Being Swindon boss has, in recent years, been a very unstable, frustrating and – like many clubs nowadays – short term position. The latest man to hold power over Swindon Town Football Club’s playing staff is Luke Williams, who has enjoyed a decent start to his career as a manager.
Williams’ journey to the Swindon hot-seat was a long one, having initially joined the club in 2013 from Brighton as a first-team coach. His two years in the role saw Swindon play attractive football for their division and culminated in a play-off final appearance in 2014-15. However, with Swindon starting the 2015-16 season poorly, manager Mark Cooper was sacked with the club lying 20th in League One. Rather than appointing Williams as caretaker, chairman Lee Power took the eccentric option of placing himself in charge, leading the side to 23rd place. Whilst new manager Martin Ling initially led Swindon up to 16th place with five wins in his first six games in charge, Ling’s depression took its toll and he resigned after only just over a month in charge. With Lee Power having come to his senses, Williams was handed the manager’s role on a temporary basis, before being handed the job until the end of the season after encouraging results in his first two games in charge. With that, Luke Williams became Swindon’s third permanent manager of the season on the 21st of January 2016.
Williams is a well respected coach, both at Swindon and throughout much of the football community. He was previously the Under-21s and reserve coach at Brighton and Hove Albion and prior to being made manager he was first-team coach and assistant manager at Swindon. There were also rumours making the rounds that football-man Tim Sherwood was considering bringing Williams to Villa Park as his assistant, but luckily for Swindon (and possibly Williams too with hindsight) nothing concrete came of this.
Swindon’s new manager has also been widely praised by fans as being the brains behind the club’s success and style of play, and indeed many fans have voiced the belief that Williams was actually the mastermind behind Swindon’s delightful style of play and the development of many players since his arrival at the club, rather than Mark Cooper or Martin Ling. He was also seen as instrumental in identifying little-known players such as Yaser Kasim and Rafael Rossi Branco and bringing them to the club. Both players have become central to Swindon’s success over recent seasons, and Kasim has developed to such an extent that he was voted Iraq’s player of the year in 2015 and is widely reported to be attracting the eyes of clubs of the calibre of Premier League Swansea City, amongst others.
Despite his pedigree, some fans initially saw his appointment as the ‘cheap option’ for a club that has, after a period of relatively big spending, reverted to type and again finds itself counting every penny it spends. At only 37, Swindon is Williams’ first full managerial role, and whilst it is undoubtedly true that Williams’ appointment is the cheap option, this does not tell the whole story. By backing Williams and the club’s present staff, the continuity at the club’s core was retained, something that is particularly important given that Williams is a popular man amongst the players at the club.
In some vindication for Chairman Power, since Williams took over in January he has very much set Swindon in the right direction, and at time of writing they now sit – almost inconceivably considering their early season form – a mere six points from the play off positions.
Swindon have won six of Williams’ first ten games, losing only two, and have developed into a team that is hard to beat and that doesn’t give up; wins against Southend, Crewe, Blackpool and Peterborough all came after going a goal behind, and clearly Williams has instilled a new resolve and fight into his players. They score a lot of goals; Swindon are amongst the top teams in terms of scoring this season and have scored 20 in the ten games that Williams has overseen. However, they do tend to struggle at the back, and clean sheets have been a rarity for The Robins this season.
With 12 games to go, Swindon have to play a number of teams that currently sit above them in the league, and positive results in those games could see Swindon’s unlikely play-off bid turn into reality. Moreover, the team seem to be playing well, with in-form striker Nicky Ajose scoring goals for fun and the rest of the squad slowly starting to step up to the standards that were seen last season. If Williams can keep up the momentum that his side is building, the play-offs are not an unrealistic option, although given the kind of season Swindon have endured so far, finishing comfortably in mid-table should not be considered a failure.
Given his relative lack of experience, Williams has enjoyed a very successful start to his time as Swindon manager. At the end of the season, Power and Williams will sit down and discuss Williams’ future and a strong finish in the league will do nothing to harm his chances of getting the job on a longer-term basis. Given his track record of developing players, and the style of football he has his team play, this should be positive for the club.
Featured image: All rights reserved by Liam Daniels.