Link Sport’s man at the heart of Swindon Town, Sam Morshead, reflects on the Robins’ summer transfer window business – and he has some fairly lavish praise to dish out to the club’s owner and chairman…
MAKE no mistake, Lee Power has played a blinder in this transfer window.
For those of you who know the recent history of my personal relationship with the Swindon Town chairman, it’s pretty obvious that I’m not indulging in any ill-judged sycophantism. Trust me, this was stonking business.
Power has managed to keep hold of ALL his primary assets: Wes Foderingham, Nathan Thompson, Massimo Luongo, Yaser Kasim and Michael Smith. Then, in a remarkable piece of business which balanced sleight of hand and hard-nosed wheel-and-deal, he managed to get top dollar for Louis Thompson – a talented young footballer with less than a year remaining on his contract – while retaining the midfielder’s services for the remainder of the campaign.
In addition, he recruited three gifted, ball-playing defenders in the shape of Jack Stephens, Jordan Turnbull and Josh Lelan, a player Brentford fans were hugely disappointed to see moving on – Jake Reeves, and a striker he’s been pursuing for more than a year by way of Jon Obika. Even then we’re forgetting an Australian international in Brad Smith.
That is an A* in my book. And, if you’ll let me, I’ll tell you why.
Development is key
For those of you amongst the Town fanbase who haven’t quite clocked it yet – the Robins’ future is no longer based around pricey, proven, on occasion journeyman pros. It’s about development. It’s about buying on the relatively cheap, replacing pounds with hours on the training ground and, at the end of it all, producing something or someone who’s going to play their own part in the club’s self-sufficiency programme.
Louis Thompson, a credit to a youth development system stretching back a decade, presents Town with maximum return on their investment. That’s not investment in the Premier League sense – money thrown around like confetti by a drunk wedding guest high on amphetamines – it’s an investment of time and effort.
Time and effort is what’s required in the lower leagues now. In a climate where resources are stretched more painfully than a medieval miscreant on the rack, casual spending is rare. Needs must and at the County Ground that means the club putting energy into teaching young footballers the skills they need to succeed.
Swindon’s staff – from Jimmy Fraser to Paul Bodin to Jeremy Newton to Paolo Di Canio to Mark Cooper – have done just that with Thompson, and his move now represents the successful culmination for all involved.
The club on the face of it might be “losing” a son but really it’s just the footballing equivalent of a young lad packing up his bags and moving out of home.
Sentiment rarely has any place in the business of football, odd as it is given the fans’ unbridled passion for the sport and their team. Thompson is a Swindon boy, he’s been at the club since he was eight years old and, having known him for a couple of years, he doesn’t come across as the type of individual who will ever forget that.
But now is the time for him to move to a level where he belongs. Perhaps a level – and don’t shoot me for saying this – that Swindon at present can only dream of. The potential of Premier League football in the not-so-distant future, an improvement in quality of living, a quite logical upwards step on his career path.
So in that sense, the club have facilitated a young man’s dreams. Surely that’s to be applauded?
Some would say that Thompson’s departure is an abandonment of ambition from Swindon. Nonsense.
The teenager would be out of contract come the summer and Championship or Premier League clubs would be able to snap him up for a nominal fee decided by tribunal. Judging by recent examples, it’s unlikely Town could have hoped for anything more than £250,000 in those circumstances.
So to get a £500,000 up-front fee, with add-ons rising to a cool million, is astute from Power. It’s logical. It’s a sound decision.
Furthermore, Cooper will be able to use his tough-tackling asset for the remainder of the campaign, while being able to nurture Reeves into the same type of player as a direct replacement for when he finally leaves.
Anyone with an ounce of Swindon Town in their heart will be desperately sad to see Thompson go. Perhaps he will be waved off at the station with more emotion than the likes of Charlie Austin, Simon Cox and Sam Parkin – all sweethearts, none Swindon-bred. But in reality it needs to be accepted that this is a good deal for all parties.
And that’s the crux of the matter. The Thompson transfer was the only deal which Power accepted which benefited both Swindon and the player they were potentially letting go.
Not submitting to big-money bullies
Let it not be forgotten that the Robins rejected an offer from Rotherham United for Massimo Luongo, from Peterborough for Nathan Thompson and two from Coventry City for Michael Smith. This was nothing close to a firesale, this was calculated, considered business.
Town probably had to offload one asset in the summer window, with season ticket sales falling to horribly low levels after several months of discontent and fans still desperate for success – as they quite rightfully always are.
Louis Thompson commanded the biggest fee of those players not tied down to long contracts. The others – Foderingham and Louis’s brother Nathan – may well now depart in 2015 on free transfers but combined they wouldn’t have fetched such a sizeable fee.
Luongo, in this writer’s opinion the finest footballer to have played for the club this century, is, like Kasim, contracted until 2017. His value, like Kasim’s, will only increase if the pair continue to play as they have been playing recently.
Foderingham – a Championship goalkeeper playing a level below his station – will in all likelihood get his move to the second tier next summer. But he is needed by Swindon now; he would have been irreplaceable late in the window.
Nathan Thompson could well also move on in 2015 but it is almost impossible to lose your captain three weeks into the season and not be affected detrimentally. It’s worth noting, too, that any side coming in for either of Foderingham or Nathan would have probably been reluctant to loan the player back to Swindon as Norwich City have done with Louis.
So, then, Power has shown some Solomon qualities in weighing up the options and coming up with a decision that borders on the wise.
And in the meantime he’s recruited players who fit into his blueprint. Reeves is a competent holding midfielder who, in time, has the capacity to become a ready-made replacement for Louis Thompson.
Defensively, Swindon do not own enough of their own centre-backs – Raphael Branco and Nathan Thompson being the only two currently being considered for selection – but in Turnbull, Lelan and Jack Stephens, they have talented youngsters who will improve and will impress.
Top-flight clubs will look at Town’s willingness to give youth a chance right now and be inclined to lend them their top prospects. That can only be a good thing.
Giving youth a chance
And then there is Obika. Much derided due to a difficult five-game loan spell four years ago, the striker arrives in a much different environment. He has landed himself a permanent move, with which comes security and the knowledge that he is wanted. He is playing with men he’s known for long periods of time. He finally has the foundation from which he can prove his many detractors wrong.
Swindon fans need to give the lad a chance. Just like they gave Louis Thompson a chance. Just like they gave Jack Stephens and Wes Foderingham a chance. And just like they gave Nathan Thompson, Massimo Luongo, Yaser Kasim and Jordan Turnbull a chance.
Given the opportunity, Power’s masterplan might just work.