Mid-Season Managers : The Secret Behind Swansea’s Struggles
From over-achieving Premier League debutantes to football’s “model club” to survival specialists perennially fighting relegation. Swansea’s story, once a source of pride, is becoming one of sadness. The club’s bright ambitions of 2011 have fallen into cellar-dwelling darkness, each of the past three seasons a fight against a tide happy to suck the tired and the poor, the huddled masses of big league mediocrity, down to the relative poverty of the Championship.
There is one trend in particular which is forcing Swansea into their perpetual slump, crippling the club’s chances to evolve the way in which 2013’s League Cup triumph and subsequent Europa League adventure suggested was possible:
Swansea keep appointing managers mid-season.
The last five men to lead the club were all appointed part-way through a season, replacing predecessors who were deemed to have failed the team in some way. The cycle has been the same:
New manager appointed mid-season to save club from relegation after previous manager struggles! New manager saves team and is awarded long contract! New manager struggles and is sacked mid-season! Leading to… New manager appointed mid-season to save club from relegation after previous manager struggles! New manager saves team and is awarded long contract! New manager struggles and is sacked mid-season! Leading to… New manager appointed mid-season to save club from relegation after previous manager struggles! New manager saves team and is awarded long contract! New manager struggles and is sacked mid-season! Leading to…
And so it goes, ad nauseum (or perhaps ad relegatio).
The impact is telling. Almost none of Swansea’s last five managers were given any real opportunity to impose their own tactical beliefs on the team, to instill a system, to recruit suitable players, and so on. Basically, all the things any manager needs to do to create a functional, effective team. Instead, they’ve mostly come into a mess of another man’s making, often with significantly different ideas. They’ve had to crib together a makeshift tactical plan on the hoof to save the club, and none were allowed to build a cohesive squad to their own liking.
Last summer, Paul Clement was denied the opportunity to shape his squad when ownership decided to play a three-month long game of cat-and-mouse with Everton over the sale of Gylfi Sigurdsson. The club’s hardball tactics eventually secured £45m for Sigurdsson’s services, but by the time the money came in there was no time left to spend it. Clement went into the season with no #10, eight central midfielders for some reason, and only one left back.
The summer before was the summer of the takeover. Francesco Guidolin had saved the club from relegation the previous season by playing pragmatic (if effective) football. The club delayed giving him a new contract. When they did, it came with what felt like a measure of reluctance, and the Italian was sacked just seven games into the season in order that American Bob Bradley could take over; a blatant marketing stunt from Swansea’s new American owners which backfired dramatically and lasted all of 85 days. Given that Guidolin was always a dead man walking, and that any summer transfer business was already complicated by the takeover, it is no wonder that the squad which took the field that season managed only a single victory in its first 12 games.
Garry Monk is the exception, the one manager given two relatively incident-free summer windows to shape his team, but he was always a company man; he was never going to rattle his cage when it came to transfers, and the evidence suggests that his contact book pretty much only ran to Swansea team-mates anyway (he recruited four current or former Swansea players while manager of Leeds for example).
The club’s recruitment wasn’t completely terrible at this time — misses like Eder and Franck Tabanou were offset by additions like Sigurdsson, Andre Ayew, Lukasz Fabianski, and Federico Fernandez. However, it is ironic that of all the managers Swansea have employed since Michael Laudrup, the rookie with no experience was given the best chance to succeed. That inexperience was Monk’s downfall, as he lacked the nous to rectify the club’s eventual slide into trouble. Had Guidolin or even Clement been given as much support, perhaps they’d have fared better.
Swansea’s greatest moments in the top flight came during their first two seasons: Brendan Rodgers’s 11th place finish in 2011-12, and Laudrup’s 2013 League Cup win and Europa League excursion the following season (and a half). What was different about these men? They were each appointed in the summer, and given time and license to build their squads to their liking. They each used their own contacts to bring in players which would prove key to their success (Scott Sinclair, Michu), and they each had enough previous experience to overcome everyday difficulties.
It’s a curious case of gratitude gone wrong that Swansea repeatedly fall into the same trap: becoming sufficiently enamored with their latest firefighter that they offer a multi year contract, only for the same man to falter the following season having not been supported sufficiently. It’s almost as if these men aren’t seen as worthy of better; they were just the best available at a time of crisis, and are given short shrift after the post-coital, contract-offering glow of survival fades.
In the present, Swansea are again poised to offer their latest survival specialist Carlos Carvalhal a long term contract. Carvalhal himself is said to prefer working on a year-by-year basis, and perhaps Swansea should take the opportunity to learn their lesson this time; the club are almost certainly still paying off their last two (if not three) managers as it is, and really can’t afford another Christmas redundancy payout.
There is nothing wrong with hiring someone to fight a fire, and then parting ways once the fire has been extinguished so that rebuilding can commence. You wouldn’t hire a firefighter to rebuild your house once they’ve stopped it burning down; why should football be different? This summer, Swansea need a builder with vision and a Chairman with the guts to support that vision. If Swansea do stick with Carvalhal, they should at the very least allow him to build the team he wants, with players he has identified.
Rodgers and Laudrup were given clean slates, support, and entire summers to construct formidable underdog sides that consistently punched above their weight. Everyone else has been given a flaming bag of faeces and a pair of satin slippers halfway through a season. It’s no surprise that one approach brought success, the other closely-averted disaster, yet Swansea now seem fixated only on repeating the latter of those situations.
History has proven that if you swim near the relegation whirlpool for long enough, it will eventually suck you in. This summer Swansea have a chance to redress the mistakes of the recent past. They can do so by giving a smart managerial appointment a clean slate, a transfer budget, and a phone, and attempt to hit the ground running in August for the first time in half a decade.