It was confirmed more than three weeks ago but Charlie Mulgrew’s switch from Blackburn Rovers to Wigan Athletic remains one of the most curious deals of the summer.
More so when he reveals he had to rely on three young scamps helping get him to the training ground on time in order to beat the English transfer deadline.
Liverpool winger Ryan Kent may have commanded the headlines with a last-minute move to Rangers as the clock ticked down to midnight in Monday night’s Scottish deadline, but Mulgrew’s season-long loan move still has people scratching their heads nearly a month later.
Skipper of Blackburn and scorer of ten goals from centre-half last season as the Ewood Park side secured a comfortable mid-table position in the Championship, it did not seem to make sense for the set-piece specialist to be allowed to leave by manager Tony Mowbray, particularly when it emerged a rival club was the destination. Mulgrew, who started the first game of the season for Blackburn, is not permitted to play against them on the two occasions Wigan face the Lancashire side in the league.
Wigan is just over 20 miles from Blackburn, but Mulgrew almost didn’t make it. With time running out – the Championship’s deadline was at 5pm on 9 August, the same as the Premier League in England – he was scampering around that afternoon trying to find Wigan’s training ground. He had been sitting in a branch of Starbucks in Blackburn with team-mate Paul Caddis when he received the call that Wigan wanted him – and he had to step to it.
“It came as a shock,” Mulgrew recalled yesterday. “It all just happened so quick, and funnily enough my battery ran out on the way to the training ground. So, I never had a phone and I never had the postcode and I’m asking people where the training ground is!
“It was old school. I ended up asking three people where the Wigan training ground is. One sent me the wrong way, but eventually three wee boys put me back on track and sent me the other way.
“It was down a wee dirt road and it’s hard to find, so the secretary was out on the road and flagged me in. I ended up signing with a minute to go, and it still wasn’t cleared until the next morning. The FA have to go through them all, so it was a bit mental. Those wee boys sorted me right out. I’ll go in for a carry oot for them next time I see them!”
Mulgrew admitted it had all come “out of the blue”. He had spoken to Mowbray about his future earlier in the day and learned Blackburn were aiming to play higher up the pitch this season, meaning the 33-year-old might be left exposed. “That afternoon Wigan came in,” he recalled. “It was accepted, I didn’t need to move house and there was no big upheaval. It’s a chance for me to go and play some football and help Wigan if I can, so that’s what I want to do.”
The worry for Scotland manager Steve Clarke is that he hasn’t yet played as much as he or Mulgrew might like. The defender started in the league for the first time for his new side on Saturday and helped them keep a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw with Barnsley. He had played only once previously for them – in a Carabao Cup defeat by Stoke City.
“Scotland is always on your mind, but it happened that quick I never really had time to think about anything,” said Mulgrew. “It was all done in the space of a couple of hours. I had to make my mind up quick. The fact that it (the enquiry) was accepted, that told me it was probably for the best that I went and gave my all for Wigan.”
For the next few days at least, he is back in the familiar setting of a Scotland camp. He might not have felt particularly wanted by Blackburn but his worth to Clarke has only increased in recent days, with centre-halves falling like flies prior to the Euro 2020 qualifying doubleheader with Russia and Belgium. Mulgrew, who played in both Clarke’s first two matches as manager in June, is likely to partner debutant Liam Cooper at the back in the first game against Russia on Friday. He has already been impressed by Clarke’s attention to detail.
“It’s brilliant, great,” said Mulgrew. “It’s very organised – right from day one. It’s about organisation and everyone knowing their jobs. You’d be amazed in football how much that doesn’t happen and it’s off the cuff but definitely not here. It’s a proper game-plan and everyone knows their job. That’s all we can ask, then it’s up to us.”
Mulgrew already has experience of coming up against Russia striker and skipper Artem Dzyuba, whom he faced at Celtic seven years ago in a Champions League qualifier when the player in question was at Spartak Moscow. “He is a big tall striker and probably somebody who needs dealt with – I’m happy to do it if called upon,” he said.