AN AWKWARD TRIP TO THE SOUTH COAST OF WALES is par for the course for Premier League teams these days. Garry Monk’s Swansea are a side packed full of guile and guilt edge quality, who have established themselves as the league’s most refined mid-table mainstay. No matter how you look at it the club has never been this healthy. Far from it, in fact.
Just a decade before Swansea’s ascension to the big time the main concern was fighting against irresponsible ownership. It’s a recurring theme in modern football that can raise a fine club to the ground in the blink of an eye. If not for the commitment of a supporters group, Swansea could easily have joined the ever-growing list of former Football League clubs.
In 2001, after years of struggling in the lower leagues of the English game, the club was sold to an Australian consortium. They bought their stake from managing director Mike Lewis who had previously paid £1 for the club.
It would begin a period of enormous turmoil that would eventually lead to the first embers of Swansea’s revival being stoked. The consortium, which was fronted by Tony Petty, began its reign by sacking seven players and terminating the contracts of a further eight.
These brutal dismissals caused anger among fans and the Swansea City Supporters’ Trust was born. It would take a five-month stand off between the Petty consortium and a rival group, fronted by former player Mel Nurse, to wrench the club away from the Australian owners.
The intervention of Jim Moore and Mel Griffin finally secured a deal that would ultimately save Swansea. With Petty’s consortium threatening to bankrupt the club rather than sell it to Nurse, the involvement of Moore and Griffin was vital.
They had previously helped stabilise Hull City and handed the club over to the Nurse group after completing the deal; again the fee was £1. The small figure was in recognition of the fact they felt clubs should be run by local people, and the Supporters’ Trust now owns 20% of the club. Huw Jenkins took over as chairman and has been a key element in Swansea’s approach on and off the pitch since.
Three years later Swansea made the move to the Liberty stadium and upon the resignation of Kenny Jacket, who had taken them into League One, appointed Roberto Martínez. Swansea haven’t looked back since.
Under Martinez’s more continental style of play the Swans went on an 18-game unbeaten run to secure promotion to the Championship as League One winners in 2008. After Martínez departed to Wigan a brief interlude with Paolo Sousa preceded Brendan Rodgers taking them into the Premier League with a 3-0 playoff final win. Throughout this time the football played remained possession-orientated and highly entertaining.
The inexorable rise of Swansea has been nothing short of spectacular – not only in the speed with which it has been achieved, but also in the football on show. This quality undoubtedly stems from a philosophy that informs all the work the club does. Continuity is the core and has had the final say in the acquisition of players and managers alike.
From Martínez, via Rodgers and Michael Laudrup, to Monk, cherishing the football has been boss in Wales. The approach has worked, and three promotions have been accompanied by a first major honour in the 5-0 League Cup final win over Bradford. Swansea’s identity as a passing, attacking side is now well and truly ingrained.
To play such a brand of football is a bold move against the often brutish sides of the lower leagues of English football, but Swansea and boldness tend to go hand in hand. This boldness is best evidenced in the appointment of Monk. The club captain who, at 34, had no experience of managing at any level, let alone in the Premier League, Monk’s is a rise with throwback qualities.
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Garry Monk has forged a reputation as one of the best young English managers in the game
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In years gone by fan favourite to manager was an established career path as the likes of Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool and Ruud Gullit and Gianluca Vialli at Chelsea showed. These men would go onto to have varying levels of success with only Dalglish becoming a championship-winning manager and enhancing his status at Anfield. In the modern game, the idea of an untested graduate is looked upon with caution.
Instant success and, more importantly, avoiding instant failure due to increased financial rewards and burden has made clubs uneasy over untried goods. Swansea’s appreciation for continuity led them to view Monk as the ideal candidate in the wake of Laudrup’s dismissal. He knew the club and knew what was expected of a Swansea side.
A man with a reportedly insatiable appetite for hard work Monk took to the task quickly and maintained the clubs high standards. Initially an interim appointment, his successful negotiation of his first three months in charge earned him a permanent deal in May 2014.
Monk has gone from surprise candidate to candidate for the England job in less than two years in management. The calls for the former centre back to take over from Roy Hodgson if England’s Euro 2016 campaign takes its predictably disappointing route may seem premature. Monk, however, sits in a company of just five Englishmen managing in the top flight, one of which being Steve McClaren who has already had a crack at managing the national team.
Should the FA opt to go for an English manager their options will be thin on the ground. Monk, along with Alan Pardew, has been the standout homegrown manager in the Premier League in the last year and would deserve consideration. After all, he has shown at Swansea that he can arrive prematurely, fight for survival and ultimately prosper.
Despite reigning in the intricacies of Laudruap’s side slightly he remains true to the free-flowing style demanded of a 21st century Swansea team. Monk fitted the bill for a Swansea manager rather than wanting to change the working formula of a successful, growing club. Imagine, for example, if Manchester United had followed the Swansea blueprint for stability after Sir Alex Ferguson retired. It would have been some statement.
Ryan Giggs, who took over for four games in the wake of David Moyes’ tenure, would have been the choice were they to take a similar plunge to that of Swansea’s. At a massive club like United it is an unlikely and perhaps unwise move as the already high pressures of football management are intensified greatly.
But as a man who spent his entire career at Manchester United, Giggs is steeped in the history and identity of the club. There are no guarantees that he would’ve succeeded, but the swashbuckling philosophy built up over 27 years under Ferguson that has vanished from Old Trafford would surely have endured.
Away from the pitch Swansea have become smart operators in the transfer market. A buy low sell high policy has seen names such as Michu and Wilfried Bony arrive at the club for minimal fees and have a telling great impact.
While Michu is currently in a state of injury plagued purgatory at the club, a £2 million investment represents a fantastic outlay for 28 goals in 67 games. Bony, a £12 million buy from Vitesse Arnhem, played a central role at Swansea before departing to Manchester City for £28 million just 18 months later.
André Ayew, whose services were bizarrely turned down by Liverpool this summer, arrived on a free and has hit the ground running. Ayew is further proof of the fine work done by those in charge at Swansea. All these players have key qualities in common; they are technically gifted, intelligent with their decision making, have an eye for goal and bought into the Swansea way of playing immediately.
The long-term goals of Swansea should be looked at with optimistic ambition. The increased revenue from the mammoth new TV deal will make it easier for middleweight Premier League clubs to compete for marquee players. Similarly, they will not have to so readily allow star players to leave when the big guns come knocking.
Swansea have frequently held their own against the Premier League powerhouses and appear well suited to push into the upper echelons of the division. The fan-backed approach has masterminded their remarkable turnaround from a basement dwelling club into established top tier contenders. The champions of continuity, much like their philosophy, are here to stay.
By Harry Gray. Follow @Hgray55