Wigan’s Max Power: ‘One game from the quarter-finals, you start to dream’

Wigan take on Manchester City, the side they famously beat in the 2013 FA Cup final, but the midfielder says he wanted an easier draw

When Wigan Athletic take on Manchester City on Monday night the League One team will be unable to select a single player from the famous 2013 Cup final upset involving the same two clubs. City still have Sergio Agüero and a handful of others but they have not had the churn brought about by three subsequent relegations. There are no connecting links between the Wigan side hoping for promotion back to the Championship and the one that Roberto Martínez led to Wembley success and a Premier League exit in the same season, though at least the midfielder Max Power remembers the Cup run well.

“I was still at Tranmere but I was following Wigan that year,” the 24-year-old says. “I’m a mate of Callum McManaman and he was outstanding throughout. He’s a big Everton fan, so when he scored in the quarter-final win at Goodison I knew how much it meant. By the time they played City I was on a family holiday in Tenerife, but when one of your mates is playing in an FA Cup final you pay attention. I don’t think I have seen Callum play any better. He was top drawer that day, he ran Gaël Clichy ragged, and no one could say Wigan didn’t deserve to win.”

Nonetheless, a rematch was not necessarily what Power and his team-mates were looking for after knocking out Bournemouth and West Ham. “I wanted Liverpool, and so did the manager, but they didn’t even make it into the draw,” Power says. “After that, we players fancied one of the lower-placed teams who were left. No disrespect to Coventry or anyone but we wouldn’t have minded a team we felt we had a chance of beating.

“It’s a funny thing but when I was at Tranmere and it was a battle just to reach the third round, whenever we managed it we wanted the biggest name possible, to either go out in a blaze of glory or get to play at a top ground. When you have reached the fifth round you look at it a bit differently. One game from a quarter-final you start to dream, to wonder how far you might go. Then you end up paired with one of the best teams in Europe. Being realistic it’s probably dream over, but you never know. There’s a bit of Cup history at this club now.”

A combative midfielder who along with the suspended Sam Morsy forms the solid platform for Wigan’s attacking success, Power enjoys being recognised for his footballing ability these days instead of just his name. Not since Austin Healey was playing rugby union up the road at Orrell have local headline writers had so much fun with a sporting moniker, but though Power can confirm the truth of the Wikipedia factoid he was named after the family labrador, he is evidently happy enough with the attention. He passed on his own name to his son, not the dog’s. “It runs in the family now, I’ve started a dynasty,” Power says. “Max is bang into his footy at the moment too. I’d never force anything on him but as far as you can tell with a five-year-old I think he might stick with it.”

Wigan were battling the Premier League drop but were fearless in the 2013 FA Cup final against Manchester City, holding out against the likes of Carlos Tevez and Sergio Agüero with the favourites distracted by rumours over Roberto Mancini's future. With the game goalless in injury time, Wigan took their chance, with Ben Watson powering home a near-post header to win the team's first ever major trophy. Three days later, the team were relegated from the top flight, with manager Roberto Martínez joining Everton that summer.

Jacob Steinberg's matchday MBM

This is unbelievable! Ben Watson has surely won the FA Cup for Wigan Athletic. Maloney whipped the corner to the near post and Watson darted in front of Rodwell and glanced a brilliant header past Hart and into the far corner!

WIGAN ATHLETIC HAVE WON THE FA CUP! There's your romance. What a story. Watson will never have to buy a pie in Wigan again. Footballl? Bloody hell.

If so, young Max might only have two or three years before professional clubs come calling. His father was scouted at the age of eight, eventually opting for Tranmere in spite of interest from Liverpool because it was his local club and felt he would be offered opportunities earlier. That was certainly true – he had captained the side by the age of 21 – though by that time the upwardly mobile club he had followed avidly on Prenton Park Friday nights was on the slide. “Being part of the team that went of out of the league still haunts me,” he says. “It was tough but it had been coming for a while. We had only just stayed in League One for three years running, we were a team that had become used to losing. As soon as we ended up in League Two dropping through the trapdoor was just a matter of time. The club was in freefall; it couldn’t be stopped.”

Perhaps that experience explains why, after a season in the Championship with Wigan, another relegation led him to try to force a move. Briefly at the start of this season he was in something of a Riyad Mahrez situation, except no one was offering £65m for his services. As it turned out, no one was offering anything at all.

After making it clear he wanted to leave, he was dropped from the first‑team group and sent to train with the academy. Then, when the transfer window closed with no takers, he had to swallow his pride, make his peace with manager and fans and successfully reclaim a first-team place. It says a lot for his personal drive he is back playing as if nothing had happened, though he also speaks highly of Paul Cook’s patience and understanding.

“It wasn’t a good summer, I would be the first to admit,” Power says. “I fell into the trap of listening to agents, putting my trust in what they told me. It spiralled out of control, but I take full responsibility. I was led to believe a move was close to happening and I did what I thought was necessary to continue playing at the same level.

“I gave Paul Cook a problem and I accept he had to plan for the future without me. But when it all unravelled he welcomed me back. I had to start again, press the reset button on my career, but I was willing to do it and the manager didn’t hold it against me. I’m really grateful for that and I think I’m wiser for the experience. The grass isn’t always greener.”