Jewell the crowning glory in Whelan's masterplan

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The Independent Online

Dave Whelan has a personal fortune of £250m. Since becoming chairman of Wigan Athletic 10 years ago he has lavished £75m on the club and will provide a further £25m for Paul Jewell to buy players over the summer.

Dave Whelan has a personal fortune of £250m. Since becoming chairman of Wigan Athletic 10 years ago he has lavished £75m on the club and will provide a further £25m for Paul Jewell to buy players over the summer.

As a man who launched his business career with a market grocery stall and went on to float the JJB Sports chain for £65m, Whelan knows a balance sheet from a clean sheet.

However, Wigan's promotion to the Premiership gave him a feeling money cannot buy.

"We've achieved the impossible dream," purred the 68-year-old Whelan like a night-club crooner. Still beaming after victory over Reading secured the club's second promotion in three years and their third under his stewardship, he added: "What we've done is give hope to every team in the Football League and the Conference."

The journey from outhouse to penthouse is far from impossible. Several clubs have completed it, most famously Wimbledon, who graduated from semi-professional football a year before Wigan in 1977 and were in the top flight inside nine years. Nor, it must be said, does any current lower-division outfit have a benefactor with Whelan's financial muscle.

Yet the rise of Wigan under the former Blackburn Rovers full-back has essentially taken a mere eight years. As recently as 1997 they were still in the bottom division. The significant turning point came four years ago next month, when Whelan turned to Jewell as Steve Bruce's successor after the Merseysider's ill-starred sojourn at Sheffield Wednesday.

Jewell's career seemed to be in premature decline. Whelan, though, felt instinctively he had found the manager who could realise his ambitions.

He announced he expected Premiership football within five years. Jewell delivered with one to spare, prompting Whelan to assert that if he wanted his new contract to be for five years, he would be happy to oblige.

Whelan, Bradford-born but Wigan-bred, has waited 45 years to return to the level he was forced to leave after suffering a badly broken leg for Blackburn against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Wembley in the FA Cup final. Given that ­ and a pattern of shrewd investment that began when he used his £400 insurance pay-off to buy a stall on Blackburn market and later paid £7,500 for a fishing-tackle shop and transformed it into the JJB empire ­ it is inconceivable he will allow Wigan to relinquish their status without backing Jewell's judgement in a more volatile market.

Jewell's experience with Bradford City of taking an unfashionable club into the Premiership means he is acutely aware that an upgrading of his squad will now be imperative. Tellingly, he spoke last night of needing to sign "the right type of player".

Wigan's team spirit is almost tangible and could be damaged or even destroyed if, for example, the perception among the players who have come through the divisions with them is that the close-season intake contains any overpaid mercenaries.

The Reading manager Steve Coppell, who is also familiar with the task of bridging the chasm in class following promotion, tacitly acknowledged that Whelan's resources could be crucial to Wigan's prospects of staying up. "Money obviously makes a huge difference," he said, "but only if you can identify the right players." Jewell, he surmised, might be tempted to shop at the "mixed European trolley", presumably a reference to Sam Allardyce's strategy at neighbouring Bolton Wanderers.

Coppell expected Jewell already had a "wish list", and the Wigan manager confirmed he would assess his priorities this week.

It is a sobering thought that his captain, Matt Jackson, last appeared at the top level nine years ago, while the only one of his strikers to have played there, Jason Roberts, struggled for goals after going up with West Bromwich Albion. (Whelan, incidentally, revealed that he rebuffed an approach for Jewell from then managerless Albion last autumn by telling them "you couldn't afford him".)

Tomorrow night, Wigan's players will parade in front of their fans again in a promotion celebration. Meanwhile, posters promised a "Festival of Beer and Brass" at the stadium.

The old Lancashire coalfield town made an early start on the beer yesterday, and with Whelan wielding his wallet, the Premiership's newest arrivals should not be short of brass.

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