“The point of training is to increase the speed at which one can be precise”. Swindon’s manager Mark Cooper might not equal Cesar Luis Menotti as an ideology of pass and move but this season he could be haunted by the Argentine’s words.
It isn’t that Cooper’s time with his squad has been limited, more than he has trained the wrong people in the wrong position. That is because the Swindon Town team for 2014/15 is still yet to be assembled.
Throughout a moderate pre-season square pegs have been hammered into round holes. Midfielders have played where defenders should and kids fill the benches. All the while Cooper has waited for the players promised by his chairman and his Premier League friends. But delay has followed delay.
The origins of the whole mess can be found in this summer’s struggle for ownership of the club. The case, although hardly complex, was grindingly slow and illuminated only by bitter statements from both sides. While the outcome was decisive – a win for chairman Lee Power – uncertainty rippled outwards. Sponsors wouldn’t sign deals until a decision was reached, fans wouldn’t buy season tickets without clarity and budgets couldn’t be set without knowing who was paying the bills.
So now, with the season and the visit of Scunthorpe just days away, the squad has stagnated. The previous season’s reliance on loanees is to be replicated but the big teams are holding onto their players until the last minute. The uncertainty has now led to confusion, not least according to midfielder Yaser Kasim, “We need to understand our roles a lot more and for me personally there are times I don’t understand what’s going on and I don’t like to be in that position on a football pitch.”
For a side whose likely 3-5-2 will rely on an organised offside trap and carefully timed pressing from midfield, understanding, speed and precision will all be vital. And with a quartet of Premier League kids still to integrate, the job becomes even harder.
Despite the confusion, Town’s midfield remains their strength. Australian international
Massimo Luongo looks likely to be the key man, providing creativity, mobility and the odd goal from the centre of the field. Last season’s emerging talents of Ben Gladwin and youth product Nathan Thompson will add drive, essential if Town are to add to Cooper’s vision for a high defensive line and resulting need for running and pressing.
Circling the midfield, options look thin. Up front, only Michael Smith and Andy Williams offer experience with both backup strikers having less than five league starts between them. As mentioned previously the defence relies entirely on incoming loanees, including Josh Turnbull, currently on work experience from Southampton and Josh Lelan, yet to make an appearance for parent club Derby.
Naturally the feeling among Town fans seems to be one of resignation to mid-table paddling. It doesn’t feel like progress. The fear of relegation isn’t strong but even the most panglossian out there are struggling to find hope of even an interest in the play-offs. Cooper’s position as manager is liable to be questioned but many did so last year too and it seems unlikely that Power will bow to their wishes without extreme provocation. Unless his friend Tim Sherwood suddenly tosses his hat into the ring…
As for a final prediction, I’ll go for 12th place but as the season speeds towards us it is hard to be precise.
Written by Alex Cooke, We Are Going Up’s Swindon Town blogger
Alex tweets at @STFConly