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‘WE’RE A FAMILY FOOTBA
AVE Whelan is sat in the chairman’s suite at Wigan, FA Cup gleaming on one side, Charity Shield resting on the other. But the 76-year-old isn’t here to talk about Saturday’s showpiece with Manchester United.
“It’s a friendly, really,” admits the grand old man of Wigan Atheltic. “It would be lovely to win but a club like us, we might not get another chance to play at Wembley for 50 years. So my message to our fans and our players is just to enjoy the day.”
No, what’s really bugging Whelan this afternoon is Luis Suarez.Will Liverpool accept Arsenal’s £40m bid? Will the controversial Uruguyan take his employers to court? Will the saga ever end?
Whelan, like us, has no idea. Of one thing, however, he is entirely sure. If Suarez – last seen sinking his teeth into Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic – was a Wigan player, he wouldn’t need to agitate for a move.
“My view – and I know nobody will take a blind bit of notice at Liverpool – is that they should sell him,” says Whelan.“I thought that the moment he bit that lad at Chelsea.
“You can’t do something like that. How can you bite somebody on a football pitch? I couldn’t believe it. If he did that on the street, they’d lock him up.
“This is the second time and he’s going to do it again. Do you want him to be wearing a Liverpool shirt when he bites somebody again? No.
“What he did is enough. If he was at Wigan Athletic and he had bitten someone like that, he wouldn’t pull a shirt on for me again, full stop.
“It’s a matter of principle. We had Marlon King here, when he beat up a young lady and was sent to prison. I released him immediately. You can’t have that. We’re a family football club.”
Principles are a big thing for Whelan, a talented full-back with Blackburn and Crewe before making his millions as the owner of highstreet retailer JJB Sports.
It’s why, he says, no release clauses are needed in Wigan’s contracts.Why no player ever goes whingeing in the Press about wanting a ‘new challenge’.
“I talk to my players and I tell them the truth,” he explains.“Which is this: If a bigger club comes in and they offer the right deal for Wigan Athletic, and if you say to me ‘I want to go’, then I’ll let you go. They all know that and I have never refused one. Never.
“I probably am a little different to most people in football in that sense, and I think the reason is that I used to be a player myself. I understand the way they think.
“But I also know that if you’re open and honest with your players, you can get loyalty back.
“When I was playing, we had players like Brian Douglas and Ron Clayton. Everyone was after Ron. He was captain of England but he was playing for Blackburn on £20 a week.
“He knew other clubs were paying more. Those were the days of the salary cap but there were backhanders and all sorts of other things going on. But he never, ever asked to go. He enjoyed it where he was.
“You have to ask yourself ‘Is money everything in football?’ Some think it is. But other lads think ‘No, this is a good place to be’. And let me tell you, the spirit here is fantastic.”
Whelan’s principles may be put to the test before August is out, with Shaun Maloney, Callum McManaman and, in particular, James McCarthy on several Premier League wish lists. McCarthy, 22, is valued at £20m and is rumoured to be a top target of both Newcastle and Everton.
With at least 55 games to play, the Latics can ill afford to lose players lat in the window, but Whelan has been i the game long enough to face facts.
“We may lose one or two yet, w don’t know,” he adds. “The Premie League clubs tend to wait and wai then step in at the last minute. It isn very good for us, but what can yo do?
“I remember when Jame McCarthy came down to sign for m with his mum and dad. I said to them ‘Listen, we’ll look after your son. An when he gets to a level where he ready to go, we’ll let him move on’.
“I’ll keep to my promise on tha one, but the truth is we haven’t ha the right deal yet. He hasn’t asked fo a move and he’s really happy here.”
Whelan has allowed new manage Owen Coyle to bring in 11 players including recent acquisition Jame McLean from Sunderland – as las season’s FA Cup winners prepare t fight on four fronts.
There’s 46 games in the League FA Cup and League Cup, plus Europa League adventure after las season’s dramatic FA Cup win ove Man City.
“Europe is a distraction, yeah, bu we’ve earned the honour,” he says “We’ve got 25 or 26 players on th books now and we’ve deliberatel gone and done that so we can repre
STAR ATTRACTION: James McCarthy is valued at £20m