Amos: There's no pressure on Wigan

Monday 08 January 2024 10:38

Wigan Athletic goalkeeper Ben Amos will be reunited with his boyhood club on Monday night, when Manchester United visit the Latics in the third round of the Emirates FA Cup.

Amos, who came through the Academy system after joining at the age of 11, made seven first-team appearances for the Reds and was a member of the squads that won the Club World Cup and League Cup during the 2008/09 season.

After several loan spells, Ben left on a permanent basis in 2015 and has since racked up over 200 EFL appearances, for the likes of Bolton Wanderers, Cardiff City, Millwall and Charlton Athletic.

He signed for Wigan in 2021 and was an ever-present for the League One champions that term, although relegation back to the third tier has since followed amid financial uncertainty at the DW Stadium.

Currently the club's no.2 to homegrown stopper Sam Tickle, Amos is likely to have a watching brief on Monday.

However, he was kind enough to offer his time to preview the clash between two former winners of the famous old competition and look back on his long association with United...

Amos has made over 200 league appearances since leaving United in 2015.

Hi Ben, how much is everyone at Wigan looking forward to welcoming United on Monday in the Cup?
“Yeah, it should be a great event for Wigan. I can't remember us having as big a draw as this for a while, so obviously it should be a big, big day for the fans in the club and one everyone’s looking forward to.”

What’s the mood and form at the club like at the moment – you seem to have recovered pretty well from the points deduction at the start of the season?
“We had a great start to the season and sort of wrote that deduction off fairly quickly. The club’s kind of had a change in strategy and plan moving forward, whereby it’s more of a long-term approach of sustainability and pushing the young talent we’ve got. We’ve got some amazing young players and talent at the club, so that’s the kind of direction we’re going in. On that basis, I think we’re on the right track.”

On that young talent – is there anyone United should be looking out for on Monday?
“Yeah, I think for a lot of the young players – especially the really young ones – it’s always about consistency, isn’t it? It’s about producing week in, week out. But in terms of talent, we’ve got the likes of Thelo Aasgaard and Stephen Humphrys has been in good form. I think, at the weekend, it was seven Academy graduates who started the game, but don’t quote me on that! There’s obviously more in the squad too, so we have even more players coming through.”

The manager Shaun Maloney scored the winner the only time Wigan have ever beaten United, in April 2012 – is that one he likes to relive with you all or does he keep it on the down-low!?
“He's not mentioned it yet, no! You can tell by listening to him speak and talking to him that he holds this competition in high regard and he’s obviously got great memories from winning it himself [with Wigan in 2013]. So yeah, I think it’s one that he’s looking forward to.”

Is this a special game for you? You played seven first-team games for United – looking back, what are the highlights?
“I think it would have to be my debut against Middlesbrough in the League Cup at 18, just because I can't think of many others that have done it at that age, really, as a keeper. It was kind of a sink or swim moment, because it’s a big ask in terms of maturity. There’s a lot of pressure at United, as you’ve seen over the years, and it’s a role that not many have got to grips with straightaway. It’s a high-pressure role, particularly at that club.”

Amos made seven appearances for United, the first as an 18-year-old.

How proud are you of the chances you got with United, and the opportunity to work with top goalkeepers like Edwin van der Sar and David De Gea?
“Yeah, of course I am. I think it was just hard work that got me there, to be honest and showing how much I wanted it. I had fun. Looking back, I probably stayed too long after Sir Alex [Ferguson] left. As a United fan, you’re always clinging to that dream. Anything can happen in football and you might force your way in or circumstances may dictate that you get an opportunity again. As you know, his successors have been under pressure from the start and the opportunities weren’t always there. Hindsight is always 20/20, but I’d say that’s an accurate assessment really.”

You’ve obviously gone on to have a good career in the Championship and League One though, so how big a role did our Academy play in setting you up for a career in football?
“Yeah, I mean it was huge. A lot of people are aware of the stature of United’s Academy and the results that they’ve had. It wasn’t just on the pitch, which was obviously brilliant. You couldn’t ask for anything more, as a player coming through. It was also the opportunities for life experiences. We went to Kenya at 14 and there were tournaments all over the world. You were going to Hong Kong and places like that, as a teenager. For development, as a person, I’d say it was more than you could ever ask for. The two clubs have got good sort of parallels in that sense. They continue to nurture good, young talent. As I say, as an education, I don’t think you could ever ask for any more than what United provide.”

Amos with Tomasz Kuszczak and Edwin van der Sar after winning the Club World Cup in 2008.

Tom Heaton and Jonny Evans were at the club at the same time as you and they could be involved on Monday. Is it good to see United have that continuity of homegrown players who were there under Sir Alex Ferguson?
“Yeah, you don't tend to see that too often, do you? Players leaving United and then coming back. [Paul] Pogba did it, but in different circumstances, but it can only be a good thing in my eyes. They know the traditions and the values of the club and that kind of continues through that. They obviously wouldn’t be there if they weren’t deserving of being there, so it can only be a good thing to continue that thread.”

Are there still familiar faces on the staff who you’ll be able to say hello to before the game?
“Yeah. I'm not hugely up to speed on who is still there in terms of backroom staff, but it’ll be good to see some familiar faces. The goalkeeper coach Richard Hartis is still there and [physio] Rich Merron. I’ve seen him a couple of times since I left, but it’s always good to see how people are getting on. That’s one of thing things that’s so positive about United. The people that work there make the club and you’ve always had great people working there. Kath [Phipps] on reception, for example. It’s the same at Wigan too. It’s not nearly as impressive in terms of the facilities and things, but when it comes down to it, it’s the people that make the club and if you’ve got good people there, you can never go far wrong.”

Amos represents United in a Tour 2013 match, with Jonny Evans (second from back left) also featuring.

You’ll have faced some big names in training at United, but who was the hardest to play against? Who was the best finisher?
“It depends really, [Paul] Scholes would always be up there. Chicharito [Javier Hernandez] was always tough to stop, with his cultured finish, but there were so many. I’m racking my brains now! Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, I didn't want to go for kind of the obvious ones, like [Wayne] Rooney and [Robin] van Persie. I mean, they kind of speak for themselves, don't they? Yeah, I think Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was still there when I first started training with the first team. He was something else! But there were goal threats everywhere you looked.”

Replays are still in force for the FA Cup this season – presumably you’d love to be able to go back to Old Trafford, if this game is drawn?
“Absolutely. It wouldn’t just be a great experience for the players and the fans, it’d obviously be a huge boost for the club financially as well, I'd imagine so. We’re in a good position going into the game. There’s no kind of pressure on it. Everyone just wants to enjoy it and express themselves and the club in the best way possible, and teams can be dangerous with that nothing-to-lose mentality. So I think it’ll make for a good, exciting game.”