Swansea City new boy Nathan Wood’s biggest asset and why Middlesbrough let him go

Swansea City completed the first bit of transfer business last week with the signing of Nathan Wood from Middlesbrough.

The move came a little bit out of leftfield, with few links to the player emerging prior to his announcement. Swansea won’t mind that one bit, with under-the-radar deals prized at any level of football.

The 20-year-old joins for an undisclosed fee on a two-year deal, with the option for another 12 months, with head coach Russell Martin revealing he had been tracking the centre-back for two years.

It’s fair to say Wood’s departure from Boro was a tad unexpected from the Boro end too. We spoke to craig johns of Teesside Live to get the reaction from the Riverside and ask what type of player Martin is getting…

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What are Swansea getting in Nathan Wood?

Wood is a really talented and promising young centre-back with excellent pedigree and exciting potential. Although he hasn’t quite managed to make that full step-up to regular first-teamer at Boro, he’s been on the periphery of that since his debut aged just 16. He’s an England youth international and comes through a Boro academy which has a rich history of producing Premier League quality centre-backs.

He’s good on the ball and an intelligent player already. In his few first-team appearances for Boro he’s had good days and bad days as you might expect someone so young. His performance last season when needing to come into the side because of injury against Nottingham Forest stands out as what Wood could be. Boro won 1-0 and Wood came into the side and slotted in seamlessly, looking far more confident than his 18 years of him would suggest. Nothing got past him and he was pinging some lovely balls out of defence.

What happened at Middlesbrough? Why was he let go?

It was a difficult year for him. After a successful loan spell at Crewe at the end of the 2020-21 season he then went on loan to Hibs but didn’t ever manage to break into their side. He made only one appearance and ended up returning early.

Because he’d played for Boro in the Carabao Cup, the two-clubs-in-one-season rule prohibited him from going elsewhere on loan and so he was forced to spend the second half of last season at Boro where he didn’t really get near the first team. He made just one appearance under Chris Wilder and that was a really difficult afternoon at Mansfield in the cup.

In his defence, he’d not long recovered from Covid, but he didn’t do his chances any good. That, the many options Wilder had at the back, and the limited injuries Boro suffered, meant Wood was playing under-23 football last term.

He’s still only 20 but he is at a point now where he’s too good for under-23s football, but hasn’t quite made that jump to the first team at Boro. He could have gone out on loan again but he had just one year remaining on his Boro deal and I think there was frustration on his part of him that the breakthrough had n’t come yet, with Wilder looking to strengthen at the back in the summer transfer market too.

I think the opportunity of a permanent move to Swansea suited all parties really. Boro aren’t a club to hold on to player and risk stagnating their career. If they genuinely feel it’s in the player’s best interests then they’ll let him move on.

Is he suited to playing out from the back? Is he confident on the ball?

It’s probably one of his biggest assets right now as he continues to grow physically. Boro have a top academy and at that level in the modern game it’s all about playing with the ball on the ground.

That’s schooled into players at Boro’s academy from a young age. As captain of the England under-20 side as well, I think you need something about you to play at that level no matter the age group. Swansea feels like a really good fit for Nathan and I noted that Russell Martin said he’d tried to sign him a couple of times before at MK Dons which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.

What is his ceiling? Do you think he’ll succeed at Swansea?

Right now it is difficult to say. I remember watching how mature he looked at 18 against Nottingham Forest last season and thinking, ‘this boy’s going to the very top’. He has so many assets and qualities that could see him become a Premier League regular in years to come.

But right now he is still growing physically and since that game his more recent Boro performances have been less convincing. He was sent on loan in January 2021 after a bad performance against Rotherham where he was physically bullied by Michael Smith, he failed to work his way into contention at Hibernian and then again struggled with the physical demands at Mansfield.

If he can fill out and gain more muscle in the next couple of years though, he can still absolutely reach his true potential. He’s big, but he moves well for someone his size and as noted above, he is really comfortable on the ball.

He will need to cope with the physical aspect of the senior game better in the years ahead though, if he is to take his career to the next level. I personally really hope he does succeed at Swansea because he’s an excellent young man off the pitch as well as an excellent prospect on it.

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