by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (April 14th 2013)
Wigan Athletic booked a return trip to Wembley in four weeks time with a deserved 2-0 win over Millwall. The FA had been asked if Wigan’s Chairman Dave Whelan can lead the club out at Wembley for the semi-final, but refused to break with protocol. Whelan said that the club’s manager, Roberto Martínez had renewed the request for the final.
Whelan’s playing career never recovered after injuring himself in a tackle against Norman Deeley in the 1961 FA Cup final – the story of which has been ably told by prolific football writer and occasional correspondent for us, Mark Metcalf – but he hopes to complete his unfinished business over half a century later.
”Well Roberto’s asked the question whether I can lead them out in the final and the FA’s said, ‘Yes,’ so I will be leading them out in the final,” Whelan said. ”Every footballer’s dream is to play in the FA Cup final. I don’t care where they come from, that’s his dream and we’ve done that today. We’ve created a lot of history today.”
Life’s A Dream
”It’s one of the best feeling ever to go and play in the final and I think everyone knows how big this competition is, especially here in England, maybe in the world,” Wigan’s surprise choice as goal-keeper Oman’s Ali al-Habsi said. ”What we see in the faces of the fans and in the stands makes us more happy. These fans deserve something like us. The most important thing is these fans believe in the club and are behind the team. It’s special for me and it is the first time for this football club [getting to the final]. It’s amazing.”
”I think it will be great [playing in Europe next season],” al-Habsi said. ”It will be fantastic for the club. We have to think about the league first and then the final and then Europe. We have enough to stay in the league I think: great fans, great manager, great players. We can make it.”
Maloney agrees. ”Obviously it [playing in Europe] is a pretty big thing for our manager and our club. It feels an absolute mile away at the minute. We’ve got such important league games and obviously the cup final to look forward to; it’s obviously something to look forward to, but it does feel a fair bit away at the moment.”
He denied that thoughts of European football was a distraction. ”No, not really, Maloney said. ”I think Europe will come next season. Once we’ve got back in for pre-season, I don’t think that will be thought about by the players until the end of the season and start of next season.”
He credited his manager’s contribution. ”He’s an outstanding manager,” Maloney said. ”He’s still quite young in terms of management age. I think there was a lot of talk of him possibly going to a bigger club in last summer and I’d be surprised if there wasn’t similar talk this season. He’s a very good manager. In terms of the size of our club, to have achieved what he’s done there, up to now and hopefully stay in the Premier League again, it’s a feather in his cap.”
Whelan is resigned to losing his manager eventually. ”We’ve been through quite a lot together,” Whelan said. ”Hopefully I can keep him another couple of seasons. I will lose him in the end.” Whelan hopes that will be to a big European club.