Hall of Shame #12: Colin Todd’s transfer strategy
The STFC Hall of Shame is back following a short break. For our twelfth entry, Nick Judd inducts former Swindon Town manager Colin Todd for his woeful transfer strategy back in the summer of 2000.
August 12, 2000 and Swindon are playing West Ham United in the last pre-season friendly before the start of the 2000/01 season. The Robins are playing well, which is remarkable considering the turgid football that resulted in the club’s relegation the previous season and the subsequent turnaround in playing staff during the summer.
Former Bolton Wanderers manager and new Town gaffer Colin Todd has signed eight new faces so far. Striker Gary Alexander, who’s listed in the visitor’s squad on the back of the matchday programme, becomes the ninth days later for a fee of £300,000 in a move that suggests Town’s financial problems might be easing.
Among the batch of new arrivals is Juan Cobian, a tanned Argentine with a showbiz smile. Dutchman Antoine van der Linden boasts the kind of centre-parting most of us sported in our playground years while Danny Invincibile is a laid-back Australian who doesn’t seem like he’ll be much cop away at Bury on a Tuesday night in December.
This is the Todd revolution, a bit like Paolo di Canio’s but without the help of YouTube. Kim Heiselberg? Never heard of him and neither has Alta Vista (this was LBG – life before Google). Cobian? No idea, but he says he’s played for Boca Juniors. Must be half decent!
Bart Griemink, another permanent signing – joining from Peterborough United following a two-month loan spell the previous season – is keeping the Hammers at bay with a series of spectacular saves. Invincibile looks bright on the right, although he’s not getting much change out of Nigel Winterburn. David Duke is impressing on the left. In the middle is Bobby Howe, who’s swiftly scathed down by Hammers schemer Di Canio. Dirty b*****d!
Just as Town are beginning to threaten after having soaked up pressure from their Premiership opponents, Di Canio gives the visitors the lead with a smart turn and neat drive.
Despite going a goal behind, Swindon continue to impress. Before and after the final whistle there’s the faint whiff of optimism in the air (not to mention a lingering smell of cigar smoke that later becomes synonymous with then assistant manager, later manager, Andy King). Todd looks confident from the touchline, the playing surface looks immaculate – more bowling green than football pitch (areas of the stadium have had a lick of paint, too) – while the Xara kit is shinier than a Panini foily sticker.
Plenty of reasons to be cheerful ahead of the curtain-raiser a week later against Colchester United, then.
In his programme notes ahead of the U’s visit, Todd admits: “there are going to be periods of games when things are not going well.” Sadly, little did he know they’d last the entire 90 minutes. Colchester winger Lomana Lua-Lua plays like Pele, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi rolled into one. Swindon look like a team of strangers. More worryingly, some of Todd’s signings don’t look up to the task. The game finishes 0-0 and the performance is enough to put off a large number of supporters from returning for the second home game of the season, against Walsall two weeks later (the gate is 1,804 less).
Having lost to Reading on the road a week earlier, Swindon start poorly again. The Saddlers take the lead and although Invincibile registers his first goal in Swindon colours Town concede another before “the floodgates open”, the back line boasting more holes than a colander. Heiselberg is substituted after just 46 minutes and never plays in the league again. The game finishes 1-4, Town finish the day in 23rd place and the only silver lining is that Oxford are 24th.
Port Vale then tonk us 3-0 and while pride is momentarily restored with wins against Bristol City and Oxford, a 3-0 reverse at Bournemouth has the alarm bells ringing. Then, following a 1-3 home defeat against Bristol Rovers in which the visitors enjoy the freedom of the County Ground pitch and race to a three-goal lead inside 36 hellish minutes, Todd leaves after just 12 games and 10 goals scored.
Todd’s signings weren’t all bad, of course. Invincibile and Duke played their part in better times while O’Halloran showed glimpses of consistency before breaking his leg the following pre-season. As for the rest…
Griemink, although brilliant sporadically wasn’t consistent. Matty Hewlett never reached his potential while Van der Linden was a big let down, not helped by being played out of position on occasion. Cobian, now an agent for Boca Juniors, played just three games. Youngster Alexander – who has since gone on to carve out a good career in the lower leagues – was considered an expensive flop and alongside Martin Williams, the duo failed to fire. Loan signing Marko Tuomela, a Finnish international who had partnered Samy Hyppia, won less headers than our diminutive striker Alan Young.
“I say to everyone, it doesn’t matter if you’re Sir Alex Ferguson or the manager of the team at the bottom of League Two, football is all about recruitment,” says Andy King.
Sadly, Todd’s recruitment didn’t work. King was probably involved in some of those signings and while his managerial reigns polarised opinion he later had more success in the transfer market. For every Adrian Bakalli there was an Ian Woan and King at least managed to assemble a side that flirted with a return to the Championship. “That team that got to the play-offs was made up of free transfers mainly, so it just goes to show that some players work out for you, others don’t,” he says. “It’s great when it happens…”
Town did just enough to avoid the drop. Invincibile scored a shin-roller on the volley against Peterborough on the penultimate day of the season while Bristol Rovers’ woeful form – six defeats in their last nine games – proved pivotal.
It was a forgettable episode in Town’s recent history. Darker financial days and other terrible signings followed, of course, but at least Town learned that signing players en masse in the closed season – and from around Europe – doesn’t work. Oh wait…
Colin Todd… your transfer strategy was so poor it deserves it’s own place in the STFC Hall of Shame.