Steve Bruce's Exit Leads Wigan Down a Dangerous Road
There is a certain nobility attached to making ends meet, but balancing books can eventually weigh down a manager. The Premier League's glass ceiling is a formidable barrier to any aspiring team, and that is why Steve Bruce is set to leave Wigan in order to take the Sunderland job.
Bruce has a well-earned reputation for leaving football clubs in the lurch, as fans of Crystal Palace would testify, but he cannot be blamed in this case. The simple truth is that his journey with Wigan can be extended no further. Sunderland may not exactly be a more glamorous option, but Ellis Short's millions at least offers a fighting chance to puncture the Premier League's elite.
It should surprise more that a club who made a challenge for European qualification this year should so meekly lose their manager to one which only secured their survival on the season's final day. Wigan missed out on the Europa League because of a late slump. With safety assured by March, it revealed a mentality unsuited to the upper echelons.
The January transfer window carried a warning however. Then Wigan had lost the power and poise of Wilson Palacios and Emile Heskey to Tottenham and Aston Villa respectively. The quicksilver winger Antonio Valencia is rumoured to be on his way this summer, possibly to Manchester United. Bruce has been adept at bargain hunting in the transfer market, but the trend of losing his best players has made Sunderland impossible to reject.
Being a selling club is not a new sensation for Wigan and it will never grow old. After an impressive first season in the top flight, when they finished 10th, Jimmy Bullard and Jason Roberts both left. Wigan do not have the necessary clout to avoid these situations.
A lack of a history and a fanbase accounts for this. West Ham had a similar season to Wigan, yet they would surely feel confident of fending off an approach by Sunderland for their manager, Gianfranco Zola. Potential at Upton Park is clear. Wigan's prospects will always appear limited.
Their position is a warning to clubs of similar standing. Fulham were the club who signed Bullard from Wigan. Under Roy Hodgson they have qualified for next season's Europa League, yet they must err on the side of caution. Success does not always breed more success. Keeping their star defender Brede Hangeland will be difficult. He may, after all, be destined for Arsenal.
Blackburn won the title in 1995 but were relegated four years later. Perhaps the title win was more of a shock. There are far bigger clubs with far greater support in the north-west. In their more recent history, Mark Hughes excelled in the dugout for four years. They became more used to a battle for a European spot than a relegation tussle, but that is what happened when Hughes left for Manchester City and was replaced by Paul Ince last summer.
Perhaps the most glaring example of this trend is Charlton Athletic. Under Alan Curbishley, the club established itself as a Premier League side for six seasons. This was satisfactory until the fans grew gluttonous by sitting at the middle of the table for too long. Claiming there was no further to take them, Curbishley left in 2006. Charlton will play in League One next season.
For these clubs, there can be no guarantee of constant safety, particularly from football's major forces. Disappointment constantly lurks round the corner and is often sprung when least expected. The trick may be to embrace it. Wigan must.
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