Soul-less Swans scrape draw as Clement sends message
At what point does playing hardball in transfer negotiations start to become an act of self-sabotage? The Gylfi Sigurdsson saga has dragged on longer than a Neil Taylor throw-in and with competitive fixtures now underway, it is starting to hurt the team. Saturday’s dire Swansea showing was practically a live performance art piece depicting this summer’s headline story in South Wales, the Swans resembling more a flailing snake with it’s head cut off than their majestic namesakes.
Of course, there are implications beyond this solitary piece of painfully protracted business. Swansea’s new owners Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan are setting an important new precedent. Swansea will not be bullied into selling their best players for small change any longer, and certainly not in an inflated market which has seen an aging one-dimensional right-back sold to Manchester City for the same fee Swansea are asking for the league’s best set-piece taker.
How Kyle Walker’s transfer fee is allowed to slide past as just another summer signing when Sigurdsson’s fee has generated 50 million inches worth of debate makes little sense (or rather it makes perfect sense when you consider that set pieces, despite being one of football’s surest ways to score when executed properly, are still seen as a black art that should never be practiced by the good, but only by the bad, the ugly, and Tony Pulis).
Walker’s greatest asset — his speed — will only decline from here on out. Sigurdsson was never fast, and the primary skill Everton are paying for — the Icelander’s already peerless dead ball technique — will only continue to improve with age. Of course, the fact Ronald Koeman’s side have no target man for Siggy to aim those dead balls at is not Swansea’s problem. Perhaps Everton should just have thrown £80m down for both Siggy and Fernando Llorente together?
Back on the field, Saturday’s miracle 0-0 draw was actually not all bad. Swansea should have been beaten, and by a Bradleyesque scoreline. To have played so poorly and still come away with a point at St Mary’s is quite an achievement. Had Swansea played well and come away with a 0-0, the exact same scoreline would have produced optimism for the new season, not face-palmingly pre-emptive talk about relegation.
No, if anything, this game was a masterclass in cutting a nose off without spiting a face. Paul Clement’s substitutions said it all. The boss did not start new signing Roque Mesa, covering his decision with a thin excuse about league tempo despite pre-season evidence suggesting Mesa is already more suited to top level football of any kind than half the existing squad. Nor did he introduce Mesa from the bench, opting instead to usher his three least experienced outfield players into a game that needed veteran savvy of exactly the sort Mesa can provide.
Was it a message? “My starters can’t win this match, and I don’t have enough on the bench to change this game”.
There are many things Clement could have done differently. He could have started Mesa. He could have played Leroy Fer in the hole instead of the ineffective Wayne Routledge, far too liminal a figure to ever convince in a central role. He could have played industrious foul-magnet Jordan Ayew at #10, undoubtedly earning more free kicks from the deeper position, from which Tom Carroll could show off his own superb set-piece skills, previously kept secret as Sigurdsson’s understudy. Clement could have then have played Oli McBurnie alongside Tammy Abraham to give Swansea two tall targets for Carroll to aim for, and given Swansea at least a long-ball threat from open play in the process. But he did none of these things.
Opting for Routledge in the hole was almost guaranteed to blunt the attack. The aging winger is a cult hero for some, but is a statistical no-show of Heskeyian proportions. Had Clement played Fer or Ayew in that position, there is a good chance they’d have done enough to convince Huw Jenkins not to spend any money on Nacer Chadli or Jonathan Viera or probably Marvin Emnes again. As it was, nobody could have watched that game and felt Swansea aren’t three or four players short of an actual Premier League team.
The window should be shut before the season starts, but as it is, Swansea have just over a couple of weeks to turn Sigurdsson into three effective new faces. The new owners should heed Clement’s message and quickly, because a similar demonstration next week against likely title winners Manchester United is going to end in a scoreline that will keep Swansea’ goal difference negative for the rest of the season.