Thursday, 31 May 2012

Rodgers gone: In nobody we trust.

So, what's been happening with Swansea City? The new home kit is expected to be released soon... some of the players have played for Wales in America... there are vacancies in the Liberty Stadium ticket office. Oh, and...

BRENDAN RODGERS HAS LEFT THE CLUB TO JOIN LIVERPOOL. 

Yes, it's official.

It had been speculated for a while, so can we be too shocked? However, Rodger's constant comments, reassuring us that he would not leave, that Swansea was the place for him - it does make it a surprising decision.

Firstly, I fully appreciate his situation. He is a young manager with a great record of success over the past few years. Liverpool is a big club (albeit one struggling a little at the moment), and Rodgers has seen his chance to manage that big club. I accept the situation.

I also recognise what he has done for Swansea: taking them from a mid-Championship team to a mid-Premier League team in just two seasons. His style of football is fantastic and he's brought some superb players to the club.

While I wish him no specific ills, I can't really say I wish him all the best. Or much of the best for that matter.

Whatever spin he puts on his departure (e.g. wiping away the tears), he won't be remembered as highly as he could have been. If he made this move two years down the line he could have gone to a bigger club, and we'd have probably respected him for it.

Hell - I'd have probably respected him more if he didn't try to reassure everyone with false statements of intent. 

Let's look at a select few quotes taken from newspapers just a few months ago:
"If I felt in my own mind that I was going to be leaving, I wouldn't have signed the new deal"
"But I want to complete the job here and, unless the club tell me otherwise, I am very, very happy here."
"I don't know where else I could go and be as happy as I am at Swansea City."
"Hopefully I can see out the contract I have just signed."
"My focus is purely on Swansea City, and on building what we have done here."
"I get the opportunity to manage this club the way I want to do it”
"I've learnt my lesson in my career (at Reading), and that was a defining moment for me.”
"My family love it here in Wales. I'm 39 years of age and I hope to be in the game for a long time, but for now my concentration is with Swansea City." 
Blah, blah, blah and so on.

It was all technically lies... Maybe he meant it back then. Back two months ago.

The whole 'Elvis for Brendan' thing seems a little silly now.

So, most of us are understandably angry at the moment, especially with news that three backroom staff will leave with him. I'm assuming our anger will swell over the summer - as, inevitably, Gylfi Sigurdsson refuses to sign a contract, or Rodgers starts peeling players away from the club. I can't see Joe Allen, Ashley Williams, Michel Vorm leaving, but Scott Sinclair? Nathan Dyer? I'd hate to see it, but you can't help feel something else is on its way to ruin our summer!

The opportunity for Mr Rodgers is a big one, I'll admit. But it's the wrong one for him. I know that a few years later and the Liverpool job may not be there - this may be the only chance he has to manage Liverpool. But who the hell wants that job!?

If he likes a challenge he's found it, that's for sure! If the Liverpool fans were happy to get rid of “King Kenny”, a supposed Anfield legend, how will they accept Brendan Rodgers?

So far, looking at the forums, listening to Liverpool radio stations and, of course, Twitter, the response is mixed, with more emphasis on the 'no ambition in signing Brendan Rodgers' angle from many Liverpool fans. He's off on the wrong foot already.

Even if they are ready to accept him, how much time will he get? He will need time to find his feet - to develop a style of play around the current team - which may take a while.

But Liverpool want Champions League football. They want to win the Premier League. They want all of this NOW. There is no “a few years down the line”. He'll struggle to win over the fans I fee.

So, Swansea - the team we really care about - are left with a massive hole to fill. It's by no means the end of the world. But it is a major setback for a summer where a little tinkering was required, rather than a complete change.

Who is going to fill that hole? There are a number of names being thrown around: Holloway, Di Canio, Zola, Solskjaer, Laudrup, Poyet... Monk.

Monk is an interesting one - he's committed to the Swans, he knows the club, he knows the style of play. However, he's inexperienced as a manager, so is not the answer... yet.

I don't understand those who are desperate to see Roberto Martinez back. While I like Martinez as a manager, the way he left Swansea is much the same way as Rodgers has done. You know he'd jump into the role, stay another few years, then move along when another big club comes calling. Anyway, he has supposedly confirmed his loyalty to Wigan (but what does loyalty mean in footballing terms these days?). 

No, Martinez is not the answer.

Whoever comes in, we just hope it's the right guy to keep the club moving forward. Swansea City have the footballing philosophy in place, they have the money, they have the board and the full support of the fans. I am positive the Swans will remain in the Premier League after next season. They just need the manager to make sure of it.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

30th May 2011 – One Year On: Where are they now?

I remember it like it was yesterday. But it wasn't. It was a year ago.

Yes, one year ago today (or yesterday if you are reading this tomorrow), Swansea City walked out onto that Wembley field to take on Reading in the Championship play-off final in front of 40,000 excited Swans fans (and a few Reading fans). Swansea won and then it was all a blur!

A year on and plenty has changed. However, before I spend the summer writing about hopes for next season, I felt it necessary to focus a blog post on the starting eleven who battled hard in that incredible game.

Where are they now? How was the past year for them? Let's have a look.

Dorus De Vries 
The departure of the likeable keeper was the biggest shock of last summer, and left a bad taste in the mouths of many Swans fans. He moved to Wolves "to be able to find [his] true potential" - potential that was left bottled up on the bench as Wolves spent most of the season in the relegation zone, finally sent back to the Championship in May. He made only his second Premier League start against Swansea at the Liberty Stadium in an odd 4-4 draw, and was jeered a number of times by the Swans fans. He'll spend next season in the Championship, probably on the bench. Sorry Dorus, but it wasn't our choice.

Angel Rangel 
Rangel had a good first season in the Premier League. He didn't make the headlines, and generally took a little longer than others to settle into the big league, but was eventually able to replicate his strong defending and pacey wing-back role in the big time. Always one of the first on anyone's team sheet. He had a few poor moments, notably his mistake which gifted Man United the only goal in the game at the Liberty. Still, we all love Rangel.

Garry Monk 
The iconic centre-back captained the Swans in that memorable play-off final and deservedly lifted the trophy. However, Monk played a lesser role throughout last season thanks to the inclusion of Steven Caulker at centre-back. Mind you, he still started 14 games, and played his part in the clean-sheet victories over Fulham, West Brom and Stoke. His career is not over yet, though it is starting to wind up. Much of it is summed up in his published autobiography, Loud, Proud and Positive (available from all good book shops or the internet I assume!).

Ashley Williams
Williams had a huge season for the club, starting all 37 Premier League games and all three cup matches, captaining the squad through much of it. There has been little in the way of struggling with the step up, as Williams kept world-class strikers quiet for many games. Always the first name on the team sheet and will take the captain role again next season.

Alan Tate 
I always forget Tate was playing in that play-off final, instead of the banned Neil Taylor. Unfortunately for Tate, his now infamous golf buggy incident ruled him out for much of the season with a broken leg. He eventually made a comeback and, while never making the pundits drool, gave his all, as he always does for Swansea City. He was subbed-on for the last few minutes of the game against his former club at Old Trafford, and deserved every last note of “we all dream of a team of Alan Tate's”.

Leon Britton 
Britton has become Swansea City's unlikely poster boy this season, being dubbed the Xavi of South Wales, and totting up some impressive passing statistics. He's been a vital part in the midfield engine and I predict the same next season. Why not check out my detailed article that I wrote for the Sabotage Times earlier in the season, centring on the rise of Leon Britton.

Joe Allen 
Allen established himself well in the Premier League and was a vital ball winner in the centre of the field. Overall he looked much more developed and less prone to frustrating mistakes (although he has picked up a few cards during the season). He was also able to contribute with the goal scoring – four this season, doubling his tally from last year.

Stephen Dobbie
His play created the second goal, then he scored the third for Swansea in the play-off final, but Dobbie just never got started in the Premier League. He had his chances to make an impact, but in his eight appearances (two starting, the rest as a sub) he looked a shadow of his Championship days. In March he rejoined Blackpool on loan, where he, albeit unsuccessfully, helped them in the battle for promotion. He may well stay with Blackpool next season, though will always be fondly remembered by Swans fans. 

Nathan Dyer 
His slippery dancing won the penalty which led to the first goal in the play-off final. He had a great start of the 11/12 season, emulating his Championship form in the early days against the likes of Man City and Arsenal though saw his role swapped with Wayne Routledge occasionally in the latter stages. The most important thing seems to be his ability in front of goal has improved – he scored six in total, and is looking much more the finished package.

Scott Sinclair 
Last season's poster boy scored an incredible hat-trick in the final. However, some may say that final was the last great game he had for the Swansea after losing a lot of form this season. While it is true he hasn't had the same impact down the wing as last season, he is a solid player and his composure from the penalty spot is still highly desirable. He's still the club's second highest goal scorer after Danny Graham, with eight goals this season. I reckon he has had his second season syndrome, and will shine again come August.

Fabio Borini 
Probably the most successful ex-Swansea striker and member of that play-off winning team. Borini left immediately, to head to his home nation of Italy to join Parma, though he spent most of the season with Roma. His fine Serie A performances saw Cesare Prandelli hand the youngster his debut appearance for the Italian national squad and he's off to Poland this summer to (hopefully, for me anyway) take Italy to glory! Forza Borini! Forza Swansea!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Swansea City: Hello Sigurdsson? Goodbye Tate? Stay there Dobbie?

It's been just under two weeks since Swansea City last took to the field. Brendan Rodgers has barely opened his bottle of SPF 30 and the summer rumours, links and signings are already in full flow.

Too many rumours begin and end on Twitter and, with no attribution, it's barely worth taking notice of most of them. However, some may have legs...

Let's briefly catch up with what's been going on:

Gylfi Sigurdsson
I began writing several posts on Sigurdsson, but as soon as I went to publish them we heard of another twist in the story. It seems Huw Jenkins is opening his wallet wide to grab the Icelandic midfielder, who played such a key role in the latter stages of the season. He filled the centre of the pitch nicely, netting many goals in style for the Swans, so it's no wonder everyone wants him to stay on.

The latest news seems to be that Swansea have agreed a £7.2million fee with Hoffenheim after Huw Jenkins flew to Germany. Sigurdsson must now agree personal terms and decide if he wants to make the switch permanently.

Let us hope it's all sorted soon and £7.2million is the limit. Though he is clearly a quality player, the whole budget shouldn't be spent on one man. You never know - he may have his own bout of 'second-season syndrome'! But I'm almost certain that won't happen. A decision is coming soon though; an announcement we all anticipate highly.

Tate and Monk Released?! 
No... at least I don't think so. But I bring this up as I recently overheard someone say 'I don't believe they've released Tate and Monk from their contracts!'. Thankfully a quick internet search proved it to be another nothing rumour, and rightly so.

While they are struggling in the Premier League they should never be forced out, for two reasons: one being Swansea are severely lacking defenders at the moment. If Taylor and Rangel take a knock, it's Tate who will step in. We don't even have the luxury of two fresh, young centre-backs at the moment with the departure of Caulker, so Monk is currently first choice along with Williams.

The other reason should be obvious - they are Swansea City. Despite being somewhat past their prime, both Monk and Tate are key figures to have on the bench, in the dressing room and, when it's called for, on the field. I'm sure they'd take pay cuts if needs be, but to be released just like that? No!

Stephen Dobbie
Still on the Swans books, but will he play again? Watching the play-off semi-finals it was clear to see why the Blackpool fans love him. His touch, his vision... he is the complete player. For the Championship. Yes, I fear Dobbie is a very good Championship player and that is his limit.

Is it worth keeping him? With the probable signing of Sigurdsson, Dobbie is even less likely to start for Swansea next season, so I think now is the time to let him go (for a nice lump sum of course - £1million is the current price tag). Naturally, he won't be forgotten easily, after what he did for the team in the promotion winning season, but I think most would be happier to see him make the switch to Blackpool permanently.

Marvin Emnes 
Swansea were linked with Marvin Emnes last week, but that little rumour did the rounds and died. Like Dobbie he seems to be a fantastic Championship player and will always be remembered for his goal against Cardiff, but I can't confidently say he'd make an impact on the Premier League.

Rodgers to Liverpool 
He wasn't first choice for the Liverpool job and didn't want to upset the Swans players and supporters, so his decision not to get involved with talks was clever and ultimately the correct choice.

And the rest...
Rodgers to Roma, Emile Heskey to Swansea, Allen to Liverpool for £3million - none of these are happening! I can't decide which one is the most absurd and which I dislike the sound of the most...

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Goodbye 2011/12: a brief reflection

From crashing back to reality with the hammering from Man City in August, to the comfortable win over Liverpool on Sunday, it's been one hell of a debut season for Swansea City!

The months since the Premier League new boys walked out at the Etihad have been incredibly memorable. The first win against West Brom; taking points from games against Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea; Alan Tate and his golf buggy; incredible possession stats; and the 3-1 loss to Shrewsbury in the Carling Cup (…yeah, scrap that last one).

This season has shown the world what Swansea City are all about. The pundits and bookies said the club would rejoin Cardiff in the Championship if they tried to replicate the pass-and-move style in the Premier League - how wrong they were.

Over the months we've seen some real talent join the club: Michel Vorm, Wayne Routledge, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Steven Caulker - vital players in the survival campaign. They won't all stay, but they'll be welcomed back any time! Some players joined and didn't make much of an impact, like Josh McEachran and the incredible return of Fede Bessone.

We've also said our goodbyes to some such as Craig Beattie, and two gingers, Ryan Harley and Shaun MacDonald, while Stephen Dobbie made a loan move (again) to Blackpool (again) where he helped them secure a place in the play-off final (again).

Swansea had their ups and downs on the field, from the deserved victories against Man City and Arsenal, to never being able to win against Wolves (even when it looked certain!). Low periods of form did become a worry at times, but the Swans never looked like being dragged into a relegation battle, with 17th being the lowest place all season, after the second game.

Despite that well-deserved win against Liverpool, Swansea ended the season with a poor spell - winning just one in eight and losing four in a row. Had they been a little more clinical in the final third, scoring just one or two goals where it mattered, Swansea could easily have finished in the top ten.

Having said that, finishing too high in the first season might not be desirable as it could set unrealistic ambitions for next time.

No, this season will be remembered as a highly positive campaign. 11th place was more than any of us predicted and to do it in such style and with limited resources has gained the club followers from across the globe.

So, what can we expect next season?

Some are already using the clich├ęd 'second season syndrome' when looking ahead, but this seems to be coming from the same people who said we'd see Elvis sooner than we'd see Swansea survive... and we all know what happened there.

In their 100th season as a football club, Swansea will no longer have the 'new boy' tag and many fans will expect to better the 11th place finish. Maybe a place in Europe? Maybe that's a bit too ambitious for now, especially with a squad lacking depth. I'm sure we'd all take another season of survival!

I will explore the ambitions, targets and how it'll be done over the next few weeks, but for now enjoy the summer Swans fans - you've earned it!

Friday, 11 May 2012

Swansea City vs Liverpool: Farewells from Graceland

It's May already?!

Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that the Premier League had a shiny gloss of untried anticipation about it? Now we're all old pros, having stood face-to-face with the giants, showing planet football that Swansea aren't just making up the numbers.

We've seen so much this season, and I'll capture those memories in an upcoming blog post. But for now it's a look ahead to Swansea's final game: at home to Liverpool.

Brendan Rodgers has already ensured that the stadium will have a party atmosphere about it, with his request for fans to wear Elvis costumes on Sunday. This is, of course, to highlight Swansea's silencing of the critics who said there would be more chance of seeing the fat man (not Michael Chopra...) reappear than Swansea surviving the Premier League.

Though Swansea's dreams of finishing in the top ten have all but gone, along with the other dream of finishing above Liverpool, the most important dream of league survival was the only one that needed to come true. And it did.

So this game shouldn't matter.

But it does. It's the last chance for the East Stand to shout and sing, showing the club their appreciation for the season gone by. It's also the chance for the players to show the fans a final good performance, because the Swans fans really have played that 12th man role all season. Everyone deserves a good game.

Liverpool are eighth in the table after giving Chelsea a good thrashing on Tuesday night, and they have nothing to lose on Sunday either, except dignity; something they have already lost in bucket-loads this season. They'll be coming down to Graceland with intentions to claw a little back, ending their damp season on a high.

I don't expect much in the shape of a team overhaul from Brendan Rodgers – Liverpool are still a good footballing force, so the inclusion of weaker fringe players will probably wait until those pre-season friendlies in America. On Sunday it should be the same eleven we've seen so much of this season. However, I wouldn't mind seeing Orlandi get a run around again, if he can shake off his injury. He intrigued in his last match...

This could also be the last game we see Steven Caulker and Gylfi Sigurdsson in Swansea City white, depending on their intentions during the summer. Hopefully they will stay, but if not this will be their farewell game.

Having a final bet of the season? Put it all on Swansea! 12/5 with the bookies, and well worth a gamble. The Elvis stunt is bound to create a 13th, 14th and 15th man for the Swans, spurring them on for that final win to round off a memorable season.

It's also worth sticking a pound on 4-4. You never know.

I'll be back with my season reviews, player report cards and next season previews over the next few weeks – until then, Forza Swansea!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Swansea City vs Man United: The brief, sketchy preview

The trip to Manchester is the penultimate match for Swansea City this season and the chance to cause another real upset in this unpredictable league.

Man United quite possibly threw away their chance at a 20th league title after that lacklustre, tired performance against their rivals on Monday night, but are still tipped to destroy Swansea on Sunday.

However I am optimistic. Perhaps I shouldn't be, with Swansea winning just one in their last seven games and with odds of 12/1 to win this one, but I feel we're still in for one more Swansea City shock before the season is through.

The Swans are safe. They have nothing to lose, and nothing more to gain (the top ten spot is probably just out of reach unless other results go the right way). The Sky cameras will be on, Swansea are clear underdogs and Man United, who are also slightly out of form, will be playing with desperation. Call me a silly sausage, but I feel this has 'upset' written all over it!

Who does Brendan Rodgers pick then? The 3-4-3 worked well to an extent last week, giving Swansea a much stronger attacking threat, but leave three at the back and the Swans will surely be torn apart by Rooney and co. No, it'll be much the same as we've seen all season – 4-5-1 or thereabouts.

I'd like to see Orlandi take part again, after an effective first half last week. Possibly in the place of Leon Britton, maybe even Gylfi Sigurdsson – two players who might have been figured out a little by the opposition.

Alan Tate is expecting to make a return for this game against his former club. However, if Angel Rangel is fit, I don't think many will see Tate starting the game. He may come on at the end, depending on how things are going, similar to Mark Gower getting a little run-around against his former team at Spurs.

Whatever team Rodgers picks for this game, be sure that Sir Alex (...Ferguson) (...you knew who I meant) will field a younger Man United team, a much different side from the bunch who lost to Man City. Good news for Swansea as Jonny Evans and Danny Welbeck are unlikely to feature due to injuries, but we may see the return of Antonio Valencia and Javier Hernandez to the starting line-up.

Betting on the game? Swansea, as mentioned, are around 12/1 to win, and 6/1 to draw. A decent bet to cover may be 'Swansea to win or draw' which is priced at 4/1. It's hard to call a score on this one – I wouldn't bet against 4-4 (at 350/1) if I'm honest, but a more realistic 3-1 to Man United may be wiser (9/1).

Either way, it should be a great final away game for Swansea before a sure win against Liverpool the following week!