Monday’s Championship Playoff Final between Swansea City and Reading (10am ET, live on Fox Soccer Channel) offers the winning club the most substantial prize in world soccer, approximately £90 million according to Deloitte, the accountancy group.
The £90 million is calculated based on more than £40 million in TV revenue, gate receipts and commercial income next season. Plus, the club would get payments of up to £48m if immediately relegated. Obviously the prize money is a gigantic number, but what do we need to know about Swansea and Reading going into this match?
Many of us will remember Reading’s impressive first year in the Premier League during the 2006-07 season. This was a club that won many hearts and minds in the United States with their attacking style of play and the way they played together as a team. Kevin Doyle, Leroy Lita, Shane Long, Stephen Hunt and Nicky Shorey were just a few of the players who stood at that season, while US goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann was influential between the posts. The 07-08 season wasn’t as impressive for Reading as they suffered from a poor run of form during the second half of the season and were relegated as a result.
Since dropping out of the Premier League, they lost in the Championship Playoff semi-final in the 08-09 season. A few hours after the manager, manager Steve Coppell quit. His replacement was a man named Brendan Rogers (more about him later). However by December, Rogers was sacked and Reading went on to finish the 09-10 season in ninth position. This season, Reading have enjoyed a resurgence under new manager Brian McDermott especially in the latter half of the season where they rocketed up the league and finished in fifth position, and then beat Cardiff in the semi-final to make it to Wembley.
Swansea on the other hand have never played in the Premier League. If they win Monday, they’ll be the first Welsh club to play in the Premier League. The last time a Welsh club was in the top flight was 1983 when Swansea was managed by former Wales manager John Toshack. Since the highs of 1982 and 1983, Swansea plummeted down the leagues, were sold for £1 ten years ago and were one game away from being relegated to the Football Conference seven years ago but defeated Hull City on the final day of the season to stay up. Since then, Swansea have stabilized themselves, moved into a new stadium six years ago and even made a profit last season, a rare occurrence for any club near the top flight of British football.
On the pitch, Swansea are the Welsh version of Barcelona. They prefer the passing game interspersed with plenty of movement and speed. This comes from the influence of Liverpool legend Jan Molby who had Swansea beginning this style in 1996 followed through by successive managers including Roberto Martinez, Paulo Sousa and now Brendan Rogers (yes, the same man who was sacked by Reading over 12 months ago).
Rogers used to be a footballer at Reading before hanging up his boots to become a football manager. His resume is quite impressive. He was appointed as youth team manager at Chelsea by Jose Mourinho. Rogers succeeded there and was promoted to Chelsea reserve team manager in 2006. Rogers went on to manage Watford and Reading before being appointed by Swansea last summer. While Swansea last season narrowly missed out on qualifying for the playoffs under Sousa, Rogers was able to take that same team and make them into more of an attacking force.
That attacking prowess is one of the many reasons why Swansea have been a joy to watch this season. Their star player is Fabio Borini who joined Swansea from Chelsea on loan. The Italian striker has been a breath of fresh air up front for Swansea and his tally of six goals in nine appearances was enough to cement their place in the playoffs.
Other players to watch out for are Scott Sinclair on the left wing and Nathan Dyer on the right wing as well as striker Stephen Dobbie (the same man who helped Blackpool qualify for the Premier League). Swansea are backed up the experienced Dutch goalkeeper Dorus de Vries as well as a strong defense led by Ashley Williams (who plays for Wales) and a midfield comprising Leon Britton (formerly of West Ham United) and Welsh youngster Joe Allen.
While Swansea employ an attacking style of play and are a joy to watch, so too are Reading. Their key player is Shane Long, the Irish striker who was instrumental in defeating Cardiff City in the Championship semi-final. His two goals against Cardiff brought his season tally to 25. But one of their best players of the year has been Ian Harte, the veteran Irish left back who is best known for helping Leeds United reach the UEFA Champions League in 2001. Meanwhile, Reading are hoping winger Jimmy Kebe, who has missed their last six matches because of a thigh injury, can play a part at Wembley.
Manager Brian McDermott was Rogers’s chief scout when he was at Reading FC, so the two men know each other well. It’ll be an interesting test between these two managers who both have something to prove.
One of the other things that Reading and Swansea are renowned for are their passionate supporters. Both Swansea and Reading have sold out their allotment of 40,000 tickets each, so the stadium will be packed with more club supporters than what was at the UEFA Champions League Final between Barcelona and Manchester United.