Henchoz the guide on Wigan's survival course

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The Independent Football

Though he does not say so, the newly promoted club's manager, Paul Jewell, would not be averse to a bit more time either as he attempts to bring more bodies into his squad for the biggest season in the club's history, which gets underway next Sunday with a home game against the champions, Chelsea.

Six have joined in the close season - the 30-year-old Henchoz on a one-year contract, the defender Pascal Chimbonda from Bastia for a reported £400,000, goalkeeper Mike Pollitt from Rotherham (£200,000), midfielders Ryan Taylor (Tranmere, £1.25m) and Damien Francis (Norwich, £1.5m), and yesterday striker Henri Camara (Wolves, £3m, subject to personal terms). "But we haven't got enough players yet," Jewell stressed after taking a Friday training session which included the freshly bought Francis but not Camara, who was yet to arrive.

"Damien will give us more of a goal threat from midfield, but I want to bring in another three before next Sunday, so it's not finished yet. We have two deals almost sorted out, if you can ever say such a thing in football."

The imperative for Wigan, like all the others who manage the climb into the top division, is to cling on to that status in this first, testing season. Jewell's priority has been to stiffen the side with people who know about life at the top. People like Henchoz, who was recruited at no cost from Liverpool, where he played for six seasons, after four months kicking his heels in Glasgow.

"Stéphane has great experience," said Jewell. "He has played for top clubs like Blackburn, Liverpool and Hamburg, and we need good players in his position. He has been there so he is not going to look around and think, 'This is nice'. He has played all his life at the top level."

Henchoz will never have seen anything to compare with Wigan's Christopher Park training set-up, where the intention to offer a state-of-the-art facility to be shared by the town's football and rugby league clubs remains some way short of fulfilment. Our chat took place outdoors on a couple of chairs alongside the foundations of what will eventually be an office-cum-media room, but if it bothered Henchoz, it didn't show. He is just glad to be back in the area where he performed so well for so long with two Premiership sides.

"For me, the big challenge is to be playing for a club who have never been in the Premiership," he said. "Everybody expects us to go down straight away, so this is not the sort of challenge I have been accustomed to. Our only target this season is to stay up. If we can manage that, it will be something great. Obviously we won't win as many games as I got used to with Liverpool, but every win will mean so much for Wigan. We know it will be difficult, but hopefully we can manage it." Among the doubters is Rodney Marsh, player turned pundit, who has taken a £100 bet at 7-2 that Wigan will not win seven games. If they don't, he will donate his winnings to charity; if they do he has agreed to go to Wigan and be pelted with rotten tomatoes.

Henchoz hopes to be one of those having a shy at Rodney. The key, he feels, is for the players who helped gain promotion to funnel their team spirit into the challenge. "On top of that they will need to improve on the training pitch because of the gap between the divisions. We need the team to come nearer the Premiership standard as soon as possible.

"Every team who come up need some time to adapt. Physically, it is no harder than the Championship, but the players are more gifted and if you are not prepared, then they can kill you off in one second of inattention. It would be great if we can manage a result or two early on, but if success doesn't come quickly it is important to keep our heads up."

Henchoz, who played 205 games for Liverpool and has won 68 caps for Switzerland, says he made the wrong decision when he agreed to go on loan to Celtic last season after losing his place in the Anfield starting line-up. "I could have stayed in the Premiership because I had had offers from several clubs, but I thought, yes, Celtic is a big club and it will be a new experience playing in Scotland. But I wasn't really needed, because they already had their centre-backs." The result was that Stéphane started a total of eight games last season, four for Liverpool and four for Celtic.

"Hopefully, I can now put all that behind me and get back to my best as soon as possible. It is bad enough to be out because you are injured. At least you know why you aren't playing. But last year I wasn't injured at all, so it was really hard. It affected my levels of fitness and confidence, and you start to wonder if you are still good enough, stuff like that.

"I just started training again 10 days ago, so I would have hoped the new season might be a further two weeks away. I have been doing extra work to try to catch up with the rest of the team, but what I need is match practice. You can train all day, all week, but there is nothing to beat matches."

Henchoz feels that while starting against Chelsea may be great for the fans (although the 25,000-seater stadium has not yet sold out), it is a fixture which could have come a bit later for Wigan. On a personal level, he is not worried about the prospects. "I played against Didier Drogba when he was with Marseille and Hernan Crespo when he was with Lazio, but this is a very hard game to start the season with."

For Jewell, it is a great way to begin Premiership life. "This game has got fairy- tale written all over it, but I am not in the business of fairytales. It's a football match, and we will treat it like any other. We can't go into these games fearful of sides. There is no point letting the opposition worry us."

Who knows? The combination of Jewell's jaw-jutting attitude and the calm experience of Henchoz may be enough to persuade the good folk of Wigan to get in a spot of early tomato- hurling at an effigy of Rodney Marsh.

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