Wigan will begin their fourth season under celebrated manager Roberto Martinez, but just like the last three years they will continue to be amongst the favourites for relegation. It is this that ultimately lies at the paradox of Martinez’s reputation. For all the nice interviews he gives and the sporadic moments of genuine quality from his team, it seems that Wigan are no better off in 2012 than they were in 2009. With this record it seems bizarre that Martinez could have ended up managing Aston Villa and Liverpool. Like a boxer rallying towards the end of a round to impress the judges, Wigan’s traditional end of season form seems to falsely place Martinez on other clubs’ wish-lists.
This judgement is slightly unfair given the financial limitations of the club. Martinez works to an extremely tight budget and generally has to fund his summer signings with the sale of a star player. Antonio Valencia left in the summer he took over and Charles N’Zogbia was sold last year. This time it seems that Victor Moses may have auditioned his way to a bigger club. Keeping Wigan in the Premier League under these circumstances must still be considered success. But for the last two seasons, Wigan’s survival has largely been down to the outstanding post-Christmas form of two players, N’Zogbia in 10/11 and Moses in 11/12. Martinez may argue that his tactics enabled these players to perform as they did, but there is a suspicion that Wigan were simply fortunate to have two individuals with enough quality to drag the club to safety. With the possibility that Moses will follow N’Zogbia out of the club, Wigan may be running out of star players that can keep them in the division.
From a tactical aspect Wigan were one of the most interesting teams last year, reintroducing the 3-4-3 formation to the Premier League. Martinez seemed to have taken inspiration from Europe, most notably Serie A which has seen an influx of back-threes in recent years. Wigan found success with the system as much from opponents’ lack of familiarity with the challenge it posed as their own effectiveness within it. Nevertheless Wigan were occasionally excellent, highlighted by late season victories over Man United and Arsenal that ultimately secured their safety.
It will be interesting to see how Wigan start the season and whether other clubs can find a way to combat their shape. With a two-man midfield and wing-backs they could be outnumbered in midfield and overloaded on the flanks. If this were to happen Martinez may struggle to change his style, given that the 3-4-3 system has allowed limited players like Gary Caldwell, Emmerson Boyce, Jean Beausejour and Franco Di Santo to flourish. At present Martinez has found a system that appears to enhance the players at his disposal, but if he is forced to adapt his strategy he may struggle to get results without an individual that can turn games on his own.