Keshi Anderson has long had to win over Swindon fans, but this season he has another challenge to overcome: his manager.
There’s a pause. A short one, but it feels longer as Keshi Anderson deliberates over his answer. “Yeah, of course. I obviously have a relationship with the manager, things happen in football,” he replies, while taking time to think, to a question regarding what can only be described as a ‘mixed’ summer with his boss, Richie Wellens.
August ends with a comfortable 3–1 win for Swindon Town over Morecambe, and the Robins are perched in the League Two play-off places as they aim to get promoted back to League One at the third attempt. It is the longest they have spent in the fourth tier since the mid-80s, and although the mood is currently on the up, fan contempt towards their club since relegation in 2017 has barely been lower.
The Man of the Match award goes to two-goal hero Eoin Doyle rather than Anderson, but the latter can be proud of his outing as the first goal came about after a shot of his was deflected into the path of Doyle and the second, scored by Jerry Yates, was an authentic Anderson assist. Rotherham loanee Yates was picked out by a superb through ball before he slotted home to put Swindon 2–1 up at the County Ground.
Anderson was quite literally the poster boy for this early-season clash, as well as others, with his picture donning the promotional flyers outside the stadium for the home games against Morecambe and Macclesfield. Right now though, his aims a more modest — he is just glad to be a first-team regular for Swindon and in great form.
“I’m happy. I’ve played in every game, and there’s nothing more you want to do than play football. We’re probably one of the best teams in the league, for the majority of the games that we have played, we have been the better team.”
On a personal level however, the first month of the new season could have been a very different story.
In early July, undisclosed ill-discipline cost Anderson a place on the plane for a pre-season training camp in La Manga, Spain, as well as a fine, with the ex-Crystal Palace man instead finding himself doing keepy-uppies in a windowless gym with the rest of the ‘bomb squad.’
He responded well when the rest of the squad returned to England. He scored against Hungerford Town in pre-season, and the bridge with Wellens seemingly had been built. That was until he was transfer listed, not for his temperament, but his wage, with Wellens seemingly keen to offload him in order to get another striker in.
Anderson hit back again, with a hat-trick, albeit against Melksham Town of the Southern League Division One South, but it was a statement: ‘I’m still here, you know.’
Wellens was won round enough to surprisingly start Anderson for the opening-day trip to Scunthorpe. Swindon won 2–0, and Anderson wrapped up the win by scoring the second goal.
If anything, that probably frustrated his manager more. Anderson has only ever shown flashes of his talent during his two seasons at Swindon — six goals in 64 league games is a pitiful amount for someone with his capabilities.
“How many times have I said it? For me, Keshi is probably one of the five best players in the league. Does he show it week in, week out? No — I need to get the best out of him,” Wellens said post-Scunthorpe.
“We saw that when he is on it, he is an excellent player, and when he is a team member and when he is a good professional. I really like Keshi both as a lad and a player, so it is my job to get the best out of him — but he knows now that when he steps out of line, there is no coming back.
“He was brilliant. If he [continues to] play like that, we don’t want to lose him.”
There is still a long way to go before anyone can say Anderson’s full potential at Swindon has been fulfilled — this is still a man yet to win over the majority of the club’s fans, never mind the manager and he is running out of time, with his contract being up in the summer. As recently as last month, a Swindon Advertiser poll produced a result that 59% of those surveyed wanted Anderson offloaded.
But since his deadline day arrival on loan in 2017, he has been moved all across the front line in order to get the best out of him in Wiltshire.
Under the manager that signed him, David Flitcroft, he started as a left winger in a 4–2–3–1, and ended up being moved to the number 10 role in a 3–4–1–2, and while Phil Brown was in the hot seat, he was back in the left wing role, but in a 4–3–3. Now, with Wellens in charge, he started the season back as the 10, again in a 4–2–3–1 but found himself back on the left on Saturday in a new-look 4–4–2, as Wellens accommodated the returning Yates from suspension with fellow in-form striker Doyle.
Has this been disruptive to Anderson’s hit-and-miss form over two-and-a-bit seasons? “No, not at all,” he insists, before explaining how Wellens’ current thought process helps him become better.
“As an attacking four today, we went with two strikers and two wide men. I’m very comfortable playing on the left, right or even down the middle. If we play with a 4–3–3 and I play in the middle as a 10, I have good rotation with [Lloyd Isgrove] for him to come inside and for me to go outside. It’s not really about having a fixed position because as a team the way that we play, we want people chopping and changing and getting into spaces and it helps me to get on the ball more and to be better on a daily basis.”
Even within the same game, he was shifted again. Ellis Iandolo’s work as the attacking left-sided full-back allowed Anderson to drift inside where he caused those problems in the first half and with 25 minutes left, Swindon reverted to their early-season 4–2–3–1 when Kaiyne Woolery replaced Yates, with Anderson reverting back to the number 10 role and Woolery going left wing.
Despite being available for transfer for the right price, Anderson is playing. But does he feel trusted by his manager?
“Obviously, sometimes everyone don’t see eye to eye, but me and the manager have a good relationship,” Anderson insists.
“We speak every day about football and everything else. We have good banter together, it’s nothing that I hold against him or likewise he holds against me.
“He does praise me and he does batter me a lot at the same time, but he’s given me a role for me to push the boys and perform as best as I can because he knows within himself what I can be and where I can get to. I believe in that myself so it’s about putting my head down and making it happen.”
The apparent tough love is an old trick from a young manager, but while Richie Wellens “batters” Keshi Anderson, he might just be bettering him, too.