LOOMING on the horizon for the latest Swindon Town scholars is the date when they will find out if they have made the grade and been offered professional terms.

For some it will be joy, for others the end of an association with the club they joined whilst their birthdays were still in single digits.

It will be tough for them. It will also be tough for the coaches who have brought them through to see them go, especially if they do not believe their protégés have been given a fair opportunity by the decision makers.

Mark Cooper will be the beneficiary of the new raft of players and will have a big say in who is signed, but it is the academy staff who have nurtured them to this moment.

Few know this better than Paul Bodin, a Town hero, who enjoyed two spells at the club as a player, famously scoring the crucial penalty in the 1993 play-off final win over Leicester that sent the Robins into the Premiership.

Swindon Advertiser: Paul Bodin scores the winning penalty
Paul Bodin fires home the crucial penalty in the 1993 play-off final win over Leicester

Most recently of course, Bodin served as youth team coach for five years, until his departure in June 2013 under a cloud at the end of Paolo Di Canio’s tempestuous reign.

Moving on from Swindon, Bodin went to one the country’s most feted youth systems, Southampton, working as assistant coach in the crucial under 18 and 21 age groups.

The Welshman has now been brought into the fold of his country’s own age group system, taking charge of sides up to under 21 level.

With the kind of insight he has gained in his time youth coaching, Bodin’s reputation as a man who knows a thing or two about developing footballers is certainly well earned.

With his spell on the south coast providing him the opportunity to see how the other half of football’s society lives, he is also uniquely placed to judge what is going on at Swindon’s youth academy.

Sat across a coffee table from Bodin at a Swindon hotel, he clearly bridles with enthusiasm when talking about youth football.

Throughout the near-hour in his company his phone is constantly buzzing, but Bodin chooses to ignore it. Instead he focuses his attention on talking about a subject he clearly holds a keen passion for.

His experiences in youth development are clearly broad-ranging, but from his work at Swindon to his more recent time with Saints there is a main and obvious difference.

“A lot of things are based around finance with youth football,” Bodin explains.

“Southampton are a category one club, they’ve always been one of the top academies. They put a vast amount of money into their academy, but in return they’ve brought a lot of money back in.

“There is a strength and conditioning coach, physiotherapists, masseurs, welfare officers, you name it. There’s no excuse, there’s no hiding place, so anything the players want, they get. All they’re asked to do is produce on the pitch.”

The comparisons between Wanborough, where Bodin did the majority of his work whilst with Swindon, and the Saints’ gleaming Staplewood base could not be starker.

Though for Bodin – whose formative years in the game saw him released by Chelsea and later involved painting stands at Newport as a trainee – bells, whistles and an endless number of dedicated staff are not the making of a young footballer.

“We didn’t have all that at Swindon, we didn’t have all the back-up support. It was myself and the physio at the training ground, that was it,” he said.

“All the other support that these top clubs have got, does it make their players better? I’m still not so sure. I think with players it’s what is deep in their hearts and minds that determines whether they make it or not.”

Having observed the success of the Saints youth system through the reigns of a number of different managers, one belief Bodin has come to is – aside from the need to work with raw talent – continuity and a relative independence for the youth department are essential in providing a constant stream of players to the first team.

“At Southampton everything works together, everybody has meetings together and everybody looks forward to developing players and trying to get them into the first team - that is the sole purpose of Southampton’s Academy. Which, you should think, every football club should have,’’ he added.

“There is a model there. They’ve got a director of football, there’s a technical director, then there’s a first-team coach and then there’s a youth department.

“(At Swindon) Mark Cooper might only see the players occasionally, certainly the under 16s rarely, the under 18s a little bit more because they are full time at the club.

“He will have an input on taking players on professional contracts, but he’s not seeing them on a daily basis, he doesn’t know how they tick on a general day-to-day basis.

“(Academy manager) Jeremy Newton will know every player from under sixes and sevens to the under 18s. He’ll know their development, their growth spurts, the mental side of their personality, their parents, all these are so important in a player’s development.

“The average time for a manager is probably 15 months, maybe, so how can he put in a footprint with the youth department?

“I’d been at the club six-seven-eight years, Jeremy Newton the same. We can give a manager so much more information than he can see in half an hour watching a game.

“It’s so important you’ve got people in the club like Jeremy Newton, John Trollope was part of it going back, who knew every player from under eights to under 16s.

“If someone comes in every two years, they’re not going to know the basics about each player, they’re not going to know their personality.”

That is not to say Bodin wants no involvement from the first-team boss with youth departments. In fact, Cooper’s support of Swindon’s age group sides seems to fit in better with Bodin’s idea of how the production line should work.

With the likes of Lee Marshall already signing a professional contract and other youngsters such as Will Randall and Tom Smith also having been involved with the first team, Cooper’s model could not be more different to the one Bodin grafted in.

Swindon Advertiser: Paul Bodin
Bodin in his coaching days with Town

Di Canio made embarrassing attempts to cover his contempt for Bodin’s work when they worked together, referring to him as a man “wearing a Swindon tracksuit and a cup of tea and working in the County Ground corridor”.

The Italian boss may have brought success to the club on the field, but his treatment of the youth system bears little scrutiny.

Bodin did not want to go into detail about his relationship with the temperamental Italian, understandable given the sad nature of the departure afforded to a club stalwart.

Instead the former Town youth coach chose to focus on the flawed mindset that led to his untimely demise of his time fostering the next generation of Swindon players.

“I came in under Maurice Malpas, then it was Danny Wilson, then it was Paul Hart, then it was Paolo Di Canio. That’s four managers in six years. How are you going to get the continuity you really strive for?,” he said.

“We talked about the model at Southampton when I was caretaker-manager for two games. I spoke to the board, (former chairman) Jeremy Wray and (former chief executive) Nick Watkins, and the philosophy was going to be let’s bring the youth on.”

In his interview for the vacant manager’s role after his two-game caretaker spell, Bodin was told the new manager was going to have a squad of 22 players with an emphasis on providing opportunities to graduates from academy.

He said: “This was a time then when the EPPP (the Elite Player Performance Programme) was coming in and the club put a little more money in. I met with (owner) Andrew Black and he said: ‘If I’m going to put extra money in what are the guarantees I’m going to get something back?’

“I said to him: ‘There’s no guarantees in youth football, but if we get the structure right, hopefully, we will able to develop more players and bring them through.

“He said: ‘Right, okay’. So that was the philosophy they put to me. Then the new manager came in and it kind of changed everything.

“Paolo was given more budget than many managers, he was given more players and that hinders the opportunity for players to break through when there’s such a big squad.

“We had players from the first -team squad training with the youth squad, there were that many players. It was restricting the opportunity of young players breaking through. It was disappointing because we were trying to push them through and they were actually getting a little knocked back.

“People like Luke Rooney, Ibrahim Atiku and Mehdi Kerrouche trained with us, players that were signed by club and ended up training with youth team. Louis (Thompson) somehow broke through the system and got into the first team squad but he was the only one they ever did look at.”

Assessing the current situation, Bodin’s words are approving, if tinged with a little sense of what could have been.

“It’s now totally different to two or three years ago,’’ he added.

“The first-team budget was a lot bigger, there was a huge influx of players coming in, now it looks like there’s more thought in the process of getting them in and they seem to have struck it very well.

“The players they’ve brought in have been great successes – you’re going to get the odd one now and again that doesn’t work out. At the same time, I think there is an emphasis on bringing the youth through.

“Louis Thompson has come through, though he was in and around the squad a couple of years ago. He really come to fruition now, obviously that’s fantastic from the youth department.”

Louis along with, brother and club captain, Nathan, are the best recent examples of the County Ground youth system, but part of the folly of Di Canio’s reign was to dismiss players who could now be assets to the club.

Bodin is able to reel off names of players he coached now playing league football elsewhere.

Some on the list, such as Sean Morrison, Ben Tozer and Alex Henshaw commanded substantial fees and moved up the pyramid. Others, including Callum Kennedy, Jake Hyde and Bodin’s own son Billy, got less glamorous moves but are still in the game.

Given the success he enjoyed as youth coach, winning three youth championships, two runners-up medals and the Milk Cup in 2005, you do get the sense Bodin feels the crop he oversaw represent something of a missed opportunity for a club he cares for deeply.

“If you’re going to sell them for big money, that’s different. The club, in certain situations, need to get the money,’’ he added.

“(The aforementioned group) are all players that have been developed at the club and they’re out there playing league football. Could you have kept them? Could you have had six-seven-eight of them in your first team now?

“It depends on the club finances; it depends what’s on offer; it depends on the player’s attitude; it depends on if the manager thinks they’re not quite good enough. There are lots of anomalies, whether they stay, or whether they go, but there’s a whole host of players there who came through and they helped to get youth titles.

“Could they have gone on to the next level? Well, some of them did go on and they did exceptionally well.”

Swindon Advertiser: Swindon Town's Callum Kennedy
Callum Kennedy is one of a number of players brought through the Town youth
system by Bodin

The conversation moves on through topics as specific as the best loan destinations for the young players on the fringes of Swindon’s squad; the benefits and shortfalls of development football; instilling the right balance between development as a player and a winning mentality.

It was a fascinating take on virtually the whole topic of youth football, enough to form the basis of a progressive coaching manual.

Bodin sees a bright future, if Swindon maintain the philosophy currently employed at the club and our interview ended with him offering some encouraging words for the future.

He said: “When I was in the heart of the Valleys last week, people were saying ‘Swindon Town: wonderful football team’. There’s no doubt, they are one of, if not the best, football team in the league.

“Whether that means they go up this year still remains to be seen, but in football terms everybody is talking about them.

“Obviously Premier League managers will be very aware of Swindon’s football philosophy and they will be more than happy to lend their youngsters to Swindon Town than a team that’s more direct or aggressive and not a real development club.

“Swindon is without a shadow of a doubt a developing football club and let’s hope they can get more youngsters through of their own.”