The former Scotland international Russell Martin has left MK Dons to take over the manager’s job at Swansea City, one week before the start of the Championship season.
The 35-year-old has signed a three-year deal as head coach at the Liberty Stadium, ending the long search for a successor to Steve Cooper. He formally left the club on July 21 having signalled two weeks earlier that he would not go into a third season. Martin comes with a reputation for possession-based football and a modern, progressive style that Swansea’s owners have bought into enthusiastically.
Martin will bring with him three key staff members: assistant Luke Williams; player development coach Matthew Gill and goalkeeper coach Dean Thornton. Martin took charge of his final game for MK Dons, a defeat in the League Cup against Bournemouth on Saturday night. Swansea and MK Dons have spent the last two days discussing the compensation payment for Martin who had one year remaining on his pre-existing deal.
MK Dons sporting director Liam Sweeting said the club were ‘frustrated and disappointed’ with the outcome. “I think people would say inside and outside of MK Dons that we have had a successful transfer window so far,” Sweeting said. “I’m sure anyone coming in – player, staff or manager – would agree it’s a good group. So we have to get the right person to take us forward.”
Martin took over MK Dons in November 2019 having finished his playing career at the club, securing safety with a 19th place finish in his first season and 13th in the most recent campaign. It was more the eye-catching football that has gained attention – last season his team scored a goal at the end of a 56-pass move and their average possession share was comparable with some of the biggest clubs in Europe.
Under Cooper, Swansea twice made the play-offs. They lost to Brentford in May in the final at Wembley with a team that was fortified by loan signings who came to play for Cooper, the coach of the World Cup winning England Under-17s in 2017. The like of Marc Guehi and Freddie Woodman have now left the club – and the contract of veteran striker Andre Ayew has expired. With Premier League parachute payments having also run out following Swansea’s relegation in 2018, the club will need to invest to stay competitive.
Swansea’s majority shareholders, the Americans Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien, face a disenchanted fanbase who have seen other Championship sides develop more rapidly with the benefit of greater investment. The appointment of Martin represents, on their part, a commitment to Swansea tradition of passing football that was developed under Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers and culminated in the club’s promotion to the Premier League ten years ago. The job was previously offered to Queens Park Rangers assistant John Eustace, and Jody Morris, formerly an assistant at Chelsea, was also a strong contender.
Alan Tate, Swansea caretaker manager since Cooper’s departure, will remain part of the first team coaching staff.
For MK Dons, the timing of Martin’s departure is far from ideal. The League One season begins in one week’s time and the club have secured the high-profile loan signing of Tottenham Hotspur’s promising young Irish striker Troy Parrott.