Wigan Athletic appear to be magical. There's no other explanation. They've been in the Premier League since 2005, and in all but two of those seasons they've been serious candidates for relegation well into the second half of the season. Then, poof! They live! Recently Roberto Martinez seems to have imbued his side with supernatural drop-avoidance powers, and the annual escape routine the Latics pull off is one of the more fun parts of each season.
There is, of course, a very good reason for Wigan's regular flirtation with doom. The club, based in a rugby town is one of the poorest and least-supported in the league. It has no reason whatsoever to be in English football's top flight. With a capacity of roughly 25,000, the DW Stadium is small to start with, but it's almost never full. More than a million more fans entered the gates at Old Trafford last season than went to Wigan's home games.
The travelling support, while passionate, doesn't exactly overwhelm either. Two years ago in a match at White Hart Lane, Tottenham Hotspur scored more goals against the Latics than there were away supporters. This is the story of Wigan's existance -- a tiny team that somehow manages to play with the big boys year after year, barely escaping being thrown out of the exclusive party by coming up with new tricks time and time again.
Because as soon as it becomes apparent that Wigan have players worth possessing, they suddenly don't have them anymore. With everyone else able to offer far more money, it's impossible for the club to hold on to its stars -- this summer has already seen Hugo Rodallega and Mohamed Diame leave, with Victor Moses expected to be on the way out as well. Every year, Martinez is forced to start from the beginning. He'll spend half the season trying to figure out what tactics to use and another quarter implementing them.
It's probably the most difficult managerial job in the league, and Martinez, at this point, deserves better. It looks like he's going to stick with the club through hell and high water, however, and as long as he's with the club they have some hope of escaping. But you can only rely on managerial fairy dust for so long, and with the squad as weak as its ever been (especially if Moses goes to Chelsea), it's difficult to see a way out for Wigan this time around.
Watch them prove me wrong next April.
Last year: 15th; 11W 10D 17L.
This year: 20th, relegated to the nPower Championship.
Key player(s): Ali Al-Habsi and James McCarthy. The Omani goalkeeper was one of the Premier League's best shot stoppers last season, and he'll need to keep his form going in the early parts of next season if Wigan want to steal any matches. McCarthy, 21, is getting to the point where he's one of the league's better central midfielders. His control over the middle of the pitch will be a vital part of anything Martinez does with his side this year.
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