If Leicester City beat Chelsea in this Saturday’s FA Cup final, they will become the first team outside the Premier League’s so-called Big Six to win the trophy since Wigan Athletic in 2013.
Now the best part of a decade old, the Lactics’ famous win over Man City secured European football for a club constantly battling top-flight relegation. These days they’re demonstrating their survival specialist status in League One, but what happened to the Wigan players who gave us the perhaps biggest FA Cup upset of the modern era?
Chelsea vs Leicester City FA Cup final outright odds from William Hill:
- Chelsea: 1/2
- Leicester: 6/4
Odds accurate at time of writing (TBC). 18+ only. Be Gamble Aware.
Goalkeeper: Joel Robles
Career path: Atletico Madrid, Rayo Vallecano (loan), Wigan Athletic (loan), Everton, Real Betis
Joel only joined Roberto Martinez’s squad in the January window but quickly won the battle for the No.1 spot in favour of Ali Al-Habsi. The Spaniard kept four clean sheets in 17 appearances for the Latics and put in a stellar final performance, making five saves to keep the Man City attack at bay. His early scrambling stop to deny Carlos Tevez with his feet was so impressive and important that then-Wigan coach Graham Barrow described it as “almost like scoring a goal because it gave everyone a lift”.
Centre-back: Emmerson Boyce
Career path: Luton Town, Crystal Palace, Wigan Athletic, Blackpool, Ashton Town
Boyce now serves as an academy coach with Wigan and made just shy of 300 appearances for the Latics. His experience was vital to this odds-defying side, not to mention the five clearances and three tackles he made in the final itself.
“When the final whistle went, there was a sense of disbelief. We were thinking ‘what do we do now?’,” Boyce said of the triumph. “I remember telling Dave Whelan when we went up to collect the trophy that he had a new story to tell now. I said: ‘you haven’t got to wait any longer, you have finally got your cup’.”
Centre-back: Paul Scharner
Career path: Austria Wien, SG Untersiebenbrunn (loan), SV Salzburg, SK Brann, Wigan Athletic, West Brom, Hamburg, Wigan Athletic (loan)
Paul Scharner was an eccentric character, perhaps known best for his colourful hairdos, though his play on the pitch for Wigan wasn’t bad either. The Austrian never had a problem talking candidly to the media and during his West Brom days, tore a strip into manager Tony Pulis’ tactics. He also had a very heated exchange with future Wigan boss Steve Bruce during his days with SK Brann, where he showed the former Manchester United man the middle finger and told him to ‘***k off’ in defence of a teammate who had broken his leg.
Since retiring, Scharner has taken on work as a life and career coach at Wigan, while he’s also skilled in electrical engineering.
Centre-back: Antolin Alcaraz
Career path: Teniente Fariña, Racing Club, Fiorentina (loan), Beira-Mar, Club Brugge, Wigan Athletic, Everton, Las Palmas, Libertad, Olimpia
Alcaraz certainly split opinion, always willing to put his body on the line for a challenge but also painfully slow. That in mind, it’ll probably come as a huge surprise to find out that, at 38 years old, the Paraguayan centre-back is still playing in his homeland with Olimpia. A hamstring injury left Alcaraz touch and go for the final, but he recovered to make a match-high five interceptions in a monumental Latics defensive effort.
Left-wing: Roger Espinoza
Career path: Arizona Sahuaros, Sporting Kansas City, Wigan Athletic, Sporting Kansas City
Usually a central midfielder, Espinoza was deployed on the left against Man City, something which admittedly caught the player off-guard.
“[Martinez] ended up playing a 3-5-2, and I was actually used as a left-winger,” Espinoza told Sporting KC’s official website last year. “The whole season I had been a midfielder, and somehow in this game, he said I would be going up against James Milner and Jesus Navas as a winger. I had to push up high, pressure Milner and prevent them from pushing up high.”
Ask any Wigan fan and they’ll tell you they didn’t care too much about relegation and that nothing can take away from the memories of winning the FA Cup, a feeling shared within the club, according to Espinoza.
“I don’t think Wigan’s fans or ownership cared if we got relegated when they knew we just won the FA Cup,” he added. “It was the biggest accomplishment in club history. To be part of that Wigan team and be part of one of the biggest upsets in English football was amazing.”
Central midfield: James McCarthy
Career path: Hamilton Academical, Wigan Athletic, Everton, Crystal Palace
McCarthy was one of four players to follow Martinez to Everton shortly after the 2012/13 season ended and although he initially formed a superb midfield partnership with Gareth Barry at Goodison Park, injuries quickly halted his momentum.
Central midfield: Jordi Gomez
Career path: Barcelona, Espanyol, Swansea City, Wigan Athletic, Sunderland, Blackburn Rovers (loan), Wigan Athletic, Rayo Vallecano, Levski Sofia, Omonia Nicosia
Gomez followed Martinez from Swansea to Wigan and back in 2014, tipping his compatriot to become “one of the top managers in the world”. At international level, at least, Martinez seems to be fulfilling that promise with Belgium.
Did you know that during his early career, Gomez was a 68th-minute replacement for Thiago Motta during a 6-0 Copa del Rey win for Barcelona over Zamora FC? Also on the pitch for Barca that day were the likes of Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol and Henrik Larsson.
Right-wing: James McArthur
Career path: Hamilton Academical, Wigan Athletic, Crystal Palace
There’s no separating McArthur and McCarthy, who both currently turn out for Crystal Palace and shared the pitch with Hamilton Academical and Wigan. To date, the pair have played a massive 203 games together.
Like Espinoza, McArthur was a central midfielder asked to play out wide with little incentive to chase back when City were on the attack. Something that clearly caught Roberto Mancini off-guard despite Martinez trying out the same formation in an earlier meeting just a few weeks prior.
“That season, Wigan had already pushed us very close,” said City defender Joleon Lescott. “A few weeks before the final we beat them 1-0 at Etihad Stadium but they had a strange formation, where their wingers did not drop back and defend.”
Attacking midfield: Shaun Maloney
Career path: Celtic, Aston Villa, Celtic, Wigan Athletic, Chicago Fire, Hull City
“Up the pitch, Shaun Maloney had a huge role in making the system work,” former Wigan captain Gary Caldwell said of Maloney’s role in this side. “He was dropping back in defensive situations to block the middle of the pitch but he also gave us an attacking outlet. He made a massive effort physically and also provided some quality going forward.”
It was, of course, Maloney’s corner that Ben Watson turned home to deliver this historic win. Something that will forever enshrine his name in Wigan folklore.
Striker: Callum McManaman
Career path: Wigan Athletic, Blackpool (loan), West Brom, Sheffield Wednesday (loan), Sunderland, Wigan Athletic, Luton Town, Melbourne Victory
Though his career has never quite matched his undoubted talent, Callum McManaman played a huge role in getting Wigan to this final. In fact, it simply wouldn’t have happened without him, with the tricky forward scoring in consecutive rounds against Huddersfield, Everton and Millwall.
McManaman is one of a host of familiar names now turning out for Melbourne Victory in the A-League, alongside Rudy Gestede, Ryan Shotton and Jacob Butterfield, while he has spent time playing under former Blackburn manager Steve Kean, who served as the Victory’s interim boss.
Striker: Arouna Kone
Career path: Rio Sport, Lierse, Roda JC, PSV, Sevilla, Hannover 96 (loan), Levante (loan), Levante, Wigan Athletic, Everton, Sivasspor
A striker wearing No.2 is always going to attract attention, but perhaps it was Arouna Kone’s ability to get into the head of Man City midfielder Yaya Toure which was most important to Wigan.
“Last Sunday, Yaya had a party for one of his children, and he invited me over,” Kone — who also followed Martinez to Everton — said prior to the final. “We were talking about the FA Cup final and I told him that, because they had beaten us twice in the league, it was our turn to win on Saturday.”
Career path: Crystal Palace, Wigan Athletic, QPR (loan), West Brom (loan), Watford, Nottingham Forest, Charlton Athletic
Martinez’s only substitution of the game, Watson couldn’t have dreamed of making the impact he did from the bench in the FA Cup final. That famous header to deliver the winner for the Latics was one of just 10 touches of the ball for Watson on the day, but was undoubtedly the most important of his career, just six months after suffering a broken leg.
“I remember Ben was getting ready to go on and [goalkeeper] Mike Pollitt told him ‘go on, you can make yourself a hero here’,” Caldwell said.
“It was a brilliant header but it was a fantastic leap too and there was a story behind it because of all the work he had done on improving his standing jump when he was recovering from his injury. That kind of goes unnoticed.”
Unused substitutes: Ali Al-Habsi, Gary Caldwell, Roman Golobart, Fraser Fyvie, Franco Di Santo, Angelo Henriquez
Although they were relegated and struggled in Premier League play, Wigan entered the FA Cup final with a relatively strong bench that included former Bolton goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi, ex-club captain Gary Caldwell and striker Franco Di Santo, who went on to play in Germany for Werder Bremen and Schalke and was capped three times by Argentina.