who can be used then sold for profit.
When you're Wigan you have to take a different route than Manchester United. Granted you're playing on a much lower plane of success, but so be it.
Once again, though, Wigan figures to find itself scrapping just above the relegation zone for the 2010-11 season.
Believe it or not, losing Bramble in the center of the defense and replacing him with unproven Paraguay international Antolín Alcaraz is a gamble. Couple that with the departures of established players like disgruntled Austrian utilityman Paul Scharner and ex-captain Mario Melchiot (now in Qatar) and the Latics are going to have big shoes to fill. If N'Zogbia is sold before September, the midfield will have little creativity. Plus counting on the inconsistent Hugo Rodallega to chip into another 10 goals minus much of a supporting cast is a recipe for disaster.
Through it all, despite Wigan's status as an easy punchline through the years -- the fictitious "When the Whistle Blows" from HBO's "Extras" was set in Wigan after all -- I'll at least partially being pulling for the Latics this campaign.
That reason? Roberto Martinez.
The affable Spaniard was the breakout star of ESPN's World Cup coverage this summer with his level-headed, shtick-free commentary. Frankly, I'd feel bad making fun or rooting against him. He seems like such an upbeat guy.
Is it enough for Wigan America fan clubs to spring up across the States? Doubtful, but it's more than the club's had going for it from a nuetral standpoint since that first season and plucky, err, unfancied underdogs. Will you ever want to chose to play as Wigan in "FIFA 11", unless Martinez's visage is rendered on the sideline, the answer is doubtful yet again.
However you want to slice it, as quality a commentator as he was, Martinez will have his work cut out for him. After Jewell's surprise 10th place finish in 2005, Wigan has finished 17th, 14th, 11th and 16th, skating by because there have always been at least three teams that were in bigger disarray then it.
Without many established players, or even the presence of a match-winner/talisman like ex-Latic Jimmy Bullard this team will struggle.
It certainly looks like Wigan's unlikely run in the English Top Flight comes to an end in 2011.
Surprisingly, we might actually miss them once they're gone.
Bottom line -- Clearly the non-promoted team with the most holes to fill and question marks. Last season Wigan got juuuuuust enough results when needed to avoid the black hole down to the Championship. It helped that Burnley, Hull City and especially Portsmouth all dealt with managerial changes, in Pompey's case point deduction, and overall lack of talent. This year with a revived Newcastle in the mix, Wigan can't sleepwalk to 16th or 17th position. Chances are Wigan and Wolves find themselves in a dog fight for the last survival place.