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Next Wigan Manager Odds: Three candidates to replace Leam Richardson

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Wigan Athletic are searching for a new manager following the departure of Leam Richardson. Gab Sutton delves into the next Wigan manager odds to pick out three candidates for the job.

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Wigan’s decision to part company with manager Leam Richardson stings.

This is a man who had been part of the club’s successes under Paul Cook, whom he assisted to the League One title in 2017-18, Championship survival in 2018-19 and incredible form in the second half of the following campaign, despite which the club were relegated due to a points deduction.

After Cook left, following a brief stint in charge for John Sheridan, Richardson inherited a broken club, in which wages weren’t being paid in full, on time, and off-field matters were more pressing than on-field ones.

With a skeleton staff and a depleted, largely youthful squad that had been ravaged in the summer, Richardson somehow galvanized the club and kept them in League One.

The Latics were bottom of the table after March’s 1-0 loss to Charlton, but April’s four-game winning streak did the trick for Richardson, before the great news of the takeover which lifted the whole town.

Sure, having a competitive budget, a bigger squad and greater operational support helped Richardson, with the signings of Jack Whatmough, Tom Naylor and James McClean boosting the quality, and changed the dynamics of his remit.

Nonetheless, there was a different type of pressure that came with this, and Richardson delivered emphatically, with the West Lancashire club winning the League One title.

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Talal Al Hammad and the board showed a certain level of ruthlessness to make the decision they did over Richardson, given the above: they could very easily be criticized for a lack of loyalty.  

Wigan were ninth just a month ago, two points off the Play-Offs, and to make the decision then would have been ludicrous, so this call has arguably been made on a month of poor form and performances, which seems particularly cruel given context.

However, not only had Wigan not been playing the style of football that Al Hammad and the board might have wanted, they had been short of the fight often associated with a Leam Richardson team.

A month or two ago, the Latics would have been regarded as one of the top sides in the EFL when it comes to mastering the intangibles: heart, commitment and togetherness.

In recent games, like the 1-0 defeat to Stoke, Wigan have looked almost unrecognizably weak, passive and disconnected.

If they had retained the intangibles whilst not being as dynamic as they wanted to be in possession, or created chances but not finished them, it might have been easier for the board to stick with Richardson amid results.

Football is an extremely cut-throat industry, and if Wigan wanted to achieve their ambitions of not only staying up this season, but also progressing within the Championship after that, sometimes loyalty can slip down the list of priorities.

However, the consequences of that feel incredibly harsh and it’s difficult not to have sympathy for Richardson in how he’s been treated.

As for the replacement, here are three contenders…

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Duncan Ferguson

Why he should get the job

“People don’t buy what we do, they buy why we do it.” – Simon Sinek

The above is certainly the case with Duncan Ferguson, who has been one of the most passionate, energetic, and animated figures in English football for 20 years.

While Ferguson has that hard, aggressive appeal, he’s also incredibly committed to community causes and sees it as part of his job to help supporters in whichever way he can.

At a time when a club legend has left Wigan Athletic under a cloud, when the club has Championship status to fight for, who’d say no to somebody who can galvanize the place?

Why he might not

The big question with Ferguson is how much of his overall skillset as a manager is accounted for by passion.

It may absolutely be the case that, once a club commits to him as a manager long-term, he shows outstanding tactical nous, either in terms of plans for individual games or developing a clear playing identity.

The likelier possibility is that he’s similar to Cook, in that he needs a quieter, more detail-driven football brain alongside him, which isn’t something that’s immediately apparent in the current coaching staff.

Well, they did have one but he’s just left…

Verdict

He’d certainly bring some passion to the club but there may be more EFL proven options out there.

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Rob Edwards

Why he should get the job

If Wigan are in the business of building towards a clear long-term tactical and strategic vision, whilst being prepared to be patient in making it work, then Rob Edwards is the go-to appointment.

The former Wolves defender won the League Two title in his only full season in management to date with Forest Green Rovers, playing a progressive, expansive, high-pressing style of football.

Not only that, Edwards has managed England Under-16s, coached the Under-20s, and been Head Coach of Wolves Under-23s, so his knowledge of and contacts in the elite youth scene are among the best.

Edwards will have good relationships with players who are either available on loan, or who have dropped out of a Premier League Academy but remain a talented prospect for a Championship club.

Plus, the 40-year-old is a staunch 3-4-1-2 disciple and with that brings clarity, in terms of what Wigan would be recruiting for in the forthcoming transfer windows.

Edwards would be more than capable of leading Wigan onto some progress within this league over two or three seasons, but the other dimension to appointing him would be that he’s already won a promotion in a lower league.

Say, hypothetically, the Latics were to go down with 50+ points, like the 54 Peterborough were relegated with back in 2012-13, whilst being incredibly unlucky with injuries, creating lots of clear cut chances and losing to the odd long-range stunner or individual error.

In those circumstances, few would argue against Edwards having the opportunity to try to lead the promotion charge in League One, and he’d have the knowhow to deliver as opposed to coming into the situation cold.

Why he might not

Is he too idealistic?

Lots of things went against Edwards at Watford, namely the failure to recruit adequately for specific areas within his system, and 12 games was no time at all.

However, the 3-4-1-2 he was staunchly in favour of arguably wasn’t the best fit for the personnel he had available, and he may not have shown the flexibility required to adapt to circumstances.

That lack of pragmatism was at a club that still have some of the best players in the division in Joao Pedro and Ismaila Sarr, but it could be even more of a problem at what is on paper one of the weakest squads.

For instance, Rarmani Edmonds-Green and Jack Whatmough might be able to do what Edwards wants, but will playing out from the back with Curtis Tilt work?

Deep midfielders have to be comfortable getting on the ball and dictating: Graeme Shinnie should be able to do that, but will ball-winner Tom Naylor fancy that?

Verdict

This has the potential to be an incredibly exciting appointment for Wigan, in terms of what Edwards could do if given some time evolve the squad, whilst building on the cultural foundations Richardson laid down and developing more nuanced patterns of play.

However, Edwards hasn’t proven he can thrive in a dogfight, so this move would demand that he shows different sides of his all-round managerial skillset.

Neil Critchley

Why he should get the job

Critchley built a strong side at Blackpool, winning League One promotion in his first season in charge at Bloomfield Road, before achieving a highest finish in nine years in his second.

The tenacious, pressing style of football would get the best out of Tom Naylor, Max Power, James McClean and Callum Lang, as well as a plethora of a strong, industrious centre-forwards.

As well as having a range of qualities better suited to a dogfight, perhaps, than other candidates, Critchley also has the contacts to elevate the quality of the squad, especially in the loan market.

As highlighted in our feature on the Luton job, Critchley has been able to do deals for Daniel Ballard and Ellis Simms which have been pivotal for Blackpool under his watch, and might not have happened if he wasn’t well connected in the Under-23s scene.

Not only this, Critchley has been entrusted with managing Liverpool in one-off games and if Wigan could get some of their prized assets, or pick-up one or two drop-outs, that could help them add affordable quality to a trusty core over the next couple of seasons.

Critchley is also one of just 16 coaches in the world to obtain UEFA’s elite badge.

Why he might not

Firstly, he’s been heavily linked with the Hatters in the next Luton manager odds and may be more interested in that job, given that they have a better chance of challenging for the Play-Offs this season or next.

Verdict

Despite the above, Wigan would give Critchley the opportunity to stay in the north-west, with the 44-year-old never having worked south of his hometown of Crewe. If Critchley is attainable, he’d be an excellent appointment.

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