wigan's selling spree

Latics the big losers of the transfer window

January 23, 2009
By Jon Carter

''I would like to keep all my best players but I'm a realist and if anyone comes along with a huge cheque then I have to protect the club,'' said Wigan Athletic boss Steve Bruce at the start of the season. But as we near the end of January, the club look anything but protected.

Steve Bruce
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Sitting in seventh place, a clear ten points away from the relegation zone, Latics fans have enjoyed an incredible season thus far. Having started off looking like prime relegation contenders, the club went on a run that saw them only lose once (to Arsenal) in ten matches, propelling them up the league.

Recently though, two defeats to the Manchester clubs have halted their progress and as they prepare to lose the heartbeat of their side in the January transfer window, it is their inability to keep hold on to their best players that is causing most cause for concern.

A £13m profit on tough midfielder Wilson Palacios seems precisely the kind of head-turning offer that Bruce was talking about, so he can be forgiven for cashing in on the Honduran; but the fate of Emile Heskey could have been avoided.

Heskey's contract has been allowed to run down with criminal neglect. A player of such obvious importance to his club should have been tied down to a new deal months ago, but instead Wigan have to watch him move to Aston Villa for £3.5m.

It's a pretty decent fee for a player who is available in the summer for nothing (not quite in the realms of Nigel De Jong, but still a decent deal); but the cost of losing Heskey will be felt in more ways than just the pocket.

Without the power to hold onto Palacios or Heskey, the club will struggle to keep their other key players and may have trouble in attracting new faces.

The philosophy is one of a selling club and while Chris Kirkland, Maynor Figueroa and Paul Scharner can't be far off a move, the likes of Reading's Stephen Hunt would be mad to sign for a side who are being used simply as a stepping stone.

Looking unlikely to be able to hold onto impressive Egyptian striker Amr Zaki at the end of the season either (once his loan move ends), the Latics face the prospect of having to completely rebuild their strikeforce within six months; with only Middlesbrough's Mido and Colombian Hugo Rodallega offering any hope of a replacement.

Add into the fact that £15m-rated Antonio Valencia will almost certainly be on his way out of the JJB in the summer having watched events unfurl after rejecting a loan move to Real Madrid, and the club could be facing a crisis.

In their first season in the top flight, Wigan impressed and finished 10th, but then sold Jimmy Bullard, Pascal Chimbonda and Jason Roberts. The next season they faced a relegation battle which they only just avoided - and then lost manager Paul Jewell.

Evidently they have not learned their lessons from the past and, while they may have £30m to play with in the summer, look ready to plummet without their star performers unless Bruce pulls off some incredible deals. Lightening, unfortunately for him, does not strike twice.

As Manchester City may also find out, you can have all the money in the world, but it is of little use when you're battling at the bottom of the league.