Watching football fans watching the football
As Swansea await their first ever major final – and possible European qualification – Christopher Davies looks back on a remarkable decade for the Swans...
It's a situation Swansea fans are only too familiar with. Having watched their side evolve and thrive, they will be well aware that attractive, successful football comes at a cost: risking the loss of the key men who drive that success.
While the Swans enjoy their comfortable mid-table position and first major domestic cup final, could the unsavoury side-effects of success spoil what has arguably been the greatest era in the club’s history?
Kenny Jackett founded a basis on which to grow, with promotion from the bottom tier just in time for their 2005 move to the Liberty Stadium, followed by a Football League Trophy victory. Roberto Martinez then brought League One title success and an impressive Championship run.
But these triumphs led to various players leaving for more money at bigger clubs, while Martinez headed to Premier League Wigan Athletic, taking four coaching staff with him.
"Nice place, innit?" Martinez greets Laudrup at Swansea
Asked to build on that legacy, Paulo Sousa may have sacrificed some of Martinez’s attacking flair for defensive solidity, but Swansea finished the season in their highest league position for 27 years.
Brendan Rodgers followed to complete the fairytale, which saw the Swans promoted to the top flight via a thrilling play-off final against Reading. Their debut Premier League campaign served only to highlight the panache, impressing one and all with an admirable 11th-placed finish.
The reason why this backstory is so important is to show what was passed down to Laudrup. This is not to do him a disservice, but the evidence of Swansea’s emphatic rise is clear to see.
Laudrup inherited a squad that was more than capable of holding its own in the Premier League. However, with several players disappointed at Rodgers’ exit to Liverpool and the likes of Steven Caulker, Joe Allen and Scott Sinclair moving on, the Dane must be applauded for continuing the good work – and arguably improving it: the Swans sit in eighth, six places higher than they did at the end of last February, with that League Cup Final to come.
Among the new faces to the fore this season are unflappable centre-back Chico Flores, loan signing Jonathan de Guzman, academy product Ben Davies and goal-getting Michu (so good they named him, erm, once).
Michu and De Guzman celebrate the latter's semi-final opener with friends
This is very much Laudrup’s team but his appointment, the way the club have gone about their business and their style of football dates back to those initial foundations laid almost a decade ago.
However, if history is anything to go by then the Swans will once again have to make some difficult decisions. Interest in their star players and desirable manager is likely to increase from the football heavyweights.
If Laudrup were to leave, the difficulty for Swansea is deciding which direction to take. They can follow the same route as before: find a man who believes in their style of play and hope he connects with the players, staff and fans. Swansea’s track record with managerial choices is strong, after all.
But if they chose a different course, appointing a more established manager and signing big-name players in order to increase the club’s stature, their integral ethos and spirit could be lost. This problem may also present itself to Laudrup in his own transfer policy, although his time at Brøndby seems to suggest he prefers young attacking talents to bigger, more worldly-wise names.
One hopes this is pure conjecture. Lauded by players, coaches and peers as one of football's gentlemen, Laudrup may not be swayed by the temptation of a bigger project, regardless of his hotfooting history (he's on his fifth managerial job in a decade, having barely lasted a year in any of his last three positions).
Star man Michu and notable team-mates, including Ashley Williams and Michel Vorm, have signed contracts and committed their futures to the club. But this time last year, Rodgers did the very same thing – and now rumours are linking the Anfield boss with a move for Swans skipper Williams.
Sigurdsson and Allen have gone: who's next?
With the huge opportunity to claim Swansea’s first-ever major silverware – and qualify for Europe – Laudrup must know he is onto a good thing. But can they sustain it?
That old adage of good players not making good managers may not be true for this former midfield maestro. Now it is up to Swansea to convince their greatest summer acquisition to stay and continue his fine work. History has surely taught Laudrup that chasing bigger and better prematurely is not always the right choice – but it has also taught Swansea not to panic when a manager does leave.
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