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Shaun Maloney reflects on Wigan vs. Man Utd: “As I drove to work, the thought crossed my mind that this might be the final encounter.”

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Shaun Maloney, who is now Wigan’s manager, celebrates the club’s historic FA Cup triumph in 2013 with boss Roberto Martinez
Date: Monday, 8 January Venue: DW Stadium Kick-off: 20:15 GMT Coverage: Listen to full match commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live; follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website & app

“We owed millions of pounds. I was seeing staff very upset because they hadn’t been paid. They couldn’t pay their bills,” says Shaun Maloney.

The Wigan Athletic boss is recalling the events of June when he believed the club he played for in the Premier League was about to fold just 10 years after their historic FA Cup final win over Manchester City.

A winding-up order over unpaid taxes from His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs left Maloney, who played in the 2013 final, fearing the worst.

“It seemed an impossible situation. I was driving to the club each day thinking this could be the last time,” the former Scotland winger tells BBC Sport.

“We owed that much money and didn’t have the means to pay it back. Liquidation was a real threat and every day I expected it to happen. We were that close.”

Seven months on and Wigan, now in League One, are getting ready to host Manchester United in the third round of the FA Cup, the club’s future secure after businessman Mike Danson stepped in to save his hometown club.

“I’ll never forget the day I heard that news,” adds Maloney, who scored nine Premier League goals for Wigan, including a winner against Manchester United in 2012.

“I was extremely happy that 200 people’s jobs had been saved, basically. The players got paid that night, the taxman was paid and the companies around Wigan were also getting paid for the work they’ve done for us.”

Wigan live to fight another day, but their troubles are not over.

While United’s visit to a sold-out DW Stadium on Monday offers a welcome distraction, the Latics face the ominous challenge of staying in League One after starting the season on minus eight points as punishment for failing to pay their players on time on multiple occasions in 2022-23 under the previous ownership.

In addition, the club is operating under an embargoexternal-link that prevents them spending money on transfer fees.

‘I wasn’t getting paid – I had a decision to make’

It was Maloney’s corner that produced Ben Watson’s last-minute winner against Manchester City in 2013 as Wigan claimed their first major trophy.

Ten years later and with Wigan’s future looking decidedly bleak, the supporters’ club brought the cup final team and manager Roberto Martinez back together last May to celebrate the famous win.

“It’s the only time I have watched the final back,” adds Maloney, who became Wigan’s third manager of the season when he was appointed in January 2023 with the club bottom of the Championship.

“Watching it then meant more to me because I knew the state the club was in behind the scenes. It was a welcome distraction from everything that was going on.”

Maloney flew to Bahrain to seek assurances over funding from chairman Talal Al Hammad and Wigan’s ultimate owner Abdulrahman Al-Jasmi.

“I was told the financial situation had been fixed but it soon became clear that wasn’t the case,” he says.

Did he think about walking away as Wigan’s hopes of staying in the Championship were hit by numerous points deductions?

“I wasn’t getting paid. I have a family and I had a decision to make,” he adds.

“I also have a connection with Wigan Athletic and I felt I had to try my best to create an environment to try and win games.

“But each time we weren’t paid and had points were taken off us, it felt like a really big blow.

“It was a very difficult and unstable time.”

Wigan would be 10th in League One had they not started the season with minus eight points. Instead they sit 18th, four points above the relegation zone.

“I’ve done a fair bit of reading up on other teams that have been deducted points and how they have faired,” adds Maloney.

“Bournemouth is a really good case study. They started 2008-09 with minus 17 points in League Two. They ended that season with Eddie Howe in charge and they just stayed up. They built from there.

“We need to stay in League One and build. If we can stay in this league with minus eight points, an embargo and a dozen academy players… it would be a big achievement for any team to have to go through that and stay up.”

Shaun Maloney and Thierry Henry in the dugout with Belgium
Shaun Maloney (left) was part of Roberto Martinez’s coaching team at Belgium and worked alongside Thierry Henry. “Euro 2020 was a brilliant experience. I loved my three and a half years with Belgium. It was invaluable,” says Maloney

Leaving school to watch Man Utd

Twelve years on, a picture hangs from a wall inside the DW Stadium of Maloney’s winner against Manchester United.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were eight points clear of nearest rivals Manchester City with six games left when they visited on 11 April 2012.

By the end of the night their lead was down to five after an outstanding curling finish from the edge of the box by Wigan’s number 10.

The Red Devils lost one and drew one of their remaining five matches, allowing rivals City to dramatically snatch the title on goal difference.

There were mixed emotions for Maloney, who grew up in Aberdeen and used to leave school early to make a 700-mile midweek round-trip to watch United at Old Trafford.

“We wouldn’t get back until four or five in the morning,” he recalls.

“Sir Alex’s links with Aberdeen are strong. He’s like a god up there. My dad was a huge Arsenal fan but I gravitated towards United because of Sir Alex.

“I remember in 1998-1999 – the year United won the Treble – they played Bayern Munich in the group stage of the Champions League.

“Roy Keane scored in a 1-1 game at Old Trafford. I was there [aged 15]. That’s what you did as a kid – you went to watch your heroes.”

Shaun Maloney (left) hits Wigan's winner against Manchester United in 2012
Shaun Maloney (left) hits the winner against Manchester United in 2012 – the only time Wigan have beaten the Red Devils

Playing tennis with Andy Murray

Among the many to congratulate Maloney on winning the FA Cup was tennis star Andy Murray.

“Used to play tennis against Shaun Maloney. Pretty cool watching him play in FA Cup final a few years later,” wrote the three-timeexternal-link Grand Slam champion on social media in 2013.

Their paths crossed at junior tennis tournaments in Scotland before Maloney decided to put down his racquet at the age of 13 to concentrate on football.

“Yeah, I remember Andy and his brother Jamie,” he says.

“I don’t know Andy personally but I used to go and watch him play at Wimbledon and the O2 Arena for the season-ending event. Whenever there was a Scottish athlete in action, I tried my best to go and support them.”

In his behind-the-scenes documentary, Andy Murray: Resurfacing, the British former world number one opens up about the hip surgeries which threatened his future in tennis.

Maloney, who won the Scottish Premiership five times with Celtic, recalls his own issues with serious injuries during a playing career which also included stints at Aston Villa, Chicago Fire and Hull.

“The desire and mentality to keep coming back from major injuries was probably the thing I’m proudest of most in my career,” he says.

“There’s a relentless drive to succeed. I don’t think it ever stops. I want to succeed as manager of Wigan and I hope I’m here for a long time.

“At times it has been incredibly difficult, but we have to move forward now.”

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