Friday 5 April 2013

Cardiff... it's been a while.

We've had several brilliant blog posts from some top contributors over the past month, but now ForzaSwansea editor CHRIS CARRA returns with a post of his own, discussing the likelihood of Swansea City's biggest rivals making the leap into the Premier League

There is no point hiding the fact that most Swansea City fans have been keeping a close eye on the Championship table recently and not for nostalgic reasons. It's about time we addressed the possibility of sharing the Premier League with another Welsh team next season.

We've seen how many times Cardiff have thrown away the opportunity to propel themselves to the top flight, usually in the most painful way - the play-offs. However this season it looks almost inevitable that they will finally be successful in their attempt.

With seven games to go, the Red Dragons are seven points clear at the top of the table and have a game in hand. The teams that can stop them all seem to be slipping up. This year seems to be the year Swansea City's greatest rivals will shake off the bluebottles label. But is it a bad thing?

Instantly I would say yes. It is ingrained in Swansea fans that we do not want Cardiff to succeed. They don't want Swansea to succeed. How many Cardiff fans were cheering us on in the play-off final? How many were willing us to beat Man City, Arsenal and Chelsea? None (or a very few odd ones). Yes, the rivalry between the clubs and the fans is historically mental.

However Cardiff being promoted would see the return of the South Wales derby which is certainly one to be celebrated, and is up there with the best 90 minute rivalries in the world - Italy vs. Brazil, Real Madrid vs. Barcelona and Shenzhen Xiangxue Eisiti vs. Guangzhou Pharmaceutical F.C. (I've discussed this before - it is an actual derby, albeit less media friendly as others).

It's been a while since the last one - we have to go back to February 6th, 2011 when Brendan Rodgers was still wooing us with David Brent-isms and Yves Ma-Kalambay was making an impact on the bench. Cardiff came down to the Liberty Stadium and won 1-0 in a match where they were hungrier for the win (though a few poor refereeing decisions helped their case). We were close to witnessing a South Wales derby in the play-off final later that season but thankfully that was an M4 bubble match that didn't happen.

And this time around the derby will be on the biggest stage - probably a Super Sunday 3D affair! The whole world will have the opportunity to watch, including the newer fans that Swansea have collected over the last few seasons.

Some may say Cardiff's promotion is good for Welsh football but I don't fully buy into it. Unless it's a team bursting with Welshmen it won't do that much good - not as good as Swansea's promotion anyway. Apart from Craig Bellamy, Cardiff don't have much Welsh talent to brag about and less to develop. Yes some of the younger reserve players may fall into the same category as Ashley Williams, Ben Davies, Joe Allen, Neil Taylor, but with only Bellamy in the first team it won't be groundbreaking move.

Ultimately if Cardiff do achieve promotion they deserve it. They've played well enough throughout the season and look to be making the step up as champions of the second tier. While no-one in Swansea will applaud, no one should really begrudge.

Besides, they will probably be relegated anyway.


Aus readers who fancy football tipping should have a look at TABs footy tipping website.

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Ashley Williams: On his way out?

In this blog post, JULES PRICE takes a look at why Swansea City legend Ashley Williams may well be heading away from South Wales this summer. And we don't mean on holiday.

I’ve lost count of reports linking established Swansea City players with bigger clubs, especially on the back of the Swans' continued success in the Premier League. This season there has already been a lot of speculation over players being lured away from Swansea including Michu, Vorm and of course Laudrup himself, while loanee Jonathan De Guzman would create a genuine void should he return to his parent club Villareal.

But a major headache for the club would be the departure of captain Ashley Williams. While he denies seeking a move, maybe there are some telltale signs to suggest otherwise.

What career path has Williams followed so far? After a short spell as a youth player at West Brom, he joined non-league Hednesford Town before being snapped up by Stockport County. He was well respected at Stockport and club captain, and was given a farewell round of applause when he signed for the Swans during the 2007-2008 season.

Since then, Williams has been a stalwart in the heart of the Swansea defence, breaking many records along the way. He holds the record in the 2012/13 Premier League season for the most blocks. His player influence stats are nearly always the highest in the Swansea team, and he has one of the highest pass completion rates amongst his peers. The icing on the cake was lifting the Capital One Cup at Wembley in February.

However, I have seen a side to Ashley Williams this season that has not been so visible previously. At the start of the season, the club was surrounded by rumour that all was not well behind closed doors, with the chairman holding meetings to resolve disputes between the players and the new management team. This seemed to have an effect on Williams as some sloppy back passing from him cost Swansea dearly. His levels of concentration were clearly strained.

Credit to him, his season has got back on track. But another problem occurs. Is he satisfied with the quality and commitment he sees from some of his teammates, especially the newer recruits? At the end of the West Brom away game and the recent Arsenal game at the Liberty Stadium, Williams was livid with some of his teammates, but one player in particular has been at the wrong end of his disgruntlement – Pablo Hernandez.

I have observed him shouting, swearing and screaming at Hernandez like I have never seen before, with pure frustration and anger. Could this be too much for Williams? I suspect he has had and will continue to receive offers from now until the start of next season, from other clubs and the opportunity may finally be right for him.

At 28-years-old a move to a richer club would guarantee one large pay-day before retirement, the possibility of Champions League football, and the chance to play with players of even greater ability. Or will Williams see Swansea’s entry into next season’s Europa League as enough of a challenge, and it will suppress any other desire to leave the club?

His agent Jamie Moralee has reiterated Williams is likely to stay, but he has confirmed discussions would need to take place between all parties if a substantial offer is received. With Arsenal and Liverpool reportedly admirers of the Swansea defender, the Swans will be lucky to have him playing for them during the 2013/14 season.

Monday 1 April 2013

ForzaSwansea in March '13

March was a superb month for the blog, I hope you'll agree (or at least keep quiet if you don't)!

Since I made the decision to open the blog to a small team of contributors we have seen healthier numbers of interesting Swansea City articles.

As with all good sports websites (I think) the direction changes from time to time and it's refreshing to see more detailed, standalone articles profiling certain aspects of Swansea City, instead of match previews and reports which saturate the blog market (in a good way - it's good to have a lot of choice these days).

Over the past few weeks we've seen Jules Price take a look at the Liberty Stadium expansion plans and in another article he highlighted Swansea's 'other' summer signings. Jacob Cristobal made a very enthusiastic debut post outlining why he chose to support the Swans despite living over 4,500 miles away.

Alec Johnson also made his first contribution with a really solid piece looking at the past and present, before trying to define where it is the club are going in the future. Elsewhere in a piece that proved popular with many fans, Matthew Jacob profiled my favourite Swans player, Angel Rangel.

We have another couple lined up for April, before we look at the end of season drama (there is usually a little when it comes to Swansea) in May.

Remember, some of the ForzaSwansea writers have their own blogs and websites so be sure to check out the contributors page for the links.

Thanks as always for visiting,



Off to the Swansea Bay Beer Festival this week? Check out my review of last year's event on my food blog, SwanseaOnAPlate!

Saturday 23 March 2013

Swansea City: The ‘other’ summer signings

Although Michu has rightly claimed the title of the new Swansea City poster boy, he is not the only player who joined the club in the summer. As JULES PRICE explains, there are others worth celebrating.

To suggest Michu has been the signing of the season is an understatement. Not only is he one of the leading scorers in the Premier League, but he has demonstrated his versatility playing in different positions and, with the departure of Danny Graham, has taken on extra responsibility within the team.

However, he wasn’t the only signing that Swansea made before the 2012/13 season commenced.

New recruits Ki Sung-Yeung, Pablo Hernandez, Chico Flores, Jonathan De Guzman and Kyle Bartley have all enjoyed some success in South Wales. Let's take a look at three of these ‘other’ signings who sit in the shadow of Michu.

South Korean Ki Sung-Yueng had already enjoyed three successful seasons in British football with Scottish giants Celtic. Swansea signed the 24-year-old Korean international for a club record fee of around £6million. Little was known of the attacking midfielder, but it soon become apparent how useful this player is. He is a skillful player who has great vision to choose the right pass, many of which are forward moving and has the ability to use both feet.

For both Celtic and the South Korean national team, he has shown to be a valuable asset, scoring some spectacular goals from 25 yards plus. Although yet to score for the Swans, he has had the most shots blocked of any player in the Premier League this season. Ki’s willingness to help his team mates and his resourcefulness was typified by playing a full back role in the Capital One Cup Final game against Bradford at Wembley.

Pablo Hernandez is a 27-year-old player who was signed to compliment the wide players like Routledge and Dyer. Formerly a striker in his early days in Spain, Hernandez has been tipped to play for a big club with alleged interest coming from Manchester United and other top European sides. After some success at international level for Spain, making his debut against Austria in 2009, Hernandez’s career seemed to meander before Swansea signed him during the Summer of 2012.

He has the ability to round a player and has scored some memorable goals for the Swans. However, in more recent games against WBA and Arsenal, his pass completion has been poor, and he seems to try almost too hard to be precise with his pass. He played well against Bradford, showing some flashes of his true talent, whilst gaining an good understanding with Ben Davies.

Jonathan De Guzman has been signed on loan from the relegated Villarreal for a season, although both the player and Swansea are looking to make the deal a permanent one. This will depend on whether Villarreal are promoted back to La Liga. During the pre-season games at the Liberty Stadium, De Guzman could be seen marshaling his new team mates around the pitch, showing great zonal awareness, and demonstrating some true technical ability.

De Guzman has grown in statute, producing some wonderful free kicks, and is now the second leading goal scorer for the Swans with eight goals in total. Arguably his best game was in the Capital One Cup semi-final against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, where he proved to be the perfect foil for Michu helping to create the first goal.

Many media pundits will still argue that to be successful in the Premier League you have to spend serious money. I disagree! Yes, you need to sign new, better players to improve the squad, but more importantly a club needs to sign the RIGHT players and Swansea City have been justified in this approach.

Michu has been a revelation this season, and his recent League Managers Association Award has vindicated this, but the Swans are much more than that and, with two exciting players apparently lined up to join the squad this summer, may Swansea’s shrewd approach continue.


If you are after lovely, independent reviews of the fine eateries of Swansea remember to check out Chris's food blog - SwanseaOnAPlate!

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.