#16 Old Man Ricketts


windon Town desperately needed a defensive addition before the expiration of the Emergency Loan deadline. Since Louis Thompson’s injury playing Jack Stephens in central midfield has become a necessity leaving Swindon with no defensive cover for the back three of Rossi-Branco, Nathan Thompson and Turnbull. Banking on these three to play all nine games in a rather hellish April run-in would have been optimistic in the extreme. Thankfully, considerable aid has arrived in the form of Sam Ricketts on loan from Wolves until the end of the season (including the play-offs).

Sam Ricketts is a wholly untypical Lee Power/Mark Cooper signing. For a start he’s old, so very old. At 33 he is five years older than Swindon’s former oldest codger, Andy Williams, who is four years older than any other member of Swindon’s first team squad. Ricketts’s arrival raises the average age of Swindon’s first team squad from 22 to 23. He is not a ‘saleable asset’. Reportedly* on a weekly wage at Wolves in the five figure region - let’s say £10,000 - he earns approximately £8,500 more than the average weekly wage of a Swindon Town player. Given Swindon’s tight budget, and Lee Power’s penchant for haggling, I would presume that Swindon are not paying Ricketts’s wages in full; probably no more than £4,000 per week. His signing says a great deal about Lee Power’s feelings about Swindon’s chances to finish in second place and achieve automatic promotion – it’s on!

Ricketts ought to help Swindon defensively. Vastly experienced with excellent positional awareness, and good aerially, he brings qualities that are not the strongest suit of Swindon’s first team squad (of course, largely because of their inexperience). He will improve Swindon’s ‘game management’ (apologies for the inane football jargon); particularly in those periods when Swindon are not in possession and come under pressure (in Swindon’s case usually 15 minute spells). The fans of Ricketts’s previous clubs all speak very highly of him. The statements: “a true pro”; “a class act”; and “sorry to see him go” are used again and again on fan forums. He seems to be the type of person who improves the culture of the organisation in which he operates: a hard worker, disciplined and thoughtful. A giver, not a taker. Ricketts is also, clearly, a leader. He has natural authority when interviewed and even more on the pitch. Physically, he looks the part. At 6’1” with his chiselled, aquiline features, prominent cheekbones and broad shoulders, he could easily play the part of Maximus Decimus Meridius or Aragorn son of Arathorn**.

Back to the football, Ricketts will probably play instead of Rossi-Branco as Swindon’s right-sided centre back in the back three. However, in games when Rossi-Branco’s aerial presence is needed, Ricketts might have to accept a substitute berth as he won’t start ahead of the excellent Nathan Thompson and Turnbull in the back three. Equally, as his energy levels and pace are declining, he would probably not play ahead of wing-backs, Byrne and Toffolo, who are, in any case, virtually wingers. He would also not start in central midfield unless Jack Stephens was injured. 

My only slight concern about Ricketts’s signing is the short period of time in which he has had to adapt to Swindon’s unique playing style. Ricketts has always played in a back four throughout his career and largely for teams who did not play possession based football. Nota bene: he played for Swansea under Kenny Jackett, not Roberto Martinez. Although experienced and versatile, receiving the ball in tight, pressurised, dangerous areas, and being expected to opt for the short pass rather than an aimless long punt, might require a longer period of adaptation than one week!

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Ricketts’s signing was his principal motivation for joining. Ricketts wants to be a manager after his playing career – he is already a de facto player/coach at Wolves – and wants to immerse himself in Swindon’s culture, style and observe their training sessions. Surprised at Swindon’s technical excellence in the away fixture at Wolves last season, Ricketts wants to understand how Swindon, with their meagre resources, play with such panache. Luke Williams: your coaching sessions are going to be observed acutely. 

Not only has Swindon become a nursery for technically gifted young footballers, but it might also be becoming part of a Grand Tour for aspiring young managers. The football community is impressed.

*I do stress reportedly.
**I know that this is bordering on the homoerotic.

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