Why Manchester United clash signals the start of Wigan’s next chapter

After administration and points deductions, a high-profile fixture against the Red Devils will inject new life into the League One club

Michael Jones
Monday 08 January 2024 07:24 GMT
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After his FA Cup heroics in 2013, Shaun Maloney is back at Wigan Athletic as manager
After his FA Cup heroics in 2013, Shaun Maloney is back at Wigan Athletic as manager (PA)

Wigan are an embodiment of the magic of the FA Cup. A local town team from a lower league that, on the right occasion, punches above their weight to take out a giant – usually Manchester City.

Their greatest triumph came in 2013. Roberto Martinez’s side took on City in the FA Cup final at Wembley, edging the game 1-0 thanks to a Ben Watson header in stoppage time that won them the trophy for the very first time.

The following year, with Uwe Rosler now in charge, Wigan journeyed to the Etihad Stadium for the quarter-final and defeated City 2-1. Their trophy defence later ended in a penalty shootout against Arsenal in the final four.

The 2018 edition of the cup saw the Latics face City again and they ended the Premier League side’s pursuit of a quadruple by beating Pep Guardiola’s team, which featured Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne as a substitute, 1-0 at the DW Stadium after Will Grigg nipped in behind Kyle Walker for a cool finish past Claudio Bravo.

Wigan’s pedigree for giant-killing has been proven but as they welcome Manchester United on Monday evening the club is in an altogether different place than it was for those previous triumphs.

In the November before their 2018 victory over City, long-term owner Dave Whelan sold Wigan to a Hong Kong-based company, International Entertainment Corporation (IEC), due to rising operating costs. Just 17 months later IEC offloaded most of their Wigan Athletic shareholdings to another Hong Kong firm, Next Leader Fund, who then plunged the club into administration by refusing to pay the necessary costs to keep the football team running. Insolvency left Wigan with a 12-point deduction, relegation from the Championship, and most of their valuable assets sold at bargain prices including promising youngsters Joe Gelhardt, Jensen Weir and Alfie Devine.

Will Grigg’s goal against Manchester City in 2018 resulted in Wigan’s most recent FA Cup upset
Will Grigg’s goal against Manchester City in 2018 resulted in Wigan’s most recent FA Cup upset (PA)

After eight months in administration, with the club on life support and using fan-raised funds to continue operations, Bahraini businessman Abdulrahman Al-Jasmi and Phoenix 2021 Ltd bought Wigan for around £3m, close to £20m less than Whelan sold it for three years prior. An initial injection of cash brought with it new squad members, a League One title and a false dawn.

The new owners operated at a financial loss and during their second season in charge could no longer afford to pay the staff or players. Repeated offences and threats from HMRC forced them to sell up with Wigan-born billionaire and Wigan Warriors co-owner Mike Danson taking over in June 2023.

Wigan are still paying the price for five tumultuous years of poor ownership as they started the current League One season with an eight-point deduction. They have since risen to 17th in the table under manager Shaun Maloney – the former player who supplied the assist for Watson’s FA Cup-winning goal back in 2013.

Stability having seemingly been restored, supporters can now focus on what happens on the pitch. A solid start to the season quickly eroded their points deficit though a run of three consecutive defeats over the festive period has kept the Latics closer to the relegation zone than they would like.

Stephen Humphrys scored the winning goal in Wigan’s FA Cup second-round win over York City
Stephen Humphrys scored the winning goal in Wigan’s FA Cup second-round win over York City (Getty Images)

Talented players such as Stephen Humphrys and Charlie Wyke, who both have seven league goals this season, should be enough to keep Wigan in League One, especially with the experience of Callum McManaman, another of the club’s 2013 FA Cup winners, in the squad.

If Wigan’s victory over Man City in 2018 was the start of their decline, then perhaps another FA Cup upset, this time against a Manchester team in red, will be the beginning of a revival.

Wigan have only faced Manchester United once in the FA Cup and they were hammered 4-0 at Old Trafford in 2017, yet they know only too well how times can change. With United also undergoing a transformation of their own, both on and off the pitch, now might be the ideal time to face them.

The DW Stadium will be packed, the atmosphere will be electric and the match will be both a reminder of what once was – during Wigan’s eight-year spell in the Premier League – as well as what can be again.

Wigan’s priorities are such that they don’t need to defeat United on Monday, but if they do they’ll kick off their latest era with a bang.

Wigan Atheltic v Manchester United kicks off on Monday 8 January at 8.15pm with coverage starting on ITV1 at 7.30pm

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