RR: Hi Mark! Thanks for giving us the lowdown on one of our former youngsters. Joel Asoro won our Young Player of the Year award last season - what did the Swansea fans make of the move in the summer?
MP: Swansea had a difficult summer in the transfer market. Having been relegated from the Premier League they had to shift a lot of their big earners out; however, the fans were hoping that those established players that departed would be replaced. That didn’t really happen with the club only making a handful of signings, mostly being much younger players, with the most expensive being Bersant Celina from Manchester City for £3m.
All this led to a fair amount of bad feeling amongst the supporters towards the club’s American owners, so Asoro’s arrival wasn’t really heralded as a significant signing.
RR: His performances in pre-season were really bright and from the outside looking in, he seemed the star of Swansea’s pre-season. Was he really that good?
MP: I’m not one to get carried away by pre-season. That’s not to say he wasn’t impressive, it’s just for me it is all about fitness and you cannot read too much into results and things like that.
Swansea’s pre-season was disrupted by players leaving and others arriving, so it’s difficult to properly judge anyone.
RR: Swansea have loads of options in the wide positions. McKay, Montero, Dyer and Daniel James are four of nine options in Asoro’s position. Were you surprised he was signed in the first place?
MP: Given Asoro’s age, I would imagine he was signed with the future in mind. Despite Nathan Dyer recently returning to the team it wouldn’t surprise me if he left either in January or in the summer, as he’ll be one of the highest earners left at the club.
There may well be more opportunities for him in the next six to twelve months as Swansea under Graham Potter are still very much a rebuilding work in progress, and the squad will look very different by the start of next season.
RR: He started the season in the team, starting games and providing assists. During an interview in September, he mentioned he was offered more money to go to Spurs; however, he chose Swansea for game time. Did he start the season well?
MP: The team in general started the season well and he was a part of that. He started the first three games as the Swans won two and drew one with the team up towards the top end of the table.
He looked bright and lively in the opening games and it was great to see the bond between all the young players that were given there chance after the struggles of the previous few years in the Premier League.
It’s worth considering at this point though that not only was it Swansea’s first few games of the season, it was also Graham Potter’s first few games as manager who, like any other manager early into his reign, would still be finding his feet at the club and assessing his squad in what is a rebuilding job as I’ve already mentioned.
RR: After that solid opening to the season, Joel hasn’t started for Swansea since a defeat to Bristol City in August. Why is he not playing?
MP: He hasn’t started since the home defeat to Bristol City at the end of August - Ipswich in October was his last appearance. Why is he not playing? Only Graham Potter can categorically answer that one, but in my opinion other players have jumped ahead of him in the pecking order.
Connor Roberts started the season at full back but has been pushed forward into a more attacking role and has really looked the part, whilst Dan James has arguably been the find of the season. He’s really impressed and won his first senior international cap with Wales.
James has looked unplayable at times and impacted games in ways which Asoro hasn’t managed to so far. Asoro’s last match-day involvement was as an unused substitute against Derby on December 1st.
RR: What needs to change for him to get back into the team?
MP: This is still a rebuilding job under Graham Potter and more high earning players are expected to leave in the not too distant future. The squad could look very different by the end of the January transfer window.
Potter also likes to make changes; he hasn’t named an unchanged team all season, so one would imagine Asoro will get more opportunities before the end of the campaign - if he grabs them with both hands then anything could happen.
RR: Do Swans fans still have hope that he’ll come good? Or is he quickly becoming a forgotten man?
MP: I don’t think anyone can be a forgotten man at only 19 years of age.
He’s still very young, has got time on his side and is at a club that will give young players a chance. Midfielders Jay Fulton and Matt Grimes signed for the club in 2014 and 2015 respectively and have only just established themselves in the first team this season.
Asoro will have to wait for his chance, but it’s way too early into Graham Potter’s reign as manager to write anybody off.