After a playing at Manchester City and managing at Brentford, Wigan's new boss is happy to be back in the north-west
Wigan Athletic's European adventure came to an ignominious end in Slovenia four days ago, though the tone of supporters' tweets and text messages on Thursday evening was surprisingly upbeat. That was partly due to the underwhelming effect of the Europa League, it has become a competition most teams are keen to avoid or escape, and in part it was due to renewed optimism after a managerial change. Owen Coyle, it is fair to say, was not a great success with the Wigan players or fans – even Dave Whelan, the club chairman, admitted he did not get on with him in the week he pulled the trigger – and it is perhaps as well that the Scot will not be present for Sunday's meeting of two of his three Lancashire clubs to see it turn into a boo-fest.
Instead, the Wigan-Bolton derby will form Uwe Rösler's introduction to his new home crowd, as well as managing in the Championship. The former Manchester City striker was in charge in Maribor to witness a Wigan display compromised by some questionable refereeing, yet even in defeat the feeling was that he was trying to return to the passing game preferred by Roberto Martínez and not the aerial launchball introduced by Coyle. "Hooray," tweeted one of the players wives. "WAFC got their control back."
Many would point out that Rösler's own managerial record is not all that sparkling, either in Norway, where he never won anything, or in this country, where he was undoubtedly good for Brentford without securing the promotion that was so clearly within their grasp. But he already appears to be pushing the right buttons at the home of the FA Cup holders. "I like a high-pressing game, I like to play with the ball on the ground, and when we win possession we have to keep it," he said. "I'm looking for high-tempo football. I want to move the ball around quickly and play with a lot of energy."
Rösler enjoys living in the north-west, and stationed his family in the area before looking for a job in England when others might have done it the other way round. He appears to have been on Whelan's radar from the start, certainly the Wigan chairman seemed to know exactly where to look for a new manager. "It only took me five minutes to think: 'I like this lad' and give him a go," Whelan said. "I've watched his progress, you've got to look across the leagues and see who is doing well, and I knew that Brentford had been really unlucky not to get promoted. When I met him I was convinced. He said the right things, he was very positive and I liked his attitude."
The German has packed a lot into his 45 years, and if he has always been known for his positive attitude it is because it has served him in good stead in times of adversity. Germans are common enough in the Premier League now but 19 years ago, when an unheralded FC Nürnberg striker came to Manchester for a trial with City, he was the first, pioneering a new trail.
Despite a nonexistent goal record in 28 games for Nürnberg he was an instant success at City and a popular inductee to the club's Hall of Fame in 2009, even though the then chairman, Garry Cook, rather spoiled that occasion by managing to suggest he had played for Manchester United.
Rösler was an East German too, leaned on by the Stasi in his early days at Lokomotive Leipzig and one of the few characters in football management in this country with memories of ideology lessons at school. "A trip outside the walls was the highlight of the year," he says in his autobiography, of the time when he first began to see something of the free West with youth football teams. "All the houses in East Germany were grey, but in Sweden there were white houses, blue houses, red houses with gardens and flowers."
Rösler recalls Sweden so vividly because during his time in the country he did a little exploration on a motorbike and managed to get lost, embarrassing club officials who were worried he might have absconded.
After his four years at City – where he scored 50 goals in 152 appearances, inevitably fell out with Alan Ball and grew out the glorious mullet he used to sport in his DDR days – brief stints at Southampton, West Bromwich Albion and Lillestrom were ended by his next major challenge. The discovery of a large tumour in his chest in 2003 effectively called time on his playing career, though undeterred he successfully underwent chemotherapy treatment and used the time off for recovery to obtain his coaching badges.
"The illness did not change my character or my ambitions," he said. "When you have a 13-year-old son and a 16-year-old son and they are living in an area were they don't have many relatives then of course it was a challenging time for the family, but my wife and kids have always been absolutely supportive of what I'm doing, even when I was at Brentford and I slept on average one night a week in my own bed. They love me being involved in football."
Rösler not only looks forward to spending a little more time at home now he is back in the north-west, he can start his Championship campaign against Bolton with one advantage Coyle never had – no more distractions and arduous trips in Europe. "We lost in Maribor but we did not leave with our heads down," he said. "I heard the fans chanting my name and that was a big lift."