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Swansea City: From a model of stability to Premier League basket-case

Bob Bradley SwanseaSwansea City have in recent times had a fine record against my team, Manchester United. They knocked David Moyes’ side out of the FA Cup at Old Trafford and defeated Louis Van Gaal’s incarnation in three out of the four Premier League games between the sides. It is some time since United had an easy ride against the Swans, and yet that is exactly what transpired in South Wales in early November.

The struggles of someone else’s club are often observed from afar and it is difficult to appreciate the depth of the malaise. The first forty-five minutes of that match against Bob Bradley’s team laid bare the disorganisation and lack of talent and fitness on show. United had won only once since August and yet they strolled around the pitch, scoring three times without reply in the first half. The mood of the home fans turned ugly and a marginally better second period, as Mourinho’s side took their foot off the gas, did little to improve the mood. The fans, far from enamoured with their new American owners, their decision to sack previous manager Francesco Guidolin and performances under his replacement, had had enough. Their side has won only twice in the League since then, a crazy 5-4 home victory over an ailing Crystal Palace and a 3-0 defeat of fellow strugglers Sunderland, and after a 4-1 home defeat by West Ham, played out in a mutinous atmosphere, Bradley was sacked, only eleven games into his tenure. Swansea City are bottom of the Premier League and in an absolute mess.

What is incredible is that until very recently Swansea were quite rightly being hailed as the model mid-size top division club. In 2001/2, still at the dilapidated Vetch Field, the club finished 20th in League Two and were in a parlous financial state. A year later they again just survived the drop to non-league football finishing 21st, but from there a miraculous rise through the English Football Pyramid began. Five years later they found themselves in the Championship and playing in a tremendous new stadium, the greater financial security it gave the club paying dividends on the pitch. The ownership structure, established when the club was taken over in 2002, gave the Supporters’ Trust a 21.1% stake, theoretically ensuring the fans representation in the future decisions of the club.

After three years at that level Brendan Rodgers led Swansea to promotion, via the playoffs, to the Premier League and then to a creditable 11th placed finish in the top flight. Over the next four years they would never finish lower than twelfth, even after Rodgers left for Liverpool, and under Michael Laudrup won the League Cup against Bradford City at Wembley, the club’s first ever major trophy triumph. Swansea spent prudently in the transfer market and in 2012 and 2013 made profits of £14.2m and £15 cialis ohne rezept kaufen.9m respectively, whilst their return to European football saw the club perform creditably, most notably with a remarkable 3-0 Europa League win in Spain against Valencia.

It is hard to identify exactly when the seeds of the current decline were sewn. In February 2014 manager Michael Laudrup was sacked after six defeats in eight games, with the club sitting only two points above the relegation zone. There were suspicions that the Dane was not committed to his job and was angling for a move to a bigger club. The decision to replace him with the untested club stalwart Gary Monk initially appeared to pay off as he revived the team and lifted them to their second highest ever finish, eighth in the top flight. The following December however, The Swans were once again in the mire and Monk, now working wonders at Leeds United, was sacked. Perhaps this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Monk was replaced by former Udinese boss Francesco Guidolin, an appointment considered bizarre at the time, particularly given the Italian’s lack of English. Surprisingly, however, he did manage to stabilise the club, achieving a 12th placed finish last season. Prior to the 2016/17 campaign the club came under new ownership, as the 2002 consortium of eight investors sold Swansea City to an American investment group fronted by Jason Levein and Steve Kaplan for £100m, one hundred times what they had originally paid for it. The Supporters’ Trust, who retained their share, were furious at being kept in the dark about the takeover and their concerns about the new owners appear have been well founded.

This season Guidolin’s Swansea struggled and at the start of October the Italian was shown the door. Controversially the new owners selected compatriot Bob Bradley to replace him. The American had only two years coaching experience in Europe in a peripatetic career and his spells at Le Havre and Stabaek were brief and far from awe inspiring. Rather than improving, results declined further and with only one win in eleven, his team having conceded 29 goals and hopelessly rooted to the bottom of the Premier League, Bradley was sacked.

It would be simplistic to blame the managers for the club’s decline. Key players such as Joe Allen and Wilfried Bony were sold and not adequately replaced and the decision to let stalwart centre back Ashley Williams leave for Everton last summer saw the exit of the last of the core of high quality players who were as responsible as any for Swansea’s relative success and top-level stability. Andre Ayew had an excellent 2015/16 season after being signed on a free transfer, but was transferred on to West Ham for £20m in the summer. His replacement was £15m perpetual Atletico Madrid loanee Borja Baston, a success at Eibar last season but a disaster in South Wales. Bafetimbi Gomis was allowed to return to France on loan having scored only 17 goals in 71 appearances after signing as Bony’s replacement. Fernando Llorente has offered more of a goal threat when played, but this season a relatively poor squad has been poorly organised and coached, a terminal combination which will surely see Swansea relegated, barring a miraculous recovery under a new manager.

The decision regarding a successor to Bradley is now perhaps the most vital in the club’s recent history. Whilst the stadium remains a hugely valuable asset for the club, relegation would undo much of the great progressive building work carried out by the previous owners under Chairman Huw Jenkins. Already the stability for which they have previously been commended has evaporated, and Jenkins and co must take some of the blame for that, sacking Laudrup and, most significantly, Monk after periods of short-term pain. The long game was overtaken by short-termism, surprising given the great work they had previously done. The new owners, fronted by Levein and Caplan (Jenkins remains as Chairman), have so far shown little nous and few Swans fans have confidence that they will get this vital decision right. Ryan Giggs is understood to be one candidate, a novice manager but a Welshman with a burning desire to prove his worth in such a position. His lack of experience, however, would be a huge risk, but his nationality and playing pedigree would gain him the respect of the fans and buy him some time.

The problem for Swansea City is that time is what they simply don’t have. Relegation to the Championship would be a disaster and the new owners now have to decide whether to heavily invest in January to attempt to beat the drop or to prepare for an arduous promotion battle next season. It seems incredible that the club should be having to make such decisions, so prudently and competently were they run, but Swansea City is not what it once was and the honour of being the model for club-building has exited the building. Arguably, it is Bournemouth that those in the lower divisions should aspire to be like. Swansea, unfortunately, are now the Premier League’s basket-case.

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