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Exclusive: Spanish football expert Graham Hunter previews the Manchester derby

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Despite Pep Guardiola’s assertions that he and rival manager Jose Mourinho will share a glass of win upon the conclusion of Saturday’s encounter, there will be no love lost as the Spaniard’s Manchester City side make the short trip to Old Trafford for the weekend’s hotly anticipated early kick-off.

Saturday marks the first day of Manchester’s new dawn as the two biggest managers in world football go head-to-head, in what is without doubt their greatest test since arriving at their new clubs. The duo endured a frosty relationship when rivals at Barcelona and Real Madrid and the Premier League faithful will hold high hopes that their rivalry proves just as emphatic in England.

Considering the history of that surrounds the relationship between, who better to speak to than Spanish football expert, Graham Hunter? The Boot Room were lucky enough to grab an interview with the author of BARÇA: THE MAKING OF THE GREATEST TEAM IN THE WORLD, who gave us an excellent insight into what should be a tantalizing clash.

TBR: As you’ll know from their time spent in Spain with Barcelona and Real Madrid, both Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho have very different management styles and favoured tactical systems. Have we already been able to see these trademark traits throughout the duo’s opening months in charge of Manchester City and United, respectively? 

GH: More clearly at United. Mourinho’s squad is more ‘made’ – signings made earlier, fewer major changes, key players fit. For that reason I think that United is more identifiably ‘Jose’ so far than City is ‘Pep’. That’s not to say you can see Guardiola influences in terms of how the more intense training means players with zip, the inverted full backs, the speed of passing, the playing out from the back. But there’s more ‘trademark traits’ to come at City as players like Gündogan and Kompany get fit and Bravo is incorporated.

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TBR: On the contrary, is there anything you have seen from either manager during their early days in Manchester that has come as a surprise to you?  

GH: Very pleasantly surprised about how much game time Juan Mata is getting. Love watching him play and while he’s got neither the height or pace that JM cherishes he’s a smart, competitive, technically gifted footballer and I enjoy watching him . A little bit surprised that PG didn’t sign a top class full back. Other than that, no.

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TBR: The saga surrounding Joe Hart’s future at Manchester City has dominated the back pages over the last month or so, with Pep Guardiola opting to sign Barcelona’s Claudio Bravo in his place. Has Pep been know to treat players similarly upon his arrival at a club in the past, and what can we expect to see from Bravo as the veteran prepares to make his Premier League debut? 

GH: Similarly? Obviously, yes. Ronaldinho and Deco kicked out from the day Pep was presented at Barcelona. That makes his handling of Joe’s situation look beneficent and kindly. Hleb, Touré and Zlatan discovered what it felt like when the Spanish coach lost faith in them – no regrets, no mercy. Moved on for the good of his football ethos and if they acted in a way which lost his respect. I’ve always thought, then and now, that his dispatching of Samuel Eto’o was an error – but it’s generically similar. Same happened to Mario Mandzukic at Bayern and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg [for whom Pep had such high hopes]. There are more examples, but these’ll do.

Bravo is very competitive. Driven man, thrives on being challenged. Thrives on being surrounded by better players than was the case at Real Sociedad. Very good concentration, excellent keeper around his goal mouth – tidy, makes good saves, v few [perhaps two] outright errors in two title winning seasons at Barcelona. Evidently spurred on, domestically, by brilliant international form. Good presence in the dressing room and on training ground. Serious [not dull but intense] guy who’s there not for a bigger pay check but to win.

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TBR: Paul Pogba is another who dominated the headlines throughout the summer, albeit slightly earlier on. It has been reported that Real Madrid were very interested in signing him, but their interest appeared to wane as the saga progressed. Is this the case, or did Manchester United genuinely beat the Spanish giants to the Frenchman’s signature?

GH: Their interest absolutely did not wane. They were out and out beaten by two things: the massive financial advantage United had over them and the degree to which Paul Pogba wanted to go back and prove himself at United. These were two major competitive advantages.

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TBR: Considering the experience you have of Spanish football, you are more likely than most to remember Sergio Aguero’s days in La Liga with Atletico Madrid. When he was first signed by Manchester City, could you ever have imagined him becoming the prolific force he is today (arguably one of the greatest strikers the Premier League has ever seen)? How much of an impact do you believe his absence – through suspension – this weekend will have on the final result? 

GH: Truthfully, although he’s performed well at City I think that he’s not nearly hit his full potential. While he’s won trophies he’s had too many injuries, too many different coaches, not ‘quite’ enough of a brilliant ten players behind him at all times. His record is very good, THAT goal will live forever and I’m very far from putting him down.

I just honestly think that theres more he can/could have offered if circumstances had been better [injuries included]. He’s a tremendous footballer, Guardiola’s brand of game should suit him [albeit he’s going to have to stop missing penalties and getting himself banned if he wants to keep his coach’s respect] and he’s got a good goals-to-win ratio v United. So they’ll miss him, of course.

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TBR: Eric Bailly’s performances have captivated the attention of Manchester United fans, and it feels as though he has earned more man-of-the-match awards than games played. Can you give us an insight into what Jose Mourinho saw in him – to be willing to fork out a seemingly worthwhile £30m+ – from his time in Spain? 

GH: I wrote about EB here http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/manchester-united-getting-raw-talent-8131090. That was the week he signed. I think the piece holds up to scrutiny now.

TBR: Finally then, Graham, perhaps the most important question of the day, who will come out on top when Manchester United meet Manchester City at Old Trafford on Saturday, Pep or Jose? 

GH: With Kun absent, Gundogan and Bravo not fully match sharp I guess it hints at United winning 2-1. If not, then a draw or a win would be one heck of a result for Pep and City.

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Greg Docherty – Realising a childhood dream with Rangers FC

After completing his dream move to Rangers, midfielder Greg Docherty sat down with The Boot Room to look back at his career to date and the excitement of his time ahead at Ibrox.

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Photo: Rangers Football Club

Last Saturday, Greg Docherty fulfilled a childhood dream by stepping out at Ibrox.

But this time, unlike his four previous visits to the home of Rangers Football Club, he was stepping out of the tunnel and onto the pitch as a home player following his January switch over to Glasgow.

Docherty’s home debut might not have gone exactly to plan – with Rangers falling to a narrow loss against Hibernian – but nevertheless, it was an afternoon that he is unlikely to forget anytime soon.

His move from Hamilton Academical, a Scottish Premiership side where he had plied his trade since joining their youth academy as nothing more than a nine-year-old with dreams, was perhaps as anticipated as it was justified considering his head-turning performances during the past 18 months.

For lifelong Rangers supporter Docherty it’s been a whirlwind start to 2018, and talking to The Boot Room in an exclusive interview he recounted the moment he discovered the transfer was in motion.

“Believe it or not I was actually on my way to the Hamilton game against Hearts [on January 24] and I received a phone call to say that the deal had been done and that I was now a Rangers player.

“It was all a bit mad. I still wasn’t sure if I was going to be playing that night but after the phone call I quickly had a chat with […] who said obviously you won’t play because we’ve signed all of the forms, and it’s up to Rangers now to do their stuff.”

The confirmation of a completed deal before the end of the transfer window would have come almost as a relief for the 21-year-old, who admitted that he first heard of Rangers’ interest courtesy of speculation across social media platforms.

“To be honest that’s where you first find out most of it, because social media is so popular these days for breaking news. You hear something then ask around a bit to see if it’s true or not but it’s quite funny how you read news about yourself.”

Fortunately for Docherty this proved to be one social media rumour that came to fruition, and little more than three days after being officially announced as a Rangers player he was taking his place in caretaker manager Graeme Murty’s squad, coming off the bench in the 74th minute in a 2-1 win at Ross County.

A winning start in a Gers shirt was undeniably the perfect way for Docherty to settle any lingering nerves following his well-documented winter transfer, and reflecting on his debut he praised the supporters who immediately back him that night.

“It was special. The reaction I got from the crowd was great – it was an incredible following considering the distance from Glasgow – and even when I was warming up the whole stand and a half that Rangers had been allocated were clapping and saying my name.

“It’s something I have dreamt of for a long time and for that to actually happen was incredible.”

But when one door opens, another one has to close, and Docherty’s move to Rangers signalled the end of his 14-year spell at Hamilton.

The Scotland Under-21 international spent the young days of his career working through the ranks at Hamilton’s esteemed academy – an academy that has seen the likes of James McCarthy and James McArthur graduate and switch to the Premier League – before making his first-team bow at just 17.

After getting a feel for first-team football in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, Docherty fully broke into the Hamilton side a year later and it’s fair to say that, from that moment, he never looked back.

He became a stalwart in the Accies’ midfield, going on to make over 100 appearances for them across all competitions, and he insisted that his decision to leave the Club was one that was ultimately made with a heavy heart.

“[I’ll miss] the people. I made a lot of close friends – some of my best friends are still there – and I’ll miss seeing them every day. It was a great place to be, a great place to work, and a great place to play football.

It was a joy for me, it was never a chore or anything like that, and I enjoyed every minute. It gave me a chance. I’ll just miss being in and around the dressing room, because it was a great dressing room, but it was time to move on and push on to the next challenge.”

There’s little doubt that Docherty will always be held in high regard by the home supporters for his efforts during his tenure at the Club, not least for his crucial goal that helped Hamilton edge past Dundee United in the two-legged Scottish Premiership relegation play-off in 2017.

It’s a moment that Docherty himself looks back on with fond memories, too.

“Scoring the goal to keep them in the league, that was it for me.

“Hamilton had shown a lot of faith in me through the years so for me to repay them with that goal to keep them in the league, that was special. Football’s funny sometimes with how it works and for me to score the goal after coming through the youth system was nice for Hamilton.”

It won’t be long before he’s back in familiar territory though, as Docherty and Rangers travel to New Douglas Park on February 18 in a match that’ll be rife with emotion for the academy product.

Football is often known to be an ironic sport at times, and there’s a certain amount of irony about the fact that the youngster from Milngavie all-but sealed the deal when playing against Rangers for Hamilton earlier in the Premiership season.

It was in Hamilton’s 2-0 win at Ibrox back in November – a match that gave the Accies their first victory at Rangers since 1926 – where the youngster excelled, earning an assist and generally catching the eye with a powerful midfield display, and it’s this that could have swayed the board of directors at Rangers into signing on the dotted line.

“In a way I hope so. I wanted to play well because it was against the team I support – it’s funny like that – but I wanted to prove that if I was to play for Rangers then I’d be more then capable.

“After that game I received a lot of nice messages from the fans congratulating me so I knew right away that they had taken to me a little bit. Then once the news came in that Rangers were interested in me the amount of support I received was incredible, and that was another factor in me signing.”

For now, though, Docherty’s time at New Douglas Park is a chapter of the past, and his firm focus remains on pastures new at Rangers – and more predominantly, getting them back to the very top.

Their return to the summit of Scottish football last season after four years of climbing back up the ladder has seen the club back where it belongs, and considering the plight that they have been recovering from since entering into administration in 2012, a third-place finish was an impressive feat on their return to Premiership football last season.

And whilst it seems that Celtic are once again set to reign supreme come the end of the 2017-18 campaign, Docherty is confident that Rangers will be right back on their heels again before too long.

At just 21 years of age Docherty has arguably already reached the pinnacle of the Scottish game by virtue of playing for one of the two notorious Glaswegian giants, and he admitted that he could already see himself spending the majority of his footballing career at Ibrox, aiding the club’s revival.

“You never know. If that was to be the case then I wouldn’t be disheartened by that at all.

“Rangers need to get back to the top, and one of my aims is to get them back there and competing at the highest level – and I’m sure the Rangers fans do too. There’s every chance of that happening over the next few years, I don’t see why not, you’ve just got to believe.

“If I was to stay here for the rest of my career then that would be brilliant but you never know in football and you want to play at the highest level possible.”

After achieving his dream move by the time he even turns 22 it’s clear to see that there’s a long and successful career there for the taking should Docherty avoid serious injury, and there is already growing talks that he could be in contention for a berth in the Scotland squad as the year progresses.

It is a testing time for the Scotland national squad at present, currently without a manager and with friendlies against Costa Rica and Hungary looming in March, but with three Under-21 caps to his name – and with a big move under his belt – Docherty is well-placed to push for a first senior call-up.

Asked about his national team aspirations, Docherty replied:

“Absolutely, I don’t see why not.

“Obviously I’ll take each game as they come but I think that if I start off playing well for Rangers I can’t see why I can’t push into the international team. I’ve already completed one of my targets to get signed by Rangers – but first and foremost I need to establish myself in the Rangers team.”

And this could begin with a first start in a Rangers jersey when they travel to Scottish League One outfit Ayr United in the fifth-round of the Scottish Cup on Sunday, with a quarter-final spot at stake.

It would be a full debut that would no doubt be received well by Rangers fans if social media talk is anything to go by, with Gers supporters urging their new signing to be given the chance to impress in midfield.

If anything, that shows just how highly-rated Docherty is – he’s something of a hot commodity right now.

But he insisted that he’s aware of the competition for places and strength in depth at Ibrox, adding that he feels he is at the right club in order to develop as a young footballer.

“I feel like I need to score more goals, and I need to contribute more. I need to be a more all-round box-to-box midfielder. I think I’ve got the fitness and the strength to do it but I just need to be a bit more aware when I’m on the ball and speed up the play.

“I think that’ll come at Rangers though and I think that’s something they are good at – they’re a very fast-flowing team – and that’s why I’m excited to be playing with them and see what it’s like to play in a game with such high intensity.

“It’s always been difficult to play against Rangers. The movement is always good and they’re always very switched on with what they do – that was another factor in joining, as I wanted to be a part of that. They’re a great side that are building momentum at the moment.”

It is this concept of building momentum that couldn’t be truer on the blue side of Glasgow at this moment in time, with their current position a far cry from the desperate predicament of late 2012.

With Docherty and fellow midfielder Sean Goss arriving in January there’s real potential for a partnership to be grown – one that could be the backbone of this Rangers side for years to come.

The signs are good for the Gers as they strive to compete for a 54th league title, combining energy and youth with some seasoned heads that lends itself to some pleasing football.

As for the immediate future, it may just take another few games for the enormity of the move to fully sink in for boyhood fan Docherty, but it is a scenario that just goes to prove the old-school cliché that dreams can be achieved if you are prepared to work hard enough for them.

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Abu Ogogo – Shrewsbury promotion hopes, Paul Hurst and Arsenal education

With Shrewsbury Town currently exceeding all expectations, occupying third place in the race for automatic promotion in League One, The Boot Room caught up with club captain Abu Ogogo.

Jake Jackman

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Shrewsbury Town have been the surprise package in League One this season and are challenging for promotion to the Championship.

At the time of writing, the Shrews are in third position, but if they win their game in hand, they will move back into the automatic promotion places. Quite simply, it would be a remarkable achievement if they were to return to the second tier for the first time since the 1988-89 season.

The two teams they are in direct competition with, Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic, have both been in the Premier League in recent years.

This underlines how good the Shrews have been, especially considering the other two contenders will have bigger resources at their disposal. Manager Paul Hurst has built a good squad at New Meadow with a lot of young talent being given a chance to shine.

One of the leaders of the dressing room is Abu Ogogo, who has over 300 Football League matches to his name. The 28-year-old is the club captain and has played a major role in the team’s success this season.

The midfielder spoke to The Boot Room in an exclusive interview, revealing the reasons behind the team’s success:

“The manager has done a really good job and built a winning mentality at the club. He’s brought in good players, but also the right characters as well. I think we are also a lot fitter.

“We work hard every single day and we take that into games. We overrun and overpower teams and we’ve got good footballers. We have belief and quality, and that is a good combination to have.”

At the beginning of the season, few would have tipped the Shrews to challenge for promotion, but the likes of Jon Nolan, Ben Godfrey, Dean Henderson, Shaun Whalley and Ogogo himself have performed consistently to a high standard for the club.

They are a cohesive unit that is tough to break down and they always pose a threat when they have possession. Their individual work rate makes them difficult to play against and their high fitness levels are central to that.

League One is a division that grows stronger with every season. There are a number of big clubs currently in the division and that makes Shrewsbury’s current position even more impressive.

Blackburn Rovers have lifted the Premier League before, while Portsmouth and Wigan Athletic have both won the FA Cup during this century. Charlton Athletic are another club that have a history at a higher level.

Ogogo believes that the division is the strongest that it has been for years, but he is hoping that his team can follow in the footsteps of Yeovil Town and Burton Albion to earn a surprise promotion to the Championship.

“It is the strongest that it has been in a few years. You mentioned four teams there. Obviously you’ve got Bradford as well. The list goes on.

We’ve done very well to be in the position that we are considering we were favourites to go down and how our seasons have gone in the last two years, but we don’t look at the names of the teams we are playing or the size of the club.

It’s eleven vs eleven on the pitch and, to date, we have more than held our own. It’s a very tough league, but we’ve done well so far. But there is a long way to go.

“It is a massive achievement considering how tough the league is this year and how our last couple of years have gone. Going from staying up to getting promoted to the Championship would be a massive achievement. It is possible. Yeovil have done it. Burton have done it. They are a very good example.

“Hopefully we can do what they have and get promoted and stay in the Championship.”

There will be neutrals across the country that are willing Shrewsbury to continue their good form and finish in the top two of League One this season. The modern game is becoming controlled by money at the highest level and it is encouraging to see a well-run club in the Football League earning success the right way.

They have grown naturally and, as Ogogo alludes to, the players go into every game knowing that they can hold their own, even if the opposition are a previous Premier League or FA Cup winner.

One of the key figures responsible for Shrewsbury’s rapid growth is Paul Hurst. The 43-year-old arrived at the club last season and helped them secure their League One status.

It would have been easy for the manager to target survival once again, especially as the odds suggested they would struggle. However, he is ambitious and he has built a winning mentality at New Meadow.

Ogogo was full of praise for the talented coach for the positive impact that the former Grimsby Town manager has had on his own career and the club overall.

“Paul has been very good for my career and all of the players at Shrewsbury. He’s come in and changed our club completely. He’s worked miracles, to be fair, and it’s no fluke that he has been linked with Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday in the past. He is a young, ambitious manager and he will have ambitions of his own to manage as high as possible. 

“He is a good man manager. You can talk to him about other stuff outside of football as well. He and his assistant [Chris] Doigy work very hard on the training pitch. They show you clips and parts of your game that you can improve on. He’s been massive for myself and I know he’s been played a huge part for all the other boys as well.”

The progress Shrewsbury have made since the appointment of Paul Hurst was most evident against West Ham United. They played two matches against the Premier League side after forcing a replay in the FA Cup.

The Shrews were the better team in the first meeting, which took place at New Meadow. They had more possession (55.3%) and had nine shots to the Hammers’ four. Ogogo played the full ninety minutes and was one of the standout players on the pitch. The midfielder made five tackles, won four aerial duels and completed two dribbles.

The 28-year-old was understandably proud of the team’s performance that day and believes it will benefit them in the long-term.

“When the draw was made, everyone expected us to get beat by four or five. We played them at home and more than held our own. We missed a couple of chances and we were the better team on the day.

We should have won that game. In the second leg, we went to their place and were five minutes from penalties. We had a good chance to go 1-0 up and dug in. It was backs-to-the-wall stuff for some stages of the game, but that was to be expected. We can take a lot of encouragement and heart from that.

“We played an established Premier League team and it took them a hundred-and-however minutes to score against us, so we can take a lot of positives from the performance. We more than held our own against Premier League players, so when we go back to League One, we know that we can more than hold your own in this division.”

It will have been encouraging for Ogogo to hold his own against Premier League players after failing to break into the Arsenal team as a young player. He was a part of the Gunners’ academy and, although he didn’t feature for the first-team, he did make the bench on a couple of occasions.

“It was great. Arsenal are one of the biggest clubs in the world and at the time, they had world class players such as Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie etc. They play football the right way and like to pass, which is how most people think football should be played.

“It is how I like playing as well, so to be brought up in their facilities, playing with those players and being coached by Arsene Wenger, Steve Bould etc, it was an unbelievable experience.

He spent five years at the Premier League club and his best experience during that spell was an impressive showing during the club’s 2006-7 FA Youth Cup run. The Gunners were seconds away from reaching the final and his performances were rewarded with a first professional contract to continue his development in North London.

Ogogo looks back at that time with great fondness, but he feels young players should now look to play senior football as quickly as possible, rather than playing in the academy set-up.

“For me personally, you should go out and play mens football. Academy football is about development. Of course you want to develop, you never stop developing, but you want to play matches that mean something with points on the line.

“To get out at a young age and play mens football will only be good for your career. I would encourage any young player to get out on loan as early as they can and to play as many games as they can.”

Despite not featuring for the Arsenal first-team, it allowed Ogogo to get his foot in the door of professional football. Towards the end of his time at the Emirates Stadium, he went out on loan to Barnet and performed well in League Two. A

permanent move away from the Gunners shortly followed as he joined Dagenham & Redbridge and he became a central figure at the club for six years before finally ending up at Shrewsbury.

When asked about his future aspirations, the midfielder spoke of his desire to develop further and earn an opportunity at a higher level.

“I want to keep developing as a player, whether that is with Shrewsbury or somewhere else. I’m like every other footballer you speak to, they’ll say they want to play at the highest level, which is the Premier League.

“I’m 28 now and I have a good chance of getting promoted with Shrewsbury to the Championship. I don’t like looking too far ahead. I want to train hard every day and play as well as I can in matches and try to contribute to the team. The rest will take care of itself, but I want to play as high as I can.”

As clear from his comments, Ogogo doesn’t get too ahead of himself and there will be no player in the Shrewsbury dressing room that will be thinking about promotion. It will be each player’s aim, but they will be taking nothing for granted.

Paul Hurst will be the first to make that clear to the players as they are competing with bigger clubs. However, Yeovil Town and Burton Albion have shown that it is possible to win promotion to the Championship as a smaller outfit too. If the Shrews continue to perform with the hunger and consistency that they have shown all season, they will take some beating.

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Ollie Banks – A fresh start in the Football League at Swindon Town

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Swindon Town manager David Flitcroft described on-loan midfielder Ollie Banks as a “top, top, top player” after his first appearance for the County Ground outfit.

Officially announced as a Town player the Friday morning before the Robins’ Saturday League Two fixture, Banks went on to play a starring role in his new side’s 1-0 victory over local rivals Forest Green, following which he collected the afternoon’s Man of the Match accolade.

The 25-year-old midfielder, who joined the club on a temporary basis from League One side Oldham, had found first-team chances hard to come by with his parent club and spent a short spell on loan at Tranmere Rovers, where he impressed for the National League outfit.

Speaking to The Boot Room, in an exclusive interview, he explained the rationale behind his move to Swindon and the role manager David Flitcroft had to play.

“I finished my loan at Tranmere and they offered me a deal to stay. I really enjoyed my time there. It is a brilliant club. But I wanted to get back into the Football League. I told Micky Mellon that I needed to give myself the best chance I could and I didn’t want to jump into any decision.

I waited for a few days after speaking to Micky, then Dave Flitcroft at Swindon rang me. He said he wanted me to come down and express myself and get the club where it needs to be. From there it was quite an easy decision to move down South.”

After a mixed start to the campaign for Swindon, who occupy eighth position in League Two at the time of writing, the January transfer window was always set to be a period of reinforcement for the club. New signings were required to strengthen the starting XI and enforce a sense of consistency, particularly to rectify a miserable home record of four wins in 13 league matches (prior to the new year).

Flitcroft’s background in scouting and recruitment has been a regular feature since he took the County Ground hot seat. His quest to bring the required quality of player, while ensuring the right characters and mix of temperaments remain at the club, has seen him turn to trusted peers, both in his playing and back room staff.

For the former Bury manager, recruitment is the key to success. Every deal has to be deemed the correct move for the club and this was no different in the case of Banks. Long-term and thoughtfully considered interest in the 25-year-old resulted in an offer being made for his services, as he revealed:

“Flitcroft said he has always kept track of me and tried to sign me a few times before. It is always important to have a manager who believes in you and likes you as a player. To have the backing of the manager is a huge plus. It allows you to go out with confidence and put good performances in.” 

Banks’ move to Swindon has represented new challenges to the 25-year-old, not least the prospect of living away from what he considers ‘home’.

Having always plied his trade in the north of England, most recently with FC United of Manchester, Chesterfield, Northampton Town, Oldham and Tranmere, this is the first time he has featured for a club in the southern counties.

“The move has been different, to be honest. I have never really had to live away from home, so it has been a bit strange, but I’ve enjoyed it. The lads and the gaffer have been really welcoming.

Banks made little of his role in debut victory over Forest Green Rovers. Nonetheless, his references to the competitive nature of the play-off race make both his and Swindon’s objectives for the end of the season glaringly obvious:

“It felt good to get Man of the Match, but there were a few good performers on our team and just to get three points in a local derby was a big thing. With it being so tight at the top of the league three points was the main aim, but to settle in so quickly is always a bonus.”

The central midfielder already has one League Two promotion on his CV, having won the title with Chesterfield in the 2013-14 season. Like all those associated with Swindon, he will be hoping to add another before the end of the current campaign.

Keen to be a figurehead throughout the club’s promotion charge, Banks followed up his debut heroics with Swindon’s only goal in Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to Coventry. Having fallen 2-0 behind after just 22 minutes, the 25-year-old slid onto the end of a low cross into the six-yard box to pull one back for the Robins.

This strike was to no avail, as Coventry proceeded to score a third late into the second half, but it was perhaps a sign of things to come from the Oldham loanee. Not typically know for his escapades in the final third, he is hoping to add goals to his game at the County Ground.

“I prefer playing slightly further forward, as it means you do have chances to get on the scoresheet. I’ve been playing a bit deeper throughout the last few years and I’ve found goals quite hard to come by, but hopefully playing a more advanced role under Flitcroft could lead to a few more goals.”

Bringing a creative spark and eye for a pass in the middle of the park, Banks’ has shown his ability to take up decent positions around the box too. Since his arrival, he has stood out in a Swindon midfield lacking a real presence, helping his side to two wins in three appearances – including a remarkable 4-3 comeback victory over Crewe Alexandra on Saturday afternoon.

The 25-year-old scored once in eight appearances during his time at Tranmere, impressing for the Merseyside outfit. The club, who currently occupying 5th place in the National League, had managed just three victories in eight matches leading up to his arrival, compared to the five matches won with the 25-year-old in the squad. Nonetheless, he underplayed his influence.

“A few weeks before I joined a few of the boys were saying that they weren’t taking their chances. I would be very naive to believe it was all my doing, the way lucked change, but I think the team just started taking chances were they previously hadn’t. That was the main factor.”

Rovers had been crying out for a player willing to take an unselfish role in the centre of the park and Banks provided this. Despite the short term nature of his move, he was able to strike a positive partnership with fellow midfielder Ollie Norburn, for whom he was full of praise.

“I would actually say that he [Norburn] is one of the best midfielders that I have played with for a while. He likes to get about and leave the middle of the pitch more that many midfielders do, so it became my job to hold a deeper role in midfield and work from there. “

Banks knows too well the trials and tribulations of the Football League and the volatility that comes with playing in the lower divisions. From being a regular starter at Oldham, under manager John Sheridan, to being a fringe player following Richie Wellens’ arrival, he found himself low in self-belief and in need of a fresh start.

Having made 33 League One appearances for the Latics in 2016/17, the 25-year-old had been limited to just seven first team appearances in the same competition this year. Ultimately, the November move to Tranmere made sense for all parties:

“Confidence was a major thing, especially personally. The spirit that we had from the backend of the season before didn’t seem to be there. You can go into all sorts of details as to why things didn’t work, but ultimately we just weren’t getting the results that we had before.”

“Richie Wellens came in and he didn’t fancy me as a player, so you just move on and hope that it works out elsewhere.”

With a year remaining on his contract at Oldham it seems unlikely that Banks will extend his current deal at Boundary Park. When questioned on the chances of signing a new contract with the Latics, he was answered, “I highly doubt that I will be extending, to be honest.” 

Instead, he will use the remainder of his time at the County Ground to prove his worth of a move elsewhere and, having made a positive impression just a few weeks into his spell at the club, interest from the Football League is likely to be high.

David Flitcroft is a man with an edge when it comes to scouting and recruitment. To be praised so highly by the Swindon head coach, after just two days at the club, is good indication of what is to come for the humble, but highly talented midfielder.

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