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Leam Richardson: How Wigan Athletic boss avoided oblivion and led them to League One title

Leam Richardson has twice led Wigan Athletic to promotion from League One - once as an assistant and then again as manager
Leam Richardson has twice led Wigan Athletic to promotion from League One – once as an assistant and now again as manager

From the edge of oblivion following a summer of financial discontent to keeping his side in League One by the skin of their teeth, and now winning the title.

It has been some stint in charge of Wigan Athletic for Leam Richardson, who finally got over the line with his Latics side on Saturday after a poor run of form saw them forced to wait for their return to the Championship.

But how did an assistant who was not even sure he wanted to be a manager, eventually get the job at the helm to lead the Latics back to English football’s second tier?

BBC Sport took a look at how the 42-year-old brought such joy to the club after the misery of administration and relegation.

  • Wigan promoted as League One champions
  • Wyke thanks Richardson for ‘saving life’ after cardiac arrest

Starting his managerial pathway

Leam Richardson's managerial career began at Accrington Stanley, where he ended his playing career
Leam Richardson’s managerial career began at Accrington Stanley, where he had ended his playing career

Richardson’s pathway into management began as he acted as caretaker manager of Accrington Stanley after John Coleman left for Rochdale in January 2012.

It was here that he linked up with Paul Cook for the first time after he was appointed Stanley’s manager the following month, but he eventually took over from Cook in October of that year when Cook departed for Chesterfield.

Having originally led the club on a caretaker basis again, Richardson, then 32-years-old, was appointed on a two-and-a-half-year deal while still registered as a player.

Despite a torrid 2012-13 campaign which saw them bottom of the Football League by March, Richardson led Stanley to five wins from their final eight games to keep them in League Two.

He then left the club to rejoin Cook as his assistant at Chesterfield, and then followed him to Portsmouth where they won promotion to League One in 2017.

That summer he arrived at the Latics, where he has been ever since. In his first campaign at the club as Cook’s assistant, Wigan won promotion from League One and soon followed relative stability in the Championship.

That was, of course, until the summer of 2020.

Taking on a massive challenge

Leam Richardson led Wigan Athletic to promotion from League One in his first season as full time manager of the Latics
Leam Richardson led Wigan Athletic to promotion from League One in his first season as full-time manager of the Latics

Wigan may not have been at the top of people’s list of clubs which might enter financial trouble in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, when their then-Hong Kong owners pulled out of the club, administration followed, and despite a valiant effort to remain in the Championship, the Latics suffered the drop at the end of the protracted 2019-20 season.

Cook left the club – along with much of the club’s squad – amid the financial turmoil and later joined Ipswich as their manager.

However, Richardson did not follow himexternal-link to the Tractor Boys, instead opting to stay with the Latics initially in a caretaker role before John Sheridan took over for a short spell with the club.

Speaking to BBC Radio Manchester, Richardson said: “I don’t say this flippantly. I’ve been a member of staff at football clubs and I know how hard you’ve got to work to support the manager and I know you’ve got to work to be successful.

“The challenge we’ve had, I’ve never had one like it. [During the pandemic] We were playing so many games in 60 to 90 days and had to regenerate and prepare.

“It was one of the toughest times I’ve had. We’ve had such a good group of staff who have challenged the players.”

When Sheridan left, Richardson steered the club to safety by just a point during a difficult campaign that saw them in among the drop zone for much of the season.

In March of 2021, Bahraini businessman Abdulrahman Al-Jasmi bought the club and so the upturn in fortunes began.

Beginning the turnaround

For his efforts this season, Leam Richardson was named the EFL's League One manager of the season
For his efforts this season, Richardson was named the EFL’s League One manager of the season

This season Richardson led the club to the FA Cup fourth round and the semi-final of the Papa Johns Trophy, in addition to promotion and the third tier title.

More importantly, he was credited with helping to save striker Charlie Wyke’s life in November after he had a cardiac arrest in training – beginning the resuscitation process with CPR before club doctor Jonathan Tobin took over.

But the successes they have had could so easily have been just a target of where they wanted to be, had he followed Cook to Ipswich.

Asked whether he had spoken to Cook, who has since returned to Chesterfield, during the Latics’ battle for promotion back to the Championship, Richardson said: “Probably every single day. Every single morning. He’s always offering words of advice and support.

“He was a colleague and a really close friend. If I tell you that he supports Wigan and wants them to do well, it’d probably be an understatement.

“If he didn’t have a game today he’d be in the crowd. He’ll be as proud as anyone today and he’s been supportive as anybody throughout this time.”

Richardson was named the EFL’s League One manager of the year prior to their game against Portsmouth, where the prospect of promotion suffered a blow.

Having led 2-0 at Fratton Park, Pompey came from behind to win 3-2 and put the promotion party on hold, teeing up a nervous week in anticipation of the trip to Shrewsbury on Saturday.

But the Latics stormed their way to victory against the Shrews, running out 3-0 winners and ending a run of five games without victory to wrap up the League One title.

In a frantic couple of years, with battles on and off the field, Richardson says it has taken its toll on his relationships with his wife and children.

“I miss them a lot through the week. I’m away a lot and there’s sacrifices for the players as well. That should never be underestimated,” he added.

“We see the good things on a Saturday afternoon but it’s the rest of it that goes with it. To be successful in sport, it doesn’t just happen. I’ve been fortunate that a lot of clubs I’ve been at we’ve won something.

“It’s not sunk in for me because the past two or three seasons are all wrapped up in one. When I’m sat with my kids this evening it will sink in.”

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