David Sharpe gives his first interview outlining his vision for the future.
- David Sharpe: "As a club we must stick together on and off the field to stay in the Sky Bet Championship."
- David Sharpe’s first interview as Wigan Athletic Chairman.
- David Sharpe: "The Academy and Recruitment are two key areas."
Questions by Wigan Athletic Media Officer Nick Taylor
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO NOW OFFICIALLY BE CHAIRMAN OF WIGAN ATHLETIC?
I’m unbelievably proud. Of course it’s tinged with sadness because my Grandfather is stepping down as Chairman and he has done so much for this club.
But that era has come to an end and now we begin a new chapter for the club, so it’s very exciting in that respect.
However, we are in a very difficult place in the league right now and that is the immediate problem that needs addressing.
It’s a huge challenge, and I’m ready for it, there are many things I want to put in place moving forwards and the end goal will be to get back to the Premier League.
I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen.
IT WAS A GREAT SEND OFF FOR MR WHELAN ON SATURDAY, WASN’T IT?
Yes, and last week was all about celebrating everything that he has done in the 20 years he has been at the club, and that’s been unbelievable; there’s nobody who can repeat the success he’s had.
It’s something we should all recognise and the fans did that on Saturday against Leeds United. The reception he received made it one of the proudest days of my life because it did mean a lot to me and my family.
The result spoiled the day a little, but that’s football.
It’s in my Grandfather’s nature to have a bit of a laugh like he did on Saturday, he couldn’t resist responding to the Leeds fans chanting. I knew he was going to have a little pop if they tried to spoil the speech - that’s just him, but it was all in good spirit.
The fans were amazing with him; the reception they gave him when he walked out, singing his name, everything was perfect about it and the reception they gave me too – it was nice to see them clapping when he mentioned my name. That means an awful lot, but I know I have to work hard to keep earning that respect.
PEOPLE TALK ABOUT YOUR AGE, BUT YOU HAVE BEEN IN AND AROUND THE CLUB FOR A LONG, LONG TIME.
Wigan Athletic is the only thing I’ve known really, it’s the only thing I’ve loved - apart from my family of course – it’s the only thing I’ve been really passionate about and will continue to be passionate about. I’m a fan, first and foremost.
Since my Grandfather bought the club in 1995, it has just dominated my life, all the way from Division Three – League Two as it is now – to the good times in the Premier League, the FA Cup, The Europa League, it’s been an incredible journey that we’ve all enjoyed as fans.
We’ve only really had good times under my Grandfather, apart from in the last couple of years, and the good times is something me, Jonathan Jackson, Malky Mackay and everyone at the club is desperate to bring back to Wigan.
HAVE YOU GOT ANY ONE MEMORY IN PARTICULAR THAT STANDS OUT?
There have been so many incredible victories over the years. I remember a 6-1 against Stoke, that 1-0 against Barnsley when we got to 100 points, Jason Roberts scoring after 30 seconds on his debut at Preston, and of course that incredible day against Reading when we made it to the Premiership.
Then in the Premier League, the first game against Chelsea, the first win against Sunderland, that 4-3 against Manchester City, the victories against Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, the final day survivals against Stoke and Sheffield United.
I was in the stands at Bramall Lane that day, it was such a tense afternoon. I actually elbowed my brother in the face when we scored and gave him a bloody nose.
The Europa League was special too but like every fan, we all really have one stand out memory, don’t we? Winning the FA Cup, and for me being my birthday made it even sweeter – now could it get any better than that? For me and every other Wigan fan, no one can ever take that from us.
YOU HAVE BEEN WORKING VERY CLOSELY AT THE CLUB OVER THE PAST TWO YEARS OR SO – WHAT HAS THAT INVOLVED?
My Grandfather wanted very much for me to learn the business of the club and to have him alongside as a teacher, which has been the best education anyone could have.
So I have become involved in some big decisions, involving managers and players. Football is my passion, I follow the game at every level, so for me this has felt a very natural progression.
The big decisions are one thing, but I have also really enjoyed getting through the day-to-day operations which affect the running of the football club, and that’s where Jonathan’s help (Jackson, Wigan Athletic Chief Executive) has been so crucial as well. He has great experience of the game and will look at situations differently from me, which of course is what you need. With Matt Jackson also with us, and Malky, we have some really good people working for us.
I’ve learned that every decision in football is a tough one, in terms of the players we have decided could leave, the ones we bring in, the managers we appoint and the managers we have had to dismiss. That’s football, it’s a tough, tough world, with a very steep learning curve.
YOU HAVE BEEN WORKING CLOSELY WITH MALKY MACKAY IN TRYING TO TURN AROUND THIS DIFFICULT SEASON, HOW HAS THAT BEEN?
Yes, I was there at the initial interview with Malky and from that moment, we knew that here was a man who is passionate about wanting to succeed.
I’ve worked closely with him since, I meet with him regularly. We knew that some really tough decisions had to be made, but that ultimately, the only thing that matters in any situation is the long term good of the football club, and that has to be driving force behind every decision made.
If it’s the right thing to do, you’ve got to do it.
For instance, we have allowed 14 players now to leave since the turn of the year, although one of those was enforced in Chris Herd (pictured), who had just arrived, and the other, Liam Ridgewell, was only ever here for a short period.
Every one of those other 12 decisions was weighed up carefully, along with the 10 new arrivals. All were assessed individually and made as part of a strategy to bring in hungry players who are desperate to perform for this club – and all made within the correct financial framework.
You’ve got to have a clear mind-set on what’s happening now and what will happen going forwards, and that’s what we have done so far in 2015 and will continue to do so.
HOW DO YOU VIEW THE FUTURE, STARTING WITH REST OF THE SEASON?
The short-term goal is to stay up of course; it’s no achievement for Wigan Athletic to stay up in the Championship, that is not a battle we should be fighting, given where we have come from.
But that is the reality for now. We have begun doing something about it by bringing in so many new players, and now it’s a case of sticking together, and working on nothing but achieving that short-term goal of staying up. Long term is a different matter.
The ultimate aim is to secure Premier League football back at the DW Stadium, we want that, we need that. In order to achieve it though, we need to be strategic. We need to start producing our own players again, and therefore the Academy becomes such a crucial part of the long-term plan.
We’ve got the right people on board already, just the wrong building.
We haven’t produced enough players; we’ve seen academy players on the bench this year but in terms of producing a Leighton Baines or a Callum McManaman we have not achieved this often enough.
It’s not been acceptable for a club of our size and it’s something we have to crack on with, it’s something I’m really passionate about.
Then recruitment is the other side of that same coin.
We need to implement the correct sort of player recruitment, where every prospective player is assessed statistically, how he performs in different circumstances, and research is done into his background, his attitude, even his profile on social media. Then we want to have had him watched several times, at home, away, in as many different circumstances as we can so we can build a complete dossier and at any given time we have several targets in every position and we’re ready to move.
Myself, Malky, Matt Jackson and Jonathan are on the same wavelength on the policy we’re going to put in place.
SO IF THERE’S ONE MESSAGE YOU WANT TO GET OVER TO THE WIGAN ATHLETIC FANS?
I would say myself, Jonathan, Malky, Matt – and my Grandad is only ever a phone call away if I need his advice – are people with passion and experience who understand this unique and wonderful football club.
We all – and I include the fans when I say that - want only one thing, success for OUR football club.
It’s not going to be easy and there may be more difficult times ahead before things improve, we can’t hide from that given where we are in the league.
But I want to assure everyone that there is a thought process behind every decision that’s made at Wigan Athletic, on or off the field and that I will be working every day, every minute I possibly can, to help make our club better.
And I will say this as well, we HAVE to stick together, all of us, for the good of our Wigan Athletic and look forward to some more great memories in the making.