Wigan Athletic and Shaun Maloney go together just as well as pie and gravy.
The Scotsman was an iconic member of the Tics’ 2013 FA Cup winning side under Roberto Martinez, and became a fans favourite in his four years at the club between 2011 and 2015.
After finishing his playing career in 2017 Maloney went into coaching at his boyhood club Celtic, spending time learning his trade by working with their academy.
A year later he linked back up with his former mentor with a coaching role at the Belgian national team where he had the chance to work with some of the world’s best talent such as Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku.
A brief and uninspiring spell at Hibernian was the final destination before Maloney went full 360 and returned to the DW Stadium, this time as manager of Latics in January 2023. He took over from Kolo Touré with the side languishing in the Championship relegation zone and a club surrounded by uncertainty and off field issues.
Maloney couldn’t keep them up, but he did manage to rebuild the bonds between supporters and the team. Despite relegation the general feeling amongst Wigan fans seems to be that he deserves absolutely no blame whatsoever, in fact if anything he deserves credit for how he handled himself during the tough times.
The start of the 2023/24 season has been a mixed one for the Tics. They started it with an eight-point deduction and a transfer ban, but within four games of League One football they’d wiped out the deficit and moved off the foot of the table.
Victories over promotion favourites Derby County and Bolton Wanderers were statements of intent, but six losses in the seven games since that flying start have led some people to question whether Maloney is the man to lead Wigan Athletic into the future...
First things first it’s important to remember that the squad he is working with is a very inexperienced one. There’s plenty of talent in there but it has felt at times that when the going gets tough there aren’t many leaders in that side able to step up and calm the situation down.
The defence and goalkeeper have an average age of just over 22, they don’t have a midfielder over the age of 23 and the two most experienced players are their first and second choice strikers, and winger Callum McManaman, Maloney’s former teammate who returned to his former club this summer.
It’s not only the Tics’ squad that has been changed around this season; the style of play has also seen a massive overhaul too. The side that won League One two seasons ago with a more direct approach under Leam Richardson is no more, replaced with a modernised system and more technically efficient players playing a more technically demanding style.
It’s not to say six defeats in seven is acceptable, but there’s definitely no reason to panic if you’re a Wigan fan. Maloney and his coaching staff need to go back to basics somewhat, they seem to be trying new things every game and it appears to be too much for the young squad.
Their opening few games were pretty simple, a 4-2-3-1 formation focusing on ball retention and counter pressing. Since then they’ve changed formation, asked more of their players in complicated roles and made changes to the side that maybe weren’t necessary. Back to basics for now.
The Tics will need midfield orchestrator Matt Smith back as soon as possible if they are to return to their early season selves. The former Arsenal man has been instrumental in most of the good things that have happened for Latics this season, but is currently on the side-lines with a hernia. His return will be massive.
The main message is simple: be patient Wigan fans. You need stability and security right now and changing your manager in favour of, more than likely, someone not as good, isn’t that.
Just look at Kolo Touré last season...