When you think back to our golden generation of the late 90s and early 00s, there is always one name that tends to be forgotten.
Leon Britton’s name is forgotten because he didn’t make a single fi rst team appearance for the club aft er we paid Arsenal £400k compensation for his services in 1998. Th at was a record compensation fee for a 16-year-old back then, so it will forever be a mystery as to why he was never given his chance to shine.
Perhaps his height of just 5ft 5in and slight build worked against him in the end, but history proves that size doesn’t exactly matter when you’ve got the technical ability to counter such disadvantages. Now aged 34, Britton is no longer the spring chicken in midfield that he used to be, but there was a time when he was boasting better passing statistics than Barcelona’s Xavi.
An article written about Britton in this very fanzine four years ago claims the Merton-born midfielder was, at one point, boasting the best pass completion rate across Europe’s top five leagues (93.3 per cent). His stats have declined with age but when he was in his peak years, during the time when Swansea came in to the Premier League under Brendan Rodgers and impressed everyone with their slick, tiki-taka style football, many would’ve claimed Britton was the ‘one that got away’ from that golden generation.
His arrival came under the radar and so did his exit, but what he has achieved in the game since is rather impressive. Having joined Swansea from the Hammers when the Swans were in League Two, he has climbed the leagues with them, playing an integral role in the footballing philosophy they stuck by throughout, particularly under Rodgers.
He was particularly impressive during Swansea’s first few years in the Premier League, helping them to not only establish themselves as a Premier League outfit but also playing a key role in them lifting the League Cup in 2013 and qualifying for the Europa League. It’s always difficult to map out a player’s career when relying purely on hindsight, but it’s hard not to think both he and West Ham could’ve achieved similar success, if not more, had he remained at the club and been given his chance.
Just two years aft er he left the club, Mark Noble broke into the first team and never looked back. Noble has since made over 350 first team appearances for us, is club captain and has been awarded a much deserved testimonial. Had Britton’s career path not taken him to Wales, there’s every reason to believe he and Noble could’ve developed a formidable midfield partnership together.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but the consistency of having two ever-present, reliable midfielders dictating play for us over the past 10/15 years may have led us in a different direction, too. Just like Mark Noble has been for so many years at West Ham, Britton is one of the most underrated features of Swansea’s success in recent history.
He is rarely praised for his consistent performances, nor has he ever been recognised for his consistent top-flight performances with an England call up, but he remains an important part of the Swans’ rise to the very top and is a legend in south Wales as result. On Boxing Day we come up against Britton and Swansea in what is already looking like a tense battle between two teams desperately fighting for their Premier League status. Regardless of what part he plays in this fixture, it’s difficult not to wonder whether Britton really is one that got away. B