JAMES McArthur might have given the FA Cup pride of place on his Twitter page but he does not believe in looking back.
The image of the Scotland midfielder holding the famous old trophy aloft at Wembley with his friend James McCarthy after Wigan Athletic’s remarkable triumph over Manchester City last May, confronts McArthur every day.
So much has changed in the eight months since that picture was taken. Gone is the man who masterminded the modest Lancashire club’s greatest success, Roberto Martinez lured away to Everton to replace Manchester United-bound David Moyes.
Also gone is McCarthy. The Castlemilk boy, who plays for the Republic of Ireland, was one of four Wigan players who followed Martinez to Merseyside as the Goodison Park club paid out £14 million for McArthur’s perennial colleague since their Hamilton Accies youth team days.
In fact when McArthur looks around the home dressing room at the DW Stadium today, as Wigan begin their defence of the FA Cup with a third-round tie at home to MK Dons, there will be very few of the faces who sipped champagne at Wembley after Ben Watson’s stunning stoppage-time header sank the millionaires of City.
When McArthur helped Wigan to a crucial 1-0 victory at Derby County on New Year’s Day to revive their hopes of making the Championship play-offs, the team contained just four of the players who won at Wembley.
Also gone from the Wigan story is Owen Coyle. The Glaswegian was hired as Martinez’s replacement – and then fired by Wigan owner Dave Whelan last month with the Latics stuck in mid-table in their bid to return to the English Premier League after Martinez’s side were relegated just eight days after their Wembley glory.
McArthur is now on his third Wigan manager in eight months but he feels that Uwe Rosler can take the club back to the top because Coyle has left a decent legacy for the German. He also admits there is a collective sense of culpability at costing the former St Johnstone manager his job.
“We feel we let Owen Coyle down,” reflected the boy from the east end of Glasgow.
“We did not get the results we are capable of and it was the manager who suffered. A lot of things have changed since that day at Wembley but Wigan are still a good side.
“We lost a lot of good players last summer after we were relegated but Owen Coyle replaced them with good players. I think we still have a good squad and when we get others like Shaun Maloney back from injury, we will get better in the second half of the season.
“Winning at Wembley was an unbelievable thing. It’s good that I’ve got pictures of myself and James [McCarthy]with the trophy to look back on, but as a footballer I don’t really do that now. That is more my parents and I also gave my fiancée Louisa’s dad, Chris Pelosi, a DVD of the FA Cup final for a Christmas present and I think he’s watched it every day.
“But everyone at Wigan has moved on. Now we want to create a new bit of history for the club and our great fans, who have stuck with us this season.
“The fans really helped us at Wembley. We never felt like underdogs against Manchester City and they kept us going – and the reward came when Ben (Watson) headed in Shaun’s corner with just seconds left.”
Another former Celtic player, Gary Caldwell, was on the bench that day but as club captain Caldwell was invited to receive the famous trophy along with Emmerson Boyce.
Caldwell is still recovering after hip surgery and neither he nor Maloney will feature against MK Dons. Only Boyce, Roger Espinoza, Callum McManaman and McArthur are certain to launch the FA Cup defence. Of the other players who hoisted Martinez into the air as they celebrated on the Wembley turf, Jordi Gomez is a benchwarmer just now. Defender Antolin Alcaraz, goalkeeper Joel Robles and striker Aruna Kone all joined McCarthy at Everton, while Austrian defender Paul Scharner retired.
If life at Wigan has been turbulent in the subsequent eight months, the contrast with Martinez could not be greater. He lifted Everton into fourth place in the Premier League and enjoyed a victory over his predecessor, Moyes, with the club’s first win at Old Trafford in three decades.
“I know people think that Roberto Martinez got that job by winning the FA Cup,” reflects McArthur. “But I don’t agree. I think Roberto would have been moving last summer to a bigger club, even if we had lost the cup final.
“He is a great manager, someone I loved playing for, and I think he will reach the very top of his profession. Roberto has already done great things for Everton and put in the sort of passing style there which we had at Wigan.
“I cannot thank him enough. He brought me there from Hamilton then gave me a contract extension which keeps me at the club until 2016. But myself and the other lads are only looking ahead, not back.
“I still believe that we can get promotion. The English Premier League is where the club and our fans deserve to be but an FA Cup run would not be a bad thing, either.
“I know that cup runs get in the way of teams trying to get into the Championship play-offs but they said that thing about us last season with relegation. You don’t get a choice in football about the games you can win or lose – as we found out last May.
“We know MK Dons are a decent team and we probably had our toughest FA Cup games last year against lower division sides, when we needed a replay to beat Bournemouth, and then edged out Macclesfield.
“I want to win every game. If you don’t have that desire, you shouldn’t be at a club like Wigan Athletic. The FA Cup is such a special competition. Every player feels that. That is what inspired us against Manchester City and we know it will do the same to MK Dons.”