Swansea City’s Great Managerial Gamble
So, farewell then, Michael Laudrup. It would be easy to spin the story of his departure from the Liberty Stadium yesterday as being just another case of the insanity of the world of football management in the twenty-first century. True enough, the Swans are just two points from the relegation places in the Premier League, but the bottom half of the table is awfully congested at the moment and it is, of course, equally true to say that Swansea City will go into this weekend’s Premier League matches in twelfth place in the table. It has been clear from media reports over the last couple of weeks that something hasn’t been right and league form has been patchy of late, but it is a signal of how far the club has come that not only has this come to pass with the club in the Premier League – a scenario that surely would have been unthinkable a decade ago – but also with it in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup and still engaged in European competition.
Laudrup’s arrival at the Liberty Stadium came at a time of some uncertainty for the club. Over the five and a half years prior to his appointment, one of the key factors behind Swansea’s success had been consistently getting their managerial appointments right. From Roberto Martinez on, the club had worked the shark-infested waters of the managerial marketplace shrewdly, making the right decision time after time whilst getting into the Premier League and then stabilising in it. Yet with each new appointment comes the renewed risk of getting it wrong. There doesn’t seem to be any precise science to bringing in a new manager to a football club. It certainly doesn’t have the silver bullet effect that a limitless cheque book is likely to in terms of turning around a club’s fortunes on the pitch. And changing manager during the middle of a season is a vastl different proposition to changing one during the summer break, when the new man has the opportunity to reshape and remould a team to his own taste.
Yet Laudrup succeeded. The points totals – and even the goals scored and conceded – were barely any different at the end of his first season in charge of the club, but the team’s performance last season was enough to secure the club a ninth placed finish in last year’s Premier League table, and on top of this came the icing on the cake, a League Cup win against Bradford City last year that seemed entirely apposite as the crowning glory to a remarkable period in the history of the club. Not only did this give the club the symbolic prize of a first major domestic trophy, but it also brought Swansea City the considerably more tangible prize of European football for the first time since the 1991/92 season, in the Europa League, and once in that competition they have acquitted themselves reasonably well, having proceeded to the knockout stages, where they play Napoli in a couple of weeks time.
Behind the scenes at the Liberty Stadium, however, all has not necessarily seemed right at the club and, whilst the more lurid excesses of the tabloid press are easily shown up for the hyperbole that they are, rows at the training ground are seldom a sign that everything in the garden is rosy. Initially, chairman Huw Jenkins had made a statement via the club’s official website that towed the party line, but hinted, for those that wish to read between the lines, that there was more to this departure than the trigger-happiness of the club’s senior management. “It is a decision we have taken reluctantly,” said Jenkins, “but it’s a decision made in the best interests of Swansea City football club and our supporters. It is the first time in nearly 10 years that the club has parted with a manager in this way, but we had to remove the constant uncertainty surrounding the club and Michael’s long-term future with us.”
The tabloid press, of course, have their theories over what might have really been behind the decision to replace Laudrup at this point of the season, and it sems that the catalyst may well have been an ill-thought out trip to Dubai following last weekend’s defeat at the hands of West Ham United. It is also worth remembering, however, that Laudrup is understood to have been extremely unhappy with the appointment of captain Garry Monk into the club’s coaching team – Monk now finds himself in charge of the entire team for a period that the club has itself described as “the foreseeable future” – and that Laudrup was on his way out of the club wasn’t even really an open secret amongst the club’s supporters any more. The manager himself we might wonder whether it was worth his while distancing himself from the then-vacant Tottenham Hotspur job when that became available at the latter end of last year.
Garry Monk will, of course, have something of a baptism of fire in his first match in charge of the club on Saturday evening, when Swansea City host Cardiff City in the Premier League’s grudge match of the weekend. Not only local pride is at stake, of course. These are two clubs within touching distance of relegation from the Premier League and we are reaching the point of the season when every single point starts to feel as if they count that bit more than those won or lost as summer fades into the autumn. If Monk can pull off a result against Cardiff City at the weekend, then he may have given himself a little breathing space to prove his suitability for the appointment. A failure to do so, however, might yet see Swansea City dragged, kicking and screaming, into a relegation battle that they had little intention of becoming a part of. And everybody knows the financial costs of relegation from the Premier League, these days.
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