x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Gary Caldwell's heroics make him Wigan's Braveheart

The Scottish international leads by example on the pitch as he and his teammates battle against relegation.

Gary Caldwell celebrates scoring the winning goal for Wigan Athletic at Liverpool.
Gary Caldwell celebrates scoring the winning goal for Wigan Athletic at Liverpool.

It was, the interviewer assumed, the biggest goal of his career. Showing the poise of a natural striker, rather than the central defender he actually is, Gary Caldwell had taken his time before firing Wigan Athletic to their first ever victory at Liverpool.

"It's a fantastic feeling to score any goal but to score the winner against Liverpool in front of the Kop is a memory that will live with me forever," said theWigancaptain. "Those are the moments you play football for."

Yet the 29 year old has been fortunate to experience two such moments. In October 2006, three months after France were World Cup finalists, they were beaten by Scotland at Hampden Park with Caldwell again the man who delivered the underdogs an unlikely and unexpected win.

It brought some revenge for a player whose international debut came in a 5-0 defeat to the French. It was also a highlight of a proud patriot's career for his country.

Caldwell, who captained Scotland for the first time in February's draw with Slovenia, has 47 caps. Should he win three more, he will join Scotland's roll of honour, meaning his portrait will be displayed in the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden Park.

Appropriately for a man with an understanding of the past, it will give him his place in history. Caldwell hails from Stirling, a city known for its imposing castle and the 1297 war when the freedom fighter William Wallace defeated the English.

They were events depicted, albeit with considerable dramatic licence, in the film Braveheart and Caldwell said: "There were so many great battles which William Wallace fought in and won for Scotland so it gives me great pride to say I'm from Stirling."

He also comes from a footballing family. Brother Steven is 19 months his senior. Although Gary has been used as a holding midfielder, both were to become central defenders and Scotland internationals.

While Steven, who has only won 10 caps, has since been overshadowed by his younger sibling, he was alone in graduating to the first team at Newcastle United, where both began their careers. After loan spells at Darlington, Hibernian, Coventry City and Derby County, Gary was released by Newcastle.

He rejoined Hibernian, initially on a short-term contract and then, after that expired and he went on trial to Vitesse Arnhem in the Netherlands, on a two-year deal.

As that neared an end, Glasgow Celtic came calling and Caldwell began a successful three-and-a-half year spell at Parkhead.

He won the Scottish Premier League twice, the Scottish Cup and the League Cup once each and the football writers' player of the year in 2009.

It prompted Caldwell, who wanted to be paid £20,000 (Dh117,200) a week, to feel he was undervalued in Glasgow.

"I took a lot of stick for being honest," he later said, having stated the club was "kidding itself on" if they thought he would accept the contract offered.

Gordon Strachan, his first manager at Celtic, wanted to take him to Middlesbrough before Wigan offeredPremier League football. Caldwell accepted, joining in January 2010 and being appointed captain seven months later.

It meant he led brother Steven, who spent last season at Wigan before heading for Birmingham City. Leadership runs in the family and both are accustomed to wearing the armband, with Gary also having captained Hibernian and Celtic and Steven leading Burnley.

"I think true captains are a rare, dying breed, and he deserved to be the one who scored the winner [at Anfield]," said the Wigan manager Roberto Martinez. "Real composure is the sign of a real leader."

So is commitment, and Caldwell lined up at Anfield last season in a face mask after fracturing a cheekbone.

His determination can backfire - he has been sent-off four times in two years at Wigan and has conceded four penalties, the most in the league, this season - but it is appreciated.

Wigan survived relegation on a dramatic last day of last season. Perhaps if there is a repeat, Anfield may rank above Hampden Park as his greatest goal.


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