Eight years in the Premier League, are we not proud of that achievement? The smallest budget in the league, the smallest fan base in the league, and yet we have battled against the odds to stay in one of the most monopolised leagues in the world for eight years. Adding a ninth year, is proving to be difficult.
The level of investment from foreign owners is up, and the wage bills on average have gone up. In a month (January) where QPR (bottom of the Premier League) spent £12.5 million and £100,000 a week on one player alone, Wigan were looking for their bargain buy; arguably we got that in Roger Espionza, and hopefully he can inspire the team to survival. But it shows the gap in spending between the clubs, even at the foot of the table.
Latics couldn’t afford to spend that much on one man, and why should we? QPR could never recoup that money from their TV rights or merchandising. So they run further into debt. So far Wigan have a much reduced wage bill and managed to line up a net profit last season, with the hope to break even this season. A massive change from when we first came into the Premier League but it shows how much the TV riches help clubs in the Premier League.
Yet back to the question at hand. What would be a successful season for Latics? Survival or FA Cup success? Neither is guaranteed by a long way, we are however closer to winning the FA Cup. If I had to choose though, survival would have to come first.
As of next season, the Premier League TV deal for Latics alone could be worth close to another £15 million. That’s a heck of a lot of money for the club and could allow us to grow even more. However every team in the Premier League will gain the same rate of increase, so we would be a bit richer at the bottom of the pile. Relegation would mean we lost out on that investment totally.
A vicious cycle of the world of football, the rich clubs get richer, and the poorer clubs become poorer. The real success for Latics this season, won’t come on the pitch, it will come off it. Financially and structurally we are improving and this year promises to be our best. New facilities are in the pipeline, while as I mentioned before we could break even this season.
In a season where financial fair play for the Premier League is now only a vote away, maintaining good books will become important to staying in the league. The reported punishment for clubs who don’t toe the line would be possible point deductions; something that teams at either end of the table couldn’t afford.
The longevity of the club has to outweigh any short term success we ever have. Remember only twenty years or so ago, Wigan were close to going into administration and out of the football League. Now we have a 25,000 seater Stadium, Premier League status and an ever increasing fan base. Who said Dave Whelan didn’t dig deep? He is now helping to bank roll the new training and youth facilities, which will be worth over £16 million.
The plan for Whelan in the long run is to make the club sellable to a new owner. A project for him, which started as a way to increase the publicity of JJB, has turned into 20 years of love and hard work to build a legacy of a football club, and he has done rather well.
You ask any Portsmouth, Leeds, Plymouth or Southampton fan, about their struggles over the past few years. Relegation, after relegation and continual possibility of going into administration; there is light at the end of the tunnel, with both Southampton and Leeds turning the corner and back into some sort of financial security.
Survival in the Premier League is one thing, and winning the FA Cup another. Both of them are great feats and if we get relegated this season, but win the FA Cup I will see it as a success. But the greatest succes of Wigan Athletic, is our continual development as a football club and the foundations that are being layed for the longer term future.