4:13pm Wednesday 5th February 2014
By Fraser Watson
WHAT a difference a decade makes.
On May 3rd 2003, Swansea City defeated Hull City 4-2 to keep their place in the bottom tier of the football league. Given their critical financial status at the time, relegation would have all but decimated the club.
So perhaps it is testament to how far the Swans have come that little over ten years on – a season which sees the reigning League Cup holders 12th in the Premier League, in the last 16 of the FA Cup, and through to the knockout stages of the Europa League, has brought about discontent and a managerial sacking.
Huw Jenkins’ decision to remove Michael Laudrup as manager, and in particular the timing of it, has bemused many.
There is no denying the club finds itself in the midst of a relegation battle – and lying six places above the drop zone in an incredibly tight lower half of the table does not mask that.
Furthermore, the passing style that was lauded over by so many during the first two Premiership season's has become predictable and all too easy to combat.
After taking over from Brendan Rodgers in the summer of 2012, Laudrup not only maintained the Northern Irishman’s approach but enhanced it – adding greater urgency and pace to the Swans attacking play.
But this season, that extra dimension has been absent. Teams who visit the Liberty will now sit deep and happily concede possession, and counter attack in numbers. Few can deny that more variation was required for Laudrup’s men to climb the table.
However, this was a ‘crisis’ he had seemingly earned the right to try and overcome. Lest we forget, only last season he presided over the most successful campaign in the club’s history – and has negotiated a Europa League group with a famous 3-0 win at Valencia along the way. Not to mention an FA Cup third round win at Old Trafford, the first over Manchester United in the club’s history.
And this has been done without Michel Vorm and Michu for large parts of the season, two of the club’s leading lights since they joined the elite in 2011/2012.
The argument that Laudrup’s laid back demeanour on the touchline indicated a lack of concern at Swansea’s current plight is futile. His calm approach has not wavered from when he was appointed. Indeed, I was at Anfield last season when the Swans played Liverpool in the last 16 of the League Cup – and noted that the 49-year-old barely took his hands out of his pockets. Swansea went on to win 3-1 en route to their first major trophy win in the club’s history – and there were few complaints about his demeanour along the way.
Only last week, midfielder Jonjo Shelvey remarked the manager’s calm approach and refusal to panic was of great benefit to the squad.
Furthermore, stories have emerged of a lack of discipline and authority in the Swans pre League Cup final break in Dubai. They returned to win the final against Bradford City 5-0, and the following week beat Newcastle United to reach the much sought after 40 point barrier in the Premier League.
However, such is the nature of football, that when things aren’t going well, such issues are raised and then magnified.
Having said that, it is clear there are underlying problems that have led to the ‘Great Dane’s’ demise. If rumours of dressing room unrest and a failure to motivate the players, aided by Saturday’s abject display at West Ham, were accurate, then undoubtedly something needed to be addressed.
Also, the feeling amongst many was the Swansea job was merely a stepping stone for Laudrup, and serious doubts had already emerged that he would continue his tenure beyond the summer. Swans' fans can take heart from knowing that Huw Jenkins, not a chairman to make rash or short sighted moves, would not have taken the decision to remove him lightly.
Given the fickle nature of the game, his decision to do so in a week leading up to a vital South Wales derby will either be perceived as shrewd or catastrophic come Saturday evening, depending on the result.
Personally, I hope the abrupt end to Laudrup’s reign, and the poor form that preceded it, will not overshadow what he achieved with the club. He stepped in to the seemingly irreplaceable shoes of Brendan Rodgers, and in his first year exceeded all expectations on a limited budget. Although there were persistent rumours of transfer disputes behind the scenes, his £12 million capture of Wilfried Bony in the summer of 2013 proved he had the ambition to move the club forward further.
With the media he was a rare commodity. A football manager prepared to speak in press conferences without evidence of ego, and without ranting about referees and raising conspiracy theories.
The job he did at the Liberty should not be forgotten, but is a job that sadly, is now left incomplete.
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