Doncaster Rovers boss convinced Keepmoat move will bring best out of Arsenal loanee Matt Smith
Richie Wellens has been impressed with Matt Smith’s development in senior football so far but believes the Arsenal loanee will only accelerate his improvement with Doncaster Rovers.
Wellens signed Smith on loan from the Gunners for Swindon Town at the start of last season and described him as ‘head and shoulders’ above the rest of his squad.
And, having renewed acquaintances with the midfielder with a season-long loan, he believes Rovers will see even better from the 20-year-old with players around him who will complement his game.
“He played 30 games for us and the development was pretty rapid,” Wellens told the Free Press.
“The situation at Swindon with Covid and the finances, we ended up not getting a lot of the players that we wanted.
“But he came in and he was head and shoulders above the rest of the squad.
“I’m hoping he’ll come on even more playing with even better players.”
His loan spell at Swindon was cut short by Arsenal who then sent him to Charlton Athletic for the remainder of the season, where he played eight matches.
Wellens does not think the style of play at the Valley suited Smith but believes how Rovers will be set up will be perfect, with him likely to line up on the right of a midfield three.
He said: “He went to Charlton in the second half of the season and this is no disrespect to them but they played long to [Jayden] Stockley and second balls and power football.
“That’s not his game but we think the pitch here and the way we’re going to play will help him a lot.
“With better players he can kick on even more.”
Smith has a FA Cup winner’s medal after being part of the matchday squads for Arsenal’s successful run in the 2019/20 season but he has yet to make his senior debut for the Gunners.
Wellens is confident Smith is ready for the rigours of a full season in League One after cutting his teeth last year with his loan spells at Swindon and Charlton.
“He’s a really good footballer,” the Rovers boss said.
“When I first signed him at Swindon, I walked in and you could see it was his first loan. Physically, he was nowhere near it but he was a really good footballer.
“But in the space of a month or six weeks, he was my best player by a country mile.
“He won a FA Cup medal and he picked it up really sheepishly as though he was stealing it.
“He’s a good kid and I think [Ben] Close and Smith will really complement each other well.
“And [John] Bostock too, who’s really impressed me, he’s a really good footballer and a great guy too.
“We just need someone in there now with legs who can break the game up when we are expansive and do open the game up, and he can cover that 15 or 20 yards distance quickly to allow the team to recover.”