Pearce and Souness on top of Wigan's wishlist

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The Independent Football

Stuart Pearce and Graeme Souness emerged as the two leading contenders for a return to top-flight management at Wigan yesterday after Chris Hutchings failed to make his second succession to Paul Jewell last a game longer than his first, at Bradford City.

Hutchings lasted 12 games at Wigan before the club’s owner, Dave Whelan, told him on Saturday evening that he was sacked. He managed Bradford for the same number of games before he was dismissed by chairman Geoffrey Richmond on 6 November, 2000. It was 3 November on this occasion.

With Tottenham and Arsenal up next, and Wigan third bottom of the table, few prospective managers will be in a hurry to take over at the JJB and Whelan, who flew to his holiday home in Barbados yesterday, is planning to be there for two weeks. But Whelan’s appreciation of Pearce’s skills is well known.

When Wigan beat Arsenal to reach the Carling Cup final in January 2006, Whelan called a press conference at which he hailed Pearce and his own manager, Paul Jewell, as a far better duo to manage England than Sven Goran Eriksson, of whose appointment he disapproved.

Pearce made it clear only last week he is committed to coaching the England Under-21s as they aim to qualify for the 2009 European Championship and has recently signed a new contract with the FA. But the prospect of a return to the Premier League may tempt him as much as the prospect of a first match in charge against Manchester City, on 1 December.

Souness, meanwhile, is the bookies’ favourite. He was interviewed at Bolton last month but decided he did not want the job. Whelan is likely to appoint someone with whom he feels he has connections and Souness’ tenure at Blackburn, the Wigan chairman’s former club, will have made him well aware of him.

Though Paul Jewell was immediately touted for a return to Wigan yesterday that prospect seems highly unlikely. Jewell, who felt he had taken the club as far as he could, indicated only last month he did not consider the Bolton job a step forward, and he will surely not relish a repeat of last season’s scrap. Swansea City’s manager, Roberto Martinez, one of the fabled “three amigos” who played for Whelan at Wigan, also appeared to distance himself from the job yesterday.

It is not inconceivable that Whelan would go for a young manager like Paul Ince, who is succeeding at MK Dons as he did at Macclesfield Town. A source close to Ince said he had not been approached and was happy at his club, though added “there are always get-out clauses in a contract”.

Wigan’s assistant manager Frank Barlow, along with Mark Seagraves, will take over as caretaker manager for Sunday’s trip to White Hart Lane.

Despite Hutchings’ labours at Wigan – the club managed two wins in 14 matches under him and have lost their last six – the dismissal caught many at the club by surprise. Hutchings’ press briefing on the Chelsea game last Thursday was preceded by jokes about his longevity and when the manager briefed daily newspaper journalists at 6pm on Saturday he told them: “The chairman is very supportive of me.” A source at the club suggested only last week Hutchings’ future had not been mentioned at the club’s board meeting on 1 November.

Hutchings’ hopes rested on the prospective return of Emile Heskey. Wigan had not picked up a point since he suffered his metatarsal break on 15 September 15 and Hutchings expected him to have back in training within two weeks. But Saturday’s display evidently convinced Whelan that the No 2 he rapidly installed as Jewell’s successor – just as Kevin Gartside appointed Sammy Lee down the road at Bolton – could not turn things around.

Whelan told Hutchings, his ninth manager in 12 years at Wigan, that he was sacked in a face-to-face meeting. Hutchings asked him to delay the announcement until yesterday morning so he could say farewells to his players, which he did – yesterday. At least it was more civil than Whelan’s dismissal of Bruce Rioch, which he carried out by telephone from Barbados.