by Stuart Moriarty-Patten
The last day of the 2002/03 season saw Swansea facing the possibility of relegation from the football league, but a 4-2 win over Hull saw them survive, and they haven’t looked back since. Captain of the side that day was Roberto Martinez who was appointed manager of the side in 2007, and in his first full season as manager took the Swans to the 2008 league one title in a season that included an 18 game unbeaten run. Under Martinez Swansea were being noticed as a team who were playing quick, slick passing football as the team benefitted from a whole range of changes instigated by Martinez that included rigorous training regimes and strict dietary guidelines.
Swansea enjoyed a fairly successful season in the Championship. After a slow start they only lost 4 times in 30 games between the middle of September and February, but never quite made it to the play-offs. Martinez had drawn quite a bit of attention to himself with his attractive Swansea team and his name was being linked to a number of clubs, including Celtic. In the close season of 2009 the attraction of managing his first English club, Wigan, in the Premiership proved too much, and he left Swansea.
The Portuguese Paulo Sousa replaced Martinez, and was followed a season later by Brendan Rodgers. Both managers continued with, and refined, Martinez’s style of football and Swansea made the Premiership in 2011 through the play-offs. Rodgers of course is now at Liverpool, but with the appointment of Michael Laudrup Swansea continued with their philosophy of appointing managers who see football as a game to be played on the ground. Coincidentally, it was another Danish king, Sweyn Forkbeard, who founded Swansea in the 11th Century
Last season Swansea won many plaudits with their passing style of football and finished a highly creditable 11th. A superb start to this season again, a 5-0 away win over QPR and a comfortable 3-0 home victory over West Ham had the critics drooling, and raised expectations that Swansea could be about to have a successful season. Since then though, only one point has come from four games, and no goals scored in the last three.
So what is going wrong? Swansea’s South Korean midfielder Ki Sung-Yueng has stated that the players have no idea why they can’t buy a win; Laudrup has dismissed it as simply a bad patch that all teams go through in a season; but tellingly, long-serving defender Alan Tate, who has played for Swansea in all four divisions, has complained that Swansea are no longer playing like a team but a collection of 11 individuals. For years Swansea have carefully built around a team ethic, gradually updating the squad with individuals who enhanced the team’s calibre but fitted in.
Interestingly, there is some parallel between Laudrup’s time at his last club Mallorca in Spain’s La Liga, where, after a bright start that included creditable draws against both Real Madrid and Barcelona the team quickly hit a rough patch that Laudrup seemed unable to find a way out of, and the team only narrowly missed out on relegation.
It was widely reported in the Spanish press that the Mallorca board were keen to get rid of Laudrup but couldn’t afford to pay off his contract. The local paper, Diario de Mallorca, criticised Laudrup for having little influence over the team, doubted his ability to motivate his players and questioned his technical decisions citing his the inability to correct the team’s defensive problems.
Naturally its far too early in the season to be seriously starting to pick teams as relegation candidates, especially ones with the calibre of the Swansea side, but its worth remembering that last season Wolves were being talked about positively after they won their first 2 matches and drew their third, but then only achieved three more wins all season, and were relegated. The real fear from this is that if this fate were to befall Swansea, who have been trying to play football in an attractive, intelligent way, then what message does this send to teams desperately trying to stay in, or get into, the Premiership if the more direct styles of a Stoke or West Ham survives.