Wigan Athletic celebrated Dave Whelan’s 80th Birthday this week with the unveiling of a statue depicting the club owner parading the FA Cup. It was a fitting tribute to the man who has transformed the club during his 21 years in charge.
His contribution to Wigan has been nothing less than incredible. When Whelan took over in 1995 Latics were struggling in the bottom division and few could have expected that the club would have such a meteoric rise.
To climb through the divisions and to enjoy eight years in the Premier League, reach a League Cup Final, win the FA Cup and qualify for the Europa League is an almost unbelievable achievement.
When Whelan said he would he would take the club into the Premier League many people mocked. When he said he would like to see the Latics play in the FA Cup Final many people said it was an impossible dream. But during Whelan’s chairmanship they did these extraordinary things.
When Whelan stepped down as Chairman in March 2015 after the damaging tenure of Malky Mackay, the appointment of his grandson David Sharpe as Chairman proved very successful as Latics won the League One title under Gary Caldwell.
However Latics are now going through a difficult period and there is some uncertainty about the direction of the club.
Recent events and changes in personnel would suggest that the owner has not taken a backseat and is still the driving force behind the big decisions and there is a risk that these decisions might not always be in the club’s best interests.
Latics have sacked four managers since the start of the 2012/13 season with only seven other clubs in the Premier League and Football League having a higher turnover of managers.
It is fair to say that Whelan has made some poor managerial appointments, in particular Owen Coyle and Malky Mackay, during his Chairmanship.
But Caldwell’s sacking was perhaps the most surprising given that Caldwell had just won the League One title and was only 14 games into the Championship season.
When Caldwell was appointed Chairman David Sharpe said it was “an appointment for the long-term” and spoke about having a “blueprint for the future”, but that has all now gone out of the window.
New manager Warren Joyce is only recently in post but he has set about making significant changes to the club. Chief Scout Malcolm Crosby and Goalkeeping coach Mike Pollitt have left the club and there is speculation that further changes are in the offing.
It was confirmed this week that First team coach Joe Parkinson has been sacked and that there are likely to be other changes with Joyce’s ex-Manchester United colleagues Paul Scholes, Paul McGuinness and Jim Ryan about to join the coaching staff.
The uncertainty off the pitch is certainly not helping performances on the field, as results have not improved. Despite being recommended by Whelan’s friend Alex Ferguson, Joyce has to be regarded as a risky appointment.
He is untried at Championship level having spent the last eight years in the protected atmosphere of reserve team football. If Latics were to be relegated back to League One it would be a disaster after the progress made by Caldwell and his coaching team.
Dave Whelan has achieved so much for Wigan Athletic during his time in charge but he should be careful not to taint his legacy by continuing to intervene in the big decisions.
This article was first published in the 12th Man column for the Wigan Evening Post on Saturday 26th November 2016.