Since Roberto Martinez took over the reins at Wigan Athletic in 2009, there has always been one stand-out performer who leads from the front, keeps the team up and consequently leaves for a bigger club.
Before Roberto Martinez’s new side kicked a ball, he had to find a man to replace the hugely influential Antonio Valencia who joined Manchester United for around £16 million, after rejecting the chance to join Real Madrid in January. The stature of the clubs interested in Valencia showed how impressive he must have been, and filling his boots would not be easy.
Nevertheless, Martinez found his man in Hugo Rodallega who finished the season as the club’s top goalscorer with 10, including a spectacular volley against Aston Villa on the opening day which set them up for a 2-0 win.
The following season was much more dramatic and Wigan’s survival was due to mainly one man — Charles N’Zogbia. I remember listening to BBC Radio 5 Live when Wigan were hosting West Ham in what would decide the club’s fate. The game had run deep into stoppage time with the score at 2-2. Then suddenly N’Zogbia emerged from the right, cut in on his left foot and drilled a shot into the corner to give his side the victory. He ended the season with nine league goals and earned himself a £9.5 million move to Aston Villa.
Last year was the emergence of Victor Moses, a pacy winger who loved to attack defenders and proved to be a vital part of the team as the season went on. He replaced N’Zogbia on the wing and at first struggled as his side went on an eight match losing streak. However his fortune changed as he grabbed his first goal for the club in the 2-1 victory over West Brom, but he really began to shine in the final months of the season when Wigan won 7 of their last 9 games to survive comfortably in the end and finish 15th. He played in every Premier League game and finished the season with 6 goals, leading to a summer move to Chelsea.
This brings us to the question, who will save Wigan this year?
I believe there are a few candidates, but I’ll select three.
The man with the job to replace Hugo Rodallega who in his time at the club had become their highest Premier League scorer in history. So far, Kone has scored 6 league goals and contributed 5 assists, but it is his sheer power and strength that impresses me. He is a very direct footballer, only looking one way — forward. And he loves challenging defenders with his strength and pace. He’s a good all-round striker with quality, shown by his 38 international appearances for the Ivory Coast where he is up for places against the likes of Didier Drogba, Gervinho and Seydou Doumbia. There is no doubt in my mind that the outcome of Wigan’s season will rely heavily on how Kone performs.
Ali Al Habsi
The goalkeeper played such a pivotal role in Wigan’s survival last year and as a result was voted Wigan’s player of the year. Wigan play an attacking style of football and only have 3 defenders, which leaves them prone to attack from the opposition, as evidenced by Al Habsi facing the joint most shots (102) and making the second most number of saves (67). People may turn around and say he’s conceded the most goals (35), but I believe that if he had not been in goal, that number would be higher and Wigan would have considerably less points on the board. I admit he can be eccentric and he has cost the club a few goals in his time, but his shot stopping is up there with the best in the league and his reflexes are unbelievable at times.
Throughout the year he has constantly been linked with moves to the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool, but unlike many young footballers, he hasn’t let this distract him and he has carried on playing football to a high quality standard. He has established himself as an integral part of Martinez’s team with his high energy levels in the centre of midfield. He has maturity and composure way past his years, never gets stressed and suits Wigan’s passing game perfectly. You may not find him on the score sheet regularly, but his commitment to the club and willingness to attack and defend make him an extremely important factor in Wigan’s survival bid and so, I wouldn’t be surprised if a club makes a move for him the summer. If McCarthy can carry on his strong form for the rest of the campaign, there is no reason why Wigan can’t stay up for yet another year and carry on the ‘Great Escape’ series.