#5 Hyypiä’s Surprise and The Most Important Event in the World - The Transfer Window


windon were knocked out 4-2 by Championship club Brighton in the Capital Cup (the League Cup if you are, understandably, a little bit uncertain as to what this is) at the County Ground on a Tuesday evening tie.

The score line gives a distorted impression of the game as Swindon were comfortably the better side throughout, dominating possession. Indeed, at full-time it was 1-1 and in the second half of extra time Swindon were forced to play with nine men: Nathan Thompson was sent off for tackling a player ‘as the last man’ and George Barker departed with a shoulder injury after Swindon had already used their three substitutes. Brighton’s manager Sami Hyypiä interviewed after the game said ‘we knew Swindon were a good team but I was a bit surprised at how good they were’. Hyypiä’s attitude is typical of just about everyone who watches Swindon for the first time (on current showings). They hear that Swindon are a good passing team, but the level of technical proficiency for a League One club still startles. I’ve been banging on to my friends about Swindon’s high quality football for the last few weeks, but I know that they think I’m exaggerating.

The defeat wasn’t particularly disappointing; the injuries to Ben Gladwin (snapped/pulled/sprained ankle ligaments), Michael Smith and George Barker (both with shoulder problems) and Nathan Thompson’s one-match suspension were. It leaves Swindon short of numbers for Saturday’s home league match against Coventry. Ben Gladwin might be unavailable for two months. It brought to the fore that Swindon’s squad is small and will be reliant on good fortune on the injury front if the Club is to have a successful campaign. Still, I suppose most clubs at Swindon’s level have the same problem. Nathan Thompson will be missed the most on Saturday as the Club does not have anyone else who can readily adapt to the sweeper role in the 3-5-2/3-4-1-2 formation. Mark Cooper has compared Nathan Thompson’s style to Franco Baresi! I nearly spat out my tea when I read this, akin to the excessive praise one might associate with man management supremo, Harry Redknapp. Nevertheless, the comparison is not without some merit as Nathan Thompson, like Baresi, possesses that gliding, elegant quality and is also 5’8-9” (I thought Baresi was taller). Clearly, though, Nathan Thompson is not currently, and unlikely to go on to be, one of the three greatest defenders ever to have played the game (the other two being Beckenbauer and Maldini in my view). Funnily enough, Nathan Thompson does not yet have a Youtube tribute like Baresi’s below.

Swindon, despite having to field a weakened side, drew 1-1 against Coventry – a good result considering the circumstances. Apparently, Swindon began with Josh Lelan* as sweeper, but switched Rossi Branco fairly early on into this position with Lelan moving to the right-hand side of a back three. As a key component of Swindon’s game involves the keeper passing to the defenders, most frequently to the sweeper, the lack of a natural sweeper had a detrimental impact on the connection between defence and midfield. Equally, Michael Smith’s muscular presence and good hold-up play were missed, as his replacement – 19 year old striker Connor Waldon – is on the green side. Rossi Branco scored the Swindon goal, equalising with a stooping back-post header from a cross in the second phase of move following a set-piece. He’s proving to be quite a threat in the air from set-pieces and generally wins most of his aerial duels with opposing strikers.

With a squad lacking in numbers, there was a fair bit of pressure on the Swindon Town management to conduct ‘some business’ before the closing of the transfer window. The transfer window is one of the least edifying aspects of football today. I’m not against having a transfer window – as the alternative would be to give the financially well-endowed clubs free reign to disrupt the campaigns of poorer clubs – but the absurd media hype that surrounds it is disagreeable. Many fans now equate ‘success’** in the transfer window with actually winning a game and accumulating points. Managers who do not have a ‘successful’ transfer window, even though most of the activity is beyond their control, can be pilloried. Then there’s the modest Sky Sports coverage which leaves you in no doubt that this is the most important event happening in the world with its presenters almost shouting, their tones desperate and urgent, and the ludicrous music theme as though two armies are advancing upon each other (see below).

Admittedly, like everyone, I do enjoy seeing Harry Redknapp being interviewed about his ‘business’ through his car window, but this is the only bright spot. Unfortunately, Harry failed to play his part in this transfer deadline day by not winding down his car (a horrible Range Rover type of vehicle) window.

Most Swindon fans generally agreed that the Club had a good transfer window. We shall see. Thankfully, only one of Swindon’s talented crop was sold: Louis Thompson to Norwich City for an initial £600,000 rising to £1.4 million depending on appearances. Swindon also secured a sell-on clause, apparently. The best part of the deal is that Louis Thompson will spend the rest of the season on loan at Swindon making the sale seem somewhat artificial.

On the spending front Swindon bought Jonathan Obika, a 23 year old striker from Tottenham, for £200,000; Jake Reeves, a 21 year old central midfielder from Brentford after his contract was terminated by mutual consent; and Jack Stephens, a 20 year old centre back, on loan from Southampton until January. The signing of Stephens, whom Swindon have courted for several months, after a successful loan spell at the Club at the end of last season, received the most plaudits. Conversely, Obika’s purchase has been criticised in some quarters with some fans remembering his previous loan spell at Swindon as a 20 year old, which was not very fruitful. Such criticisms have little merit considering Obika’s tender years at the time of his loan and the Club’s general malaise during this time (finishing bottom in League One). In more recent times Obika has played in the Championship and scored goals. He is now burly and robust. More importantly, the current Swindon management have ‘the Midas Touch’ in the transfer market. Reeves’s signing has received virtually no comment (thereby ticking all the Moneyball boxes), but having scanned Brentford discussion forums, Swindon might have signed a gem. He was highly regarded at Brentford – the words ‘skilful’ and ‘tidy’ are recurring. His release owes more to Brentford’s surfeit of talented central midfielders and Reeves’s desire to play first team football, rather than a lack of ability. He wanted to come to Swindon because of the Club’s style of football. Reeves will find it tough to usurp Kasim, Luongo and L.Thompson in central midfield this season. However, I would expect him to establish himself in the first XI in the 2015/16 campaign not least because, in all likelihood, one out of Kasim or Luongo, will have been poached by then. Post transfer window Swindon’s squad seems stronger. A top six finish is within its capabilities.

* Swindon rather embarrassingly decided against extending Josh Lelan’s ‘work experience’ loan before changing its mind after the injuries and suspension picked up against Brighton. Poor Josh!
** Success in this context means spending lots of money on new players. It doesn’t matter if the players subsequently prove to be inadequate. I remember just about every Premier League pundit saying how Spurs had bought well after the Gareth Bale sale.

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