With Charles N’Zogbia having left Wigan Athletic for Aston Villa, Latics manager Roberto Martinez faces the task this summer of replacing one of his side’s key players and building on the potential of a number of promising young stars.
After a narrow escape from relegation last season, when Wigan finished 16th, only three points safe of the drop, Martinez has been slow to add to his squad. Indeed, with only Ali Al-Habsi signed so far, having spent the past season on loan from Bolton Wanderers, as it stands, the Wigan roster is the same one that struggled for much of the last campaign. The departure of N’Zogbia, and the possible departure of James McCarthy, the young midfielder attracting interest from Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Villa, means Martinez is not only facing a battle to add to his squad, but to prevent it from disintegrating too.
Interest in McCarthy is still only in the gossip stage, but the 20-year-old Scotland-born Republic of Ireland midfielder fits the bill of Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool – a talented young player with boundless potential. With over 50 Wigan appearances already to his name McCarthy has grown both in importance to the Latics and maturity on the field, but a reported contract impasse has alerted his high profile suitors. Liverpool were strongly linked to McCarthy earlier in the summer, with a £10m fee mooted – although it was reported in some circles Wigan were demanding double that amount. The Daily
N’Zogbia’s £9.5m switch to Villa Park robs Martinez of a player who netted nine Premier League goals – 10 in all competitions – last season, including vital strikes in relegation clashes with West Ham United, Blackpool and West Bromwich Albion, as well as providing eight assists. The French winger then played a telling part in 17 Wigan goals, and with the Latics only managing 40 Premier League goals, the former Newcastle United player was the most decisive member of Martinez’s squad. Replacing that amount of goals could take all of the near-£10m now at Martinez’s disposal, although such a big-money buy is not quite Martinez’s preferred mode of operation, particularly considering the failure of £6m signing Mauro Boselli. Instead, the Spanish manager has been linked with a series of players from his home nation and some of the Championship’s leading lights, including Getafe striker Adrian Colunga, Almeria’s Argentinean midfielder Hernan Bernadello and Leeds United winger Robert Snodgrass.
The Independent suggested earlier this summer that a speedy right-back was high on Martinez’s wish-list, with Justin Hoyte, the former Arsenal defender currently with Middlesbrough a possibility. Hoyte’s Middlesbrough teammate Julio Arca, capable of playing at left-back, the left of midfield or a more central midfield role, is another reported target, but a more direct replacement for N’Zogbia might come not from the Championship but the Premier League, in the form of Shaun Wright-Phillips. The Manchester City winger is reportedly keen to stay with his current club but that choice might not be his as Roberto Mancini seeks to trim his bulging squad. With the left-footed N’Zogbia often playing from the right flank Wright-Phillips could provide a positional replacement, if not a tactical one. A price tag of £4m has been suggested but what effect Wigan’s new found wealth – and City’s need to sell – has on any possible fee remains to be seen.
After retaining the services of Martinez in the face of heavy interest from Aston Villa earlier in the summer, the onus is now on the Latics to ensure N’Zogbia is the only major departure. As well as McCarthy, goalkeeper Chris Kirkland has been touted for an exit, although Al-Habsi is likely to be Martinez’s No 1 for the foreseeable future, while striker Hugo Rodallega has long attracted the attention of other Premier League clubs, with Stoke City the latest to be linked with the Colombian. Although Wigan are under no financial pressure to sell a player of Rodallega’s importance even before N’Zogbia’s transfer to Villa, the forward does have just one year left on his contract, perhaps encouraging admirers to tempt Dave Whelan with an offer before a new deal is agreed. After losing N’Zogbia, however, Whelan will be determined to hold on to his club’s best players in the same way he hung on to his bright young manager.
Ali Al-Habsi GK – Bolton Wanderers, £4m
Charles N’Zogbia MID – Aston Villa, £9.5m
Steven Caldwell DEF – Birmingham City, free
Daniel de Ridder MID – Grasshopper, free
Justin Hoyte DEF – Middlesbrough
Julio Arca MID – Middlesbrough
Shaun Wright-Phillips MID – Manchester City
Hernan Bernadello MID – Almeria
Robert Snodgrass MID – Leeds United
Adrian Colunga FWD – Getafe