Swansea City and Francesco Guidolin owe a huge debt of gratitude to Alan Curtis

alan-curtis

When Garry Monk was sacked as manager of Swansea City on December 9, Swansea City were in a free fall. At that time, they had recorded just one victory in their previous 11 games.

With the club unable to finalize deals with several prospective managers, the Swans decided to name assistant coach Alan Curtis as interim manager for as short or long as necessary. While Curtis took the temporary reins, he brought a breath of fresh air to the Liberty Stadium club, making key lineup and tactical changes. Out went Bafetimbi Gomis, Jonjo Shelvey and Kyle Bartley. In came a better passing game with more chances created on goal, as well as a renewed enthusiasm on the pitch.

In his short stint of 7 games in charge, he helped the club earn a precious 8 points, which stemmed the free fall and put belief back into the hearts and minds of Swansea players and supporters. Even in the games they lost under his direction (1-2 to Manchester City, 1-2 to Manchester United and 2-4 to Sunderland), the Swans were unlucky. They should have earned a point against Manchester City if it wasn’t for a 90th minute City deflected goal by Kelechi Iheanacho. Swansea came close to drawing United at Old Trafford after hitting the woodwork before Rooney clinched the winner. And in the debacle against Sunderland, the referee made three wrong decisions that changed the course of the game (not catching Sunderland’s clear offside on the first goal, wrongfully sending off Swansea’s Kyle Naughton and awarding Swansea a penalty when Andre Ayew wasn’t fouled).

Despite those 3 defeats, the Swans still displayed a fighting spirit that had been missing under Monk.

When Guidolin took charge of his first Swansea game against Everton at Goodison Park, Curtis probably thought that his managerial time was over. But no one, not even Curtis, could have predicted Guidolin picking up a severe chest infection, which resulted in a hospital stay, forcing the highly-regarded Italian to miss 3 games in early March. In those matches, Guidolin picked the starting lineups from his sick bed while Curtis managed the team from the touchline.

The results from those 3 games for Curtis? Huge wins against Arsenal and Norwich, and a thrilling but eventual 2-3 loss against Bournemouth.

Even though Guidolin picked the starting lineups, it was Curtis who made key tactical changes during the first halves against Arsenal and Norwich that changed the games and ended in victories.

Fast forward to Saturday’s huge victory at home against Aston Villa where Guidolin returned to the sideline for the first time since February 28. While the 3 points achieved should be enough to keep Swansea up next season, it was a dire and frustrating performance from Swansea that should have the Swansea executives questioning whether Guidolin is the man to move the club forward after his contract expires this summer.

So what’s the difference between Guidolin and Curtis?

In the game against Villa, Swansea had one shot on target during the entire 90 minutes against the worst team in the Premier League. And technically the one shot on target wasn’t even that. The “shot” was American goalkeeper Brad Guzan flapping at the ball and pushing it into the path of Federico Fernandez’s shoulder, which catapulted the ball into the back of the net.

For whatever reason, the Swansea players seem to be responding better to Curtis than Guidolin. Perhaps it’s a language barrier where Guidolin’s broken English isn’t getting across to his players as well as Curtis’ Welsh lilt? Or maybe, at the end of the day, it’s Curtis who knows this Swansea team (and their opponents) better than Guidolin.

Under Curtis, his impact has focused on bringing Mo Barrow into games far more than Monk did. Plus Curtis has utilized Gomis mostly in a role as an impact sub where he’s more effective compared to Guidolin who started the Frenchman in the game against Villa.

Games in chargeWinsWin %Draws againstAvg points per game
      
Curtis10WBA, Watford, Arsenal, Norwich40%West Ham, Crystal Palace1.4
Guidolin6Everton, Aston Villa33%WBA, Crystal Palace1.33

Despite Curtis being able to get more out of this squad than Guidolin, the fact remains that both managers have been pulling from the same pool of players. And the performances of those players hasn’t been good enough. Curtis’ tactical nous and more effective rotation of players has been good, but it doesn’t hide the fact that the team continues to be criminally poor when defending set plays, and they haven’t been creating enough chances in front of goal.

With the January departure of Shelvey and the arrival of Italian striker Alberto Paloschi as well as the improved output from Gylfi Sigurdsson, there have been flashes of brilliance but they’ve been tempered by too many negatives. Swansea fans aren’t accustomed to seeing so many misplaced passes and lack of concentration. It isn’t the Swansea Way.

The difficult question for Swansea will be what to do this summer when Guidolin’s contract expires. With Antonio Conte leaving the Italian national job this summer, Guidolin has been tipped by many in Italy as someone who could take the position, which could be a blessing in disguise for Swansea. But at the same time, Guidolin hasn’t had an opportunity to integrate his 3-3-4 formation that he’s renowned for. No matter what happens, Swansea will have plenty of options this summer and could go back in the market to try to lure Dennis Bergkamp, Unai Emery, Marcelo Bielsa or someone else.

Compared side to side, both Guidolin and Curtis have had a positive impact on the team’s results, but it’s Curtis who has been the unsung hero at the club at the same time that most pundits, who don’t follow the club that closely, unfairly are praising Guidolin with success.

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