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David Sharpe on Being a Chairman at 23

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Wigan chairman David Sharpe appeared on EFL Matters on Thursday night to talk through the trials and tribulations of the role.

Sharpe was just 23 when he took over from his grandfather Dave Whelan, and he offered a rare and valuable insight into what it takes to run a football club...



On getting the job...

The age is the first barrier because being 23 and running a football club stands out like a sore thumb! I was obviously in a privileged position to have Dave Whelan as my grandfather, he decided it was time for a change because we had recently been relegated from the Premier League and times weren't going so well.

We had been through a few managers at the time, he was spending more time out of the country and he felt it was best he stood down and passed the opportunity onto me to run the football club, and that's what I tried to do.

It was something I felt he would never give up because it's hard to fall out of love with football, but that's what I felt had happened. He's obviously still the owner, he loves it and comes to games when he can. I speak to him regularly but he felt it was time for a fresh change and some more energy. Hopefully I have provided that but it's been an interesting few years!



On running the club...

It's a massive responsibility. People imagine the chairman's only job is to sign cheques, hire managers and sack managers but it's more of a director of football role for me. I'm in there speaking to staff every day, whether that's the CEO or the manager, we have great relationships and I feel that's the best way a football club should be run.

It's a big-money industry. There are clubs making money and clubs losing fortunes, and I took it upon myself to take the responsibility of running the football club every day and it's been a privilege.

I was handed the job in March [2015] when we were adrift towards the bottom of the Championship with Malky Mackay as manager and a wage bill close to £25million. It was a really tough period and we were fighting a tough battle to stay in the league, so I took the decision to remove Malky and appoint Gary Caldwell. He was a club legend and I felt he would transform the club and bring some energy.

In a way going down that season was a blessing in disguise because it helped me clear the debts and Gary did great.

I was working within the football club for a number of years before so I had seen different managers, whether it be Uwe Rosler, Roberto Martinez or Owen Coyle, and I knew what did and didn't work. I knew at the time that Malky wasn't working and it wasn't the type of football I wanted the team to play.

Martinez is obviously renowned for playing a certain style of football and we had a group in the Championship that were predominantly his plays. The appointment after him was key I think, because if we had got that right, things might be different and we might have got back to the Premier League.



On his long-term views for Wigan...

The fact my grandfather trusted me meant a lot, because he wouldn't have passed it to me if he didn't. He's obviously a legend in the town and everywhere he goes people know him, so that has really helped.

It was difficult because you don't earn respect straight away, it takes time and I didn't want people to think he is just a kid who is lucky, because running a football club isn't lucky. Trust me!

It's a mad industry. The thing I try and balance is long-term and short-term success. Too many people jump to quick decisions nowadays and change managers too often. Two bad results and people are calling for their heads.

I try to take a long-term view and if there is one thing I have learned most it is that there is a bigger picture of a club to run. Winning on a Saturday is not the important thing, the club being here in five years is.



On his relationship with Paul Cook...

We talk several times a day. I have a great relationship with him, we trust each other and that's the best way the club will move forward.

We believe in owning assets and developing players we can sell for money, because that's the future of the football club. The club could be losing £10-12million this year and the only way to bridge that gap is by selling a player every now and then.

The fans might not like it and I think it's against what they want to be about, but something has to pay the bills. Paul has done that at Chesterfield and Portsmouth and he buys into that.

I watch training and have some lunch with the boys sometimes, but you have to keep your distance because you are their boss at the end of the day. I employ Paul to manage the team and he does everything. You hear stories of owners getting involved and picking the team, but that will always be the manager's job at my football club.



On a potential takeover...

Talks are very much ongoing. It's difficult because I've never been through this myself. I don't know how the future looks for Wigan but if the deal happens or if it doesn't I'll have a way of running the club as long as I'm in charge.

If the takeover happens they will have a way of running it and good luck to them.


On his hopes for this season...

We want to stay up but it's early days and teams talk about promotion and relegation too early. We have got to keep a level head, if we get to 50 points early we can look further, but right now it's just about keeping the boys going.

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