How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace Wigan
Although it's their eighth successive season in the top flight, Wigan's presence amongst the gilded elite is still regarded as something of an aberration. Perennial underdogs and great escape artists usually engender goodwill from the neutrals but the response to Roberto Martinez's side tends towards the hostile.
As a hotbed of Rugby League the town is seen as apathetic towards its football team. An average crowd of 18,997 so far this season is certainly low, ahead of only QPR, whose ground is significantly smaller than Wigan's. That they should prosper while traditional powerhouses like Leeds United, Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday continue to struggle is unforgivable in the eyes of some.
This preference for time-honoured hierarchy over eager, young upstarts is sad, if hardly surprising. Football seeks comfort in old truisms and Wigan have reveled in upsetting those odds. Formed in 1932, they lack the mythology associated with the big clubs they have routinely biffed since their arrival in the Premier League.
Their rapid ascent through the divisions has been funded by publicity-hungry local-boy-done-good Dave Whelan. His endless mugging for the media and decision to rename Wigan's ground the DW stadium is an understandable source of irritation, that he keeps them punching well above their weight rather less so.
Compared to the extravagant spending of Chelsea and Manchester City in particular, Whelan is a quaintly small-time sugar daddy. A flinty businessman investing in his team, it's an almost outdated concept in this age of grasping commercialism and global oligarchy. Accusations that their success is undeserved are made regardless.
The accounts show that Wigan continue to make a loss, like virtually everyone else. Yet they get by on one of the lowest wage budgets in the division, condemning more wasteful clubs to relegation each season. Their policy of buying young players from less fashionable leagues, giving them experience before selling on at a profit is admirable and effective.
Leighton Baines, Pascal Chimbonda, Antonio Valencia, Wilson Palacios and Victor Moses are just some to come through this system. It's an impressive list, demonstrating more considered scouting than many much better established teams. Working to a budget clearly has its advantages and it wouldn't be a surprise to see James McCarthy, Arouna Kone or Maynor Figueroa go for sizeable fees in the future.
Under Martinez, Wigan have also developed a reputation for attractive football, playing with three at the back and taking risks in possession. Where caution is the watchword for many under-resourced sides, this is a refreshing approach. It has been overplayed on occasion but is nevertheless another reason that they deserve a little more respect.
Having leapt out of the bottom three after Saturday's win over Norwich, and with a first ever FA Cup semifinal on the horizon, Wigan look set to keep more historically significant clubs in the shadows a while longer. Perhaps it's time we stopped regarding them as outsiders, a one-off novelty soon to return to their 'rightful' place.
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