At the turn of the 21st century, Swansea City were in the bottom tier in the football league surviving relegation to the conference in the last game of the 2000/01 season.
It took two people to catalyse Swansea’s exponential rise to becoming a solid Premier League side and win the League Cup this season, Lee Trundle and Kenny Jacket.
For the first half of the 2000’s Swansea were a team mainly known because of Lee Trundle. A mercurial lower league footballer who lit up the football league with flicks and skills rarely seen in that tier of football.
Then manager at the time, Kenny Jackett built his team around him. With a solid defence, it allowed Trundle to express himself and relinquish him of any defensive burden. Few teams had the calibre of player Jackett in Trundle, allowing them to play fun and exciting football.
It is not necessarily the same style as the current Swansea side, but it was at this stage the philosophy that The Swans would play an exciting brand of football in their new stadium, the Liberty Stadium, in 2005. The name Liberty is amply fitting for a team who play so freely.
In their first two seasons in League 1, they finished sixth and seventh respectively. As hard as they tried, they were found wanting in their pursuit of promotion to the second tier. Kenny Jackett was sacked during the season they finished seventh, and was replaced by former player Roberto Martinez.
One of Martinez’s first changes to the team was to sell the influential Trundle to Bristol City. The Spaniard wanted to evolve the team from one which relied heavily on a single player, to one which plays as a team, passing and moving as if they were from Catalonia, not South Wales. The transformation in style lead Swansea playing the entire division off the park. In his first full season at the club, he guided them to promotion, winning the league with 92 points.
Due to their possession-based style of football, the step up to The Championship was seamless. They finished 8th in the first season, a very good opening campaign for a newly promoted team. However, at the end of 2008/09 season, their success came at a cost. Roberto Martinez was a man in demand after losing on 23 games in two and a half seasons. Martinez couldn’t resist the lure of a new project at another former club Wigan Athletic.
Under new boss Paolo Sousa, The Swans continued to implement a continental approach to their football. The silver–fox Portuguese showed his influences from playing in Italy, shoring up the suspect defence. Once again, they only just missed out on the play-offs, and again lost their manager, with Sousa departing to Leicester.
After losing two mangers in as many seasons, Huw Jenkins turned to Brendan Rodgers. Rodgers had served his apprenticeship under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea and had stints managing Watford and Reading but failed to settle in. Swansea moved from strength to strength under Rodgers, with Scott Sinclair showing starting to show his full potential and re-signing former long-serving midfielder Leon Britton only six months after they sold him to Sheffield United. Britton steadied the Swansea ship to secure third in the league and a playoff place. Britton’s return created a metronomic midfield partnership with youngster and heir-to-be Joe Allen. Young Welshman Allen was a product of the Swansea City academy and symbolised the philosophy of the football club. They got promoted after beating Reading in the play offs that season, 2010/11, becoming the first Welsh team to play in the Premier League.
Any questions whether The Swans would struggle to play ‘tiki-taka’ football in the Premier League were soon silenced. They looked completely at ease in the top flight, dictating the play even against some of the better teams in the league. On the ball, they always seemed to have time, always having a team mate to pass to and never panicked on the ball. Without it, they pressed opposition back lines to get the ball back as far up the pitch as possible. Their speed on the counter attack frightened teams and the movement of the forward thinking players like Danny Graham and Scott Sinclair was a joy to watch. The team’s belief in the style and the system never wavered. If a player made a mistake because they tried to pass it out of defence for example, Brendan Rodgers would take the blame for the error, claiming it was his fault the player did what he did. This belief in the system and the players only furthers their mentality approach.
They finished 11th in their inaugural Premier League season. However, the start of summer 2012 did not go too well. They lost manager Brendan Rodgers to Liverpool, who took young Joe Allen with him. Much coveted winger Scott Sinclair moved to Manchester City after putting in a transfer request and on loan Gylfi Sigurðsson moved to Tottenham Hotspur. However, they were able to replace them with a quality of personnel they could not attract before. Michael Laudrup came in as manager, and he signed Pablo Hernandez from Valencia and attacking midfielder Michu form Real Vallecano.
The tradition of passing football continued again in the 2012/13 season with all of the new signing slotting in perfectly. Michu, La Liga’s highest scoring midfielder the season before, was deployed primarily as a False 9 spear-heading the attack and scored 22 goals in total. It was this season they made history. Swansea City won their first ever League Cup, qualifying for Europa League in the process. In the final, they dismantled lower league opposition Bradford City 5-0. Though the final wasn’t a contest, their semi-final against Chelsea showed that they can play well against the best. And that they have very supportive ball boys…
What’s next for Swansea then? They’ve qualified for the Europa League, a competition they’ll more than likely set alight because of their style of play. However, we’ve seen how this extra competition especially can impact on league form. Just look at Newcastle this season.
Swansea don’t have a particularly big squad so first of all, they need to make a few signings to build the squad with more experience, particularly in European competitions. On top of this, they desperately need to keep hold of star players like Ashley Williams and Michu. Over the years, this club have lost key figures at the club to teams that have greater financial backing. To keep this team progressing, they must ensure the influential players stay at the Liberty. This goes to Michael Laudrup in particular, who has a track record of walking away from clubs, as a player and manager.
In terms of individual positions, majority of the team are on a similar level. I think that they could improve by buying a quality defender and a winger. Chico Flores can go from strong continental centre-back to lunatic at the drop of the hat and I worry that Dyer and Routledge might struggle with this next step up. I’d like to see them go in for Callum McManaman who’ll surely want to play in the top flight after being relegated.
The progress this club has made in the last decade is nothing short of astonishing. But now they’ve got to the top, they need to ensure they stay there and not get complacent. Otherwise teams with greater hunger will drag them back down and it’s a slippery slope if a team starts not showing desire. Trust me, I know, I’m a Wolves fan.
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