Friday 3 April 2020

Trundling through the archives with one of Swansea's greatest

Once the hero of Swansea City, Lee Trundle continues to play the beautiful game for local side Ammanford AFC, located above the Amman Valley in the Welsh county of Carmarthenshire.

Now aged 43, the once household name of British football, Trundle is onto the 18th club of his 25-year-long career. But, Ammanford isn't exactly a football-fanatic town. In fact, deep within Carmarthen's rugby heartlands, the 800-strong crowds that the Recreation Ground boasts on most weekends is impressive. 
Ammanford AFC's Recreation Ground

Of course, Trundle's move in 2019 may well be a factor in this. This is especially true when considering the legend Trundle created just half-an-hour down the A483 and M4 with Swansea. With Ammanford being in Swansea's orbit, there is naturally the added pressure on local sides to find fans from somewhere when the English Championship is being played at the same time.

Born in Liverpool, it's often a wonder as to why a scouser finds his home four hours and nearly 200 miles away on the south coast of Wales. But, after turning out for non-league sides in Merseyside, Trundle finally turned professional midway through his twenties, joining Swansea from Wrexham in 2003.

Back then, the Swans were languishing in League Two - or what was named the Third Division - in the early noughties. That move changed the fortunes of both player and club as forward Trundle netted 86 times in 173 times with the Swans earning promotion to the second tier. From that, the Welsh side established themselves as a stable Championship club until another promotion in 2011 saw the Swans head to the promise-land of the Premier League.
Trundle set Swansea on the path to greatness

Trundle was a massive part of this golden era, becoming a firm fans favourite with close control, incredible ball skills and impressive finishing that seemed far too good for the bottom depths of the Football League.

Naturally, every footballer incurs lows as well as the memorable highs and the striker was no different, failing to recapture his Swansea form at Bristol City, Leeds and Preston. A brief return to Swansea on loan in 2009 saw him net five times in 20 appearances before spells in the Welsh first tier and non-league saw the Liverpudlian retire at the age of 36.

Football was, and is, Trundle's life however and he continued to showcase his talent with amateur side Page Celtic in the Liverpool County Premier League as well as local pub side, The Oak Tree, on Sundays.

A real comeback was made though in 2016 when Trundle was asked by friend and then manager of Llanelli Town Andy Hill to play for the Reds. 68 goals in 45 appearances is not a statistic to sniff at, particularly when considering that the striker was now a quadragenarian. In fact, the striker hit a half-century of goals for Llanelli in his first season - including a remarkable nine hat-tricks. Yes, his opponents were usually semi-professional, but that is an incredible goal-scoring return in any league in any country.
Trundle excelled at Llanelli

Consecutive promotions followed with Trundle leading the line, but the striker moved on in 2018, citing the problem of travelling to teams in north Wales the reason.

Haverfordwest County was Trundle's next destination, but the location in Pembrokeshire led to struggles between games and training and work commitments at Swansea. After a brief spell at Trefelin, the striker decided on Ammanford last year where he has 12 goals in 14 appearances. 

A recent knee operation limited his game time before the coronavirus pandemic obviously put a halt to all sporting proceedings. But there seems to be little stopping Trundle from continuing to play football well into his late forties, especially if the love of the game is still well and truly there, which it appears it is.

The conquistador that settled on the shores of Swansea

Eight years ago, a Spanish footballer by the name of Miguel Perez Cuesta - or Michu for short - arrived on the shores of south Wales. The rest, they say, is history.

Going into the 2012-13 Premier League season and Swansea City were tipped to struggle; following an impressive debut season in the top flight, head coach Brendan Rodgers had been snapped up by Liverpool along with Joe Allen, whilst loan star Gylfi Sigurdsson had left for Tottenham.

Gylfi Sigurdsson's move to Tottenham was labelled a
disaster by many Swansea fans.

The appointment of former Danish midfielder Michael Laudrup was a gamble given his lack of coaching experience in top leagues. But, nine months later and the Welsh side were League Cup champions and ninth-placed finishers in the Premier League. Whilst Laudrup deserves the majority of praise for the Swans' endeavours, one certain Spanish striker certainly made his job easier.
An unknown quantity, Michu had been the unsung hero for La Liga side Rayo Vallecano before joining Swansea. The striker - then operating as a midfielder - had netted 15 times in 37 appearances for the Spanish side, but he was to better that emphatically for the Swans. In just one season, the previously unheard of Michu, wrote his name into Welsh and Premier League football folklore.
There's debuts to remember and then there's the one enjoyed by Michu in his first appearance for Swansea in 2012. It took just eight minutes for the Spaniard to open his account for the season, placing a shot from outside the area. He went on to register an assist and a fantastic double, netting a first-time finesse in the second-half. A new four-year deal in January 2013 enabled chairman Huw Jenkins to warn off any would-be interest with a £30 million price tag slapped upon the striker's head.

Michu celebrates his first goal in Swansea colours.

22 goals in 43 appearances rounded off the season in perfect fashion as Michu took home the Swans' Player of the Year award. In recognition of his stellar season, the formidable forward earned his first cap for Spain in October 2013. It seemed as though everything was heading in the right direction. So, how come, just two years later, Michu found himself in the third Spanish division?
Well, injuries can ruin many a footballer's career, and, simply put, that is what plagued Michu's. Injury after injury made sure that he could never maintain an extended run in the Swansea side, and, April 2014 proved to be the last time the Spaniard donned the Swans' jersey. A loan move to Napoli and then a release from his contract in November 2015 saw Michu's time on British shores cut short.

Michu often cut a frustrated figure at Napoli.

The striker went home, joining Segunda B side UP Langreo before ending his career at boyhood club Real Oviedo. Forced to retire at just 31 because of the injuries he had sustained throughout his time in the sport, Michu took up the role of technical secretary at Real Oviedo where he still remains.

Of course, the way in which Michu ended his career on the south coast of Wales was inherently disappointing for all concerned, but the Spaniard helped Swansea win their first and only major trophy, something which will always make him a hero.
Injuries are part and parcel of sport and football especially, but the way in which they cut short the career of a player that had revolutionised a city of Wales was particularly cruel.
Perhaps there's never been a more befitting phrase of "one-season wonder" than that of Michu's in 2012-13, but what a season it was.

Michu was an integral part of the Swansea side
that lifted the League Cup in 2013.

Monday 17 February 2020

Swansea's season is in danger of ending with a whimper

Five games without a win and Swansea sit 11th in the Championship table, dangerously close to being pushed out of the promotion-chasing pack. The Swans' draw to Hull City at the weekend outlined defensive frailties as Steve Cooper's men conceded four goals in a thrilling 4-4 stalemate at the KCOM Stadium.
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Swansea and Hull played out an entertaining 4-4 draw.

A lot of things to work on

Swansea's league position - 11th - is hardly where Cooper and his players thought they would be five games ago. But, having failed to win in five games, the Swans have slipped down the table and almost out of sight of the promotion play-offs spots.

And, it was yet again the leaky defence which proved to be Swansea's downfall. For Swansea fans, it would have felt like a defeat, having taken the lead with just six minutes to go through Rhian Brewster's effort. But, Hull's Tom Eaves scored in the fifth minute of injury time to give both sides a point - a result which did little for both teams.

The Swans were without centre-back star Joe Rodon after he succumbed to an injury following Swansea's eventful 0-0 draw with QPR. His presence was greatly missed as the Welsh side looked like they could concede at any moment at the back. The good news is that the Welshman will be back in time for when Huddersfield Town visit the Liberty Stadium in next weekend's fixture.
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Joe Rodon is Swansea's rock at the back.


Despite the dismal run of form, Swansea could take some real positives away from the Friday night debacle. Jordon Garrick appeared for the first time in four months and even netted in the 77th minute for his first-ever league goal.

On-loan Chelsea midfielder Conor Gallagher was also particularly impressive. With two assists to his name, Gallagher threatened all night with the 20-year-old registering six shots - more than any other player from either side.

With Gallager justifying Cooper's decision to bring him to the Liberty Stadium, the Epsom-born loanee takes risks in the final third. Such risks were on display for Swansea's first goal as Gallagher drove into the box then delivered a wonderful cross for Wayne Routledge, which highlighted just how effective the Chelsea man can be.

If the Welsh side are going to turn things around, then Gallagher is going to be imperative with Garrick's return giving Cooper a number of headaches in terms of selection. 

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Conor Gallagher has impressed since his loan move from Chelsea.

Tough run of fixtures

Following the upcoming weekend's clash against Huddersfield Town, the Swans travel to Fulham then Blackburn before hosting leaders West Brom. Those three games could end Swansea's hopes of a play-off spot or could rejuvenate their charge to the top. 

The Swans' last game against Fulham ended in a 2-1 victory for the Cottagers, whilst their last two fixtures against Blackburn have ended in draws. To make matters worse, West Brom have won their last three games against the Welsh side too. Talk about season defining.

Tuesday 28 January 2020

Post-Match Review: Stoke City 2-0 Swansea City

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Sam Clucas celebrated in front of the Swansea fans.

Swansea City missed the opportunity to return to the play-offs with an uninspiring display as Stoke City ease their relegation fears.

Damp squib
Following two wins from their last three games the Swans headed to the Britannia Stadium in good form and in good spirits. But, goals from former Swan Sam Clucas - who made his joy known - and a 91st minute James McLean strike made this eight-hour round trip one to forget.

A Stoke hoodoo
It seems almost remarkable, but Swansea haven't won away at Stoke since March 2001 - both sides were in Division League 2 as it was called back then. That's nine games without a win at Stoke. And, remember, this was a Stoke side that had won two and drawn one in their last three games under Michael O'Neill.

What went wrong?
If you had watched the opening 20 minutes, you would have believed that the respective positions in the league table prior to the game - 7th (Swansea) and 21st (Stoke) - were indeed true. The Welsh side were unlucky not to net in the first ten minutes with Bersant Celina unlucky not to get back-to-back assists with an inviting drilled cross.

Celina was all over the place and he himself had a shot blocked on 11 minutes with on-loan Chelsea midfielder Conor Gallagher being denied superbly by Stoke 'keeper Jack Butland. The atmosphere was growing tense as the home fans knew they were under the cosh. But, they began turning the screw.

Clucas' goal on 55 minutes was well-taken, but Swansea almost replied instantly. A Matt Grimes free-kick hit the crossbar and Rhian Brewster went close twice in two minutes just after the hour.

The Swans tried desperately, but just couldn't find the net as a mistake by debutant Marc Guehi allowed James McLean to run through on goal and end the game just after the 90th minute.

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James McLean thanks the Stoke fans after netting.

Swansea fans got to see Chelsea loanee Marc Guehi in action for the first time and he held his own, though was at fault for Stoke's second goal. But, there was a return to action for Joe Rodon, who finally took to the football field for his first Championhip game since October,

Swansea still hold the lowest amount of goals conceded from set pieces with just five - something which boss Steve Cooper can certainly take pride from.

Matt Grimes looked very impressive against a strong Stoke midfield, rattling the crossbar with a free-kick whilst Rhian Brewster looked a constant threat and Andre Ayew did some magical hold-up play.

What to work on
Surely, Cooper's men have to work on their corner-taking. The Swans earned 11 corners to Stoke's one at the weekend and rarely looked to threaten.

George Byers, Conor Gallagher and Jake Bidwell all looked as though they were struggling against a physical Stoke side. Cooper may well look to switch things up against Preston at the weekend.

Thursday 23 January 2020

Why FA attention over Oli McBurnie was wrong

Going to support your football team is one of the most joyous events for any fan. So, why should a professional footballer be treated any differently?

That's the question that has been asked consistently ever since Sheffield United's Oli McBurnie was "reminded" of his responsibilities by the FA following his appearance on camera allegedly making an obscene gesture whilst watching Swansea City. McBurnie, of course, spent four years with the Swans before moving to Premier League promoted side Sheffield United.

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Oli McBurnie pictured here in the Swansea crowd against Cardiff.

Hardly an anomaly

It was derby day for the Swans against their bitterest rivals Cardiff City on January 12 and the 23-year-old striker was in the crowd following Sheffield United's 1-0 victory over West Ham the previous Friday. The Leeds-born forward had scored that game and was clearly just wanting to stand and support his team.

It's hardly an aberration for the Scottish international to be pictured amongst the Swansea crowd, having also been pictured watching the Swans against QPR earlier in the season. Plus, the gesture which McBurnie was seen to be making is commonplace around football grounds up and down the country.

So, why has the FA moved to warn him?

Well, of course, the FA needs to always appear above-board and McBurnie's responsibilities as a professional footballer means he is constantly in the public eye. That, in itself, almost forces footballers to be on their best behaviour, especially when there are cameras watching their every move.

But, critics consistently bemoan footballers as living their own lives and that they are far too detached from ordinary fans. McBurnie proved that footballers are, on the whole, just normal people wanting to support their teams. Is that such a crime?

What we like to see (minus the gesture)

Naturally, the gesture cannot be defended, but the fact that McBurnie had travelled to South Wales on his weekend off shows just how much the Swansea club means to him. If every footballer that supported a side did that then football may well be a happier place altogether.
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McBurnie's gesture isn't exactly pretty.

The footballer loves it and the fans next to him love it even more. The chance to mingle with one of their former heroes cannot be underestimated and it's this kind of interaction that spectators love to see. Everyone gets carried away with gestures, but punishing players in this regard just shows how out of touch those at the top really are.

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Big Match Preview: Stoke City vs Swansea City

Swansea City travel to Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium in this round 29 Championship clash.

Previous form and league position
Both sides go into this one in reasonable runs of form with Stoke not having lost in three games and Swansea with no loss in four. Their league positions, however, could not be more different as the Welsh side sit just one place and one point outside the top six whilst the Potters lie four points above the drop zone in 21st.

Previous head-to-head
Swansea do not have a good record against Stoke with just one win in their last five meetings. The Swans also failed to beat Stoke at home earlier on in the season, going down 2-1.

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Scott Hogan was the hero for Stoke in the two sides' last meeting in October 2019.

Odds and Best Bet
Surprisingly, despite both sides' positions in the Championship table, Stoke are 11/10 favourites on Unibet with a draw at 13/5 on William Hill. A Swansea victory, meanwhile, is 14/5 on William Hill which will surely attract a number of flutters.

Joint top-scorer for Stoke with six, Sam Vokes, is 5/1 to score first on Unibet as is fellow striker Scott Hogan. Sam Clucas also has six goals for the Potters this season and is 21/2 on the same site to break the deadlock. Tyrese Campbell at 13/5 to score anytime and 13/2 to score first on Unibet looks inviting too given his five goals in nine games have helped Stoke move out of the relegation zone.

Swansea's starlet Rhian Brewster already has one goal to his name and he has odds of a remarkable 21/2 to score first and an even more impressive 19/4 to score anytime with Andre Ayew at 10/1 to net first and 7/2 to score anytime on Bet365.

Surely, a Swansea victory at 14/5 on William Hill and Rhian Brewster to score first at 21/2 on Unibet are bargains waiting to happen.

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Rhian Brewster celebrates scoring on his debut for Swansea.

Where the Game Will Be Won
For Swansea, it will be whether they can repeat the free-flowing football produced against Wigan last weekend. Their two goals - scored by Brewster and Ayew - were down to extremely exciting and skilful football and boss Steve Cooper will certainly be hoping for more of the same.

Campbell is Stoke's dangerman, but also look out for midfielder and ex-Swansea man Clucas who can certainly ping a pass or two as well finish expertly.

It's remarkable really that both sides have scored the same amount of goals (34) despite their respective positions in the league, but a goal may be enough for either side - especially as Stoke hunt for their third consecutive clean sheet under Michael O'Neill.

Final Thoughts
Swansea will surely be too good for a Stoke side that is clinging on to Championship life by the skin of its teeth. Both sides have been in reasonable form, but if the Welsh side want to earn promotion, games like this need to end up in victories. Though a resurgent Stoke will have something to say about that.

How Swansea's January transfer window has been shaping up so far

Wind the clock back to this time last year and Swansea were in a pickle; the loss of Wilfried Bony, Tom Carroll and Jefferson Montero without replacements hit the club hard, and, it could have been even worse had Daniel James and Leroy Fer completed their respective would-be moves.

Yet, 2020 has seen the Swans resurge; Rhian Brewster, Conor Gallagher and Marc Guehi have added some much-needed impetus to the Welsh side. Hopeful of achieving promotion in his first season with the Swans, Steve Cooper has acted rather than reacted to what could have been a problem.

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Marc Guehi celebrating his loan move.

Promotion a real possibility

After losing sight of the play-offs for a spell in November, Swansea sit just one point and one place outside the top six - and they have a game in hand on sixth-placed Preston. And, with the new additions as well as the playing and coaching staff and the fans, all talking about promotion, there is a real feel-good attitude around the Liberty Stadium at present. That mid-season blip has long gone and the Welsh side look in good shape to mount another assault on the Premier League.

Though there is still time until the January transfer window ends, Cooper, chairman Trevor Birch and head of recruitment Andy Scott, must be given a pat on the back for the way they have identified the issues within the squad and rectified them in a short space of time.

It was Cooper's relationship with Brewster that influenced the latter to join and he has already scored on his Swansea debut whilst on-loan Chelsea duo Gallagher and Guehi have added some steel to the midfield and defence respectively.

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Rhian Brewster celebrates his debut goal.

Are the Swans finished there for their recruitment?

It's unlikely that Cooper will add any more loan signings to his squad with six already in the Swansea ranks - one more than the limit that can be included on match days. But, that still hasn't stopped the rumour mill from ticking over.

Lorient starlet Julien Ponceau continues to be linked with the Swans with the Welsh club having held discussions with the youngster. That's as far as it has gone so far though. Meanwhile, non-league striker Ronald Sobowale - cousin of Bayern Munich's David Alaba - has been rumoured also, but the chances of Swansea doing any last-minute business seems unlikely.

What about outgoings?

Well, that seems to be where the action is likely to be in the remaining days. Kristoffer Nordfeldt (Genclerbirligi - Turkey) and Kristoffer Peterson (Utrecht - the Netherlands) have already departed the Liberty Stadium. Though Peterson's exit led to a chorus of groans, the Swede had scored just once in 11 appearances.

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Kristoffer Nordfeldt has moved to Turkish side Genclerbirligi.

Bersant Celina continues to be linked to a move away with Brighton said to be on his radar as does Andre Ayew, but neither have been the subject of bids and keeping hold of the duo could well be the difference between earning promotion and enduring another year in the second tier.