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Wigan v Watford, 4/4/98
Deehan spends wisely
By Matt Rowson

I recently read in the excellent WSC an interview with a Fulham fan who was less than enamoured with the transformation that has taken place at Craven Cottage since the arrival of Kev, Ray and Al Fayed. To Al Fayed's promise to turn the Cottagers into "the Manchester United of the South", the gentleman in question suggested that this commitment was already on the way to being fulfilled. Everybody, he noted, hates us already.

If Fulham aspire to be the Manchester United of the south, then Wigan Athletic are surely the Fulham of the north. Admittedly Latics can argue that Wigan has seen none of the two-facedness or arrogance which has been so evident at Kev'n'Ray's travelling circus. Nonetheless, the club's recent history is dominated by the emergence of a sugar-daddy in Dave Whelan, and a quite spectacular waste of money in the transfer market.

Whilst it is extremely pleasing to watch Fulham's multi-million pound side do their best to screw up a play-off place, no less remarkable is Wigan's current plight. Considerable investment (albeit dwarfed by Fulham) should have built a side to make a serious promotion challenge... instead, Wigan find themselves floundering in the bottom half. With none of the six teams below them apparently willing to lay down and die, Athletic's new stadium could be playing host to local derbies with the likes of Rochdale rather than Bolton.

If you believe the fans chatboard on the "Springfield Scene" Website, the responsibility for the team's relative failure falls firmly at the manager's door. In the words of one cynic, "All the money in the world is useless if Ronald McDonald is holding the purse-strings".

Eight of Athletic's starting eleven on Saturday have considerable top-flight experience; another two started out in the top flight before departing in search of first-team football. The thing is, unlike Fulham (who have paid over the odds for generally overrated players), Wigan have bought top flight rejects who were not overrated as much as completely inept. It astonishes me that John Deehan seems to think that a team composed almost entirely of ex-"Next big things" should somehow mould into a cohesive and effective unit when brought under the same roof.

As if to emphasise the point, Deehan's pre-deadline transfer targets included Steve Nicol and Steve Claridge.

Only keeper Roy Carroll, a 350,000 summer signing from Hull City, has never played in the top flight; ironically, it is the Ulsterman, considered one of the best goalkeeping prospects in the country, who has taken most of the plaudits in this disappointing season, leading to fears that he might be lured away from Springfield Park.

The much-criticised defence features the tough-tackling ex-Bolton fullback Scott Green, another "good-value" Man.United reserve Pat McGibbon, and recent loan signing Rob Newman. Another of Deehan's old pals from Norwich, the aggressive Carl Bradshaw, will probably play in midfield, as will former Bolton winger David Lee, who has recently rediscovered some form. Popular Spaniard Roberto Martinez is only on the bench, and won't have had his claims for a first team helped place by being quoted calling his manager "thick" on the Website; this following a period where Deehan's decisions on tactics seemed to change as regularly as the cast of Neighbours.

Up front, veteran David Lowe will probably play alongside new signing Simon Barlow. Barlow, nicknamed "jigsaw" at Oldham (for falling to pieces in the box...) joined just before the transfer deadline on what Boundary Park boss Neil Warnock described (with an ill-concealed chortle) as "fantastic personal terms". If nothing else, Latics fans will be hoping that Barlow's arrival will kick Graeme Jones' into action... hot-tempered Jones, booked for overindulging in his goal at Vicarage Road in November, is also currently on the bench.

Most comical of Deehan's signing was the legendary Italian hard-man Pasquale Bruno. Bruno's Wigan career lasted an inglorious 54 minutes against Grimsby after which, disenchanted with the man-marking role he'd been asked to perform, he retired and returned to Italy to open a restaurant.

It is reputed that the Wigan manager will have upwards of 2million to invest in the transfer market in the summer. However, as the early-season confidence bubble burst, Whelan announced that Deehan was safe until Christmas, when he would assess whether Wigan were still in a position to challenge for promotion. One assumes that as they weren't, Whelan thought he had nothing to lose by holding fire until the summer... but it seems increasingly unlikely that Mr.Deehan will be doing the spending.