LINK Sport’s man at the heart of Swindon Town, Sam Morshead, speaks to Louis Thompson’s former youth team coaches and brother about the teenager’s rise through the ranks at the County Ground and move to Norwich City…
FROM half-term holidays cleaning toilets with his mother and brother to a seven-figure move to a club on the cusp of the Premier League – Louis Thompson’s rapid rise is down to sheer hard work and application, according to those closest to him during his development at Swindon Town.
Thompson, at 19 years old, is the second most expensive product of Town’s youth system – only Nicky Summerbee’s £1.5million move to Manchester City ranks above his Deadline Day switch to Norwich City – and his coaches and family all agree why.
While the midfielder is undoubtedly a special talent, former Swindon head of youth Paul Bodin, current academy director Jeremy Newton, Town manager Mark Cooper and Louis’s brother Nathan all paid tribute to Thompson’s work ethic, highlighting his professional dedication as a primary driver in his acceleration through the ranks at the County Ground.
Thompson, who joined the club at the age of eight, caught the eye of Newton – who coached him through until the age of 13 and then again during his apprenticeship – principally because he was so eager to learn.
Newton told Link Sport: “Louis was one of those – you never forgot his face. He was a bubbly character, he always enjoyed sessions, always enjoyed the ball. You sort of knew – I know it sounds a cliché but you do know when you’re coaching them. He always had a little bit of touch, a bit of skill, drive and determination.
“He was a bit special in that he always listened, he always wanted to learn and he asked questions and more so as he went through the age groups. I was fortunate enough to be there from the start all the way to the present day.”
Bodin recognised the same characteristics in the hustling, bustling 16-year-old midfielder he took into his youth team back in 2010, and he recalls a young footballer fully focused on achieving his objectives in the game.
“He was a stand-out player and he developed quite rapidly. He was lucky in that he got into the first-team environment without playing first-team games,” Bodin said.
“He took things on board and the fact he’s a bright, intelligent boy meant he could deal with certain situations which perhaps other players wouldn’t have been able to.
“We gave him a platform in many respects – a training programme, an individual programme and a games programme – and it’s up to the player.
“You hear stories where players should have made it and for whatever reason didn’t. A lot of it is down to the individual. If you want to finish training and do your required hours and don’t do extra; you don’t go to the gym, you don’t eat right and you don’t look after your body, you limit your opportunities. Then you make the grade, as Louis did.”
Thompson, according to Bodin, was as committed to academia as he was to his football.
“He’s a bright, intelligent boy,” he said. “Academically he was very good – when he was involved with the first team he would get to college or if he couldn’t he’d make sure he physically picked up the work to do at home. He was a good role model for a lot of the players.”
NATHAN THOMPSON DISCUSSES HIS BROTHER’S MOVE TO NORWICH WITH LINK SPORT
And, coming from a strong South Wiltshire family home, Thompson had developed a strong core of morals which Newton picked up on when the brothers were given time off in half-term holidays during their Centre of Excellence and apprenticeship years.
“He and his brother used to go and work with their mum going cleaning – it just shows you a bit about both of them,” said Newton.
“During half-term, when they’re not playing football, they weren’t playing computer games – they were going cleaning. They were going an earning some extra money but getting their hands dirty cleaning toilets.”
In the summer of 2012, Thompson was taken to Italy for a two-week pre-season training camp on the banks of Lake Garda by then-manager Paolo Di Canio.
Even back then he was thoughtful in conversation with the press and, despite being just 17, fully integrated within the senior squad. He was being linked with moves to Arsenal, Everton and Celtic.
Di Canio had handed him his debut in the FA Cup at Leicester City the previous season and would go on to give him a first start in a League One encounter with Sheffield United in November 2012.
For his brother, it was an unsurprisingly shortcut for a second-year scholar.
“The attitude is a massive part of progressing, Lou’s shown that. If you’re willing to work and willing to listen to the people around him then you’ll go further,” Nathan told Link Sport.
“It’s important for a team like Swindon and a club of this size to put their trust in youth and allow youngsters coming through an opportunity.
“You’ve seen it with Lou – when the opportunities are given, anything is possible.”
Thompson set himself a target of 15 first-team appearances in 2013/14 but went on to make more than double that. He scored his first pro goal against Sheffield United – sparking the iconic sight of his brother sprinting halfway around the pitch to celebrate in front of the Town End – and ended as an established member of the first-team squad.
With less than a year left on his contract, Thompson could have moved elsewhere for a nominal fee decided by tribunal next summer. Instead, chairman Lee Power got the best possible deal for club and player – ultimately leaving the choice in the hands of the player.
No need for goodbyes
For the man himself, though, it was a no-brainer. And, as much as he’s admitted to leaving behind a large part of his life in Wiltshire, he’s not planning on saying his goodbyes just yet.
“I think being here so long it felt a little bit strange going to look at a different club. I’m looking forward to the challenge there but this has been a massive part of my life at Swindon Town, I’m not going to forget these ever,” Thompson told Link Sport.
“I’ve got another year here to finish what we started and I’m excited about it because there’s been a difference here. There’s a real focus around the club from top to bottom – from the chairman to the groundstaff.
“There’ll be a right time to pay tribute to them but I’m not leaving yet and I don’t want to say my goodbyes because it sounds like I’m forgetting them already. There’ll be plenty of time to thank them and I will thank them as and when, towards the end of the season.”
Newton, having nurtured Thompson’s career for the best part of a decade, oozed pride when discussing the switch.
“It’s been a fantastic journey with Louis,” he said. “He’ll always come and see me, along with his brother, and shake my hand. That tells you something about the boy himself. He’s very grateful but that’s our job.
“It’s an exceptionally proud moment when you see a lad from the academy make their first-team debut and play in the first team. It makes all those trips, all those coaching sessions in the cold, up and down the country worth it.
“We can guide and support them but ultimately it’s about the player himself and his dedication, commitment and application.”
Come July next year, Nathan and Louis Thompson will not join in pre-season training with the same club for the first time in their scholar and professional lives.
Nathan, however, isn’t worrying about how his little brother will fare in East Anglia.
“It’ll be different,” he said. “It’ll be the first time in a long, long time that we’ll be in different parts of the country but I think it’s important he’s come through here with me looking down on him and making sure he’s alright.
“He’ll be 20 years old when he goes up there and you’ve seen over the last 18 months that he has started to grow up and with another seven months under his belt he’ll be ready for that step up and that challenge.”