Leon Britton: A Swansea Giant
Before Swansea City's 2-2 draw against Reading, the club marked the achievement of midfielder Leon Britton in reaching the 400-game mark for the Swans. It would be a surprise if any thought, back when the diminutive midfielder arrived on loan from West Ham in December 2002, that he would go on to make such an impression at the club, but that he has is a testament to both his talent and mental fortitude to overcome so many doubters.
October 16th, 2012
Despite an impressive loan spell in South Wales, in which he was named PFA Fans’ Player of the Year in Division Three, Britton had not done enough to convince those at West Ham and he was released in the summer of 2003. It was a natural move to return to Swansea on a permanent deal and from that point forward, for both Britton and the club, their rise began.
Between 2003 and 2011 they achieved three promotions together, rising from the foot of the Football League and clinching promotion to the Premier League. Though signed by Bryan Flynn, he soon left the club and Britton played on, impressing as ever under Kenny Jackett, Roberto Martínez and Paulo Sousa before Brendan Rodgers arrived in 2010 to complete their ascent up the league ladder.
Britton’s spell at Swansea was only broken for six months when, in the same summer that Rodgers joined the club, the London-born midfielder left for pastures new. Having been denied the chance of a move to Wigan earlier in the 2009-10 season, Britton rejected a new contract and moved to Sheffield United. He soon began to regret the move though, and after six months, four managers and just 26 appearances, he returned to the Liberty Stadium.
Partnered with Joe Allen in the centre of the Swans’ midfield, Britton slotted straight back in and helped the charge for the play-offs. He was at the heart of the possession-based style that had evolved from Martínez onwards and which had brought such success. Many predicted that success would end once they reached the harsh realities of the Premier League, but not only did they survive, they flourished, with Britton highlighted for his incredible retention of the ball, at one point having a higher pass completion rate than Barcelona’s Xavi.
There are more and more examples of players rising through the leagues to the top of the English game. The likes of Jimmy Bullard, Grant Holt and Rickie Lambert show that there is plenty of talent all the way down the ladder of the English game, but few if any have impressed as much as Britton.
At just 5’5” tall and weighing barely as much as a pencil, he also goes a long way to dispel the myth that only the powerful can play in the centre of the park and that skill must be pushed to the wide areas. At just 30 years of age, there could well be another 100-odd games left in a man who has recently professed his desire to end his career at Swansea, and whatever lies in store in those games, there can be no doubt that this former Arsenal trainee will go down in history as one of Swansea’s true greats.