Does the lack of a reserve team and regular reserve fixtures at Swindon Town have a detrimental effect on some of the fringe and youth players, making it difficult to ‘take that next step’ and also prevents players of being up to speed when called into the first team?
Following the appointment of Di Canio just over a year ago, Swindon Town announced they would not be entering a side in the Football Combination Southern Section, which is a reserves competition run by the Football League.
Town’s decision followed many other clubs in recent years in opting out of plying their reserves in a formal competition format, leaving only AFC Bournemouth, Brighton, Cheltenham Town, Crawley Town, Forest Green Rovers and Torquay United to fight it out over ten games for the 2011/12 title; which was won by Forest Green Rovers.
This wasn’t the only withdrawal from formal reserve team competition as Town later withdrew from the Wiltshire Premier Shield in 2011/12 in January – a shame as far as I’m concerned as Swindon’s entry is ultimately for the financial benefit of our local non-league sides.
The club were silent at the time for the exact reasons for declining to enter a team and play competitive reserve football. It was expected that the reduced number of teams taking part, increased amounts of youth players, financial constraints and general quality of the competition were frequently banded as reasons why Town and others declined to enter a team.
Instead, if you hadn’t been selected for the first team, a youngster needing vital experience, were recovering from an injury or Medhi Kerrouche, a long spell on the sidelines awaited with infrequent friendlies arranged to secure some match fitness.
There are few records on action for the fringe players in 2011/12, but when the ‘reserves’ did play, young Swindon sides were typically supplemented by a token professional or two, when more were undoubtably available; with Town suffering defeats in all matches that I could find.
A 4-0 defeat at Portsmouth included a rare outing for Ibrahim Atiku amongst a young side. A 4-1 defeat at Bristol City had only Nathan Thompson, Lander Gabilondo and Mile Storey with first team experience. A 2-0 defeat at Newport County included Esajas and Atiku. A 5-0 defeat at Cardiff City included no recognised first teamer. The only match were any sort of strong side were selected included Magera, Comazzi, Storey, Atiku, Risser, N Thompson and Esajas, however a 2-0 defeat was dispatched on Town by Bristol City.
The decline of reserves level football in general has been in the offing for some time. The days of several thousand turning up to the County Ground on a Wednesday to watch strong sides for the hosts and travellers are long gone. The burgeoning football loan system signalled the end with clubs more willing to ship out their brightest prospects and ‘dross’ to any willing taker as they could play in the Football League or Conference levels; gaining a perceived better experience.
As far as Town were concerned in 2011/12, there’s no doubt that entering into the formal reserve competition structure, even as small as it became, would’ve benefitted Di Canio; whose decisions to tinker with the line-up and rotate, particularly in the early season, were as a result of him finding the right mix for his side.
The Italian was allowed to build a hefty squad of 48 first team players – including loans – over the course of the season. Of course only 16 could be selected each matchday, with two keeping their jackets on. While all 48 were not at the club at once – we estimate the maximum squad at any time was around 30 players – more than half of your team are desperate for action.
The players who were out of the first team and cast aside as the season progressed – Mattia Lanzano, Alberto Comazzi, Etienne Esajas, Lander Gabilondo, Phil Smith, Jordan Pavett, Nathan Thompson, Ibrahim Atiku, Lee Cox, Mark Scott, Matt Clark, Leon Clarke, Abdul Said, Lukas Magera and Medhi Kerrouche - watched on, helpless, in no-mans-land, waiting for their chance which they knew would never arrive. Anyone who watched poor Phil Smith trundle off to every match and be denied a place on the bench could see the disappointment of yet another missed game.
The problem was many of these were Di Canio’s own signings. He’s admitted several were signed without robust due diligence, hastily brought in over the summer as agents foisted several hundred highly edited DVDs before his eyes. In a new country and struggling to adapt, endless training and friendlies doesn’t provide enough focus and motivation; surely reserve team action could’ve helped…
Then there are the cases of the first team failures. How was Lanzano ever going to gain some sort of confidence between the posts if he doesn’t play?
I appreciate there are few within that list which I would have welcomed into the XI, however the onus is upon the club to provide the competitive football environment for their staff to thrive and prove themselves, otherwise the players just don’t stand a chance.
In the end the issue of uncompetitive reserve team action isn’t just a problem for Swindon, this is an issue the Football League need to address.
Looking forward with no news of a reserve team returning in 2012/13, recently transfer listed Alan Connell, Jonathan Smith and Lee Cox had better take note of their peers’ experiences during 2011/12. There’s one thing we’ve learned in the space of a year, under Di Canio you will be frozen out. So find yourself a new club in double quick time or hold on for a loan, as there’s no way back, no useful reserves action and no football.
Thanks to Paul Charlwood for providing the question.