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One Touch Pass

When Wigan raided Swansea City

Despite Brendan Rodgers suggesting that Roberto Martinez ought to receive a good reception when Wigan visit the Liberty Stadium on Saturday, Martinez knows better than anyone why Swansea fans are still angry with him.

Back in June 2009, after Sunderland had swooped in and persuaded Steve Bruce to become their new manager, Wigan owner Dave Whelan was in an awkward position. Just a few weeks earlier he had given an interview in which he criticised the FA for appointing Fabio Capello as England manager and claimed (rather ridiculously) that Bruce was “too good for England”:

“We are the home of football, for God’s sake. I can’t believe that we need foreign managers. I wouldn’t go anywhere near one because I don’t accept you must go abroad for your boss. It’s just ridiculous that England have a foreign coach.”

Despite Whelan claiming he wouldn’t go near any of that foreign muck, former Wigan player and then-Swansea manager Roberto Martinez almost immediately became the favourite to take over.

When Swansea were less than co-operative, Whelan seemed baffled by their attitude. He refused to pay additional compensation when Martinez wanted to bring further members of his staff to Wigan, including his assistant, the chief scout and the goalkeeping coach. A few weeks later they also returned to buy two of Swansea’s best players, Jordi Gomez and Jason Scotland for around £3.7m, despite Martinez saying he wouldn’t raid the Swansea squad. Gomez had been on loan from Espanyol anyway, so Swansea lost both of them and received less than £2m.

It was tough for Swansea fans to take. Their club had taken a chance on nurturing a young manager, only to see him leave and take much of what he had built with him just as they were on the cusp of a brighter future. Dave Whelan dismissively claimed that “we’ve offered them some money, but nothing like what they were asking for.” Swansea were eventually paid somewhere around £1.5 to £2m, considerably less than the £5m Whelan had reportedly wanted from Sunderland for Steve Bruce, and less than the £3m he had paid to Birmingham to get Bruce in the first place.

It was the kind of grubby compensation deal that illustrated the stark financial disparity between the Premier League and the Championship. These were two clubs with similar average attendances of around 15-17,000, both in locations arguably better known for rugby, but one was able to cripple the other using a small fraction of the money they would receive from the Premier League just for avoiding relegation.

In an interview with Sky Sports News at the time, Whelan lamented the cruelty inherent in football, as if he was a witness rather than a participant. Perhaps he should have reflected on why the sport is so cruel. Ultimately, it was because people in his position continued to act cruelly. It was absurd for him to claim any detachment or to try to avoid any culpability with a little philosophical shrug of the shoulders.

For many Swansea fans it would have been supremely ironic if Wigan had been relegated last season and Swansea had passed them on the way up. Perhaps Swansea could then have picked off some of Wigan’s best assets like Victor Moses and Hugo Rodallega. After all, it is a cruel sport.

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