Still in the infancy of his career as a manager, Gary Caldwell is far better known for his playing days at the top end of the game. Starting his career with Newcastle at the age of 16 alongside elder brother Steven, his first three seasons consisted of lengthy loan spells to a number of clubs including Derby and Hibernian. Unusually, he made his full international debut on 27 March 2002 with just 11 first class appearances to his name and without having made a first team appearance for his own club. When he was released by Newcastle in the middle of the 2003-04 season, he returned to Hibernian and went on to have two good seasons in which he appeared regularly and played in the 2004 League Cup Final defeat to Livingston. Four seasons at Celtic followed in which he won two SPL titles, one SFA Cup, one SFL Cup and the Scottish Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year award in 2009. A move to the Premier League came in 2010 with Wigan Athletic, which was the start of an eventful five years in which Wigan won the FA Cup, featured in the Europa League and were relegated back to the Championship. A long term hip injury eventually forced his early retirement from playing in February 2015, at which point he became a coach at the club’s academy. He made a total of 504 first class appearances including 55 full international caps (7 as captain). He is one of only thirty players to win fifty caps for Scotland.
His time as coach at Wigan’s academy came to an unexpected end just 38 days after it began when he was appointed manager in succession to Malky Mackay. Wigan were not in a good place. Relegated from the Premier League in 2013, they had almost made it back at the first attempt in 2014, losing a play-off semi-final to QPR. A similar campaign had been anticipated in 2014-15, but Wigan were 23rd in the league and 8 points adrift when Caldwell was appointed. Given just 5 games to save the club from relegation, he was assured he would keep his job for the following season regardless; Wigan were relegated, but 23-year-old chairman David Sharpe gave Caldwell his unequivocal backing as promised.
Relegation after five games is not the best of starts to a managerial career, but Caldwell rebuilt the squad with no fewer than sixteen of the relegation squad leaving in the 2015 close season. Five teams were involved in a battle for the automatic promotion spots in League One, and it was Wigan who finished on top of the pile, three points clear of third-placed Walsall. Caldwell was named Manager of the Season for League One in his first full season as a manager, but things did not go well at the start of the new season back in the Championship. When he was sacked on 25 October 2016, Wigan were 23rd in the Championship – exactly the place they had occupied when he was appointed 18 months earlier.
Three months later he was appointed manager of crisis club Chesterfield, severely in debt and soon to be operating with a one-man board of directors. Chesterfield were in the bottom four on goal difference at the time of his appointment, and hopes were high that the new manager could drag them to safety. Quite how much the off-field problems contributed is difficult to determine, but their form deteriorated further to see them relegated in 24th place, by a 13-point margin. In keeping with the extensive surgery carried out after his relegation at Wigan, Caldwell has released 13 of his squad this month; quite who they will be replaced by remains to be seen.
Gary Caldwell has the unusual distinction of having finished each of his seasons as a manager either in first place, or in the bottom two. One promotion and two relegations in four seasons gives us no real idea of his ability as a manager because of the circumstances at each club, but the League One championship is an impressive achievement. One thing is for sure: Chesterfield will certainly not want to finish in the bottom two again next season…
P = Promoted; R = Relegated; SF = Lost in play-off semi-final; F = Lost in play-off final; PO = Won play-off final; D = Demoted.
Figures are league games only; cup matches and play-offs are not included.
League position shown is either the position at the end of the season or the position at the time of departure.
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? Vital Lincoln City (@VitalLincoln) May 31, 2017