After last year’s success under the direction of Brendan Rodgers, Swansea City were celebrated for having one of the finest debut seasons out of any newly promoted side since the inception of the Barclays Premier League. Unlike other beginners making their first tenuous steps in what is arguably the strongest division in world football, Swansea approached the opportunity without fear, bravely playing out the philosophy that had served them well in the Championship. With limited financial resources and a side that at first seemed to lack the quality expected at the top level, the Welsh outfit proved to be a breath of fresh air, adopting the world famous tiki-taka style that focuses on simplistic, but devastating offensive play.
With Joe Allen and Leon Britton serving as the fulcrum of the team, Swansea were soon impressing their peers with their cogent passing network that none too subtly resembled the methods of Xavi, Iniesta and co. in Catalonia. Assuming triangles that slowly advanced up the pitch as a stalking Tiger does in the long grass, the newcomers suffocated their opposition with well-drilled ball retention, leaving opposing players chasing the game, which proved to be most devastating for sides in the lower half of the table. Double-barreled with a high-pressing defensive line, and each member of the team willing to chase and harass opponents when out of possession, the Swans soon became a force to be reckoned with, going about their business with a bold impudence that had pundits nodding their heads in approval.
Eventually settling in eleventh place, an admirable finish for a debut season, it was inevitable that Brendan Rodgers would attract the attentions of the big fish. Soon enough, Liverpool, having sacked Kop idol Kenny Daglish, began to circle, offering the former Chelsea youth coach the chance to manage one of the world’s most decorated clubs in history. Understandably, Rodgers did not refuse, and swiftly departed for Merseyside with Joe Allen in tow. Disappointed at the departure of a man who had worked so fervently to elevate Swansea to the main stage, the board set about finding a manager who could help the team continue to gather momentum and prevent stagnation. Now endowed with a panache that many teams envied, it was crucial that Swansea picked up where they left off.
Fortunately, Danish footballing legend Michael Laudrup was prepared to take up the mantle. Having resigned from his post at Mallorca in 2011 after the firing of his assistant Erik Larsen, Laudrup was seeking an opening that would give him the license to conduct the type of fluid attacking football that he had been accustomed to during his playing days at the likes Barcelona and Ajax. With both parties impressed by what they had seen, Swansea and Laudrup seemed like the perfect fit, and a two-year contract was agreed.
During his tenure as the manager of Brondby in the Danish Superliga, Laudrup had enjoyed plenty of success; guiding the team to one championship and two Danish cups, completing The Double in the 2004-05 season. After a brief but comparatively successful stint at Getafe, followed by a disastrous period at Russian giants Spartak Moscow, Laudrup had forged a reputation for himself as a manager who vehemently insisted upon offensive, alluring football, his stubborn character contributing to his lack of continuity. At Mallorca, he restored his credit somewhat, keeping a struggling team from relegation, working with limited financial resources. Nevertheless, Swansea fans could be forgiven for their trepidation at the appointment of a man whose managerial career had been characterized by vagrancy.
However, any skepticism that may have existed was soon quietened after an auspicious beginning to the 2o12-13 campaign, opened with an impressive 5-0 drubbing of QPR at Loftus Road, Laudrup’s first competitive match in charge. In the summer, the Dane had purchased sound investments in the transfer market, opting out of chasing expensive domestic talent and snagging La Liga players on the cheap such as Michu, Chico Flores, Pablo Hernandez, and Jonathan de Guzman. Michu in particular proved to be a roaring success, netting 18 goals in the Premier League, with a total of 22 in all competitions. In midfield, de Guzman, on loan from Villarreal, impressed many with his apt passing range, bustling energy, and an eye for goal. Chico, though perhaps lacking in natural talent, proved to be a dogged acquisition who could certainly hold his own in a physical battle; an asset that is essential in the British game.
With most of Laudrup’s acquisitions effectively slotting into the squad, players from the previous campaign were given the impetus to take their game up a notch, with Ashley Williams particularly catching the eye after many a firm display at the heart of Swansea’s back-line. Under their new manager, the team continued to adopt their enthralling passage of play, but with even more precision, scoring more goals and venturing forward with a higher level of intensity, eventually finishing in ninth place, confirming their capability to progress and not suffer from the dreaded second season syndrome.
After some truly enthralling performances in the league, Swansea showed real mettle in the League Cup, making it all the way to Wembley upon where they thoroughly trounced Bradford City, plundering five goals without reply. Laudrup had achieved a feat that none of his predecessors had managed, guiding the club to their first major piece of silverware in their 100-year history. Now that Swansea look to have firmly established themselves as a formidable top-flight side, they will be expected to kick on in the same vein next season and potentially challenge for a spot in the Europa League or at the very least make the top half once again.
However, in order to continue their project it is crucial that they satisfy the needs of their manager, who has demanded the necessary funds to compete next season, with the likes of West Ham, Southampton, and Newcastle all aiming to strengthen their ranks this summer in the hope of attaining European status themselves. If Swansea cannot provide for Laudrup, the threat of his departure could very swiftly become a reality. In the past few days, Laudrup and his agent have made some comments expressing concerns about the strength of the team, with the Dane stating his uncertainty about the prospects of the next campaign, with an impending financial scramble set to erupt in the coming weeks.
Speaking to Sky Sports, the 48-year-old reckoned that last term might have been the peak of Swansea’s ambitions.
“Unless we find a couple of hundred million pounds I think last season we achieved nearly the maximum we can in terms of the table,” said the Dane.
“There are always things you can improve but there are not many higher positions we can look at.
“Even consolidating is going to be very difficult.
“Some of the teams below us this season will invest heavily: West Ham, Newcastle, Aston Villa. They are huge clubs who want to take the place where we are right now.”
Laudrup’s agent, Bayram Tutumulu, claimed that his client had spurned several offers from other clubs to stay in South Wales, but was certain that a high-profile offer would come calling in the future.
“Michael Laudrup, just now, is very happy at Swansea City. Of course Michael has had offers from elsewhere,” Tutumulu said this week.
“Other teams can wait one or two years. We know Michael is going to train the big teams but that is not the moment.”
Though these comments need not unnerve the Swansea support too much right now, the threat of a departure still lingers in the air, even though Laudrup currently appears to be settled at the club. His agent is clearly instigating the speculation, proclaiming his client’s loyalty but not ruling out a defection at the same time. After all, the summer is only beginning, and who knows what sharks may be circling around a manager who could potentially be one of the leading names off the field, just as he was on it.
The hundreds of millions of pounds that Laudrup spoke of are way out of reach for the club, and were certainly only a way of justifying his point. The Dane will not be expecting a major overhaul of the squad, nor will he dare hold Swansea to ransom if they do not break the bank to appease his ambitions. Laudrup is merely being a realist, in full knowledge that football has transformed into a moneyball affair where success is now frequently bought instead of being earned through careful preparation and patience. In order for him to ensure that the team does not fall short of expectations next time around, it is paramount that the board do whatever they can to aid his doctrines, getting behind him in the pursuit of selected targets who play football the Laudrup way.
If the feared outcome became an actuality before or during the season, it is likely that whoever replaces Laudrup would be a step down in standards. The custom in which Swansea play the game is one that is coveted by almost all of the top clubs in Europe, and many of the primary advocates for that custom are already in employment. At the moment, Swansea are one of the most engrossing teams to watch, going about their business with a grace and facileness that runs like water off a duck’s back. But that could all change in one hand-shake, one scribble on a dotted line, for the wolves obscured in the darker regions of the standings to begin to lick their lips in anticipation.
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