So yet another player moves on from Wigan Athletic onto better things… Or does he? A Wigan fan explains why they can never hold onto their best players and also what West Ham can expect from Mohammed Diame
Can I do a piece about West Ham fans can expect from Mohamed Diame? Of course I can. Can I do it without the inevitable “paragraph of bitterness”? Well there’s a challenge. And the question is – where to put it? At the beginning – and immediately incur the wrath of jellied eel munching Essex Boys or at the end – with the comments box lurking close to hand? OK then safely embedded in the middle it is then.
We all knew Momo was leaving. Both Diame and Hugo Rodallega’s contracts were up at the end of the season and any talk of them being renewed was hearsay or a small addendum to a press article rather than bold statements of intent.
For Wigan Athletic, this has become known as the “N’Zogbia co-efficient” whereby a player performs to such a high standard that he prices himself out of a new contract leaving us with no option to sell or give away. There are two competing forces to fling blame at here. The first one is arguably our notoriously publicity shy chairman Dave Whelan, who simply – publicly at least, refuses to demonstrate any intent to renew players’ contracts as they get towards the end of their tenure, thus meaning we continue to lose our precious assets for nothing.
Yet maybe this is an admirable quality, a desire to keep the club on a sound financial footing and when players by virtue of good performances leap from that £20-30k per week bracket into the £40-60k threshold, at that point Wigan Athletic fold their hand and leave the table.
If it’s great skills you want he’s got a hefty compartment of them attached to his boots in the locker marked S for silky.
Of course this alludes to the second allocation of blame, those money mad agents, whom our reclusive, monk-like chairman, who once played in an FA Cup final and broke his leg in case you weren’t aware has also fired a parting shot at. Diame’s agent is Willie McKay, need I say more although he is not alone in his desire as an agent to look to move players’ on every few years for a slice of a signing on fee and a bigger wage packet. There’s probably nothing wrong with that in all honesty but it still hurts like hell when it happens to a club like ours. Who’d have thought a Belgian plodder by the name of Jean Marc Bosman would wreak such havoc in the world of football?
Back to Momo and when he joined it’s fair to say, he didn’t exactly set the place alight. A £3m joint signing in the summer of 2009 from Rayo Vallecano along with centre half Antonio Amaya, an absolute rock of a man, rugged, handsome, sturdy but with the ability to turn into a gibbering wreck when put under moderate pressure by the likes of Lee Hughes and Johan Elmander. Diame though looked the real deal and soon enough he was. We nearly didn’t sign him at all due to a heart scare, which is supposedly still around in that he has an irregular heart beat but the more games he played for us, the more ludicrous it became to believe that this midfield powerhouse could possibly have a dicky ticker.
Whereas Amaya barely made a handful of appearances leading us to conclude he had just been signed as a friend to keep Momo company, Diame was always in the team under Martinez and his performances broadly reflected the direction of Wigan Athletic as a whole. In the first year when we suffered many large reversals, Diame was symbolic of those games: a shoulder shrugging, lost sheep with bags of ability but no heart (no pun intended), one of many foreign mercenaries to wear the shirt of Wigan Athletic at a time when we seemed to be destined for the drop.
Yet in many ways, Diame was a pioneer of the resurgence at the business end of the season. Capable of matching the best in the game. A rangy, box to box midfielder with energy, drive, sublime ball skills and passing range, long legs perfect for taking the ball off his more illustrious opposite numbers and driving goalwards. Of course, forming an opinion off youtube is dangerous but what’s not to like about this?
Apart from the music. The one weakness has always been his shooting and indeed a year or two ago at a fans’ forum, a fan asked Martinez whether it would be possible for Momo to stay behind for a bit of extra shooting practice to up his goal tally. “The problem there is, if Momo gets ten goals a season, then he’s off.”
Therein lies the quandary of modern football, we nurture our players, accept their flaws and watch then develop and then get forced to flog them because they are commanding bigger wages.
The strange thing in Diame’s case is that he hasn’t actually featured much since Christmas. Essentially he was a pivotal part of the team that amassed a whopping 15 points in 23 games until the end of January but barely featured in a team that went on to get 28 points from the remaining 15 beating Liverpool, United, Arsenal and Newcastle in the process. This is merely a crumb of comfort from a Wigan fans’ perspective in the future and not intended to ignore Diame’s undoubted talent.
His contribution to the run in was to come off the bench and miss a pair of sitters against Norwich and West Brom which cost us four points when we really looked doomed. It may just be that Roberto knew both Hugo and Momo were leaving and chose to use them sparingly whilst thinking of next season’s continuity. They could have both been flogged in January with this in mind but that would have been akin to waving the white flag at the time with Latics rooted in the relegation zone. As it happens, players like McArthur and Maloney came to the fore and Momo struggled to get back in the team, understandably as they were playing out of their skins.
This is not to detract from a fantastic player who will be sorely missed by most Wigan Athletic fans, many of whom are asking why West Ham? I think we know the answer to the question and it comes in paper and shiny gold form. Again, we know our place, we know Wigan Athletic are a small club and West Ham won the World Cup and are a far bigger and more illustrious club than our own, but is this a step up? How will West Ham’s aspirations and likely achievements differ from Wigan Athletic’s? Why join a newly promoted club and leave an established Premier League club of eight years?
We sold our best player twelve months ago in the form of Charles N’Zogbia and ended up finishing higher up the table than the team he joined, so much for career advancement
I can see you now – shaking your head at the screen saying “stupid Northern monkey, Wigan are going down” but then you’ve been saying that for eight years now and it hasn’t happened! We sold our best player twelve months ago in the form of Charles N’Zogbia and ended up finishing higher up the table than the team he joined, so much for career advancement, ultimately what it comes down to with both Charlie and Momo is wage packet advancement and that’s the bit where I get really bitter.
There ends up being a divide with players who leave Wigan between the ones who we’re proud of and really go on to develop their careers such as Leighton Baines and Antonio Valencia and the ones who end up at Sunderland or Aston Villa and spend their lives in bigger houses, driving faster cars but ultimately plodding around in lower mid table like the rest of us.
As it stands at the minute though, Diame is still just about bridging the two, still just about loved by Wigan fans for his fearless running and undoubted talent despite his choice of next employer. Even though he once fell foul of an infamous “French interview translation” and allegedly claimed the town of Wigan is cold and full of ugly women in a Georgi Hristov moment. Somehow, I think London may suit him a tad better in that respect.
As much as it pains me to say it, I can see newly promoted West Ham being this year’s Newcastle – it’s what they do, I have no doubt under Allardyce that they’ll finish safely in mid table or even top half and I would love Momo to play a pivotal role in that. I’ve not seen enough of them last year to understand how much of the “get in the mixer” philosophy Big Sam has utilised at the academy of football but this is not a man for whom you want to bypass the midfield for because he can own the midfield. If it’s great skills you want he’s got a hefty compartment of them attached to his boots in the locker marked S for silky.
So with a heavy heart it’s hard for me to wish him well as he has joined a rival but it would also be a travesty if his box of tricks isn’t regularly on display in the Barclays PremierLeague next season. It will hurt seeing it, like spotting an ex-girlfriend with a new beau but Momo is too good to keep tucked away for long and I hope he goes on to play a starring role in West Ham’s first season back up. But not at our expense.