Torquay United are expected to complete the signing of Swindon forward Billy Bodin in the next couple of days, with the Welshman due to travel to Plainmoor for a medical tomorrow.
Bodin had spent the first half of the 2011-12 season at loan on Torquay, scoring five times in 18 appearances and providing a pacy, direct threat on the wing that United sorely missed after he returned to parent club Swindon in January. Bodin’s loan spell left many United fans impressed and few were surprised when Torquay manager Martin Ling tried to secure the Welshman’s services on a permanent basis in the January transfer window.
However, Swindon boss Paulo Di Canio refuted that approach and, with the Country Ground outfit then proceeding to loan Bodin to fellow League Two side Crewe Alexandra for the remainder of the season, the player’s destination for the 2012-13 season remained uncertain. Despite having impressed with both of his loan spells, Bodin could not force his way into Swindon’s promotion-winning squad and seemed to be keen to leave if first-team football was not available at the County Ground.
After Bodin stalled over Swindon’s offer of a new, two-year deal in May, Di Canio fumed: “It is clear he doesn’t want to accept it. It’s up to him. We’ve offered him the contract. If we can’t keep hold of him, I hope he has a great career in the future.” Even then, in early June, it appeared Di Canio was open to the idea of selling the 20-year-old, something that United chief Ling cashed in on.
Although Torquay’s initial bid of £40,000 was last week rejected by the Robins, the two parties have gradually reached a deal that is mutually satisfactory, believed to be in the region of £70,000 plus add-ons – a fee that has today been accepted. Crewe could well be left kicking themselves after being beaten to Bodin’s signature: the Gresty Road club have money to burn after selling youngster Nick Powell to Manchester United for in excess of £1 million, but delayed their offer and have missed out.
Their loss looks set to be Torquay’s gain, with both the club’s official website and BBC Sport reporting the deal all but sealed. Having chased Bodin for several months to no previous avail, Ling was clearly delighted to have finally got his man: “Billy strengthens our front three, playing on either wing, down the middle or the top end of our midfield. ”The flexibility within our squad with [midfielder Eunan] O’Kane staying and Bodin on board is massively good and better than it was last year.”
With Irishman O’Kane having rejected a move to League One new boys Crawley Town in favour of staying at Plainmoor, Torquay fans are quietly confident that promotion to the third division can be achieved this season. Having clung to the coattails of League Two heavyweights Swindon and Shrewsbury for much of the season, Ling’s small, tired squad eventually faltered and had to settle for the play-offs, where they were beaten 4-1 on aggregate by Cheltenham Town. The addition of Bodin – coupled with fellow new signings Craig Easton, Nathan Craig, Michael Poke, Tom Cruise and Ryan Jarvis – has fuelled hope that the Gulls can now grab automatic promotion in 2012-13.
Indeed, many Torquay fans believe Bodin to be the missing cog in a well-oiled United machine that enjoyed a brilliant league campaign last season: one gushed “This is a great signing and goes to show the ambition of the manager and the board. It is not a gamble because we all know what he can do…if we can replicate that sort of football [with Bodin in the side in 2011-12] we will be a force to be reckoned with… the injection of pace will be crucial…he has a lot of potential which places him above [League Two], I trust both the manager and the player to see him fulfill it.”
Ling now believes the only further addition necessary before August is the acquisition of a new centre-back. First-choice defender Mark Ellis’ recent departure to Crewe for £80,000 has left a gaping hole in the United back four that needs plugging with, in Ling’s view “a dominant centre-half…who can really head the ball.”
The sale of goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik to Championship side Peterborough for £300,000 gives Torquay money to spend, although some of this cash will be used to help pay off expenses incurred during the building of Plainmoor’s new stand, the impressive Bristow’s Bench.
Find a suitable replacement for Ellis, and Torquay could well win promotion in 2012-13 with a squad even stronger than last season’s. As Ling himself says “We just need a defender to fetch us up to a 24-man complete squad”. United are ready. Almost.