When the season began, few people would have given Wigan Athletic a snowball’s chance in hell of finishing in the top ten, never mind pushing on the brink of European Football as January almost comes to a close. After a fantastic first season under Paul Jewell in 2005-2006, which saw them finish in 10th place and then a nerve wracking final day survival by winning at Sheffield United to stay up on goal difference. Last season saw them struggle to cope after Paul Jewell walked away and Chris Hutchings paid the ultimate price after trying to fill his mentors boots again after unsuccessfully trying to follow him at Bradford City and Dave Whelan was left facing a major decision in who to turn to in order to keep Wigan Athletic in the Premiership. Thankfully for Dave Whelan, Steve Bruce was having a terrible time at Birmingham City and desperate to get away from the boardroom infighting and aborted takeover from Carson Yeung. It was in no small part to the laughable attempt at a takeover from Yeung that benefited Wigan Athletic but also, in my opinion, saw Birmingham relegated. Yeung’s statements that he wanted to get Birmingham into the Champions League certainly raised a smile on most football fans faces, especially Wigan Athletic’s once Bruce came back to the JJB Stadium in November 2007.
In the 14 months since Bruce returned for his second spell in Lancashire, Wigan have stabilised, survived and pushed on as Bruce looked to add some flair to the qualities that Wigan already had in their squad with players like Chris Kirkland, Emile Heske, Antonio Valencia and Mario Melchiot giving him an experienced and talented spine to add to. His two signings last January,Palacios and Figueroa certainly raised some eyebrows, but now no-one is in any doubt about the qualities of those two players. The duo certainly began to make certain other clubs wonder why their scouting networks couldn’t pick up these bargains and now with the sale of Palacios to Tottenham for £13 million, a fantastic piece of business for Bruce and Wigan. For whatever reasons Bruce has excelled at picking up some fantastic players for peanuts in his time at the JJB Stadium.
The fee for Palacios, coupled with the the money raised from the sales of Heskey and Kilbane has begun to allow Bruce a chance to build his Wigan Athletic. Crucial to this is the intriguing signing of Mido from Middlesborough and Bruce’s options of playing the Egyptian national side’s striking superstars week in, week out. Mido is a player so frustratingly talented, yet wildly inconsistent that Bruce is going to need every ounce of managerial nous to deal with him but Mido finally needs to stop acting like a primadonna to finally deliver on his natural talent.
At 25 years of age, he is now with his 9th club which should tell you all you need to know about his motivation issues and with a career that has seen him play in 7 different countries, banned from his national side after an amazing touchline argument with his national manager in the Semi Final of the African Nations Cup in 2006, numerous red cards, driving bans, alleged scissor throwing incidents at Ajax and so on. Wigan have made steady progress this year and Bruce tried to sign Mido whilst he was still at Birmingham City so he certainly seems to be keen on the striker. Perhaps Bruce is banking on Mido’s compatriot, Amr Zaki, to assist in getting the best out of the talismanic striker and if it pays off, Wigan Athletic will be a very different prospect to the one that faced sides prior to the transfer window opening.It is certainly an interesting replacement for Emile Heskey.