Charles N’Zogbia saves Wigan’s Premier League status and his own reputation

As the season began, the fortunes of Charles N’Zogbia and his parent club Wigan Athletic could not have been more disparate. As the Latics stumbled in to the new Premier League season with a 4-0 thrashing at Blackpool and an even heavier 6-0 defeat at home to Chelsea, N’Zogbia had recently made his French international debut and featured heavily on several clubs’ wanted list.

After such an inauspicious start, N’Zogbia could not be blamed for wanting out and a £9m bid from Birmingham City was accepted, amid false rumours of the player going on strike to force through a move. The move broke down with Blues boss Alex McLeish cryptically claiming that: “We did everything that was asked of us and then the goalposts were moved at the last minute,” the player’s wage demands believed to be the main obstacle. A potential return to Newcastle United also failed on deadline day as N’Zogbia faced up to another season at a club that he has always candidly claimed to be a springboard to bigger and better things.

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Wigan could easily have found themselves burdened with a sulking prima donna until the winter transfer window opened. Instead, N’Zogbia knuckled down and set about reversing Wigan’s fortunes after the autumn international break. Whether motivated by pride or future transfer prospects, N’Zogbia made an immediate contribution by scoring a late winner in a Carling Cup tie against Preston North End, before starring in the 2-2 draw at suitors Newcastle, scoring twice. He netted a consolation goal at Blackburn Rovers in November as Wigan struggled for wins, recording only two league victories before Christmas.

Another goal came in a 2-2 draw at West Bromwich Albion in February, but he saved his greatest contribution for the final stretch. N’Zogbia set about dragging Wigan out of trouble by scoring in the win at Blackpool, the 1-1 draws with Everton and Aston Villa, plus a further two goals, including a winner deep in to injury time, as Wigan overcame a two-goal deficit to defeat and relegate West Ham United. Wigan secured safety on the final day by beating Stoke City 1-0 at the Britannia Stadium, finishing 16th and three points clear of Birmingham and Blackpool.

Roberto Martinez’s handling of N’Zogbia has been significant and perfectly judged, removing the emotion from the Birmingham transfer saga and integrating him back in to the fold, publicly massaging his ego when necessary. In the wake of an impressive performance against Blackpool, Martinez remarked: “Charles has sensational talent. He can play, he can finish and his work-rate off the ball was outstanding. It was a mature display – and he is still only 24.” Martinez has reiterated his desire to keep N’Zogbia at the club, well aware of his good fortune in having such a talent at his disposal and keen to keep his star turn happy and enjoying his football.

N’Zogbia has clearly kept the fans onside, narrowly missing out on the Player of the Year award, with Ali Al-Habsi claiming the top prize. Interest in him from outside has also failed to dissipate with Liverpool and Sunderland the latest to express a desire to sign N’Zogbia in the summer. If he does finally secure the move he craves, he will leave Wigan a Premier League club and also with his reputation intact, and N’Zogbia deserves a lot of credit for both.

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