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.

Sunday 17 March 2013

Are we there yet?

What is Swansea City's ultimate destination? Are we a 'big club' yet? What makes a 'big club'? In his first ForzaSwansea blog post Alec Johnson explores the past and possible future of the club that everyone just can't get enough of.

Are we there yet? The dreaded question for any parent on a long journey, but one we can also ask ourselves as Swansea City supporters, because we too are on quite a journey. But before we look ahead, let’s rewind and appreciate recent points in our history.

It has been well documented that we were rock bottom a decade ago - at least it was our rock bottom. Thankfully we didn’t suffer the ‘Luton’ or ‘Oxford’ syndrome, both of whom a generation previously had reached their Wembley cup finals, both winners of a major cup. Neither club has recovered to reach similar heights after losing their league status.

For Swansea, that fateful day against Hull could have delivered an entirely different direction for our club and we danced with the devils of non-league. Would we have returned? I believe so. I have considered a few reasons why but thankfully we will never know the answer to that question. One thing for sure is that we wouldn’t be parading cups around our city on a bus full of international stars.

Size counts for nothing in this ruthless game where the worst teams fall through the trap door. Though comparisons can be drawn between the clubs, we are a much bigger club than both Luton and Oxford, boasting far greater fan bases and population - 750,000 people live within a 45 minute drive of Swansea, a huge catchment area.

More importantly, our club are in the safest set of hands in the entire football pyramid, and have been since 2001, two years before our judgement day. Huw Jenkins and Martin Morgan in particular have built this club with their hands dirty and through their heart and soul for the city and its supporters, not themselves.

The board in the winter of 2003 recognised two things that could be done to affect the journey and change the destination -  bringing in players and fans. They did both by running several cheap ticket schemes that doubled the attendances from 3500 to 6000 and beyond, the extra revenue generated was reinvested in Martinez, Britton and Tate, among others.

History and survival has been well documented since. So acknowledging the past will always have our board and long term supporters appreciate the present and future. Accepting where we are in the pecking order of football hierarchy can bring perspective to what we have achieved when planning the next steps.

So many managers become victims of their own success but thankfully our board see the hill in front of them and have one eye, not two, on the mountain beyond it. If this was ‘bet in-play’ would we cash in now? Have we peaked? How far can we develop our club? Are we now considered a big club? Are we there yet?

The Future

We were promoted in style, also in hope not belief that Premier League status could be retained. Belief has now turned into expectation, as I predict a minimum five year run at this level. If there was a check list of items necessary to develop in this league, I believe we tick every box and we can now set our targets even higher beyond the hill and towards that mountain.

We remain debt free, profitable, focused on developing a young squad under long contracts, under a manager committed for the next season at least. Our profile grows month on month and the board have the investment priorities in the right order.

It’s all about the Liberty, the team and new training facilities absorbing the cash surplus, what we can afford and pausing what we cannot. There is not another club in the Premier League that ticks every box, this leaves us in an enviable position where we can prosper and become a ‘big club’ - this has to be the goal. There is no actual definition of a big club but the most common factor considered is attendances.

Clubs like Norwich, Sunderland and West Brom punch well above their weight but this is down to a prolonged time in the top flight. A top flight stay breeds a generation of fans and it becomes a habit.

Most remain through relegation and tough times therefore securing greater revenue at lower levels and the probability of a promotion. This is in the minds of the Swansea board as they embark on the investment for stadium expansion - the interest is not the revenue as there is enough of that swilling around. It’s the bums on seats for the future of the club.

Adding to this the fact that ‘we’re all going on a European tour’, again the few million yield on this adventure is of secondary importance, the raised profile attracts both players and fans, embedding our proud name in the media every Thursday across Europe. Iron the banner Mrs J, me and the fella are off to Latvia!

So, are we there yet?

I don’t think so, but we do need to understand where we sit in the order of things. We will not be competing for the Champions League, firing our manager for not winning the league, booing our players off the pitch for not winning 5-0 or chanting ‘sack the board’.

Let’s not forget our values as a club as we become more successful, our recent history is now our best history but I believe there is more to come, lots more. The first ever top flight south-Wales derby perhaps? Let’s hope not! A serious crack at Europe, an FA cup and a decade in the best league in the world sounds like a great destination for me.

But let’s not forget, ‘we are Swansea, and we know who we are’.

Friday 15 March 2013

Fortress Liberty: Expansion

In his debut ForzaSwansea blog post JULES PRICE takes a brief, sensible look at the exciting new plans for the desperately needed expansion of the Liberty Stadium.

It was in 2005 that Swansea City and the Ospreys moved to the Liberty Stadium, which was a typical off-the-shelf packaged modern complex, based on plans similar to Sunderland’s ground, the Stadium of Light.

With an initial capacity of 20,500, this has organically grown to 20,750 with better use of space, but now the club has announced a three-stage plan to expand the stadium, increasing the capacity to an eventual 32,000 seats. Having the second lowest stadium capacity in the Premier League after QPR’s Loftus Road, Swansea City are now anxious to take advantage of its growing popularity among local and global supporters.

An artist's impression of what the front elevation may look like.

However, the club has brought forward the first stage of its ambitious expansion programme, as the current media facilities at the stadium are not compliant for the new Sky TV/BT Sports agreement commencing in August 2013. The initial phase will involve the creation of a fourth tier in the West Stand, which will house a new media centre.

This also provides the Swans with an opportunity to house a new spectator area on the newly created level, and replace the existing media area with spectator seats. Externally, the fourth tier will not be visible, and the perfect bowl shape is still retained.

Seating inside the stadium.

A further 5000 seats are expected to be added to the East Stand in time for the 2014/15 Season, and should the Swans continue to enjoy success on the pitch, a decision will be made to increase the capacity to an eventual 32,000.

This steady, calculated approach typifies how Swansea City have conducted its business under the guidance of Huw Jenkins. The Swans will be keen to avoid the mistake made by Wolves where an ambitious expansion programme to increase their Molineux Stadium was started, only for the club to be relegated to the Championship and subsequently struggle to fill the new seating areas.

Thoughts from Chris:

The stadium desperately needs more seating. In this age where Swansea have significantly increased their support in the city and beyond (not in Cardiff) there is a constant battle for tickets. The infuriating Jack Army membership scheme starts to play its part, tickets are sold for stupid prices, fans try to get tickets in the away end... it's not what football should be about.

How refreshing it would be to just wander down to the stadium on match day and pick up a couple of tickets half hour before kick-off.

As Jules mentions, if Swansea are relegated then support may wane (though it shouldn't if everyone is the Swansea supporter they say they are...) and the half-full stadium may make Swans matches seem like Osprey's matches!

Still, it's worth the gamble. Swansea don't look likely to be relegation material in the near future and now is the time to encourage new supporters who can actually pop along to a match without having to scavenge for a ticket weeks ahead of the game.

Sunday 10 March 2013

A Swan in Seattle

In bed, through one bloodshot eye - that's how Seattle-based Swansea City fan JACOB CRISTOBAL watches his newly-adopted team. In his debut ForzaSwansea blog post, he explains how he fell in love with a club that play the beautiful game over 4,500 miles away.

There's something special about watching Swansea City, and the overall narrative of who they are and what they're trying to accomplish.

Most fans of the game here in the US tend to start off with finding a favourite in England's top flight before branching out to finding favourites in other places, including our own domestic league, Major League Soccer.

I was going through the motions of picking a Premier League side. Most of my friends already had their allegiances with someone of the "Big Four" and, while I was close to following suit, I wanted to expand my horizons.

My personal preference is to go for the new and in Swansea City's case they were the newest of new. Their first time ever being in the Premier League as well as being the first Welsh club to do so definitely struck a chord with my way of thinking and throughout the 2011/12 season I kept an eye on what they were doing.

The confirmation of picking and following them didn't really come until the summer of 2012. No, this wasn't like LeBron James' The Decision, though one of my friends tried to make a campaign for me to swear allegiance to Chelsea.

Looking at where Swansea City finished in their maiden voyage was very impressive and truth be told there are a couple aspects about Swansea City that I just like and, most likely, only by my logic make sense. They are:
  • The Swanselona nickname - having been dazzled over the years by FC Barcelona, this is a no-brainer.
  • Their crest is a beautiful design of simplicity and echoes something you'd see out of the DHARMA Initiative (yes, that's a reference to the series LOST).
  • Their nickname, the Swans - where sports typically go for aggressive nicknames, you have the swan. How can you not like that?
Living on the west coast of the US, I'm in the unique position of catching Swansea City matches from the comforts of bed, through an Internet stream and with one bloodshot eye. When kick-off happens over in the Premier League, most of the time it's 7am here in Seattle. So you can already imagine the process when those lunch time kick-offs happen and it's 4am here.

Sometimes the Swans are on TV and in those cases I have to endure Steve McManaman's attempts to use words to form sentences to make a point about who knows what! Then again, this is how it is following practically any European league match live. I would never complain about it because without the marvels of technology, discovering Swansea City and getting to know some of the fans would not be possible.

Chris asked me where Swansea City lie in terms of how American fans view them - I would say they are of two outlooks.

First they could be seen as a mid-table team who will make a little bit of noise, but ultimately lie in the middle of the pack. Something akin to your Stoke City and Fulhams of the world. Not competing for the Premier League title, but not trying to pull off a great escape from relegation.

The other outlook is that with their immediate success and feel good story of winning the League Cup and possible advancements in European competition, Swansea City could become an alternative for those looking for a Premier League team to root for that aren't part of the old, established giants.

I'm not saying the Swans themselves are going to be Premier League giants any time soon, but they are building a great case to attract more people to not just how they play and the stars they have, but how the club is managed and most importantly the fair and good people that support the club.

And that is one of the biggest aspects about Swansea City that I've come to like over the journey so far - the people. Those that I've interacted with over social media have welcomed me with virtual open arms and I've noticed that not one of them has ever felt the club was entitled to any of the success. Yes, the want is a great burning desire, but those that I've talked to know what's happening before them is special and they are just enjoying and appreciating the ride.

As the saying goes, the rest is history.

No one is going to be able to say where Swansea City will go next but the ride they're taking fans on, both old and new, has been a blast. It's roughly 4,600 miles between Seattle and Swansea and while I hope to one day close that distance and attend a match at the Liberty Stadium, near or far this guy says thank you and let the good times roll.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Changes to ForzaSwansea.com!

I am changing the name of the blog to ForzaCardiff.com. Announcement over.

...yes, I'm joking. But I didn't drag you here just to make a stupid joke.

Regular readers may have noticed that over the past few months my Swansea City blogging activity has been a lot less frequent than in previous years. The reason for this is simply that my workload has increased and other writing commitments are eating into my time.

A few weeks back this began to frustrate the hell out of me because - as you will know - I love the blog. However, with limited time, I am not giving it the attention it deserves.

So I've made the decision to open the doors to a small team of hand-selected contributors - all passionate, witty Swansea City experts who I am hoping will provide a couple of superb, exclusive blog posts a month.

In my new role ForzaSwansea editor I will still be writing as often as before, but under this new regime you should see more frequent and varied posts. I have created a contributors page where you can meet the new ForzaSwansea team.

I'm also open to new writers and guest posts (providing you are genuine Swansea City fans - i.e. no agencies), so if you have an original article idea and think you have what it takes to write for this award-winning website, leave a message on the contact form.

Stay tuned - new posts coming very soon!


Monday 25 February 2013

From Landore to London: Swansea City Champions!

Once again we came, we saw and we conquered Wembley!

Swansea City are champions of the Capital One Cup 2013 - quite a feat for Michael Laudrup's first season in charge!

Around 30,000 Swans fans made their way from South Wales along the M4 to London for their second Wembley final in three seasons. After a frosty early start, the beer (on my bus anyway) was cracked open at around 8am, along with chants, singing and a hefty case of sausage sandwiches!

We made it to Harrow at around 11:30am and continued drinking in the warmth of The Moon on the Hill, which was rammed with Swans fans. Maybe a little too rammed, so we eventually moved to the slightly more manageable one a few streets away - The Junction. The atmosphere was superb - I can't imagine the Bradford-designated pubs were as loud as our ones!

I made my way to Wembley via tube and arrived at 3pm and found my seat which had a great view. Only as I sat down I realised how cold it was... any energy I had left was knocked out by the icy chill that swept the stadium. I knew I should have bought a half/half scarf...

The interesting opening ceremony was atmospheric as you would expect, as were the fireworks and dramatic music. And the flags left on the seats were also a nice touch.

With the long build-up over, the main event - the 90 minutes of football - was actually a bit of an anti-climax for me. Not the five goals or Swansea winning, but the actual feel of the match. It felt more like the first round of the cup, only at Wembley.

Unfortunately this was down to Bradford not really turning up. Unlike their fans - who were superb throughout, out-singing Swansea at times and celebrating until the end - the actual team seemed burned out and/or overawed by the situation. Probably the case of one massive game too many. Even though I wanted Swansea to win, a couple of nerve-wracking Bradford chances - similar to the play-off final vs. Reading - would have made for a little more excitement. But it felt a little bland.

Still, 10,000/1 at the start of the cup, Bradford surpassed the expectation of their fans to get to the final, but it was always going to be Swansea City's day and the team thoroughly deserved to lift the cup.

From what I remember, Swansea dominated possession and territory, outplaying Bradford in every aspect. Take nothing away from Swansea though, who would have probably beat any opposition yesterday, such was the quality of football they played.

The goalscorers were a little unexpected. At no point did I have Dyer to be on a hat-trick - I don't think many would have. It's a shame he didn't get his third goal. It's undecided whether de Guzman should have surrendered the ball to him for the penalty, but de Guzman was in his right to want a goal on a plate at the final and therefore was probably right to take the kick.

Ashley Williams lifting the trophy with Garry Monk was another nice touch of the day - both men deserved it for their service to the club.

We shuffled out of the stadium and found the way to the mini-bus that would take us back to Swansea. Five hours later we arrived - knackered, hungry, cold but happy! A great day and one which may not be topped for some time!

Europe, here we come!


Check back soon for an important announcement about the future of ForzaSwansea.com.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

The Wembley Preview

Remember this?

My view last time - slightly closer to the halfway line this time around!

Well it's time to relive it once again. We're off to Wembley!

For most of us it means cracking open a lovely can of beer at 7am while sailing down the M4 on a bus that smells like anticipation and (if you go with the bus company I do) a little bit of urine.

There will be plenty of beer and plenty of anticipation on Sunday. Hopefully more excitement than nerves like the last time the Swans were at the stadium. While the 5-0 hammering by Liverpool last weekend wasn't ideal preparation for Wembley, rest assured there is nothing to worry about on Sunday.

While a heavy defeat isn't cause for celebration, it does clear the air. It gives the team - the whole squad - a shake up. One thing Swansea City definitely won't do now is swagger into the final and slip-up by being too casual.

In theory, Swansea should win comfortably on Sunday. Despite no obvious striker (excluding Michu), the Premier League team should wrap this historic cup final up in the first half - again, in theory. But, as we know, the cup loves an upset and things rarely go the way we plan.

Remember, Bradford are not in the final because they have been poor in this competition. They beat other Premier League opposition (including Arsenal) to claim their Wembley spot and won't have any fears about being up against Swansea. Their fans believe, their players believe, the Dalai Lama believes, and sometimes a little belief goes a long way.

But against a mid-table League Two side, this is only Swansea's game to lose.

Michael Laudrup played a second string side against Liverpool, ensuring some of his top players were rested (some may say unnecessarily), so his strongest eleven will be out on Sunday. Laudrup is taking this cup very seriously. Let's face it, his time at Swansea is likely to be short, and he knows that if he is to go down as a Swansea City legend in such a brief time-slot, a cup final win will be the way to do it.

Tremmel will have to start in goals. Not just because he has been this cup's designated keeper, but because his overall form has increased dramatically, with some fans insisting his performances have been better than Vorm's in recent weeks.

Unfortunately, the consistent, fiery ponytail of Chico Flores won't be fit in time for the final. So, more than likely, lining up with Ashley Williams and wearing the captain's armband will be Garry Monk. He's by no means a Chico Flores, but he is the club captain and his cool head will be vital. We all know what he can do at Wembley. Most of us are still confident that, had Monk not put his body on the line for the club against Reading, Swansea would not be in the Premier League today.

Either side of the centre two will undoubtedly be Angel Rangel and Ben Davies. It will be a big occasion for Davies, but he's handled himself well in the past year in Taylor's absence and will cope with the pressure and whatever Bradford can throw at him.

Onto the usual headache in Swansea City's game-plan - the midfield. Starting with the wings, I'd go for Pablo Hernandez and Wayne Routledge. Nathan Dyer hasn't been as electrifying as he has in the past, but will be a superb little sub, should Swansea need him in the second half.

Leon Britton is first for me in the middle, and is probably your first choice too, despite Laudrup occasionally overlooking him. De Guzman and Ki would make up the other two for me.

This leaves little option up front apart from Michu. This isn't particularly a problem - he can score against Arsenal, he can score against Chelsea so he should be able to score against Bradford.

Despite Bradford giving it their all I can't see any other result than a Swansea City win in normal time. It won't be an easy 90 minutes but Swansea will win 3-1 (though I do see Bradford netting the first goal).

It's odd, Swansea being outright favourite... there's something a little unsettling about it. Or is that just me? It's probably just me. Swansea will win.

Let's get ready to make history - see you in Wembley!