How much difference is there between the bottom of the Premier League and the top of the Championship? If you believe the gap to be significant, then perhaps you also believe the logic in attempting to retain the core of a relegated team. Stoke for example have been generally praised this summer for “keeping their most important players” (despite losing perhaps their best individual player), and were pretty much every bookmakers favourite to win the title.
Three games in, Stoke have yet to win a single game, while Swansea — a side that almost completely tore apart its own relegated squad — have yet to lose a game. Conventional wisdom is not always such; it surely makes more sense to do what Swansea did and start again with a significantly different squad than it does to persevere with a bunch that were only good enough to get relegated in the first place. It’s early days of course. Perhaps Stoke will yet come good — they’re surely better than what they’ve shown so far — but Swansea’s story is far more interesting.
Much of the fanbase has been up in arms over the side’s apparent fire sale, which has seen 15 first team players leave, either through transfer, release, retirement, going on loan, or reaching the end of a loan. The Swans’ American owners have been accused of asset-stripping, but this isn’t really the case.
“Asset stripping” is not a cool sounding way to talk about selling star players. It describes the practice of purchasing an undervalued business before selling off its component parts separately to make a profit on the initial investment, and if Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien are doing that, I’d say they’re simultaneously magicians and the first investors in history to make a profit by systematically devaluing their own investment.
If all it took to make millions was to buy a lightweight Premier League side, get it relegated, and sell off its players, then not only would every investor in the land be doing it, but Alan Pardew would suddenly be the most in-demand manager in football.
Swansea are almost certainly worth less now than they were when Kaplan and Levien bought the club, which means their investment presently stands at a loss, and the difference has not been recuperable through selling players because the majority of the transfer fees received have actually been reinvested in transfer spend.
Sam Clucas, Andre Ayew, Roque Mesa, Tammy Abraham and Renato Sanches equal approximately £63m outlay – not far off the combined sums of the Gylfi Sigurdsson (£45m), Fernando Llorente (£15m), and Jack Cork (£10m) gains — and that’s just from last season alone.
Yes, the club are (allegedly) 40-odd million in credit on transfer fees over the past few seasons (though that figure does not factor in amortisation), but this surplus could be considered contingency against the team losing literally half its total revenue stream (Premier League tv rights) following demotion.
While it would certainly help relations between the owners and the fanbase if a little more money could be made available for new players this season (especially in light of parachute payments), fans always want more money spent on new players, and it was over-spending on the wrong players that got Swansea into this mess to begin with (although sparing £6.5m for Ryan Woods is surely not asking too much?).
Swansea’s owners recent official statement provoked a lot of criticism from many fans, but their claim that they are making decisions “designed to safeguard the long-term health of the club” is actually accurate in this context. Moves like this are helping Swansea to avoid “doing a Sunderland”, who were undone in no small part by a staggering wage bill which left them facing losses of £25m a year and saddled with players they couldn’t sell, or afford to keep paying, and who had even refused to play for the club while still cashing in £70k per week wages.
Swansea are better off for getting rid of their own high wagers, and the fees received were not that bad — £6m for Federico Fernandez is only £2m less than Swansea paid for him when he was four years younger, and the £6m Sam Clucas fetched only looked bad because Swansea significantly overpaid for him in the first place.
Yes, getting closer to £10m for each would have felt better, but everyone knew Swansea were a selling club, and that reduced the team’s leverage in the market. Ultimately the net gain of getting those wages off the books was worth taking a small hit on the fees, and the shortened window gave the club practically no negotiation room. Swansea could have done better on the Ayews, but the clearout was not the hamfisted purge it might have seemed on the surface.
Of course, a team can’t just sell all its players without replacing them, and the Swans have quietly done some excellent (if incomplete) business here. Having already made their best managerial appointment since Michael Laudrup by choosing Graham Potter (formerly of Ostersunds, heroes of their own minnows-to-big-league story), the new recruitment team have added half a locker room’s worth of young, hungry players and promoted several youth prospects too.
Barrie McKay joined from Nottingham Forest, Bersant Celina from Manchester City, Joel Asoro from Sunderland, Yan Dhanda from Liverpool, and Declan John from Rangers, all for less than the price of 704 minutes worth of Renato Sanches spooning 35-yarders into the street.
From the Under 23’s, Connor Roberts (who had rightfully won his place by the end of last season) is joined by Dan James, George Byers, and Joe Rodon. This is a team full of players too young to know their limitations, working with a coach famed for getting the most of out whatever’s made available to him.
We all saw what effect Paul Clement’s overly cautious, depressingly soft-spoken demeanor had on a team full of journeymen pros with more relegations than trophies on their cvs. In contrast, Potter’s positivity focused through the lens of youth — all box-fresh athleticism and never-say-die cockiness — could and almost certainly will provide the explosion of life this squad has needed for three and a half seasons.
In addition, twenty-minute torpedo Jefferson Montero has come back from Ecuador in Hardcore mode with a tailored training plan to manage his explosive / exploding hamstrings, and is ready for deployment (I hear Calum Chambers, Daryl Janmaat and Branislav Ivanovic still console each other in a support group they started. By the end of this season, they’ll need more chairs).
There is still some recruitment work to be done. This side still, still lacks a solid defensive midfielder who can pass responsibly while providing a bit of muscle in front of the D, and the tandem of Wilderness years Wilfried Bony and Pre-Personal Trainer years Oli McBurnie could use a Twilight years veteran striker to add a reliable safety net up top. Another central defender is a must, but of all three key needs, that one looks the closest to being covered (at the time of writing).
Swansea will need to use the loan market (which stays open until August 31st) to find these players, but if they find someone good, expect a loan-to-buy deal (with the purchase to be made in January for a pre-arranged fee) rather than a plain loan. Without these reinforcements, Swansea are going to have to hope Leroy Fer (and everyone else for that) stays injury free over a 46-game campaign which often features two games a week… Better get tailored training plans ready for everyone, Graham.
The Championship is a wide-open division most seasons, and it’s no different this one. No single team looks nailed on for promotion, with the exception of Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds (unless his players legs are gone by Christmas, as seems likely). If Swansea can round out their squad with two or three more intelligent additions before the end of August, there’s every reason to be optimistic. If nothing else, Swansea should be fun to watch again for the first time in years.
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