Maloney only now ready to make mark in England, says Martinez

WIGAN manager Roberto Martinez has defended his decision to ignore Shaun Maloney for most of the season.

The Scotland midfielder has been an inspiration behind Wigan’s recent resurgence and curled the winner against Manchester United in midweek that took the Latics out of the bottom three for the first time since October.

All the more remarkable therefore that, prior to the trip to Norwich on 11 March, when he was introduced as a substitute, Maloney had been involved in only three Premier League games, all as a substitute, which in total amounted to just 34 minutes.

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The problem, according to Martinez, was two-fold. First Maloney lacked the required fitness to do himself justice in the Premier League following his £850,000 move from Celtic in August. Then the 29-year-old needed time to get used to the different demands of playing for Wigan, compared to life at the top of the Scottish Premier League.

“There is a really strong adaptation period for certain players when they leave the Scottish Premier League and come to England,” said Martinez ahead of tonight’s trip to the Emirates Stadium to play Arsenal.

“We worked really hard with him physically to reach the level we needed, then he had to find a partnership and position with our players. That takes time.

“Maybe you can move from Celtic to the Premier League. But not from Celtic to Wigan. With a club fighting for the title in Scotland you get a lot of possession and the main concentration is what to do with it. It is straightforward.

“In the Premier League physically, you need to find the right level, then work out what you are doing off the ball and how you are going to defend. It is not easy.”

It still seems odd Wigan had to get themselves in such dire straits before Martinez trusted Maloney enough to pick him. The blessing is he did. In five games since that Norwich trip, Martinez’s side have picked up ten points, beaten Liverpool and United and only returned from Chelsea empty-handed thanks to a couple of inexplicable offside decisions the Wigan manager has received an official apology for.

With his team so short of goals, Martinez has given Maloney free reign to utilise his creative talents.

Said Martinez: “He had a massive impact against Norwich and since then he has shown he is a player who is capable of that little bit of magic that gives you results.

“He makes the fans enjoy their football, which is something they really appreciate and has shown a real freshness in producing the quality we always knew he had.”