Previous January transfer windows – Success or failure at Swindon?
Some managers hate it, supporters worry they’re going to lose their star player, while Sky Sports’ Jim White can’t wait until deadline day. We’re talking about the January transfer window. Ron Smith asks whether a successful January window has equated to a stronger second half of the season at Swindon Town?
The modern transfer windows have caused panic and excitement every year since they were introduced during the 2002/03 season. Previously deadline day came at the end of March, however the same worries and problems as today existed – remember March 1995 and Jan Aage Fjortoft’s sale with Jason Drysdale turning up as his unlikely ‘replacement’?
In the ‘lower leagues’ the effect the the January window is somewhat limited. An overall reliance on loans – that are subject to different and extended windows – and a lack of financial clout ensures, at Swindon Town anyway, that we’ve been more accustomed to looking over our shoulders at where our prized asset will be playing on 1st February.
Nonetheless, a quick look at the previous 11 January transfer windows reveals a microcosm of Swindon’s seasons. Some were quiet, others busy, while a few were frenetic at the County Ground…
Including purchases and loans in each January, the typical flow of players into the County Ground has been an average of 2.7 signings, which isn’t that many. In two seasons – 2002/03 and 2004/05 – there was no activity at all, while in 2005/06 and 2011/12 we signed a record high of six players – albeit in different circumstances as Iffy Onoura desperately tried to avoid relegation and Paolo Di Canio attempted his umptenth rebuilding. Turning to spending, before 2014 Swindon have paid money for players in only three of the previous 11 January windows.
The outward movement of players does broadly reflect the rate of arrivals. The overall balance is evident with 2.7 departures (including sales, loans out and contracts cancelled), however there is a residual in some seasons resulting in the squad being bolstered in January – 2005/06, 2008/09 and 2010/11 seeing more joining than departing. Generating cash from January sales has been difficult for Town, with players being sold in only three of the previous 11 transfer windows.
While the January period generates a near certain movement of players in both directions, to what extent can it make or break a season?
This is a difficult one to actually quantify. The best I’ve come up with is to measure the points gained in each half of the past 11 seasons – defined as August to 31st December and then 1st January onwards. Also, I’ve assessed the improvement in league position between the 31st December and final position in May. Comparing the difference provides some basis upon which to judge whether improvement in form and position can be attributed to successful transfer window activity.
This analysis has shown varying results. Swindon Town were ‘points better off’ in the second half of six seasons, whereas in five Town won less points after December. However, noticeably, there were four instances of a five extra points gained from January onwards, compared to only occurrence of more than five points lost – which was in 2010/11.
Taking 2002/03 first, a 8.3 point gain occurred despite Swindon Town making no signings during the window itself. Outside of the window perhaps the loan signings of Jon Beswetherwick and Junior Lewis in February and March pushed Andy King’s side to gain five league positions..?
The next season and King’s side surprised many by a late surge into the play-offs; where the January loan signings of Sean O’Hanlon and Jerel Ifil (renewed loan) added defensive steel. However, they actually contributed to three fewer clean sheets in the second half of the season.
2005/06 saw Iffy Onoura’s attempt to stave off relegation from September, with or without the ‘help’ of Ron Atkinson. While his six signings didn’t improve upon the December league position, the marginal 3.8 points gain over the first part of the campaign shows that he made some difference to Town’s overall form, albeit marginally. That January witnessed our first player sale for money as 12 goal Rory Fallon departed for £300,000. On Fallon’s departure Town had scored 1.04 goals per game, which slightly decreased to 1 goal per game by May – with his ‘replacements’ Lee Peacock and Trevor Benjamin scoring three between them, providing no added value and points…
2007/08 was Andrew Fitton’s first transfer window and the desire to make an impact is obvious through the squad rebuilding. The signing of Simon Cox made a loan move permanent, a deal that would later benefit the club, however Maurice Malpas’ side slumped to disappoint with a low mid table finish.
2008/09 witnessed one of the greatest improvements as Malpas’ mess was aptly dealt with by Danny Wilson, who dealings in the transfer market were focused and perhaps the best example of signings having a direct impact on an improvement in position. Gordon Greer provided consistent assured performance at the heart of defence, becoming captain, which resulted in Town avoiding relegation after a 7 point improvement in form.
The following year was a surprise to us all. 2009/10’s march to the play-off final was ultimately based on consistency throughout the season. The key signing that year came outside of the transfer window as Charlie Austin arrived from Poole Town, who were at a level not subject to the transfer restrictions. This resulted in a quiet January with Vincent Pericard the only signing and those departing were clearly surplus to requirements.
In 2010/11 Town were 16.5 points worse off in the second half of the campaign. That January window witnessed two ‘key’ players depart from big money, however the strategy to sign inexperienced young player who previously had never tasted a relegation scrap would send us down. While the signings of Aden Flint (loaned back to Alfreton) and Matt Ritchie would prove useful investments over time and quality players in the fourth tier, the strategy demanded of Andrew Fitton to look to the future failed to address the delusion that we were too good to go down.
The 2011/12 13 point swing under Paolo Di Canio was a success both as a consequence of logical January signings and because his methods had taken time to develop. Its true that Paul Benson’s experience at League Two provided crucial goals and Wes Foderingham’s permanent signing was an excellent piece of business, however that season was built around getting the very best from existing squad members – such as Alan McCormack in a defensive position – that took time.
So what about 2012/13? The impact was felt as Paolo Di Canio walked away in mid-February because of Matt Ritchie’s sale and the rest… The stats only show a four point negative impact in points return, however it’s important to state that up to and including the Tranmere game Paolo and his staff contributed an undefeated start to 2013 and a return of 19 points from 27 available. Afterwards, Town secured just four wins from 14 games before scrapping into the play-offs.
In the end, past Town seasons have rarely been determined solely by the success or otherwise of the January transfer window. However, Swindon Town have frequently been stronger in the second halves of campaigns that ultimately led in a challenge for promotion – 03/04, 06/07, 09/10, 11/12 – with the exception of 2012/13 highlighting the impact of losing not only Matt Ritchie, but Paolo Di Canio influence and Andrew Black’s money.
This January has seen Mark Cooper sign three players while retaining crucial squad members, but the real question is whether the arrivals will provide added value to fire Town into the play-offs? An early indication is that Town are significantly weaker from January and likely to finish with a -7 point return compared to August to December. Certainly not promotion form…