Premier League relegation battle: Wigan Athletic,
Aston Villa, Newcastle, Stoke City and Sunderland fight to avoid the last drop spot

Martinez still relishing the excitement of Wigan’s fight to pull off another escape act

“I am tired of fighting,” Harry Houdini told his brother as he lay dying of appendicitis. “This thing is going to get me.”

For Wigan, the Premier League’s great escapologists, this looks like being the season that will get them, although sitting across the desk from their manager, Roberto Martinez, you would not guess it.

When he was dragging Blackburn out of the bottom three, Sam Allardyce remarked that the fact he was a manager in the relegation zone stayed with him every waking hour. He woke up in the relegation zone and he went to bed in it.

Wigan’s manager, by contrast, claims to relish the pressure that comes with dancing on the edge. His favourite game was the 3-2 defeat of West Ham in 2011, in which the loser faced relegation. Wigan were 2-0 down at half-time. Avram Grant was sacked within minutes of the final whistle. It was gladiatorial and so will be this afternoon’s contest against Tottenham because both teams have to win.

“I really enjoy the business end of the season,” Martinez said. “You are going into games where there is no margin of error. I don’t enjoy being mid-table, where at this time of the year the dressing room is talking about holidays and everyone is mentally going around with their flip-flops on.”

You might be tempted to ask how Martinez knows. This is his fourth season as Wigan’s manager and at this stage of every campaign, his players have metaphorically been reaching for the packet of Marlboro rather than the sun cream.

The highest they have been with five games to go is two places outside the relegation zone and, uncannily, they have mustered 31 points from 33 games in three of those seasons. The fourth produced 33 points.

And yet Martinez, who is not yet 40, is talked of as a potential manager of Everton or even Arsenal. Last summer in Miami, he was interviewed for the job of Liverpool manager. He turned down Aston Villa. His predecessors, Paul Jewell and Steve Bruce, each managed more comfortable finishes, although the sheer stress of keeping Wigan afloat on the final day of the season in a winner-takes-all shootout in the rain at Sheffield United contributed to Jewell’s resignation.

In part Martinez’s reputation rests on the elegant way his teams play football and the knowledge that he is managing just when the largesse of their benefactor, Dave Whelan, began to be replaced by cold financial reality.

Wigan has a population of 80,000, less than the capacity of the stadium in which it will play next month’s FA Cup final. As a town it is slightly smaller than Darlington, Hartlepool or Halifax, only one of which supports a Football League club. None has competition from a rugby league institution whose honours board at the DW Stadium has 99 entries.

At the end of Martinez’s first season in charge, Wigan Athletic was a financially unsustainable institution. Of every pound it made, 92p went to pay players’ wages. Television revenue accounted for 88 per cent of its total income, whereas at Aston Villa and Sunderland, the figure was around 58 per cent. Its commercial income was a fifth of that at Bolton or Wolverhampton Wanderers and a sixth of Aston Villa’s. When it comes to shirt sponsors, Villa are paid £5m a year by theirs. Spaces on Wigan shirts fetch £650,000.

It is against this background that Martinez has to be measured. Since taking over from Bruce, he has reduced the wage bill by 22 per cent. It now accounts for 72p of every pound Wigan make.

The contracts Wigan offer their players are generally shorter than those of other Premier League clubs and they all have relegation clauses – even Martinez’s. However, it means that several of his key players, Antolin Alcaraz, Maynor Figueroa, Franco di Santo and Ronnie Stam, are all out of contract come June. When Bolton were relegated last season, Owen Coyle was similarly forced to rely on a substantial group of players who bluntly had no stake in the club’s future.

There are some managers who would gaze around the Premier League at Charles N’Zogbia, Hugo Rodallega, Victor Moses and Mohamed Diame and wonder where Wigan would be had they not left. Martinez, however, is not the complaining type.

“We are not the type of club that can hold on to players for long periods. The sales of N’Zogbia and Moses paid for our training ground. I see it as a natural part of the game,” he says.

“We are going to an FA Cup final that will be watched by a billion people. We are going to be in Europe next season. Everything will come down to our last game of the season against Aston Villa [who were his first opponents as Wigan manager]. Why would you not be excited?”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
ESPN footage showed a split-screen Murray’s partner Kim Sears and Berdych’s partner Ester Satorova 'sporting' their jewellery
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee