The dark horse: Shaun Maloney
The 2010-11 season saw Wigan Athletic pick up just 9 victories out of the 24 games in which they came away with points on the board. 16th place was not what manager Roberto Martinez had in mind after his side finished there for the second time in a row. With his extremely low budget, Martinez turned to Shaun Maloney who had impressed with Celtic the previous season. Maloney had been in good form for Celtic and was handed the captain’s armband on a short term due to a thigh injury to original captain Scott Brown. He was credited for the club’s performance that season which saw Celtic finish on top of the Scottish League yet again. On August 31st 2011, Celtic came to terms with Wigan Athletic fir Maloney’s transfer to the Premier League outfit for the following season.
Since arriving from Celtic in 2011, he has been a regular in Roberto Martinez’s starting line-up. He was snapped up by Martinez in the summer transfer window for a frugal fee of £850,000, raising the eyebrows of many, including chairman Dave Whelan. Despite his lack of fitness, the 29 year old was the driving force behind the survival of the Lancashire based club. He, along with team-mates Jordi Gomez, Ben Watson and James McCarthy, did justice to the faith put in them by Roberto Martinez towards the end of the 2011-12 season, securing survival comfortably. Due to his irregular fitness status, Maloney found it difficult to break into the first team and was mostly used as a substitute.
Later in March 2011, Maloney made his first start in almost 5 months against Liverpool. In the match, Maloney converted a penalty which resulted in a victory. The historical part was the victory over Liverpool, but more importantly, this triggered a turn in fortunes for Wigan and their tryst towards survival. From then on, Maloney was a regular starter and with Wigan’s much improved and attractive football, they lost just two matches to Chelsea and Fulham respectively and won the other 6 matches. Maloney’s performances were deemed ‘outstanding’ by his manager.
The 2012-13 season could not come sooner for Maloney as he was by now the linchpin of the Wigan outfit. With the sudden dash of form for Argentine striker Franco Di Santo and the arrival of Arouna Kone from Levante, the 29 year old is more than happy to make plays for the two strikers. As of this season, he has made 12 appearances for the first team and has a goal under his belt, but what makes him more happy is the fact that he has cemented a place in the starting line up, something that the Scot failed to achieve in Celtic.
Even though football fans may not compare him with the other top flight teams’ playmakers like Wayne Rooney, David Silva and Santi Cazorla, his 3 goals and 16 assists in the 2011-12 season makes him one of the most under rated footballers to play in the Barclays Premier League.