Matthew Crichton: Across the past few seasons there have been worries that Wigan could have faced liquidation. How good does is feel to be starting a new season knowing that the club is safe?
Barry Worthington: Our administration came straight out of the blue on 1st July 2020, there wasn’t even a hint of money trouble, the club was operating within its budget, but there were some murky goings on with our Hong Kong based owners and they attempted to liquidate us and sell off the assets.
Thankfully, UK law says we have to go through an administration period otherwise we’d be history now. I and many others still feared the worst though, a global pandemic, no fans allowed in stadia, no players left and the prospect of being relegated to League 2 - who would to buy a club in that position?
Luckily for us, following all sorts of shady consortiums looking at us, we found a group that wanted us for the right reasons, they stepped in at almost the 11th hour and promised to stabilise us, which is what they have done, and start to push us forward again.
Most Latics fans are just relieved to have a club to support, we nearly lost it and it is a fantastic feeling to be looking forward to the season knowing that we can compete. Words really can’t describe the elation and I think there will be more than a few tears shed at our first home game against Rotherham next weekend.
MC: Wigan were taken over last season by Phoenix 2021, led by Bahrain based businessman Talal Mubarak al-Hammad. What changes have the new group made and are you optimistic for the future under their leadership?
BW: The day to day running of the club is under the stewardship of our new CEO Mal Brannigan, who has a lot of football administration experience behind him. He worked at the EFL for over ten years and was recently at Hull and saw their rise into the Premier League. He is making all the right noises and working hard to get us up and running ahead of the new campaign.
We are also in the unique position of having no debts, they had to be taken care of to allow us to come out of administration, so we’re basically starting with a clean slate. We had five players under contract at the end of the last season, so we needed to bring bodies in, the owners have given the budget which is being adhered to. We have also received a number of quite welcomed windfalls from add-ons from transfers that we made during and prior to our administration period, so financially we are quite buoyant.
The aim is for the club to become an established Championship club and a three year target has been set for this. I om quite optimistic about the future under Phoenix 2021, they are ambitious but sensible and they have not made any rash statements. They have stipulated they won’t be throwing money around and are hoping that they can put a model in place which will help us to become self sustainable.
MC: Leam Richardson did a superb job to keep Wigan up last season in incredibly difficult circumstances. Were you pleased to see that he was appointed as your permanent manager?
BW: Delighted, he deserved the opportunity and whatever happens during this campaign, he has earned the time to get his team gelling and moving in the right direction. The supporters love him, he is well liked by the players and having spoken to Mal Brannigan, he is well thought of by the new regime and they have promised to give him both time and support.
During the darkness of last season, Richardson was the glue that held the club together, working in extremely difficult circumstances, with at times a rag-tag group of players. He never let his head drop, was always positive, honest but still positive, spoke passionately about the club, the staff that had lost their jobs and the community of Wigan - he’s an absolute gem.
MC: Now that the ship has steadied and the checkbook has opened, what are your expectations for the club heading into the new season?
BW: I am hoping that we will be competitive, that we will challenge in the top half and above all, that this will be the most enjoyable of seasons back in the ground with a team to cheer.
Promotion? Who knows, I’m not expecting it, but wouldn’t rule it out, we’ll see what the next nine months bring, but whatever they do we are going to enjoy the ride.
MC: Now to the ex-Sunderland lads... Wigan’s marquee signing this summer was bringing Charlie Wyke in. How has he performed in pre-season and do you think he can repeat that goal total?
BW: Charlie Wyke’s done alright so far in pre-season, but pre-season is about fitness levels and developing patterns of play, nothing more. I can judge Wyke better recalling the games he’s played against us both for yourselves and Bradford, he’s always been a handful and his presence creates space in the box for others to exploit.
We have great striking options and I’m sure we will score goals this season, whether they’re from Wyke, Lang, Humphrys, Keane or Aasgaard, I’m not too fussed as long as they come.
MC: Wigan also re-signed Max Power, who has already won League One twice with the Latics. Were you pleased to see him return to the club?
BW: Without a doubt, I am delighted to have Max back with us. He knows the division, but more importantly he knows the club. Max is an honest footballer who wears his heart on his sleeve, works hard and never hides on the pitch, he’ll do for me.
MC: Rangers winger Jordan Jones was announced earlier this week, which was probably the biggest surprise of the three. Were you impressed to see the club pay a fee and beat other League One clubs to his signature?
BW: If I am being honest I know very little about Jordan Jones, except to say there was quite a bit of interest in him. It was rumoured that he was coming in on loan then the three-year deal was announced, that caught us out a little.
We have got to trust the manager, he knows what players he needs, the type and character, so hopefully he will be an astute signing for us.
MC: Aside from the three ex-Sunderland recruits, which other new signings are you most excited to see in a Wigan shirt on Saturday?
BW: My shout for not only Wigan Athletic signing of the season, but also League One signing of the season is Stevie Humphrys who we have brought in from Rochdale.
He is a rampaging centre-forward, aged just 23 and he already set the place on fire with his pre-season performances. He scores for fun, he has got a great assist record and at 40/1 for the divisions top scorer, I might just risk a fiver.
MC: Who are the eleven Wigan players you believe Leam Richardson will select and what style of play can Lee Johnson’s men expect to encounter?
BW: This is a tough question as the whole squad have looked good in preseason, but if pushed:
Amos (GK) – Darikwa, Whatmough, Long, Pearce – Naylor, Power – Lang, Keane, Humphrys – Wyke.
I expect us to set up in a 4-2-3-1 system and approach the match with a focus on hitting Sunderland on the counter-attack.
MC: Lastly, Wigan took all six points against Sunderland last season - what is your honest prediction for the final score?