Showing posts with label Matthew Jacob. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Matthew Jacob. Show all posts

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Michael Laudrup: Thank you and goodbye

By Matthew Jacob

Swansea City have parted company with Michael Laudrup, with long-serving defender Garry Monk and club legend Alan Curtis placed in charge for the foreseeable future.

I speak with my hand on my heart when I thank Michael Laudrup for the sterling work he's done at my football club. Leading the Swans to a major trophy and into Europe is a superb achievement and a level that many thought the club could never aspire to.

He continued the good work of his predecessors and has certainly added considerable talent to our playing squad with the likes of Michu and Wilfried Bony, while overseeing the development of Ben Davies from youth academy product to Welsh international.

There was a mutual acceptance by fans that Laudrup would not be in charge by next season, given that he had always made it clear that he intended to look for a new challenge when his contract came to an end. Yet it is hard to imagine that anyone envisaged this sequence of events that has led to the Dane's dismissal.

I was at the West Ham game on Saturday and can honestly say it was the worst performance I've seen from a Swansea side in the last eight years. The writing was on the wall and it all felt wrong.

Laudrup is highly rated and I'm sure clubs will queue up to bring him in and rightly so, yet there can be no doubt that since securing the Capital One Cup, Swansea have simply not been good enough.

We have played 35 Premier League fixtures since that day at Wembley and only managed eight wins, losing 18 times. That's relegation form, pure and simple. So where did it all go wrong for Michael's men? What caused the slide from ninth in the league to two points above the trapdoor to Championship football barely a year later?

It boils down to several things which have created a shroud of uncertainty around the players, the club and inevitably the fans. There's truth in the argument that Laudrup has been a little unlucky with injuries. Michu and Vorm have been a massive miss for the side, while a couple of results this year have swung away from Swansea at pivotal moments.

There have been some truly bizarre issues particularly around transfer dealings. I can't honestly say I ever agreed with the idea of a 'streamlined' squad and having to battle on four fronts has really taken its toll on the players this season.

I rate Ki Sung-Yueng as a footballer and was disappointed to see him leave on loan, yet I don't believe anyone would have thought he could make the kind of impact he's had at Sunderland. To not recall him felt shortsighted, whether the blame lies with the board or the manager on that one is a real conundrum for me.

The excitement of the transfer window evaporated to be replaced by a feeling like Christmas had been cancelled in Swansea. The signing of David N'Gog and Marvin Emnes plus a handful of youngsters on deadline day was hardly going to get the East Stand bouncing, while Cardiff snapped up Wilfried Zaha and sides like Crystal Palace, West Ham and Sunderland all strengthened their hand for the relegation battle we now find ourselves in.

For a club that has always put team spirit and togetherness in the face of adversity at the heart of what it stands for, can any of us honestly say the on-pitch shouting matches between the players have gone unnoticed? Or #Brickgate? Think of it what you will but did we ever hear of this under Martinez? Or Rodgers? Even Sousa! I'm not suggesting that there were not training ground bust-ups between players and management while they were in charge, but the majority seemed to slip the media's gaze. Not so under Laudrup.

The Dane is an ice cool character. I could never imagine him head-butting the changing room door before matches or chucking bottles around screaming at the players, yet I never imagined him as a timid character either - just a man who spoke with experience. While I believe that certainly serves you well during the good times there must be the ability to pull it out of the bag when it's not going your way.

I'm not sure Laudrup knew how to change it at Swansea or, if he did, whether he could have changed it to drag us out of the mire. Some say he lost the dressing room - the body language of the players certainly has not been positive of late.

Now Swansea need to go back to basics.

Monk and Curtis are Swansea City through and through and I do believe that they can lift the squad. They must get Laudrup's signings like Pozuelo and Canas onside now and ensure all the playing staff are pulling towards one common goal. I believe they'll do that.

Huw Jenkins is a shrewd man, and will not have made this decision lightly. Yet the Premier League demands instant success, leaving teams with little option but to turn to drastic measures to boost their chances of survival. It is the nature of the beast as they say and to keep up in the high stake games, you have to roll the dice. That's what Swansea have done here. Let's hope it pays off.

I'm right behind Garry Monk and Alan Curtis to see us over the line this year. I felt really strongly about the club's 'Wear Your Colours' campaign (as some of you reading this may have seen on Twitter). I wear my colours to every game - talk to the players about wearing the shirt with pride. And who better to install that in them than Garry Monk?

So thank you Michael Laudrup - for the free flowing football, for Michu, for the Capital One Cup and the Europa league. And good luck to Monk and Curt - good job they've got a nice easy game to start with, eh?

Monday 27 January 2014

It's in our hands! (Part 1)

In this special two-part article, ForzaSwansea blogger MATTHEW JACOB gives us his opinions on why Swansea City are wallowing in the relegation zone and what is needed to get us out of the rut. Then in Part 2 (scheduled for tomorrow morning) he'll give us a run down of the next six Swans games and how many points we can expect to take!


By Matthew Jacob

I think it's safe to say that there was a feeling throughout the summer among the Jack Army that this season always promised to push our club to the limit like never before.

As Michael Laudrup prepared to steer the Swansea City ship into the uncharted waters of the Europa League I admit to a having a strong feeling of trepidation - would the squad be strong enough to battle on four fronts? Will being in Europe take the focus away from the Premier League?

You could argue that we are suffering a similar fate to that of Newcastle United and Stoke City when faced with playing Sunday and Thursday and travelling all over the continent. It was never going to be a breeze for a club like Swansea.

Let's tackle one issue first of all. We're in a relegation battle, no question about it.

The Premier League is a cruel and unforgiving place for a team low on confidence, yet the way this season has taken shape every club from Cardiff in 20th to Aston Villa in 10th is battling to survive, and will be from now until May.

That's how tight it is, where a mere six points separates the bottom club from mid-table 'safety'. And good performances count for nothing. It's all about results now, and Swansea need to start getting them (though I do not believe it should come at the expense of our style, as Alan Hansen suggested a few weeks ago).

The tactical genius himself.

Issue two is expectation. Swansea City have had two heartily successful Premier League campaigns and secured the Capital One Cup while capturing the imagination of professional pundits who suggested we would be nothing but relegation fodder following our promotion. Our dip in form since that cup win is well documented and it has left journalists to suggest we're having a tragically poor season and that teams have 'found us out'.

"Found us out!"

That phrase always makes me smile - is it a major shock to teams now that we choose to pass the ball out from the back rather than hoof it forward? We've been doing it since 2007, so to those teams who have found us out, you took your time.

For the record, Southampton are only ten points ahead yet are being heralded as having a great season? They are, and I love the football they play, but three decent results for us and a couple of dodgy results for them would see us much closer. It's a tight league after all. What would the pundits say then?

Finally, the issue of reinforcements and adding to the side.

The squad needs new blood and the fans would welcome the lift. We've been linked with Anthony Pilkington who is a lovely footballer with a bit of grit about him and someone who would certainly add to our group. A centre forward to help Wilfried Bony in Michu's absence would certainly lift the mood (I'm not sure David N'gog would immediately settle nerves, but he does have a point to prove).

Meanwhile the bizarre issue of Ki Seung Yeung has everyone scratching their heads. Laudrup has been forced to utilise Jordi Amat in midfield yet the mercurial Korean is pulling up trees on Wearside! There were calls to get him back. Those calls were ignored, Ki stays with the Black Cats and we move on.

With the squad bare and a difficult run of games to come, we as fans need to get behind the boys more than ever, the time for moaning at not being mid-table is over. We're in a scrap and we need to pull together. Our destiny is still in our hands.


Check back tomorrow morning for Part 2, where Matt will profile the next six games and give his predictions on how many points we can hope for.

Friday 24 January 2014

Ashley Williams: From Stockport to Stamford Bridge

He puts his body on the line for Swansea City week-in, week out: Ashley Williams. While the captain of Wales has suffered periods of poor form in recent months, there are few others that make it onto the team sheet before he does. To celebrate our captain, ForzaSwansea blogger MATTHEW JACOB brings us a passionate tribute.


By Matthew Jacob

"Well done Ash!" - a sentiment echoed by Jacks everywhere time and again over the last six years since Ashley Williams joined Swansea City from Stockport County.

And back then, when the Swans were in League One, even the most optimistic fan could not have anticipated the player we had just acquired. It took £400,000 to bring him to South Wales - a club record fee at the time - yet Williams has repaid that sum ten times over.

Ashley Williams was born and bred in the West Midlands and began his career at West Bromwich Albion in the youth set up at the Hawthorns. Yet like so many footballers his age Williams was released at sixteen having failed to convince the hierarchy at Albion that he was worth a senior contract.

The defender slipped into non-league football, plying his trade at Hednesford Town and working part time at Drayton Manor theme park to make ends meet - humble beginnings for a man who now proudly wears the captain's armband for club and country.

He eventually moved on to play for Stockport in 2003 and made his international debut while captain there, finally moving to Swansea City in 2008 initially on loan. Then on clinching promotion to the Championship under the leadership of Roberto Martinez the move was made permanent.

Williams is an imposing figure. At six foot tall, his broad shoulders carry the hefty expectations of the Jack Army. My first impression was how mobile would he be? He stood enormous, even at 24-years-old when he first joined the club. Thankfully that concern was driven from my mind as Williams conquered all who came against him as Swansea took the League One title and then stood firm in their first foray into the Championship.

It's hard to nail down Williams 'strength' because he's such a complete all round defender. A strong mental attitude and bravery, coupled with pace, physical strength and tactical nous - Williams possesses all of these traits. Most importantly he's an excellent footballer in defence, but he also has an attacking attitude towards the game, namely his ability to play superb cross field passes to the wingers and the obvious threat he poses from set pieces.

Williams has courted the attention of top clubs since our arrival into the Premier League and following the end of the 12-13 season it seemed Arsenal would make a move for the Welsh international. To the delight of the Jack Army no offer materialised and Williams remained a Jack.

But it's not just on the pitch where he shows dedication and selflessness for the cause. He uses his status as a professional footballer for the benefit of others and is often commended for doing so. One example is WillsWorld, the charity he started to benefit under-privileged children with his wife Vanessa, along with his community soccer schools which are very popular with children in Swansea.

He commands the respect of the crowd and his team mates. When Williams is absent you cannot help but feel our cause is weakened. But with him Swansea always have a chance. With the current rough patch we are going through, the Swans will need the influence of Williams more than ever if they are to remain a Premier League side come May.

The story of Ashley Williams is one of a man cast into the football wilderness, rising to lead a club that were faced with bankruptcy and relegation into non-league a little over ten years ago. He now battles for Swansea at grounds like Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge and typifies our bold playing style and bravery against the odds.

Let us hope he continues to lead the club for many years to come.


You can pick up Ashley Williams' book, charting his first year in the Premier League. It's available in all good book shops and online.

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Swansea City spending: Now is the time!

THERE are big question marks over Laudrup's future because of his urge to spend, spend, spend. In this carefully considered blog post, MATTHEW JACOB outlines why now is probably the best time for Swansea City to back the Dane and move forward.

As is customary at this time of year, the transfer merry-go-round creaks into life bringing with it speculation, intrigue and controversy. It's why we love football isn't it? And we have good reason to be excited by what the summer might bring.

By all accounts Michael Laudrup is planning a busy few months, yet following our final day showing against Fulham I left the Liberty Stadium in melancholy fashion. Yes, it's been a superb year no doubt, and yes I stayed for the well-deserved lap of honour, but having created so many chances during the game and failing to convert a single one, it left a sour taste.

It should have sent a message to everyone at the club that, despite all the success, the squad will require investment to remain competitive in a league where almost every team will be looking to strengthen, namely the sides who had a relegation scare this season, and especially the top six.

So, with Premier League status assured, and European football on offer in SA1 next year, has there ever been a better time for Huw Jenkins and the board to invest some of our hard earned money and bring in the players Laudrup requests to take us to the next level?

There's an argument that Swansea have been in this position before, following the first rise to the top flight. Spending on the squad and bigger contracts inevitably led to the financial meltdown that has defined that fall from grace. Results and poor form played their part but those financial difficulties began a slide that ultimately led to the club being sold for a £1 and being one result away from potential oblivion.

Swansea City came through and Huw Jenkins has always maintained that the club will never ever spend beyond its means again and of course I support that mantra wholeheartedly. For the board, and the fans, the welfare of the club takes precedent above everything, and rightly so.

Despite the need for careful consideration, my feeling is that the board have been presented with a unique opportunity to move Swansea City forward and secure the future of this club not just financially, but professionally in the top flight by acquiring the right players to take us forward. We may never compete for the title (never say never!) and I can't imagine we'll ever have the financial muscle the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea enjoy, yet can we not be ambitious?

With the pull of a footballing legend in Michael Laudrup, the style and quality of the players already here and European football into the bargain, all the ingredients are here for an exciting future. I believe there are a number of real quality players who would be quite willing to come to south Wales for a crack at the 'best' league in the world.

To bring in real quality there comes a cost - it is unavoidable, and what the board and Laudrup do in the next 11 or so weeks before the football season kicks off once more will go a long way to showing us what kind of ambition the board have. Will they choose to back the Great Dane in the transfer market as they allegedly promised to do? Or will they choose to keep a tight hand on the purse strings and hope Laudrup can find another Michu or Chico to push us forward? My hope is that he can spend some money on a couple of his preferred transfer targets AND uncover another gem. It's a lot to ask though

So we may be presented with the choice - move forward or stand still?

I took to Twitter to gauge fan feelings on this and got a fairly mixed response. There were those who want to see us back Laudrup to the hilt, partly because he has earned that backing, partly because they want to see the squad improved, and partly to keep the Dane with us! There were those who urged caution, that we should invest in youth with the hope of building a team for the future from within, and there were those who felt we were only in need of 'one, maybe two' players.

Me personally? I want to see investment in the squad before other plans (such as expanding the stadium) are considered. I'm not suggesting at the expense of the clubs financial stability, but now is our time, and Laudrup deserves the opportunity to build the squad as he sees fit.

Swansea City have worked hard to build a reputation based on style, and for that reputation to be retained along with the club's top flight status we must not neglect substance and strength. They must go hand in hand, and with a gruelling season ahead, I feel we must act quickly to ensure we push on.
Enjoy the summer (if you can)!

Thursday 9 May 2013

Swansea City: Nine months later

In a sensible blog post full of frustration and optimism, ForzaSwansea blogger MATTHEW JACOB is using Swansea City's poor end of season form to reflect on how far the club has come in the last nine months.

I'll hold my hands up and admit that in August I was filled with an overwhelming sense of dread.

Brendan Rodgers and three key players in Scott Sinclair, Joe Allen and Steven Caulker had left Swansea City in yet another summer shake up - a shake up that I was convinced would be one too many given the barriers the club had already overcome in the last five seasons. I truly believed that while we had chosen the right man to lead the team forward in Michael Laudrup, we were in for a tough season.

From that opening day crushing of QPR to our Capital One Cup triumph at Wembley, this season has exceeded all of my expectations and the playing squad have excelled.

Until now it seems.

With European football secured against all the odds we now seem to have not just taken our foot off the gas, but turned off the engine altogether. The last few performances, while not lacking in effort, have been well below par and below what we have come to expect from this group of players that are widely regarded as the best the club has ever had. It really does feel like a few of the players have rolled out the beach towels prematurely and accusations that the season ended at Wembley with that cup win. Is that an unfair assumption? From where I'm standing... maybe a little.

Alan Shearer said, after Newcastle's humiliating defeat at the hands of Sunderland, that supporters can accept defeat, but not a team that doesn't try. I believe that rings true of all football fans. Naturally we all crave the buzz of success whether you support Arsenal or Aldershot, but the very least we as supporters expect is that each man who pulls on club colours should give no less than 100%.

Swansea City is a club led by a footballing legend, in its centenary year, that has managed to overcome the odds to win its first major trophy and with it the opportunity of European football next season, and secure the club's Premier League status, so as supporters should we not be delighted with what the club has achieved? Of course we are, and to suggest otherwise would be ridiculous.

Yet the frustration felt by the fans is understandable - one win in eight games is quite frankly appalling form, and had we not done all the hard work early on in the year we could well be scrapping with the Wigans and Aston Villas to avoid being the final team through the relegation trapdoor, but we're not.

We've got the luxury of looking forward to another summer of Premier League football, the excitement of what talents our recently acquired European status might attract, and two derbies against our 'friends' from up the road. That's what's next for Swansea City.

I don't like losing as much as the next Jack, but surely a little bit of perspective is in order here? After all, were we not nominated as one of the favourites (yet again) to be relegated this season? While clubs like QPR were tipped for a top half finish? I wonder what would Rangers fans give to see their club where Swansea City stands now?

The players continue to come out and say they don't want to let this season fizzle out, that they are determined to fight for every win, and I believe them. Actions speak louder than words though and it's time to stand up and be counted.

The likes of Pablo Hernandez and Ki Seung Yeung could win a few people over with a couple of quality performances in our remaining four fixtures and a top half finish would round off what has been a quite superb campaign. They're not the only two who have been off the boil recently, so let's hope they can all finish with a flourish.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to check for cheap flights to Europe...

Tuesday 19 March 2013

From Oldham to Old Trafford: The Rise of Angel Rangel‏

He's my favourite player. No, not Alan Tate - it's Angel Rangel. And MATTHEW JACOB, in his ForzaSwansea debut, profiles the Spanish defender who continues to dominate the wings of the Premier League.

By Matthew Jacob

Swansea City have been on an incredible journey in the last ten years, and many have played their part in the meteoric rise of the club. Were you to ask the Jack Army who they think has been a standout performer you may hear names such as Ashley Williams, Leon Britton, Scott Sinclair, Michu... only a few might immediately suggest Angel Rangel, but the Spanish full back has been a stalwart since his arrival from Terrassa in 2007.

I remember my initial reaction being one of incredulity - I mean, Angel Rangel?! Who is he?! I learned soon enough. For a mere £10,000 Rangel was brought to Swansea from the Segunda B outfit on a performance-based deal by Roberto Martinez, and quickly established himself as a first team regular as Swansea stormed to the League One title.

Rangel continued to perform well as Swansea's passing style drew admirers from all corners of the football world, culminating in a Wembley showpiece and promotion to the Premier League. An extraordinary rise then for a player plucked from obscurity in the lower echelons of Spanish football.

Rangel has had an exceptional six years at Swansea City, forging an excellent understanding with the likes of Nathan Dyer and more recently Pablo Hernandez. His rampaging overlapping runs from fullback cause havoc for opposition defences and allow the midfield even greater freedom when the Swans get into an attacking flow.

Defensively Rangel has proved himself time and again. The likes of Eden Hazard, Nani and Aaron Lennon have had little or no joy against the man from Catalonia, and his recently penned three-year deal is just reward for a string of high quality performances.

So what makes him so important to Swansea City?

First and foremost Angel Rangel is an intelligent footballer. In modern football it's as much about positional play and how the game is read that make good defenders great defenders. Rangel knows when to get tight to a tricky winger and knows when to stand his ground. As good in the air as he is with his feet Rangel has developed into one of the most highly rated fullbacks in British football.

When Rangel gets into attacking positions his ability to pick a pass and set up scoring opportunities for the forwards is another important commodity for the club. And that really is one of Rangel's greatest quality is that he's not 'just another defender' he's a winger, a fullback, a leader and a team player.

If I had to choose a Rangel moment in the last six years it would have to be his goal at Doncaster Rovers in the Championship. With the clock ticking down the Spaniard rescued a point for the Swans to keep their promotion push on track as he controlled a pass from Kemy Agustien before firing into the top corner on the volley to the joy of the travelling fans behind the goal.

Brendan Rodgers actually referred to that point as "the most important to date" at the time - a superb goal from an unlikely source, and he's chipped in with a few more since!

Rangel's influence extends beyond the pitch. The Spaniard, who recently referred to himself as 'feeling like a Welshman' is a model professional and a role model for the younger players, while recently he took to Twitter to request help from his followers to find a charity shelter where he and his wife could make food donations. The story spread and even attracted national press coverage.

Angel Rangel sums up everything that's good about Swansea City at the moment; hard work, pride, passion and belief. I'm looking forward to watching his rampaging runs for a few more years yet.