It’s so frustrating watching Swansea City these days. The club’s identity has dissolved, eroded by too many managerial changes in too short a period of time, by too much botched transfer business, by a continued lack of succession planning, once the key principle behind Swansea’s success. As each manager departs, the club’s reputation takes another hit, this club that sacrificed one of Football’s Great Men, Michael Laudrup, to instead privilege a career lower league defender with no managerial experience who is currently labouring to make midtable supremacists out of a good just-relegated Middlesbrough side in the Championship.
You’d think the Swans would have been blacklisted by football’s elite for that, a theory somewhat borne out by the struggle the club faced to replace Garry Monk barely five minutes later. It took the Swans weeks to dig Francesco Guidolin out of the Udine mountains after the mercenary Marcelo Bielsa — the only other man in the frame — had asked for too much money (and what a missed opportunity that was, since it is surely a matter of time before Bielsa storms the Premier League with his Brit-friendly brand of steroidal football).
Paul Clement might lack experience as a manager, but his experience as Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant has been extraordinary. This man has coached Cristiano Ronaldo and now he’s got to teach Wayne Routledge how to shoot. He’s won and held the Champions League trophy while the nearest most of this Swansea squad have got to the same is winning it on FIFA. This isn’t a diss on Swansea — the club is small in stature, this isn’t news. But calling for Clement’s dismissal is crazy.
Does this club really deserve much better? Where does this sense of entitlement come from exactly? Who can Swansea realistically expect to sign if they sack another manager just months into the job? You think even Ryan Giggs would want this job now? Clement is so well regarded that Claude Makelele rang and asked him for a job. How many other Premier League clubs would take Makelele on their coaching staff? I’m going to guess all of them. These men know a bit about football. The club is in safe hands. However…
Watching Swansea play Leicester — a beatable side shaken up by their own recent managerial flux — on home turf knowing a win could take the club into the top half, anyone would expect energy, excitement, and ambition. Instead, Swansea approached the game like someone on a bad blind date — paying lip service to the occasion by showing up in the appropriate dress, but not really trying to make anything happen, either. This was true for at least the first half, a dismal, insulting, refund-worthy no-show of an insult to the fanbase. In the second half, Swansea were better, and lo! even managed double figures for shots! Only four of the 19 were on target, but at least they were trying. Kinda.
It was the same story against Manchester United in the Carabao Cup, only the team were useless and disinterested for longer, perhaps a full hour of the contest this time, though to call it a contest is a reach when it was really just a United training session. Remember when Laudrup actually won this thing? The whole trophy I mean? Back then, there was a plan, there was purpose.
Clement has the pedigree, the experience of the game’s elite levels, and (I hope) the intelligence to steer Swansea into a new era. At least, that was surely the plan when he was appointed. It’s easy to say the signings made in the summer were poor but they weren’t — any player can thrive when used in the right way. Just look at Victor Moses.
Swansea signed way too many midfielders, and this is the primary cause of their on-field woes at present (there’s a dedicated post on this topic here), but even with these players, Swansea have sufficient quality to be a safe midtable side. They certainly have sufficient quality to have beaten West Ham, beaten (or at least not lost to) Watford, and beaten Leicester. But to get there, Clement has to get this side playing with some sort of style.
Against United, the crowd chant of old broke out “you’re only here to watch the Swans“, and never before has it sounded so hollow. The chant died moments later, fading away into the background hum of another disappointing night like a performance art piece, a representation via song of the Swans stylistic decline over the past three or four seasons, because nobody is here to watch the Swans anymore. And those that do watch won’t see much. Most likely a protracted capitulation to another also-ran in a fixture nobody will remember from World Football’s so-called “Best League”.
Pass. Move. Find space. If you’ve got space, run with the ball. If you don’t, pass it. Run. Shoot when you can see the goal. Run. Press hard, high and often. Run. And run some more. And never stop running. And if you can’t do that, don’t put on the shirt.
Tactics are micro management; Swansea need to get the macros right first. Playing like it matters — like anything matters — would be a good place to start.