Feature

Swansea’s struggle shows the brutality of the Premier League

Held up by many as the ideal model for governance in British football, Swansea City’s descent into the relegation quagmire this season provides a telling sign just how hard it is to survive – let alone thrive – in English football.

Swansea

It has been a tough season so far for Swansea as the battle relegation. Source: Getty Images

They make the trip to Liverpool on Saturday (Live on SBS, 11pm) as the bottom team in the English Premier League, locked with Hull City and Sunderland on 15 points after 21 games. Crystal Palace are a point (and significant goal difference) ahead.

A win at Anfield would provide the side with an unbelievable lift but with Jurgen Klopp’s side in a rampant mood, it would seem unlikely, thus prolonging the misery. Come season’s end, relegation is now the probable outcome.

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But it wasn’t always this way. Quite the opposite. Until this season, new-age buzzwords of “sustainability”, “responsible spending”, “strategic planning” and “vision” were all applied to the Swans, who seemed to have cracked the code of staying in the top flight without spending yourself into oblivion.

Under the guidance of chairman Huw Jenkins, Swansea have been the great climbers of the Football League pyramid, from the bottom of League Two in 2003 – surviving on the last day of the season – to the English Premier League in 2011.

Their story is well-told in the UK and is cited as evidence that anything is possible. Sold for a measly £1 on the brink of insolvency, the fans bonded together and saved the club, with Jenkins installed as chairman. Despite some early hiccups, the rise thereafter was seemingly unstoppable, and the club has stayed in the Premiership ever since they first came up.

A succession of excellent young managers helped Swansea achieve some outstanding results, most notably Brendan Rogers – but with Roberto Martinez and Michael Laudrup also playing their part. Laudrup took the side not only to the top half of the EPL but to their first major trophy: the 2013 League Cup (destroying Bradford 5-0 in the final).

Though Laudrup was controversially sacked, the arrival of Garry Monk hardly saw a downturn in results, as they finished eighth in 2014-15. But the next season was when the realities of life in the top flight began to catch up with Swans and he was replaced by Francesco Guidolin.

With his team on the cusp of relegation, Guidolin did an excellent job of changing the team’s fortunes, and boosted them to 12th by season’s end. But in a similar fashion to Monk, the next season – this one – began poorly and he too was sacked.

Officially, Swansea was no longer a club of stability and strategy, but of chopping and changing. Of trying to solve the riddle of performance – and to keep pace with a league where most clubs seemed to be able to spend their way out of trouble.

But with a limited budget, Swansea kept trying to innovate and be ahead of the curve. It had, after all, served them so well. However, with competition in Premiership at extraordinary levels, there was no room for making mistakes. Which is exactly what appointing Bob Bradley proved to be.

It wasn’t that Bradley's American citizenship that was the problem (as many like to think) but more that he was the wrong man at the wrong time in the wrong club.

 Sadly, Bradley didn’t even get through three months of the season before Swansea’s scattergun was again invoked – despite a glowing farewell from Jenkins: “Personally, I have nothing but praise for Bob. He is a good man; a good person who gave everything to the job. His work-rate is phenomenal.”

Bradley’s two-win spell saw Swansea fall to where they are now, anchored at the foot of the table, relegation looming above the Liberty Stadium like the Grim Reaper.

And for a club’s of Swansea’s size – no bigger than most in the Championship – there is a very real possibility that if they can’t make a swift return (at least before the parachute payments dry up), it could be a long stay in the lesser tiers.

Avoiding that fate is now in the hands of the club’s latest manager, Paul Clement.

Thanks largely to Carlo Ancelotti, the 45-year old’s resume is a sparkling one, having been an assistant coach at four of the world’s biggest clubs: Chelsea, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain since 2009.



His only spell as a manager in his own right was a mixed bag. Derby County were fifth when he was given the bullet last season, after one win in seven games. But they only lost once between September and December, which suggests Clement should have been given more time.

However, if he was looking for a test, he’s certainly found it in south Wales.

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5 min read
Published 20 January 2017 at 10:34am
By Sebastian Hassett