Should MacDonald Change the ‘Winning Formula’ at Swindon?

Since Kevin MacDonald arrived at Swindon Town he has continually faced questions at his right to change the ‘winning formula’. Ron Smith asks whether we should expect an incoming manager to put his own footballing principles to one side.

The former very successful Aston Villa coach and caretaker manager has only been at the helm for three matches – with a record of one win, draw and defeat – however, in this short time the discontent has grown at a frustration that previously successful methods have been dismissed. The various message boards and BBC Wiltshire’s post match ‘soapbox’ have been flooded with a fear that an otherwise realistic opportunity for promotion will have been missed.

On the one hand it’s entirely right for supporters to want the level of pressure and performances to be maintained, particularly when there’s promotion at stake with nine matches remaining. On the other hand, it’s equally obvious that any new manager will arrive to input their own ideas and, importantly, work within the established structure of their new club.

One issue for MacDonald retaining any ‘winning formula’ is that his predecessor Paolo Di Canio was never interested in leaving a legacy; therefore continuity is a difficult one for the Scot to implement The Italian frequently emphasised ‘his players were nothing without him’ and his follow me or else methodology that was geared to deliver success, which it did, was entirely built around the self important manager, close-knit backroom staff and personal guru / agent Phil Spencer who are long-gone leaving little remanence to build around.

Kevin MacDonald

During his 20 months at the County Ground, Di Canio could have used Swindon as a platform to implement his vision on player development from the youngest ages in the Centre of Excellence and Youth Team, but he didn’t. This was a missed opportunity for the rebuilding of the club from the foundations up, delivering young players full of discipline, passion, work ethic and professionalism through the establishment of a framework under which subsequent managers would be hired and continued to implement as a club strategy; a real and long-lasting legacy.

With the departure of the entire managerial team, the boardroom changes have further relaxed the framework, providing MacDonald with a blank canvas on which he has the opportunity to go and prove himself as a No.1. The early signs are promising with MacDonald going further than Di Canio and looking to better integrate the youth team and involving Paul Bodin and his staff at an early stage.

On the pitch, the contrasting approaches have been there for all to see. This has also been partly forced with the sale of Matt Ritchie and the adaption of the existing squad to fill a role owing to over a month of transfer embargo. It is in this area where the effects are more visible with a points per game rate 0.44 lower than the Italian. However, just because changes have been needed, new ideas have been implemented and two leading positions have been surrendered, do we have reason to demand MacDonald forget all he’s achieved and believes in offering supporters a carbon copy of Di Canio? Clearly not.

Each manager is an individual and brings their own system, philosophy and they ultimately practice what they preach. To demand MacDonald stand up for playing an identical tactical approach or selection to Paolo just doesn’t make sense. Of course you must stick to what you believe in, also there’s only one Paolo Di Canio, as we were constantly reminded by the man himself. Furthermore this view also assumes Di Canio’s own approach was flawless, which it wasn’t – particularly given MacDonald’s debut at Coventry secured our first victory after conceding the first goal in League One this season.

The obvious rare exceptions to the framework into which new managers arrive are clubs such as Ajax and Barcelona. These have developed on clear ethics defined by continuity of playing style and maintained by disciples – both under the influence of Johan Cruyff. The key to such approaches is time. It took around 9 years from the inception of La Masia for Barcelona to reap the rewards through graduate midfielder Guillermo Amor – note Man City fans.

Looking back at Swindon Town’s past it is apparent that the contrasting approaches utilised by Lou Macari, Ossie Ardilles and Glenn Hoddle didn’t prevent meaningful progress over a period of great success culminating in promotion from the basement of the Football League to the Premier League. Each manager stamped their own ideas and mentality on the team, with many squad members playing for all three managers and quickly adapting to the tactical and other changes.

As for those few saying “it will be your [MacDonald’s] fault, and I will blame you for it” should Swindon not secure promotion because of a change in system, promotion was far from a certainty under Di Canio. In the end, if you feel there’s only one man for the job, there’s only one man to blame, he’s Italian, his name is Paolo and did exactly what he wanted. He resigned and took his winning formula with him.


  • There is a solution. But people aren’t going to like it. It allows continuity of player development, formation, player recruitment and system – a director of football!

    What do you think? Would Town fans tolerate a DofF above the manager?
    Who would you have?
    Can such a model work in lower league football or must the manager run everything?


  • I doubt that MacDonald could continue to play ‘the Di Canio’ way even if he wanted as really what worked for PDC through autumn and winter involved having Matt Ritchie, Chris Martin and Danny Hollands. Hollands and Ritchie were hugely significant in giving the midfield both drive and bite, pulling it up and back with power and energy. Martin actually offered coordinated movement, something that Collins really doesn’t. What MacDonald has at his disposal just isn’t the same.

    Anyway, he has to do what he believes is right. Imagine if he copied PDC and it didn’t work – he’d be in a very weak position as this is his first managerial job and failure could easily make this his last. He’d be psychologically weakened too as he still be effectively a number two – but to PDC. He’s waited a long time for the top job, he can’t do it half-hearted now.

    Anyway, those fans will always slate him because of who he followed, regardless of what he does, or the circumstances.


  • The first game without Di Canio they tried to play the ‘Di Canio way’ and lost to Bury. Why fill the role at all if the fans just want the players to continue without leadership?


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  • Pingback: We Need to Talk About Kevin MacDonald… – The Washbag

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