Alex Cooke looks at who is in and who is out of Paolo Di Canio’s squad as the January transfer window opens.
This transfer window is going to be significant for Swindon Town. Forget whatever Paolo Di Canio has said about the embargo stopping his shopping, the current Town team is built on loans. The spine of the side has been stiffened with hired muscle and is now heading up the table. Their departure will see the squad significantly weaker – and if Town’s own loanees return, bloated too. So Di Canio has the chance to sign up a few and shift a few this January as he builds his fourth Town team in two years, regardless of whatever Sir William Patey says about the financial situation.
As usual with the Italian, few things are certain – he enjoys flexibility and unpredictability too much to allow for certainty. However, it seems like he will aim to keep what he has – mostly by extending loans. After all he has clearly made an effort to speak positively and publicly about each of his loanees of late – a rarity in itself.
In doing so Di Canio has opened the door, not only because his loanees are known but also because Swindon have spent months getting these players fit and fitting in to Di Canio’s system– so now to look beyond them would meaning starting all over again.
The least surprising, and perhaps, the most important permanent arrival would be Darren Ward – and yet the defender presents the greatest dilemma. For the Millwall centre-back has clearly become a key player, boosting Town’s win ratio from 36 per cent without him to 50 per cent with him. His close marking, excellent positioning and leadership have given the defence much improved shape and discipline. The problem is that Ward is 33 and out of contract in the summer. So finding a shorter-term deal that is attractive to both sides could be problematic. After all the board won’t want to tie Town to a player who despite his diet, must be drawing to the end of his career, and Ward could be looking for the security of a longer deal instead of another half-season loan.
Ward’s arrival should also prevent the need for a replacement for the ineffectual and departed Fede Bessone. While Town seem short on cover at right and left full-back, Di Canio has shown that he is happy to play Alan McCormack and Joe Devera there, despite both looking better in the middle and the lack of width they lend to the attack.
The greatest area of flexibility seems to be in midfield, because John Bostock, Giles Coke and Danny Hollands are all returning home during January. This leaves Di Canio with just Tommy Miller, Alan Navarro, Louis Thompson and Simon Ferry in the middle, and that isn’t much depth for a manager who likes to change his midfield between one that pressurises with pace and vitality, such as against Tranmere, to one which is patient and reactive, such as against Brighton.
The third midfield permutation that Di Canio has tried was in using John Bostock as a deep-lying playmaker. The manager has invested heavily in Bostock, seemingly working with the player on positioning and attitude, asking the question would such an effort be made without some existing agreement that Swindon will re-sign the former Palace midfielder?
The concern shouldn’t be that Tottenham won’t renew – as he is a long way from Villas-Boas’ first team – more than Spurs will look to claw back some of their original investment with a quick cash sale, if one can be found.
If Town can’t keep Bostock, they will need to find a player who can match Bostock’s control and calm – which might be difficult in League One, without offering big wages or a bigger fee – meaning that Di Canio could choose to use that money to add elsewhere and drop his attempt to make the Spurs man shine in his midfield diamond.
If Bostock has added craft, Hollands has add experience and power, and as such should be chased by Swindon as doggedly as he chased Tranmere’s middle two. We already know that Di Canio moved for Hollands in the summer and Charlton manager, Chris Powell hardly ruled out a move when Hollands signed initially, speaking of the loan being of “benefit everyone in the long term”.
Charlton have also moved on too – with a new division and formation, which doesn’t seem to favour Hollands as Swindon’s 442 does. The only question is what did Di Canio mean by the second part of this comment to the Adver?: “I would like to keep him but I know it is hard”.
To balance these arrivals, departures are desirable but most will probably cost Town to see them go. Oliver Risser’s half-season loan at Stevenage is up and with just seven appearances so far, he seems unwanted there too. Similarly Luke Rooney, who managed just two starts when borrowed by Rotherham, is back. At least he could earn himself another loan but he is one year into a two-and-a-half-year deal at Swindon and so could be costly to move on. Another player heading home is midfielder Lee Cox, and unless he wants to become the new Milan Misun, he will need to negotiate a release for his last six months – probably back to Oxford who at least seem keen.
The most obvious departure seems to also come in a package with the strangest arrival – Paul Caddis and Adam Rooney. While it is clear that Caddis is off, the catch seems to be if Birmingham will meet Swindon’s valuation – or as is now likely that non-playing striker Adam Rooney will be part of the deal, as Di Canio hinted in his recent comments.
“I want to keep Rooney, like the contract is, until the end of the season. If they want to buy Caddis then they are two different situations at the moment”, he told the Adver. “If they come back because they don’t have money and ask that we have to negotiate then we will see.” The concern has to be that with Caddis’s deal soon to lapse, Swindon will see little reward for him – especially as any buyer knows there is no way he could return to the County Ground.
Interestingly in the same interview, Di Canio also cited Adam Rooney as the cover for his wide players, rather than solely as a striker. It is notable because while Gary Roberts hasn’t lived up to expectations, Raffa De Vita and Matt Ritchie certainly have. In fact, the pair are leading scorers for Swindon with seven and nine league goals respectively – ahead of all of the loan and permanent strikers.
Again the man brought in to fix this, Chris Martin, has been given lavish praise in the press, and again he has played with promise, but talk of Gary Madine has continued to circulate. That is despite the 22-year-old striker regularly appearing, if not scoring, for Sheffield Wednesday with a mere three goals in 23 appearances. But as we know goals aren’t the only thing to judge a striker on, but Di Canio clearly believes Martin can contribute too.
With his contract at Norwich ending this summer and seemingly little chance of renewal, Martin also needs to play games, and so would most likely be looking again for a temporary move, rather than a permanent one.
It also seems a good fit for Swindon, especially if Paul Benson has, as reported, talked of moving on permanently, then perhaps Di Canio would like both Madine and Martin? It seems possible. As he said: “If we can I would like to bring in a player between January 5 and January 12, and a player that I have in mind since three months ago. We will see.”
It seems unlikely that all of these deals would, and could, come off but clearly Di Canio intends adjust his squad once again, and it might be vital – but it certainly won’t be cheap.