WIGAN manager Roberto Martinez believes club owner Dave Whelan will be gaining closure when he leads his team out at Wembley today.
The Latics take on Millwall in the FA Cup semi-final, 53 years after what should have been the most memorable day of Whelan’s life ended in abject misery.
As a defender with Blackburn, Whelan knew victory over Wolves could not be guaranteed in the FA Cup final – but not in his worst nightmares could he have anticipated being carried off on a stretcher with a broken leg. It left mental scars that seem to have never quite healed.
But Martinez feels that will eventually happen this weekend. “It will be a significant day for the chairman because he has been through such a lot,” the Spaniard said. “The FA Cup is something very special for him. Not many people had the experience he did in the 1960s, with the final and being carried off. There is a sense of unfinished business. It is a unique way of closing that circle.”
Whelan’s playing career took him on to Crewe. But it was his business acumen that had more footballing impact as it allowed him to amass the fortune which let him buy Wigan in 1995.
When Whelan said he would take the club from the fourth tier of the English league into the Premier League, few believed him. But in 2005, they arrived and now Wigan stand just 90 minutes from their first FA Cup final and, if Manchester City and Chelsea qualify for the Champions League, a European debut.
“The chairman represents Wigan,” Martinez said. “He had this dream and we are going along with him. For him to be leading the team out will be a fitting moment for his career.”
Amazingly, Martinez finds himself facing a familiar figure in the opposite dugout in Kenny Jackett, who made him captain at Swansea, where they spent two years together. “Kenny has had real success over the last few years but that is no surprise to me,” Martinez said. “It will be great to see him again but this game is not about managers. It is about two sets of players who will both be giving it everything to reach the final.”
If anything, Wigan’s run to the last four has been more surprising than Millwall’s as Martinez has never given the impression he gives even a cursory glance at cup competitions. They had not been beyond the fourth round under Martinez, and his sides for the third-round clashes with Bournemouth were unrecognisable to today’s squad.
Yet the Spaniard insists the run has been positive for their league form, a statement backed by the present run of 12 points from the last eight, and seven from three since the sixth-round defeat of Everton at Goodison Park. “It has helped.” he said. “It has given us a fresh approach.
“The FA Cup has allowed us to see other players and has been a very important influence in our league form. It means we are allowed to forget about that for a few days as we know we’ve been doing our job.”