Wigan mine seam of Honduran talent

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The Independent Football

The high volume of calls from Honduras to the Wigan Athletic press office is not about to drop off in a hurry. The club yesterday made the defensive midfielder Hendry Thomas the third player to have been signed from the Central American republic in the space of two seasons.

Thomas is known to the Wigan squad from his few training sessions with the club while awaiting a work permit 12 months ago – it was rejected because his Under-23 performances did not qualify him for one – and arrives from Deportivo Olimpia, the same side as Wilson Palacios, whose success for former manager Steve Bruce at Wigan started the whole Honduran adventure.

The initial Palacios connection owed much to good fortune. Arsène Wenger could not use him at Arsenal, so let Bruce try him out two years ago at Birmingham City, who were slow on the uptake when his contract expired. Bruce, having moved to Wigan, snapped him up and, as Palacios flourished, the manager became something of an Indiana Jones figure in Central America, where he found decent players for bargain prices. "The Brazilians don't want to come and play for Wigan," Bruce said before he left for Sunderland last month, "but the Central Americans will. We tell them we'll put them in the shop window and Wilson proved our case."

Since Thomas was technically Bruce's find, Wigan feared losing the player, whose emergence as a full international now makes the visa a formality, to Sunderland. Key to yesterday's signing is Wigan's assiduous groundwork and the arrival of a Hispanic manager in Roberto Martinez. Palacios, now at Tottenham, and full-back Maynor Figueroa, both of whom share an agent with Hendry, are also understood to have emphasised the benefits of life at the club.

Thomas has been compared by some in Honduras to Palacios, though the 24-year-old is likely to need time to bed in. Colombian striker Hugo Rodallega was thrown into the fray too early when Emile Heskey left for Aston Villa in January. Initially he laboured but his end-of-season performances, with three goals in four games, including one against Manchester United, have made him a serious prospect for the new campaign. Figueroa's dependability made him the first Wigan player to start every game of a Premier League season in 2008-09.

Martinez has similarly high hopes for Thomas. "He is a powerful figure in midfield, who can sit in front of the back four and destroy attacks, or can also come forward and score," the new Wigan manager said yesterday. So who's next? Palacios's younger brother Jonny is said to be the family star and has just broken into the Olimpia side. But Wigan will need to be quick. His elder sibling chewed Bruce's ear about him before they both left Lancashire.

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