From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.35 :: NO.14 :: Apr. 05, 2012

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FOOTBALL

Making a big impact

Leon Britton, who stands at just 165 centimetres tall, was playing in the bottom tier of English football just seven years ago with the Swans, but he looks very much at home in the top flight, writes Joel Sked.

Leon Britton is one of the smallest players in the Barclays English Premier League but the midfielder is certainly making a big impact for Swansea.

Londoner Britton, who stands at just 165 centimetres tall, was playing in the bottom tier of English football just seven years ago with the Swans, but he looks very much at home in the top flight.

After the Welsh club's promotion from the nPower Championship, Britton is the fulcrum of a Swans side which has entertained on their long-awaited return to the top division.

His passing success rate was recently measured at 93.1%, a figure that betters the records of the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso.

Only Barcelona's Seydou Keita can boast a more accurate success rate within Europe's top five leagues, however he has played significantly less than the Englishman.

Britton has taken the step up to EPL football in his short, but measured stride. But his career has not always been as smooth as his progression to the EPL suggests.

A firm grounding in Arsenal's fabled youth academy and graduation from Lilleshall, an English developmental programme, led him to become the most expensive teenager in the country when he swapped Arsenal for West Ham for GBP400,000 as a 16-year-old.

But Britton had already begun to encounter problems. Played predominantly as a winger, he was secluded in areas of the pitch where he could not have a positive effect on matches.

A move to central midfield ensured he was more at home but with a multitude of talent, including Michael Carrick and Joe Cole, at Upton Park Britton moved on loan to Swansea after a short spell at Southend.

Brought to Wales by then manager Brian Flynn, he set about helping Swansea stay in the Football League as the club suffered severe financial problems.

The financial situation improved, as did the Swans' performances following the appointment of Kenny Jackett as manager. Britton became a mainstay in the team as the Welsh side rose to League One and moved to the impressive Liberty Stadium from the defunct Vetch Field.

The 29-year-old playmaker thrived as he came up against better opposition and with Roberto Martinez replacing Jackett he took on more responsibility in a 4-3-3 formation.

Following another promotion to the Championship in 2008, Britton's reputation was further enhanced and he impressed in the second tier. But Britton felt that his time in Wales had come to an end and moved to Sheffield United in 2010 as a free agent.

Britton struggled to settle in his new surroundings and it was not long before he secured a move back to Swansea. “I realise now that the Swansea style suits me down to the ground and brings the best out of my abilities,” he said.

The slick Swansea passing style was fine-tuned by former Chelsea youth coach Brendan Rodgers who, with Britton pulling the strings from a holding role, led the club to the EPL for the first time via the play-offs.

The midfielder, nicknamed ‘Little Britton', has now played in all of England's top four divisions and with promotion has come praise and exposure that the Englishman could probably never imagine.

Calls for his inclusion in the England squad have been as common as comparisons to the Barca duo Xavi and Iniesta. But Britton modestly brushes away such praise. “It's nice to read, but I don't think you should mention me in the same sentence as the other two. I feel a little awkward with that.”

But he has become a modern day prototype midfielder, possessing a low centre of gravity, comfortable on the ball and passing and moving to make the game look easy.

His movement off the ball is imperative, always making himself available for a pass and in a 3-1 win over Bolton he ended the game with a 100% passing rate.

In a recent interview his modesty shines through when talking about his passing accuracy, saying: “my passing's pretty safe and I'm someone who more keeps the ball moving and ticking over.”

His manager insists there is more to his game than simply keeping the game “ticking over”. “He's our catalyst, the door which opens a lot of creative things up for us. But people don't always see the other side of Leon. (What he) does brilliantly is screen, block and make vital interceptions. Playing that way is our team ethos.” The latest chapter in Swansea and Britton's amazing story was a 1-0 victory over Manchester City, with Britton proving once again he can mix it with the big boys.

Britton has waited a long time to get his chance to perform in the top flight, but it has been worth the wait and if he maintains his current form he could well be facing Xavi and Iniesta on the international stage.

Britton is not married but he does have a girlfriend, who stayed in Wales when he joined Sheffield United. It is not known what car he drives.

FACTFILE

Name: Leon Britton

Position: Midfielder

Club: Swansea

D.O.B.: 16/09/1982

International caps: 0

Moment to remember

Opening the scoring in the nPower Championship play-off semifinal win over Nottingham Forest.

Moment to forget

A short-term loan spell at Southend, where he never played.

© PA Sport, 2012, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, re-written, re-distributed or commercially exploited. Sportstar is not responsible for any inaccuracy in the material.



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