The thing about soccer, and sports in general, is that you never know. You never know who is going to win or score that equalizer in the last minute. You never know who is going to get yellow carded, or what decision a referee will make during a controversial incident. Everything is in the heat of the moment. It’s why we love the game of soccer so dearly because anything can happen.
Staring reality in the face, Swansea City — the club I’ve supported since I was a boy — have already been relegated from the Premier League before they’ve even kicked a ball. Most of my readers think so. Sixty six percent of The Guardian’s writers surveyed predicted the Swans will go down. Even my own readers predicted that Swansea are the most likely to be relegated out of the three promoted teams. It appears that Swansea is doomed.
However, contrary to almost everyone else’s opinion, I believe they’ll exceed everyone’s expectations. I don’t think this is going to happen on Monday evening against Manchester City at Etihad Stadium, although I would love it. But the hard work from Swansea’s players and wisdom from manager Brendan Rodgers will pay off during the course of the season.
Swansea couldn’t have picked a harder club to play against in their first match of the 2011-12 Premier League season. Norwich got Wigan, while Queens Park Rangers got Bolton. But Swansea have never had it easy. This is a club who has had to fight its way throughout its history. Nestled along the coast of South Wales, in one of the poorest regions of Europe, the club has persevered. Swansea City were almost liquidated in 1985. Then in 2003, the club were one game away from being relegated to the Football Conference. They won 4-2 against Hull City, and have never looked back.
Many of you may think I’m blinded by my love for the club. You may be right, but here are the reasons why I’m not only confident they’ll escape relegation but will exceed expectations this season:
(1) they have a tremendous team spirit,
(2) they have one of the brightest young managers in Brendan Rodgers, who is destined for success in his career (first with Swansea, but eventually with a bigger club), and
(3) they’re filled with a very talented squad.
Swansea may not have the superstars that Manchester City has, but they can play football exceedingly well. Combined with the team spirit and intelligent manager, they have the formula needed to shock a lot of the teams in the Premier League. Again, I’m not expecting Swansea to beat Manchester City today, but they definitely will give them a few frights especially with their pace down the wings. On the left, Scott Sinclair is dangerous, while on the right wing, either Wayne Routledge or Nathan Dyer (depending who gets the nod to play) should cause Kolarov (or Clichy) some headaches.
The Swans don’t have the big name players that many other Premier League clubs have. But what the Welsh club does have is a philosophy of playing football. They’ve been compared to Barcelona in the past, so the Swansealona nickname isn’t surprising. They like to play the ball on the ground. Instead of kicking it down the pitch, the goalkeeper starts the distribution in the back and you’ll see the team trying to pass the ball around the pitch and look for that forward pass to either Danny Graham (signed from Watford) or Stephen Dobbie (the player who helped get Blackpool promoted to the Premier League). Swansea also has Leroy Lita (from Reading and Middlesbrough) as added firepower.
Swansea’s brand of attractive attacking style football should win a lot of admirers this season. There is still a question mark about the squad though. They just signed the Dutch national team’s number two goalkeeper Michel Vorm from Utrecht. His first game for Swansea will be today, so it’ll be a tall order to expect him to adapt so quickly against Manchester City. Talk about being thrown in the deep end for your debut.
Other than that, Swansea should be able to choose from a full team squad except for captain Garry Monk who is out injured.
Expect Swansea to start central defenders Steven Caulker (on loan from Tottenham) and Ashley Williams (Wales captain), while Alan Tate and Angel Rangel will play left back and right back respectively. The engine of the team will be diminutive holding midfielder Leon Britton (who used to play for West Ham United), who will be supplying the ball to Dobbie and Welsh youngster Joe Allen. Wingers Sinclair and Dyer will probably start, while Graham up front will create many of Swansea’s goalscoring chances.
Today’s match for Swansea is the first of 38 Cup finals the club will play this season in the Premier League. While almost everyone is writing them off, I’m a strong believer in team spirit and talent. And this is a team that is overflowing with both. I’ll be the first to admit that some clubs can look amazing when they play in the Championship but look like they’re in a different class when they play in the Premier League. But I’m confident that Swansea is no Derby County who only won one match during the 2007-08 season in the top flight.
We’ve seen so many teams in the past who have had tremendous talent, but just couldn’t hold it together as a team. West Ham last season was a good example. So too was Liverpool in the early part of last season. You can see what a tremendous difference team spirit and confidence has. Swansea exude confidence. Many of their players may not have Premier League experience, but they believe in themselves, the club and their teammates. They’ll be confident that their system of playing soccer will work well in the Premier League.
I encourage you to have an open mind when it comes to the Swans and to give them a chance. If you’ve never seen them play before, this season is a wonderful opportunity to see what all of the fuss is about. They’re an entertaining team to watch and they’ll be backed by some of the most passionate fans across the league, many of whom will be at Etihad Stadium today.
They may not win today, but hopefully Swansea will show enough glimmers of hope to convince you to keep on watching them throughout the season.