In August 2011, Wigan signed Shaun Maloney for £850,000, unwittingly securing a far greater windfall as the slick-footed Scot went on to significantly aid the Latics’ miraculous Premier League survival. Maloney’s idiosyncratic brand of ducking and weaving is generally confined to six second clips at the ‘I may as well’ end of Match of the Day, which is a real shame for us Wigan sympathisers. Maloney, and his highly enjoyable manipulation of the ball represents much more palatable alternative viewing now the title race is over.
When Robin van Persie slid home Man Utd’s killer goal against Everton last Sunday to capitalise on Man City’s soberingly weak Southampton defeat, there was a tremendous sense of anti-climax, and not just because I’m an Evertonian. Conclusively you sense, United now hold a 12-point advantage with just 12 games to go. Whilst chance will always allow for a catastrophically blunderous run-in, that realm of probability is a little too Kevin Keegan-inclusive for my liking.
So that’s that and how depressing, the ‘Best League in the World’ reduced to an equation no more complex than league’s second best team + league’s top scorer = league’s best team. Who cares about watching that? I know I don’t. United then City then United, he who spends wins.
The irony would of course not be wasted on Maloney who twice left the inert, binary possibility of the Scottish Premier League to risk his hand in the quantum physicality of the Premier League. Sadly not. The English title, just like its over-the-border equivalent, has been grasped by the greasy hands of two money-pumped, city-sharing rivals, and they’re not giving it back without a financial collapse.
With my interest in the title race effectively extinguished, I looked elsewhere for a substitute focal point for the run-in. With Bale and Benteke already taken, Michu enjoying somewhat of a breather, and not having the requisite soullessness to root for Loic Remy, Chris Samba and co, I thought who better than Maloney, a player I’ve always had a soft spot for?
A player with considerable cult stock. Not only is he a sub-£1m, child-resembling gem of a number 10 who stood tall over the abyss of relegation, he’s a member of that hilariously exclusive club of Scottish internationals who were born in Malaysia! Shaun Maloney, the Malaysian-Scottish Maradona, what’s not to love?
Last April, I named Maloney on the bench in my Signings of the Season article. Three days later, he scored that decisive winner against Man Utd momentarily condensing the title race and relegation battle into one unknowing kick. That goal, whilst backing up my choice to include him but making a mockery of a foolish decision to select James McLean ahead of him (it was a strange time, Yakubu somehow made the bench!), told me that Maloney had something special.
Wigan won four of the next five. Maloney, despite suffering from Leighton Baines Syndrome (a chronic condition of the inventive footballer whereby assist totals are kept unfairly low by misfiring strikers), was instrumental. Apparently doomed for so long, the Latics finished closer to West Brom in 10th than Bolton in 18th, rendering relegation, I assume, little more than a post-training chuckle over a meat and potato pie between Ali Al-Habsi and Emerson Boyce.
Time however holds no candle to even the most finessed Franco Di Santo finish, and the moment for another such death-defying illusion has befallen Wigan once again. 21 points from 26 games will leave you in a bad enough predicament before you even get to the fact that each of your nearest rivals – Reading, Aston Villa, Newcastle and Southampton – have started to find good form. All of a sudden, you find yourself 19th, three points from safety with two-wins-all-season QPR the only team below you by a worryingly slender four points.
Recent history testifies to Wigan’s stomach for the battle but they best start proving it soon. When they do, like they always do, I bet my bottom dollar that Maloney’s at the heart of it.
Written by Chris Smith
Follow Chris on Twitter @cdsmith789
Check out his excellent blog, The Russian Linesman
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