Luke Williams: The Hip Klopp or Beardielsa
As Swindon’s stand-in manager transforms into the new head coach, Lee Power and Alex Cooke get bit over-excited about Town’s hipster in a hat
So Swindon Town’s new manager is Luke Williams; the temporary boss becomes the permanent boss, except on a five-year deal. Aside from the length of his contract, that is news as predictable as it is welcome, because I’m a fan of Luke Williams.
It isn’t because I’m some sort of trend following-football fan. I mean, full disclosure, I have read Inverting the Pyramid but I’ve never been to Dortmund, Kiev or watched a Jorge Sampaoli side (outside of a World Cup). I’m more hip operation than hipster, but I do like way Williams wants his team to play football, and the way he talks about it.
His team, the team we are seeing emerging now, is an exciting one. It is an adaptable one. It is an evolving one. In the past, when Williams was shackled to Mark Cooper, we saw a side which moved the ball quickly but itself could move quite slowly. Under Martin Ling, we saw a team split between its forwards and a mass, deep, defence, built to counter-attack because it was weak at the back.
Now we are seeing a team taking bits from both; adding counter-attacking and more hard running to a possession-lead game but being dominated by neither. We are seeing endlessly innovative corner routines, often trusting in players who I would worry about their ability, being highly successful.We are seeing a style changing to fit its players.
Obviously this is pretty gushy stuff, and probably the kind of thing that some of you would call a man-crush. I don’t, like I said, I get my cereal from a supermarket not a cafe. But it is reflected what so many of his former player say about him. Striker Nicky Ajose called him “the best coach I have worked with”, while defender Darren Ward’s “Luke is an exceptional figure in my football career” almost matches my own hyperbole. But they are not alone. Lee Power has joined the adulation, using a lengthy statement to say “He is a fantastic coach – the best I’ve come across in 25 years of football.” Further on Power even did Williams the courtesy of clarifying the recruitment and management structures which sits around him – something he seem loathed to do for Cooper.
However, Power’s comment comes with a caveat – he said coach. As we all know there is a difference between a coach and a manager (or head coach) and so far Williams does seem to be making the step up. Since he took over his side has improved vastly, winning six of their ten games. Their underlying numbers reflects this too. Williams’ team have had 36 per cent of all the shots Town have had this season, but doing so from just 27 per cent of games. The means Town are having, on average, taking third more shots in each game since Williams took over. No wonder they are scoring more. They are also facing fewer shots – down on average from 11.6 to almost 10.1 per game. No wonder they are shipping fewer.
One other number is important here and that is the five-year deal. Remember the last man to have one of those at Swindon Town? Yes, it was Steve McMahon. Obviously McMahon couldn’t be much further from Williams, could he? McMahon was a league-winning legend, a proper-footballing hard man. He had vast experience as a pro and as a dominating captain but little as a coach, manager or teacher. By contrast Williams was released by Bristol Rovers without playing a league game, hospitalised by a career-ending injury and began coaching troubled kids for the Met Police.
While McMahon frequently came across as an aggressive, twitchy interviewee, Williams is anything but. His style is measured, his tone thoughtful, his nature collective.He always praises, he always supports ‘the group’, he never talks himself up. Although he’s taking a while to take to the role…
But where the pair are similar in how McMahon relied on his home ground of Merseyside for players and ideas. For Williams has also looked back to his past, working again with Martin Ling and Ross Embleton, just as he did at Leyton Orient and recruiting the likes of Raffa Branco and Yaser Kasim from his old squad at Brighton.
Clearly, Williams is now making a significant step, from subordinate to leader, selector, scapegoat and lighting rod. However, he is fortunate to have a chairman who has already called him “an integral part of our project at Swindon Town” and backed him with the kind of contract that will make him costly for another club to steal, and harder for Williams to walk away from.
He will also have the benefit few Swindon bosses have enjoyed, a new, proper, training ground. It will allow him oversight of every part of the club, and allow every player to see how Williams, in the words of his former striker Andy Williams “un-complicates everything”. It could be hugely significant in the development of Williams as a manager Town as a club and of the players coming through now.
Williams’ biggest hurdle is that now he will be subject to the whimsy of fans and of scoreboard journalism. From today onwards the tyranny of three points will dominate his thoughts as much as play rounds and platforms‘ once did.
He will be looked at by fans and chairmen from every club, judged, rated and, when things go wrong as they will, derided. Now, he will have to endure the unrealistic exceptions of the oh-so demanding Town fans, much like this one.
Is Luke Williams the man for the job or just an over-promoted coach? Should he have a more experienced man alongside him or be left alone to continue his promising start? Add your comment below.