“Nobody ever says thank you,” goes the quotation from Brian Clough. While that is probably the case in the vast majority of managerial sackings and resignations, there are times when a departure is met with a little sadness and gratitude, and this seems to be the case following news of the departure of Garry Monk from Swansea City this afternoon. Press speculation over the previous forty-eight hours had sent mixed messages to the public. On Monday, it was reported that talks between Monk and chairman Huw Jenkins had taken place, but that other commitments had prevented anything further taking place while Monk continued to take training. By yesterday, the clearest hint possible that the axe was about to fall came when Jenkins confirmed that “something needs to change,” in terms of the direction that the club is taking. This afternoon, speculation became a matter of fact.
In the cut-throat world of Premier League football, that Monk should have departed from Swansea City should come as little surprise. The facts of the matter – a run of just one win in thirteen games, which has left the team a single, solitary point above the relegation places, and indubitably sliding in the wrong direction – are exactly those that fit the profile of a modern football manager who has reached his use by date, yet this particular sacking is something more than merely the removal of a here today, gone tomorrow manger from his position. Garry Monk may only have been the manager of the club for twenty-two months but, as a player and then the manager, he had been a part of Swansea City for more than eleven years, and it was no ordinary eleven years, either.
When Garry Monk joined Swansea City in the summer of 2004, the club has just turned a corner in finishing in a mid-table position in the basement division of the Football League after a couple of seasons spent fighting just to avoid dropping into the non-league game. Two years later, following the arrival of Roberto Martinez at the club, he was appointed first team captain and, although injury blighted his first season with this responsibility, he was present and correct as the team was promoted into the Football League Championship in 2008 and then the Premier League in 2011. His appointment as interim player-manger at the Liberty Stadium following the departure of Michael Laudrup was no small surprise, but he kept the team in the Premier League at the end of the season and followed that up by taking it to eighth place – the second highest final league position in the club’s history after its sixth-placed finish at the end of the 1981/82 season – at the end of last season.
This time around, however, the magic hasn’t been much in evidence, and it has been suggested that at least some of the team’s players have a case to answer themselves over their commitment to the club. Certainly, the three-nil home defeat at the hands of Leicester City last weekend hinted at a team that had lost interest in the job that they are handsomely rewarded to perform, and it might be argued that as much of the decision to replace Garry Monk has come about because of the nature of his team’s recent performances as much as well as the actual results themselves. Players, however, are expendable in a different way to managers, and it’s entirely possible that the players of Swansea City will find their focus sharpened by the arrival of a new man in charge, a January transfer window looming, and the prospect of contract negotiations come the end of the season.
And yet, and yet. The propulsion of Swansea City from the nether regions of the Football League and into the Premier League has been one of the great success stories in the recent history of the game on this island. Managers have come and gone at the Liberty Stadium over the years, but there was something about the appointment of Garry Monk as the club’s player-manager spoke to the romantic in all of us. This was an appointment that seemed out of kilter with the zeitgeist, in terms of managerial appointments, in that it was neither a short-term fix nor the witless appointment of a name for the sake of being a name. The appointment of Garry Monk as the player-manager at the club was a further hint at a Premier League football club that wanted to do things differently, which had a long-term plan that was outside of the normal short-termist view that football clubs are almost compelled to take these days.
Despite all of this, it feels difficult to be critical of Swansea City over the decision that it has taken over the last couple of days. Fear of relegation is a very real one for the middle ranking clubs of the Premier League, and the vast amounts of wealth generated just by being in the top twenty make survival an imperative for all constituent clubs. As such, relegation has ceased to become little more than an inconvenience for established Premier League clubs. Parachute payments cushion the blow somewhat and clubs should always manage their obligations in such a way that worst case scenarios such as relegation can be absorbed, of course, but to an extent the jumpiness of Premier League clubs at the wrong end of the league table as autumn turns to winter and the nights continue to close in is a mark of a broken system. The financial inequality between the foot of the Premier League is too high. The costs of relegation are too great. Managerial gambles will inevitably taken, whether rightly or wrongly. Swansea City are, in this context, doing little more than playing by the rules of a broken game.
Having signed a three year contract in July of this year, Garry Monk will be just fine. It’s already been reported that he’ll be due a £3m pay-off, after all. Indeed, such is the nature of the managerial merry-go-round that it’s perfectly possible that he won’t even be out of work for that long. At just thirty-six years old even now, there were enough signs during the happier days of his time as the club’s manager to suggest that, with the right group of players and a favourable wind behind him – which, ultimately, are the two constituent things that any manager really needs in order to be successful – he can go on to carve out a successful managerial career, in the fullness of time. Today, though, pragmatism won out over romanticism. It’s the reality of modern football, of course, but we don’t necessarily have to take a great deal of pleasure in it.
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