It is now twenty-four hours since Wigan Athletic won a historic first ever FA Cup Final and the reality of what they have achieved is just starting to sink in. The Wigan story is a modern-day football fairytale. A small town club that only entered the Football League in 1978 and have never previously gone beyond the FA Cup quarter-finals have won the most famous domestic cup competition in the world.
In front of 87,000 people at Wembley and a global TV audience approaching one billion, the minnows of the Premier League have provided what must be the biggest shock ever seen in a modern-day cup final.
Previous underdog winners such as Sunderland in 1973, Southampton in 1976 and Wimbledon in 1988 have provided big shocks, but in the modern game the status and financial gap between Wigan and Manchester City has never been so great.
The difference between the two clubs is quite remarkable. For example, if you consider each club’s catchment areas the City of Manchester has a population of 503,000 and the Greater Manchester conurbation over 2.2 million, while Wigan is a small town of 81,000, sandwiched between both Liverpool and Manchester.
Oil wealthy City have assembled a squad costing hundreds of millions, while Wigan’s is a much more modest ten’s of millions. City’s starting line up at Wembley cost over £200 million while Wigan’s cost less than £20 million.
The City players are earning stratospheric salaries, Ivorian Yaya Toure is estimated to be on £250,000 per week. Wigan’s top players earn less than £30,000 per week. The disparity between the two teams resources is almost beyond comprehension.
Yet despite all this Wigan have triumphed. This is a truly inspirational story, a small club who have grown from very humble beginnings to win trophies and perform at the highest level.
Latics are a family club that still appreciates the coaching skills of former players such as Graeme Jones, Graham Barrow and John Doolan. It is managed by another former player Roberto Martinez who came over to England from Catalonia in 1995, a man who has settled in England and whose heart is with Wigan Athletic.
Chairman Dave Whelan brought Martinez to the club and now Roberto and Wigan are synonymous. He is one of the best young managers in European football. He is still only 40 years old, but he has steered Wigan to a first major trophy and European qualification on relatively limited resources.
This season Spanish tiki-taka style football has not delivered any major European trophies but Martinez’s British version of the passing game has delivered the FA Cup to a small club in Lancashire. Martinez will no doubt go onto manage a big European club, but for now he is creating something very special at Wigan.
Some cynics will say that despite the cup success, Martinez is tainted by his relegation battle. But certain factors are out of the control of even the best managers, and the main reason for the Latics precarious position is the number of long-term injuries to defenders. Ivan Ramis, Antolin Alcaraz and Maynor Figueroa are mainstays of the Wigan backline and it is obvious that these injuries prevented a mid-table finish.
Whatever happens in the next two Premier League games, Wigan’s first major trophy is a remarkable achievement in the context of the modern game. Their success may just have restored football fans faith in the FA Cup and given hope to clubs throughout the football pyramid.