Swansea: From rags to riches - A tale worth knowing
The first time I went to see a football match live was in 2007. Our family was visiting friends in Wales on vacation. Newly addicted to the game of football, I pestered people until an older cousin (a Swansea fan) agreed to take me along.
It was an experience like no other, when 20,000 people stood up and cheered as one; it was something that took my breath away. The match I remember was against Leeds United, and the Swans won 3-2 thanks to a goal scored by a quick burly center forward and a defender. I was later to learn that the center forward was club legend Jason Scotland, and the other was lifetime Swansea captain Garry Monk.
While watching Swansea play Arsenal, my memories were rekindled, and I would like to tell you the mammoth struggle this club had to undergo to reach its current position.
Few people know this but Swansea were the first club to climb the four divisions in England in four seasons. They also recorded, at the time, the highest placement for a newly promoted club. Next season, though, they were relegated and 3 years later, their meteoric rise had been followed by its nadir. But the off-field problems were aplenty too.
As creditors sought to dissolve Swansea to get back their debts, Swansea were on the verge of being wound up, but were saved by local businessman Doug Sharpe. A story of one step forward and two steps backward followed as the club got successive promotions and relegations.
In 2002, though, the club was sold to an Australian consortium who badly mismanaged the club and it’s resources. Several players were shown the door and supporters were against the owners. A group of fans, under another club legend, Mel Nurse, bought the new owners off and soon began a new era for Swansea City.
Roberto Matinez arrived in the middle of the 2005-06 season and was to change the club forever. He had been a player for them for three seasons and had even been the captain in the last season. Until then, Swansea had played with the English 4-4-2. Martinez, after initial indecision, adopted the 4-5-1 for better passing and ball retention. The start was tough, movement was slow, and games were boring, but soon the results started to come in. Britton, a right winger, was made a central midfielder under Martinez. After an initial failure and fan protests, Swansea began getting results with neat possession based football. The next season, they won the League One title and reached the Championship.
The first year back in the Championship, Swansea performed well, and changed the way the game was played. They took long shots, short set pieces, hardly crossed and relied more on cut backs into the area. Through brilliance in possession, Swansea befuddled those around them. They had a 1-1 draw with Fulham at home in the FA cup quarter-finals. This was the game that really announced them to the world. Their playing style was a revelation to this side of the Atlantic, like Arsenal but with better variations. Martinez was also responsible for building up the core of present day Swansea with signings such as Ashley Williams and Nathan Dyer.
The Telegraph wrote, “Such was Swansea’s style against Fulham on Saturday that they drew more lascivious looks than was decent on Valentine’s Day.”
His project was being successful, but Martinez, and along with him striker Jason Scotland, decided to join Wigan Athletic. The Swans fans and management loved the continental style of Martinez and appointed another continental man in Paolo Sousa. Sousa, though, was incredibly defensive and taught the Swans the pressing game, based on the ideas of Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan. The Swans conceded the least goals but also scored the fewest in the division.
After Sousa had left, a Mourinho assistant, Brendan Rodgers, took over at the helm. He accepted Martinez’s brilliant work and decided to build on it. He continued the good work, made the passing slicker and quicker, worked more on tactics and formations and earned Swansea a place in the play-offs for the Premier League. He got Sinclair and Borini in the squad and the Swans were back in the Premier League.
The first season back was an eventful one for the Swans. They got praise from Britain and abroad. Finishing 11th in the Premier League, Swansea City were never in relegation trouble. Come the end of the season, and many players were being talked about in connection with other clubs. Caulker, a Spurs player on loan and a crucial part of the defense, was called back. Sinclair, too, took the next step forward and joined Manchester City. The man who got them promotion was lured away to Anfield. With him, he took the man that along with Britton had made the team click, Joe Allen.
Now Swansea were a blend of Martinez’s possession based game, Sousa’s high pressing and defensive game, and Rodger’s slickness and tactical awareness. They needed something to tie it up into a perfect package. Danish legend Micheal Laudrup was appointed. A great player in his days, he had learned at the feet of Cryuff, and in Swansea, he found the perfect club for his ideas.
Laudrup brought in players like Michu, Hernandez, De Guzman etc. And Swansea racked up the points impressively. They were not just a short passing team now, they altered play, put in long balls, conceded possession and sat deep if necessary. Swansea has evolved greatly under the Dane. The high point of this season would undoubtedly be their Cup run. They overcame all and sundry (including Chelsea, over two legs) to set up a final meeting with Bradford City. They absolutely thrashed the League One side and won their first trophy since formation.
Not the work of one man, one manager or even one team, Swansea City stands proof to the fact that you do not need truckloads of money to succeed. What you really need is fans who love the club, players who believe in it and managers who give it their all. For a club that a decade ago was in the fourth division, they will now play in the Europa League. Not only that, they are also called the Barcelona of England. Not bad, right?