It’s becoming pointless writing about Swans matches. The pattern never changes. Last Saturday’s 2-0 away defeat to Burnley was more of the same — toothless in attack (the side’s first shot on target coming at the end of injury time), slow and pointless in possession (how can a team with 61% of the ball do so little with it?), and a couple of gifted goals against. There were a few positives — Renato Sanches and Wilfried Bony looked a little sharper, and Swansea did manage 14 shots (although only 1 was on target). The most worrying and frustrating aspect for Swans fans is how little responsibility Paul Clement is apparently willing to take for his teams slide into a slow death.
Here are his post match comments following the Burnley defeat:
This team had got into a cycle before I arrived, we managed to get out of it, then we slipped back into it again, and then we got out of it, we’re in it again at the moment. I’ve been round football long enough to know that you can turn a corner when you’re not even expecting it and all of a suddenly you string some results together, so we have to have belief that that will happen.
Where in that statement is any sense of accountability? Paul, lots of things in life change. The weather changes, hairstyles change, interest rates fluctuate. And yes, sometimes the form of a football team changes. But does that really happen “suddenly” and “when you’re not even expecting it”? From the outside, it can look like a natural shift, a tidal ebb and flow, but ask anyone on the inside and they’ll point to a catalyst for that change.
This even happened in Swansea last season. Did the team win four of their last five matches and escape relegation just because they were “due”? Or was it because Leon Britton inspired his team mates by giving every one of them a copy of the Jack to a King DVD, by taking the players out for a meal together to improve morale, by initiating the scheme where the players paid for away tickets to make sure they’d have their fans behind them at a pivotal moment?
Every time Clement suggests his sides form will just magically change, he removes himself from the equation as an active agency in that turnaround. And if the manager of the club is not responsible for turning the team around, then who is? What is the point in Paul Clement if he’s not willing to take up the task at hand? It’s at times like this he shows he is still an assistant manager at heart, an excellent training ground organiser and coach maybe, but on match day still literally and figuratively standing on the sidelines hoping for another man to make the big calls.
Clement would do well to remember Sunderland’s plight last season. Did that team “turn a corner” or suddenly start stringing results together? Or did they just fall through the bottom of the league like a rock, their vacuum of confidence providing enough suction to see that descent continue even through the Championship? To hear a manager throw up his hands and absolve himself of the one responsibility he was hired to assume above all others is unacceptable. Form doesn’t change “when you’re not expecting it”. It changes when you work quickly and intelligently to identify problems and fix them.
It would be easier to have sympathy for Clement if he was stuck in an untenable situation, but despite the club’s summer transfer business having been scattershot, there is still sufficient quality here for this side to avoid the drop. Most bewildering of all is Clement’s refusal to field Spanish tempo-setter Roque Mesa. Clement has tried many formations and many combinations of players, and so far nothing has stuck, nothing has seemed a viable way out of trouble. Mesa has been given very little opportunity despite this struggle, and it is no coincidence that he was on the field and pulling the strings during Swansea’s second half performance versus Watford, where the Swans actually looked purposeful and capable, a rare sight this season.
Mesa was unfairly scapegoated for making a mistake in the build-up to Richarlison’s late winner in that game — he hasn’t played a minute of league football since — but Alfie Mawson had a chance to nullify the danger after Mesa’s loose pass was intercepted, made a complete hash of it, and yet has continued to start every game without reprisal. I’m not saying Mawson should have been dropped for that — he’s an excellent young defender — but if Mawson is allowed to learn on the job through making costly mistakes like that, then why not Mesa too?
Clement is a man holding a bunch of keys while confronted with a locked door. He has tried most of the keys without success and now stands shrugging his shoulders waiting for the door to magically open by itself, expecting sympathy, even though he still has keys he hasn’t tried. My apologies for the laboured analogy, but Mesa could be the key this team needs. He can’t be any worse than Sam Clucas has been (it was Clucas who lost Jack Cork on Burnley’s first goal). Surely in this situation, the manager of this club has to try everything, has to use all the tools available to him. It’s not as though Mesa doesn’t have established credentials, and with five losses in a row threatening to become six this weekend, how long can ownership back a man who refuses to put £11m of their money on the pitch when his side can’t win?
Perhaps Swansea should give Carlo Ancelotti a call, see if he fancies coming in for six months. Clement seems lost without him, and this team are lost with Clement.