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Wigan Athletic: what has gone wrong as the club placed in administration due to coronavirus

Wigan Athletic experienced the sort of pandemonium never before seen at the club on 11 May 2013. Through a late Ben Watson winner, the plucky Premier League strugglers clinched their first ever FA Cup triumph with a 1-0 win over mega-rich Manchester City.

Roberto Martinez and his men, lead by captain Emmerson Boyce, carried out a perfect game plan to quell the threat of Roberto Mancini’s charges, and in so doing ensured an FA Cup ghost of the club’s devoted owner’s past had been exonerated. 

Dave Whelan, the club’s former long term owner, had broken his leg while playing for Blackburn in their FA Cup final defeat to Wolves in 1960. The magnitude of the leg break meant that Whelan’s professional career was ended at the age of 23. The triumph of his boyhood club that soaking afternoon meant that a traumatic chapter in the businessman’s life had come to a close. 

Wigan were placed into administration on Wednesday, sending shockwaves through football

The Latics had celebrated the greatest triumph in their club history only seven years ago when they lifted the FA Cup after defeating Manchester City at Wembley Stadium

The Latics had celebrated the greatest triumph in their club history only seven years ago when they lifted the FA Cup after defeating Manchester City at Wembley Stadium

The Latics had celebrated the greatest triumph in their club history only seven years ago when they lifted the FA Cup after defeating Manchester City at Wembley Stadium

No sooner had the confetti hit the ground did things soon unravel for the club

No sooner had the confetti hit the ground did things soon unravel for the club

No sooner had the confetti hit the ground did things soon unravel for the club

But for Wigan Athletic, an altogether perilous chapter of their history was being penned. What has followed has been a combination of relegations, bad signings and  instability inside the club, all of which have lead to the Latics being placed in administration and handed a 12-point deduction by the EFL.

It’s a dire outlook for a club that had at one stage been an ever present figure in England’s top flight. In truth, the confetti had barely touched the sodden Wembley grass that May afternoon before things started to unravel for the club.  

No longer than 72 hours after Wigan’s FA Cup triumph, their eight-year spell in England’s top flight was over. A 4-1 hammering away to Arsenal sealed Martinez’s side’s fate and sent them packing to the Championship, in doing so becoming the first ever team to win the FA Cup and be relegated in the same season.

Just three days after the Wembley triumph, Wigan were relegated from the Premier League

Just three days after the Wembley triumph, Wigan were relegated from the Premier League

Just three days after the Wembley triumph, Wigan were relegated from the Premier League

Despite the euphoria of the cup win, Wigan were unable to survive and their eight-year stint in the top flight came to an end in 2013

Latics fans were left with a bittersweet taste, with the euphoria of winning football’s oldest domestic competition and a place in the following season’s Europa League tainted by the loss of Premier League football.

All the more concerning for the Wigan faithful was the future of their young, innovative manager. Despite failing to steer the club from the perils of relegation, Roberto Martinez had endeared himself to England’s media and it came as no surprise when Everton came calling.

Martinez was announced as the Toffees new manager on June 5, just three weeks after the Latics’ FA Cup glory. Now the club were heading for England’s second tier without their inspirational manager to steer them back to the top flight. 

In another huge blow, their influential manager Roberto Martinez left for Everton that summer

In another huge blow, their influential manager Roberto Martinez left for Everton that summer

In another huge blow, their influential manager Roberto Martinez left for Everton that summer

Owen Coyle’s appointment, then, would have been regarded as a sound recruitment decision. The Scot had previously guided Burnley to the Premier League and with the acquisitions of Grant Holt, James McClean and Scott Carson had plenty of experience to tackle the rough-and-ready Championship. 

But with only seven wins from his first 23 games in charge, Coyle left the club by mutual agreement in early December, with the FA Cup holders in 14th place and some distance from the promotion reckoning. 

Uwe Rosler took the reins and his first game in charge saw the Latics dumped out of the Europa League by Slovenian minnows Maribor. However, the Championship side were putting up a good fight to defend their FA Cup crown, beating finalists City to reach the semi finals, where they were knocked out by eventual champions Arsenal.

In spite of their poor start to life in the second tier, Rosler and Wigan finished the season in 5th place, before being knocked out of the play off race by QPR over two legs. ‘We gave it all, the players squeezed out every little drop they had,’ the German said.

Experienced boss Owen Coyle came in but was sacked in December with the club 14th

Experienced boss Owen Coyle came in but was sacked in December with the club 14th

Experienced boss Owen Coyle came in but was sacked in December with the club 14th

Uwe Rosler was appointed and guided the club to a play off semi final before being sacked the following November after an abysmal start to the 2014-15 campaign

Uwe Rosler was appointed and guided the club to a play off semi final before being sacked the following November after an abysmal start to the 2014-15 campaign

Uwe Rosler was appointed and guided the club to a play off semi final before being sacked the following November after an abysmal start to the 2014-15 campaign

With Premier League football agonisingly within their grasp, the club decided to go hell for leather in the market to secure their return to the top flight. Andy Delort, Adam Forshaw, Emyr Huws and Oriol Riera all came in for a combined fee of just over £12million.

However, the disappointment of missing out on play off glory carried over into the 2014-15 season, with the club enduring an abysmal start to the campaign. Rosler was eventually dismissed in November, with the club stuck in the relegation zone. 

Malky Mackay was brought in to steady the ship but the Latics looked a side doomed for the drop and the late move to appoint former club captain Gary Caldwell as manager was not enough to avoid relegation to League One. 

Malky Mackay (right) was brought in but failed to steady the ship and the club were relegated to League One, having won the FA Cup just two years earlier

Malky Mackay (right) was brought in but failed to steady the ship and the club were relegated to League One, having won the FA Cup just two years earlier

Malky Mackay (right) was brought in but failed to steady the ship and the club were relegated to League One, having won the FA Cup just two years earlier

Just two years after that glorious day at Wembley against the champions of England and travelling to Old Trafford and Anfield in the world’s top league, Wigan were facing the likes of Port Vale and Tranmere Rovers in the third tier. 

What followed was a summer of huge changes. Freshly appointed as the club’s chairman, David Sharpe, Whelan’s grandson, set about changing the squad drastically. 

‘Our only target next season is promotion, nothing else will suffice. Football is full of examples of clubs who have come back stronger after relegation,’ he said at the time. McClean, Delort and James Perch were sold for around £5million, while Will Grigg and Reece James were signed for a combined £2.5million.

For a club that has been so accustomed to rubbing shoulders with the country’s best clubs, a season in League One can come as a shock, and it has taken some clubs longer than desired to climb back up to the Championship.

Under Gary Caldwell (centre) Wigan returned to the second tier at the first time of asking. Pictured with Dave Whelan (right) and David Sharpe (left)

Under Gary Caldwell (centre) Wigan returned to the second tier at the first time of asking. Pictured with Dave Whelan (right) and David Sharpe (left)

Under Gary Caldwell (centre) Wigan returned to the second tier at the first time of asking. Pictured with Dave Whelan (right) and David Sharpe (left)

Gary Caldwell’s side, though, made light work of the third tier, with Grigg taking home the top goalscorer prize with 25 strikes. Having lost just one of their final 23 games of the season, Wigan were promoted at the first time of asking.

Wigan’s return to the Championship heralded more conservative spending in the transfer market, with Nathan Byrne signed from Wolves for £500,000, while their biggest signing was Omar Bogle for £780,000 from Notts County.

However, the momentum from the League One stint didn’t continue into the Championship. Caldwell was sacked with the club in 23rd place after 14 games. ‘I feel that we need to act now in the best long-term interests of the club,’ Sharpe said of the ‘toughest decision’ he had made as chairman up until that point. 

Omar Bogle was the club's key signing in the summer of 2016, but scored 3 goals in 14 games

Omar Bogle was the club's key signing in the summer of 2016, but scored 3 goals in 14 games

Omar Bogle was the club’s key signing in the summer of 2016, but scored 3 goals in 14 games

However, Caldwell was sacked after 14 games and Warren Joyce (pictured) was brought in

However, Caldwell was sacked after 14 games and Warren Joyce (pictured) was brought in

However, Caldwell was sacked after 14 games and Warren Joyce (pictured) was brought in

The former Manchester United coach could not save them from the drop and they suffered their third relegation in five years in 2017

The former Manchester United coach could not save them from the drop and they suffered their third relegation in five years in 2017

The former Manchester United coach could not save them from the drop and they suffered their third relegation in five years in 2017

The appointment of Warren Joyce failed to rouse the Wigan dressing room, and the former Manchester United coach was dismissed in March 2017. Interim boss Graham Burrows was unable to turn the tide and for the second time in three seasons, the Latics were sent back down to League One.  

Bogle was swiftly sold for £700,000 to Cardiff, having netted just three goals in 14 appearances for the club, while the club made a series of astute signings, with the £300,000 move for Sunderland’s James Vaughan their most expensive signing in the summer of 2017. 

The most important acquisition that summer, though, was the man who’d take to the dugout. Wigan were acutely aware of the importance of appointing the correct manager who would stick around for the long term. 

Paul Cook was handed the reins and got Wigan back to the second tier immediately in 2017-18

Paul Cook was handed the reins and got Wigan back to the second tier immediately in 2017-18

Paul Cook was handed the reins and got Wigan back to the second tier immediately in 2017-18

The club stormed League One, and secured automatic promotion at the first time of asking

The club stormed League One, and secured automatic promotion at the first time of asking

The club stormed League One, and secured automatic promotion at the first time of asking

Will Grigg fired 26 goals, including one against City in the FA Cup, to help promote the Latics

Will Grigg fired 26 goals, including one against City in the FA Cup, to help promote the Latics

Will Grigg fired 26 goals, including one against City in the FA Cup, to help promote the Latics

‘We’ve been looking at a number of factors in getting the right person,’ chief executive Jonathan Jackson said that summer. ‘We were relegated two years ago, so we know what League One is all about and we start planning right now.’ 

Paul Cook was that man. Having won promotion from League Two with Portsmouth, the former Wolves midfielder was deemed the suitable applicant to get Wigan back to the Championship at the first attempt. 

And it was Grigg who rose to the fore once again for the Latics, with his 26 goals in 53 outings firing Wigan back to the second tier as champions of League One. The Solihull-born striker had also struck the winning goal to knock Manchester City out of the FA Cup in a feisty affair at the DW Stadium. 

But it was a change behind the scenes that was the biggest talking point of Wigan’s 2017-18 campaign. Whelan decided to sell Wigan Athletic to International Entertainment Corporation for £22million, ending 23 years of faithful ownership to his boyhood club. 

That same summer, Whelan ended his 23-year tenure at Wigan, selling the club for £22million

That same summer, Whelan ended his 23-year tenure at Wigan, selling the club for £22million

That same summer, Whelan ended his 23-year tenure at Wigan, selling the club for £22million

Martinez (left) was one of many voices to praise the former owner for his time at the club

Martinez (left) was one of many voices to praise the former owner for his time at the club

Martinez (left) was one of many voices to praise the former owner for his time at the club

It marked a poignant changing of the guard, with Whelan integral to the top flight success of the club as well as their FA Cup triumph. David Sharpe, Matthew Sharpe and Garry Cook all resigned from the board upon the change of ownership.

‘It’s difficult to explain in words and do it justice,’ Roberto Martinez said. ‘Dave Whelan is and was the reason Wigan achieved what they achieved. He had an incredible vision, he was a winner and everything he did was done properly, and that was contagious.

‘When you see what happened in his 20-year reign it is quite incredible, it’s why we’re all involved in football.’

The Latics marked their return to the Championship with the £2million signing of Josh Windass from Rangers as well as Joe Garner and Cedric Kipre for a combined £2.25million. Cook kept Wigan up with ease, amassing 52 points. 

IEC, Wigan's new owners, put an end to astute signings, spending £2million on Josh Windass

IEC, Wigan's new owners, put an end to astute signings, spending £2million on Josh Windass

IEC, Wigan’s new owners, put an end to astute signings, spending £2million on Josh Windass

In the summer of 2019, they added Antonee Robinson (pictured), Jamaal Lowe and Kieffer Moore to Paul Cook's squad for a combined £6.8million

In the summer of 2019, they added Antonee Robinson (pictured), Jamaal Lowe and Kieffer Moore to Paul Cook's squad for a combined £6.8million

In the summer of 2019, they added Antonee Robinson (pictured), Jamaal Lowe and Kieffer Moore to Paul Cook’s squad for a combined £6.8million

The spending continued in the summer of 2019, Jamaal Lowe (£2.4million), Kieffer Moore (£2.4million) and Antonee Robinson (£2million) among seven new recruits. 

While showing little indication of challenging for promotion, 2019-20 saw the DW Stadium a tricky proposition for visiting teams, with Cook’s side proving a tough test for their Championship rivals. 

Wigan were unbeaten in six before the coronavirus crisis struck English football, with all second tier action grinding to a halt on March 8. The 106 days between the draw with Luton Town and the win over Huddersfield Town has seemingly tipped a club that was already just about managing to stay afloat over the edge. 

Despite ownership changing hands last month, with Next Leader Fund, headed by Hong Kong businessman Au Yeung Wai Kay, taking control of the club, on Wednesday the Latics were placed in administration, and have been handed a 12-point deduction by the EFL.

However, the coronavirus crisis has significantly impacted the club's finances

However, the coronavirus crisis has significantly impacted the club's finances

However, the coronavirus crisis has significantly impacted the club’s finances

The 106-day halt of football has seen the club tipped over the edge and in need of saving

The 106-day halt of football has seen the club tipped over the edge and in need of saving

The 106-day halt of football has seen the club tipped over the edge and in need of saving

It marks what has been a torrid seven years since that FA Cup win, and they are unlikely to be the last club to feel the ramifications of the coronavirus-inflicted suspension of football

It marks what has been a torrid seven years since that FA Cup win, and they are unlikely to be the last club to feel the ramifications of the coronavirus-inflicted suspension of football

It marks what has been a torrid seven years since that FA Cup win, and they are unlikely to be the last club to feel the ramifications of the coronavirus-inflicted suspension of football

‘Our immediate objectives are to ensure the club completes all its fixtures this season and to urgently find interested parties to save Wigan Athletic FC and the jobs of the people who work for the club,’ said Gerald Krasner, one of three joint administrators appointed to help save the club. 

‘Obviously the suspension of the Championship season due to Covid-19 has had a significant impact on the recent fortunes of the club.’

The financial ramifications of the coronavirus for EFL clubs had been looming from the outset of the suspension of football being put in place. The transition from FA Cup champions to a club on the brink still doesn’t fail to shock fans, sending reverberations across the football community.   

Wigan are unlikely to be the only club teetering over the edge, in what could prove a testing time for clubs across the country. 

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