Malky Mackay sacking: What's gone wrong at Wigan Athletic?

Malky Mackay
Malky Mackay has failed to manage a home league win during his time in charge

Only 138 days separated the hiring and firing of Wigan manager Malky Mackay - but perhaps more significant is the likely turnaround between the Latics winning the FA Cup as a Premier League team and being relegated to the third tier.

On 11 May 2013, Ben Watson's winner caused one of the biggest shocks in FA Cup final history as Wigan beat Manchester City to secure the first major trophy of their 81-year history.

By 3 May 2015, they could be looking at spending next season in League One. Wigan have five games to stay in the Championship and are eight points from safety.

It is a huge task for a managerless side, who have not won a home league game since August and have seen three bosses come and go since that FA Cup triumph under Roberto Martinez.

So how have Wigan found themselves in this predicament?

Boardroom confusion

David Sharpe
Wigan chairman David Sharpe (left) took over from Dave Whelan in March

When Mackay was dismissed on Monday, the club statement noting that no decision had been made on a replacement featured accompanying quotes from 23-year-old chairman David Sharpe, grandson of owner Dave Whelan.

The fact the youngster has found himself in such a lofty position is down to the bizarre circumstances surrounding Mackay's appointment last November by previous chairman Whelan.

The Scot was still under investigation by the Football Association for allegedly sending racist, sexist and homophobic text messages while in charge at Cardiff City. Whelan's judgement was called into question and it was queried further when the then 77-year-old made racist and anti-Semitic comments himself.

Whelan apologised but was still banned and fined by the FA - though it concluded he was not a racist - and the embarrassing episode led to Sharpe replacing him as chairman after 20 years in the role.

For a man who had taken Wigan from the fourth tier of English football to the Premier League in 10 years, it was a ignominious withdrawal from football's front line.

It might be too late to save the side from demotion now, but at least with Mackay gone, any further repercussions from his ongoing investigation will not land Wigan in more trouble.

Managerial instability

Roberto Martinez
Roberto Martinez was in charge for four seasons and won the FA Cup in 2013

It may be tempting to cast Wigan as a side that disintegrated once Martinez left but perhaps the real downfall has come with the abandonment of the club's managerial stability.

Martinez was in place for four years between June 2009 and June 2013, but since then Wigan have been through three bosses - Owen Coyle, Uwe Rosler and now Mackay.

"Wigan have gone through this really strange phase, where they used to be a club that didn't sack their manager very readily," says BBC football commentator John Motson.

"Obviously they've decided they want to start again and whoever gets the job will be doing it in League One."

Recent Wigan managers
Malky MackayNovember 2014 - April 2015
Uwe RoslerDecember 2013 - November 2014
Owen CoyleJune 2013 - December 2013
Roberto MartinezJune 2009 - June 2013
Steve BruceNovember 2007 - June 2009
Chris HutchingsMay 2007 - November 2007
Paul JewellJune 2001 - May 2007

Martinez cannot absolve himself of all responsibility, though. The Spaniard led the team to FA Cup glory and Europe, yet he also oversaw their relegation to the Championship three days later, ending an eight-season stay in the top flight.

In some senses Martinez's success also led to Wigan's predicament the following season. Combining a gruelling Championship schedule with the Europa League left his replacement, Coyle, with little time to stamp his authority on the team.

Coyle, who led Burnley to the Premier League in 2009, was given funds to build his own side, but he lasted less than six months in the job with Whelan having reservations about the Scot's team selections. His compensation package cost £500,000.

Former Brentford boss Uwe Rosler fared better as he guided the Latics to the 2014 FA Cup semi-finals and the Championship play-offs.

However, three wins in 17 league games this season, and a defeat by League Two Burton in the Capital One Cup was enough for Whelan to act again. The German was in the job less than 12 months.

His successor Mackay had led Cardiff to the 2012 League Cup final and into the Premier League the following season so there was some sympathy when he was sacked by owner Vincent Tan - but rather less of it once the accusations about the Scot's text messages came to light.

Whelan was keen to emphasise Mackay had learned from his mistakes - and presumably hopeful an improvement on the field would see the issue of his past behaviour set aside. But he could not improve their wretched home form and took only 19 points from a possible 72.

A disintegrating team

Only Emmerson Boyce remains at Wigan from the 2013 FA Cup final starting XI
Only Emmerson Boyce (third from left, partly obscured) remains at Wigan from the 2013 FA Cup final starting XI

Relegation from the Premier League always challenges a club to balance the books and it has led to a player overhaul at the DW Stadium.

The blow for relegated clubs is softened by so-called 'parachute payments' - Wigan have received £32m since they dropped into the Championship and are due another £16m over the next two years.

Yet four managers in three years has meant a lack of continuity on the field, and defender Emmerson Boyce is the only player left from the FA Cup-winning side.

Midfielder James McCarthy and forward Arouna Kone were the first to move on as they joined Martinez at Everton in the summer of 2013.

Coyle used the Premier League funds to recruit the likes of winger James McClean, plus strikers Grant Holt and Marc-Antoine Fortune.

But after he and Rosler failed deliver a return to the top flight, Jordi Gomez left for Sunderland and James McArthur headed to Crystal Palace.

And the break-up of the Wembley team was almost complete when Mackay oversaw the departures of Watson, Shaun Maloney and Callum McManaman in January's transfer window.

Mackay said after those losses: "I have made it clear that we need a squad of hungry players who are 100% focused and committed to the job here."

Perhaps those departing had seen where things were heading.

Back where they belong?

Wigan's average attendances only exceeded 20,000 fans for one season in the Premier League
Wigan's average attendances only exceeded 20,000 fans for one season in the Premier League

Wigan's win at Wembley was the pinnacle for a club that was at the foot of the fourth tier when Whelan took over in 1995.

Their rise to the Premier League over the next decade, and the eight years they spent there, is a remarkable feat.

But critics of the team's success have always pointed at poor attendances at the DW Stadium, with their average home gate only rising above 20,000 for one season of their Premier League stint.

That average dropped from 19,375 during their last season in the top flight to 15,176 in last season's Championship campaign, and this season it has slumped to 12,780.

Given it is a town more associated with rugby league, some will say Wigan are now re-finding their real level after a stellar period.

Former Luton boss David Pleat said: "Someone once told me, if your club hasn't got enough of a captive audience - chimney pots, he described it - you need to be in an area where, if you get success, you can attract crowds and unfortunately Wigan have never been able to do that.

"They did wonderfully well to stay in the top division for eight seasons, emulating Watford, Wimbledon and Luton. It is so difficult to do these days when the big clubs get the big revenues.

"I just feel there's an inevitability about their situation now - it's a great shame and just proves how well they did to win a cup and to do so well in the Premier League."

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