Alan Knill has today completed his first signing as Torquay United’s interim manager, adding Notts County midfielder Joss Labadie to the club’s confidence-hit squad. Labadie joins on a loan deal until the end of the season, and Knill will be hoping the 22-year-old can help United avoid the drop in a tense run-in to the campaign.
Croydon-born Labadie arrives with a fine footballing pedigree, having come through the youth system at West Bromwich Albion to sign a professional contract with the Hawthorns club in 2008. As a teenager at a Premier League club, loan spells further down the football pyramid inevitably followed, and Labadie enjoyed two stints at Shrewsbury Town in 2009. His second loan at the Greenhous Meadow was infinitely more successful, with the midfielder netting a 30-yard free-kick in his first game back at the club, and going on to record five goals from 12 league games from the middle of the park.
Unfortunately, his relationship with Shrews boss Paul Simpson was less smooth, and following a 40-minute dressing room lock-in after an FA Cup defeat to Staines Town in late 2009, Labadie was sent back to the Midlands, with Simpson explaining “I’ve been disappointed with his recent attitude.”
First-team football at his parent club remained elusive and Joss was forced to settle for temporary stays at Cheltenham Town and Tranmere Rovers, the latter stint resulting in a permanent contract in July 2010 following Labadie’s release by West Brom. Despite becoming a regular fixture in his first season at Prenton Park, and still making over 30 appearances in his second campaign, he was released by the Merseyside outfit at the end of the 2011-12 season.
Tranmere’s loss proved to be League One rivals Notts County’s gain, with ex-Torquay boss Keith Curle signing the 6 foot 3 in youngster last summer on a one-year deal with an option of a second year. Just four league starts have followed, with Labadie struggling to hold down a regular place in a talented County midfield also containing the likes of playmaker Alan Judge, captain Neal Bishop and Trinidad & Tobago international Andre Boucaud.
Although Labadie has shown signs of promise and impressed County fans in some of his 16 cameo appearances from the bench, the player appears eager to play regular first-team football, and the loan move suits both him and the club – the Magpies are thought to be looking to slash their wage bill as the end of the season approaches. With it unknown whether County will choose to keep Labadie on for another year, the midfielder will be looking to use his loan spell at Plainmoor to put himself in the shop window for League One and Two clubs.
Torquay have struggled for quality and creativity in midfield this season, with playmaker Eunan O’Kane leaving for AFC Bournemouth at the start of the season and captain Lee Mansell struggling to emulate his fine goalscoring form of 2011-12. Manager Martin Ling, his assistant Shaun Taylor – who took over in February due to Ling’s illness – and current boss Alan Knill have generally preferred to parter the industrious Mansell with a defensive midfielder like Damon Lathrope or Craig Easton. To the dismay of the club’s supporters, Welshman Nathan Craig, believed by many to be the most creative player in the squad, has been deployed on the right-hand side of midfield (despite being left-footed) and even left out of the matchday squad in recent weeks.
Knill will be hoping that Labadie can add some much-needed quality and help United in their battle to survive in League Two; he hailed Labadie as a “big powerful player who can also pass the ball,” adding “He has always been someone that I thought I’d like to sign and never really had the opportunity.” County have a 24-hour recall on the midfielder after an initial 28-day stay in Devon.
United’s interim boss also confirmed that Labadie, his first signing for the club, would go “straight into the squad” for Saturday’s clash with Oxford United. Further loan arrivals may also be on the cards, as the Western Morning News today reported that Knill was looking to free up wages and squad space by loaning young wingers Saul Halpin and Karl Baker to Bideford and first-year pro Kirtys MacKenzie to Taunton Town, whilst simultaneously concentrating on “another forward signing”.
BBC Sport’s Brent Pilnick similarly expects Knill to make further additions in the coming days, revealing that he believes “at least one more” player will join United before the end of the week. That can only be good news for Torquay who need all the help they can get, having gone without a win since the 1-0 Devon derby victory over Exeter City on 28 January.