The January transfer window is a period that can make or break the seasons of nearly all of the teams in the top four English divisions. For Swindon Town though, the 2016 January window has the potential to have a huge impact on the club’s immediate future too.
New manager Luke Williams only officially took on his new role on the 21st of January, but having been the first team coach at the club for the past two years, he is in a strong position to make the necessary decisions about reinforcing his squad.
Fate has not been kind to Williams, with five players leaving his first team squad in the first week of January, and not just any players either. Ben Gladwin, Louis Thompson and Adam El Abd were all key members of the starting eleven who have since returned to their parent clubs. Also on the way out were Wes Thomas; returning to Birmingham City following a frustrating time in Swindon, and Henrik Ojamaa, who had his contract terminated, paving the way for a move to Austria’s Wacker Innsbruck. Worse news is that the return of Gladwin and El Abd to the County Ground is now impossible, with Gladwin having joined Swindon’s rivals Bristol City on loan, and El Abd making it clear that he would not be returning. Williams must now hope that the slim chance of Thompson returning for the remainder of the season can be secured. However, much depends on whether the powers that be at Norwich would rather see their young midfielder tested in the Championship rather than League One.
Swindon have also seen youngsters Will Randall, Jayden Bogel and Jayden Mitchell-Lawson depart for Wolves and Derby County respectively. Whilst this is unlikely to directly damage Swindon’s ambitions for the remainder of the season, it is disappointing to see a club that cannot afford to strengthen their squad externally also lose potential future first-team members.
Amidst the outgoings at the County Ground, there have been very few players coming in. At time of writing, Swindon’s only signing has been Michael Doughty on a month-long loan from QPR. While Doughty has decent experience of lower league football, and has even made a handful of appearances in QPR’s underwhelming Championship season so far, his signing will hardly ‘blow the socks off’ Swindon’s fans. Moreover, yet another short-term loan signing highlights the grim reality that Swindon find themselves in.
The reality is that in recent years, the club has been forced to reduce its wage bill significantly in order to live within its means. A significant tightening of the belt by the club after the free spending of the Paolo Di Canio/Andrew Black era means that the club has increasingly been seeking to secure young players on loans, as well as scouring the transfer market for young and unproven talent whilst at the same time selling on more established and experienced members of the squad. This has meant a high level of turnover at the club during each transfer window, which this year has played a part in Swindon’s decidedly mixed start to season.
Tied to this is the question mark over who is bringing in players at Swindon. It remains to be seen how much influence Williams will have over any additions that make it into the County Ground this January, as in the past a lot of work has been put in by Chairman Lee Power into acquiring signings by using his large list of contacts within the game.
Whilst this wider strategy worked wonders in the 2014/15 season; seeing Swindon go all the way to an unlikely play-off final, it cannot always provide miraculously entertaining and upwardly mobile teams, nor does it offer stability. Indeed, after a quiet summer, a flurry of activity just as the transfer window shut in September left the team with more loanees at the club that could be included in the match-day squad. This poor planning meant that the club could not field all of its loan players in the match-day squad.
This over-reliance on loan players has left Swindon short of players and experience in key positions. The current Swindon squad, shorn of its best loan players, needs bolstering in key areas in order to plug the gaps created by the departure of individuals such as Gladwin, Thompson and El Abd.