#12 A Chap Called Clem and Pugnacious Negotiating


eterborough – a bogey team, beaten; Fleetwood – overcome by a ‘professional performance’; Notts County - crushed. With Swindon lying second place in the League 1 table, and notching up five wins in a row, the Club finally caught the attention of the national media. A chap from the Independent wrote an uninspired piece, informing his readers that Swindon are playing well with a style of football not seen since the Glenn Hoddle days. Then came the Holy Grail of national coverage for all lower league football teams: a five minute slot on the Football League Show with the over familiar Mark Clemmit, ‘Clem’. Clem did his usual hyper-active routine, greeting Mark Cooper as ‘mate’, threatening to put an arm around his shoulder before extolling Swindon’s achievements in the current campaign. Naturally, his visit coincided with Swindon losing 1-0 at home to Doncaster. I don’t blame Clem.

Against Doncaster Swindon’s passing lacked its usual precision and incision, but they still had enough chances to have won the game including missing a penalty. Doncaster’s goal came from an undeserved penalty (as accepted by their manager Paul Dickov). Mark Cooper was relatively content with Swindon’s performance. I was too, although I think Swindon’s link up play between the strikers and midfield has dropped a notch in the last two home games in striker, Michael Smith’s absence. I hope Cooper starts him in the next home game. Swindon are still playing a fluid 3-5-2 system with a proper sweeper (perhaps the only league club doing so) and top the League 1 possession table. It’s all rather lovely.

Behind the scenes, Swindon’s owner, and de facto Director of Football, Lee Power, has been ‘having talks’ with three of Swindon’s, to use Power’s term, ‘conveyor belt’ players (talented players who are currently irregular starters in the first team, but will ultimately feature more regularly after further development and when Swindon’s first team players are snapped up by bigger clubs) to extend their contracts; in the case of Ben Gladwin and Raphael Rossi Branco beyond the end of the season, and in Jake Reeves’s case beyond January.

Ben Gladwin, a 22 year old midfielder, was signed from non-league Marlow mid-way through the previous season for a nominal fee (possibly c£20,000). At 6’3” Gladwin looks like he should be a centre-back or centre-forward, but the physical part of the game is not his strong suit. Ironically, he was released by Reading’s Academy when he was 14 for apparently being too small. His strength is his technique and touch: the best player in training according to Mark Cooper. He’s unfortunate to be competing against three of League 1’s most accomplished central-midfielders for a starting berth. He would start as an attacking central-midfielder/‘No.10’ for most League 1 teams. When he has started this season he has generally played as a wing-back which is not his ideal position given his lack of pace, and defensive frailties, although his crossing is top notch. Negotiating Gladwin’s contract extension to June 2017 seemingly proved incredibly straightforward for Lee Power. Apparently, it was pretty much a case of ‘where do I sign Boss?’ Gladwin, based on Twitter photos, body language and his own comments is very happy at the Club. He’s certainly ‘one of the boys’ and appears to be very well liked by the rest of the squad. On signing the new deal he said it was an easy choice and that staying at Swindon would make him a better footballer. If only all footballers had a similar mindset.

Extending Jakes Reeves’s and Rossi Branco’s contracts has proved less straightforward. Jake Reeves, a tidy, compact, busy, technical, 21 year old central-midfielder, who signed on a free after his contract with Brentford was terminated by mutual consent, seems a little discontent at his lack of first team opportunities thus far. Indeed, the principle reason for Reeves leaving Brentford was to play first team football. Money is not the issue. Swindon are very keen for him to stay. To secure a contract extension for Reeves, Power will have to convince him that his first team opportunities will come and that Swindon’s current central-midfield trio will eventually move on and that he won’t find many better environments than Swindon to hone his technique and skill. Given Swindon’s current form, and the possibility of gaining promotion to the Championship and retaining Kasim and Luongo beyond the current campaign, Power can’t even say that he’ll probably be playing next season. Will Reeves wait for first team football? I don’t think he will. He’ll certainly be able to get it elsewhere. 

Rossi Branco, a 24 year old centre-back (his previous club was non-league Whitehawk) is robust, aerially strong, quick and technically sound. When he first arrived at the start of the 2013/14 season he was ungainly, clumsy and technically not particularly assured. He has improved immeasurably and his signing and development underlines the Wenger-esque talent spotting of Swindon’s current management team. 

Negotiations with Branco are protracted and have brought to the fore Power’s negotiating style: more pugnacious than conciliatory. Power wants Branco to sign an extension to June 2017. Initially, Branco was keen to sign the extension and ‘shook on the deal’, not once but twice, before backtracking, after, according to Power, ‘someone [had] got in his ear’ (not literally of course). This annoyed Power, as it would anyone, resulting in Branco being left out of the squad for the Notts County game. Reports then said that Branco was keen to stay and the contract might be signed before the Doncaster game. There was no announcement before the game that a deal had been concluded, although Branco was not omitted from the match day squad unlike the Notts County game which suggests that either relations have improved or Power regrets his previous decision.

As a Swindon Town fan, my knee-jerk, emotional reaction to Branco’s stance is ‘greedy git; so much for that badge thumping against Bristol City’. Being dispassionate, Branco, like most people, just wants the best deal for himself – ‘it’s nothing personal, just business’. Of course, shaking on a deal and backtracking isn’t great form. Power is trying to bring matters to head before January when Branco will get extra game time (because of Kasim and Luongo competing in the Asia Cup) which will attract greater attention from other clubs and increase his value. Branco knows this and is stalling. However, by stalling, he takes the risk that Power might exclude him again from the match day squad and, with no playing time, depress his value and weaken his negotiating hand. Power’s stance in the modern game is unusual in that the current received wisdom is generally to adopt an emollient approach, not to exclude or isolate players, even if they are behaving badly. Arms around shoulders and praise, rather than criticism and ‘rockets up backsides’, are the order of the day. I’ll side with Power on this one. I’d want him as my negotiator.

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