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)!

Sunday, 2 June 2013

A Swan in Seattle: First season triumph!

With the football over, it's our pleasure here at ForzaSwansea to keep you entertained over the summer with some passionate blog posts, like this one from American Swansea City fan JACOB CRISTOBAL. He sums up his first season following the club perfectly!

So, the 2012-13 Premier League season is over. Fergie went out on a high, the hierarchy among the London clubs stayed the same and QPR learned what happened when they embark on a poor man’s Man City spending spree.

But none of that mattered much to me as I was following the journey of Swansea City as they ventured through their second year in the Premier League! What did this American - probably barely qualified to have an opinion on football - learn?

First and foremost, the chatter I saw on my Twitter feed on Saturday mornings was of two things: first, everyone who flashed the crest of the Swans wanted them to pick up three points. That’s a given with any supporter of any club. Jubilation when it happened, frustration when it was anything else.

The second thing was that, much like last season, everyone was just happy to be there. No one has taken the journey for granted, especially since this May the club marked the ten year anniversary of that match against Hull City - of course everyone reading this knows what happened there.

Where the first year in the Prem was all about making sure they didn’t fall flat on their face and avoid being a “one and done,” the second year was showing everyone the first year was not a fluke.

Like everyone else, I fell in love with Michu so there’s not much else to say there that someone else hasn’t. What I wanted to happen and glad it did was that in following the club I got to know the rest of the squad - those that have been there throughout the journey and the fresh blood that Michael Laudrup brought with him.

Without a doubt, my other favourite player on the squad is Ben Davies. Talk about stepping up in a monumental way. I still think he should’ve been nominated for PFA Young Player of the Year over Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck and if Davies carries himself into the next season, he best be on the shortlist or there’s something fundamentally wrong in the voting system.

I just have to say that it’s been a lot of fun following this club, outside of my local Seattle Sounders FC. It wasn’t easy waking up at the crack of dawn every Saturday morning to fire up the computer to tune in, but man was it fun demolishing QPR on opening day, Davies silencing a winger like Nani, Rangel’s humanitarian side and - of course - winning at Wembley.

I think that last one is the highlight that no one in their wildest imagination saw coming this season. I know all I wanted was a finish in the top ten. We got that. Now they’re looking at the summer transfer window for purposes of having enough bodies for the Europa? Wow.
Then again, European competition, top ten finishes, and building a reputation as possibly the next hot/big thing most likely is the culmination of what chairman Huw Jenkins has in mind. Just like the fans I’ve gotten to know across social media and through this outlet, those that run the club are not taking any of this for granted. They’re doing what they can to tell everyone that they are very legit and are here to stay. We all know that the modern game is wide open to the “here take this giant sack of money and win” ideology - yet here are Swansea City, the plucky underdogs that are doing it right.

Interviews from Jenkins and Laudrup confirm that to me. Sure it worries me that the rising stock of the club and their players draw the bigger clubs to try and poach the players, but that’s sports for you. Happens everywhere, like it or not.

At the same time though, it is pretty cool that others are taking notice of what’s going on at Liberty Stadium. I can’t help but find a similarity with how the hometown club Seattle Sounders FC have done it as well. Just like the Swans, they are fairly new to the league, yet they’ve made a whole lot of noise in such a short history. I guess the only thing left is for the two clubs to strike a partnership, resulting in me giddy like a schoolgirl.

I don’t know what will happen next season other than I know it will be something worth remembering. It’s been a lot of fun following this club some 4,600 miles away and the people that have welcomed me into the fold have been some class folks and I hope to have a pint with them soon.

A decade ago, Swansea City were about to fall off the football cliff. Now they’re making plans for European competition. I can’t even imagine what it must be like for those who were at that match against Hull City to be here now. I’m sure there aren’t enough words to describe it, but put a gun to my head and I would say the word that embodies the season was: fun.

Now the club just needs to hurry up and unveil the new kits so I can buy them.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Swansea City 2012/13: One to remember!

It's that time of year again - a time for reflection, a time for celebration and a time to prepare for two months with no football. Still, there are plenty of memories to take us through to August - memories of a superb season for Swansea City, possibly the best yet.

Super-Dane Michael Laudrup joined us last year as the club were looking to avoid second-season syndrome. Despite some hesitation with his shaky track record, Laudrup was instantly loved and the cliched alliteration was never mentioned again. I'm sure FourFourTwo ate their words...

FourFourTwo's accurate pre-season prediction...

The 5-0 drubbing of QPR on the opening day set the tone for an exciting ten months of football, where we saw victories against Arsenal, Chelsea and Brendan Rodgers, while scaring Man United and Man City a couple of times.

As well as seeing the rise of homegrown talent - namely Ben Davies - this exciting season has seen some new names cement themselves in the Landore walk of fame. Michu, Ki, de Guzman, Chico, Hernandez and Tiendalli (and Shechter) all made their own impact on South Wales, bringing goals (Michu), passion (Chico), hoards of new fans (Ki) and, at times, frustration (Shechter). Whatever impact they made, they have all contributed to an eventful season and we thank them for their efforts.

That day in Wembley

One of the most eventful days saw around 40,000 of us head to Wembley again for the mental 5-0 smashing of Bradford in the Capital One Cup final, giving the club some much needed silverware and a ticket to European football next season.

What will this summer bring? Hopefully not another new manager - one thing the club could do without is another managerial change as stability is going to be key to establishing Swansea as a long term Premier League club. Another thing we hope the summer doesn't bring is the greedy hands of big clubs looking to poach players away - Michu and Williams in particular, though some seem resigned to the fact that Vorm will probably head off.

What we hope the summer will bring is more players. Swansea need about five or six new players in various areas, either to replace those who leave or bulk up the squad for the tiring European experience. Mainly a proven striker or two - if there is an area to spend money on it is certainly a goalscorer!

Elsewhere, I'm happy to have completed my third season as a Swansea City blogger. It's been an eventful year for me, winning the Best Sports Blog at the Wales Blog Awards in September, before opening the blogging doors to a few talented and passionate writers who have helped keep the blog afloat during a busy few months for me. Check them out on the contributors page.

Me claiming the Best Sports Blog in Wales title in September

I expect a nice (if rainy) summer of rumour and speculation, with a little bit of heartache, but plenty of anticipation ahead of the Swans' third season in the Premier League, a European tour (qualification permitting) and a South Wales derby or two to top it off.

Check back soon for regular posts over the summer. Forza Swansea!

Friday, 17 May 2013

Swansea City: Alec's Dream Team

Before the final game of the season, ALEC JOHNSON has been considering which players should get a run out. And he's not limited it to the current squad! Here is his Swansea City dream team, including some of the best ever players to pull on a white (/black/red/orange) shirt.

Looking ahead to the final match of the season, and considering who I would give a run out to with only a place or two at stake, our comfortable position in the table sparked thoughts of a dream team of our past running out at the Liberty against Fulham.

Before I take bullets for not including any of the early sixties heroes, my first match wasn’t until March 16th, 1979 against Gillingham, aged eight. We won 3-1 and I was instantly addicted. Since that day, I have kicked every ball, made every tackle and shanked every pass with the lads on the pitch, from the North bank, East stand and more recently South stand, plus many away ends up and down the country.

So, limiting myself to players that I have witnessed in my time, the squad listed below considers our current playing formation which I believe to be the most effective, also adding the contribution that they made to the club in a Swans shirt.

Michel Vorm – I firmly believe that he is the best keeper ever to play for this club. I actually don’t remember him ever being solely responsible for giving a goal away in his two seasons and we should retain him at all costs.

Angel Rangel – How well has he developed? The best £10k investment ever in my opinion and he continues to improve each season. I don’t believe there’s a right back challenge from anybody in the past thirty years.

Terry Phelan – Signed by Terry Yorath and sadly only with us for a season, Phelan was an incredible athlete who dominated the entire left flank through his pace and energy. His ability to get beyond the opposing right back and create options in the final third put him in the wing back category but let very little past him either.

Chico Flores – It’s incredible to think that we can find established players of this calibre out there for just £2m, Chico has turned into a complete centre half. The mistakes have dried up as have the karate kicks! Chico is good enough for any side in the country as he consistently dominates his opponent.

Ashley Williams – Ash completes the back four despite not having his best season in a Swans shirt. He started slowly giving away a few goals and at times has lacked the pace to prevent players ghosting in behind him. However, generally rock solid, consistent and committed he makes the best ever starting eleven by some distance ahead of what could be his final game for the club.

Robbie James – A complete midfielder, Robbie could sit in front of the back four a la Leon Britton style, break up the play but he had the power to burst through the pack and create chances in the opposition half. He also had an incredible eye for goal and scored so many long-rangers, often in vital games. Also, a genuinely wonderful character off the pitch, sadly taken away from us fifteen years ago - I would make Robbie the club captain.

Alan Davies – The little man had the most incredible feet, he could do anything with a ball and pick the pass to change the game. Alan also deserves inclusion for that free kick at Ninian Park which he hit with the outside of his foot from thirty yards. One of the most gifted players ever to play at the Vetch.

Michu – Sitting in front of these two, Michu would have had the freedom to roam around the final third. We have only seen the best of Miguel when he is playing off a front man, he has the capacity to wander around into space anticipating the second ball and hurt the opposition. Besides his deadly finishing, he seldom gives the ball away which is rare for a player in the final third and finishes each game in a state of collapse due to his endless work rate.

Alan Curtis – For the younger brigade that never witnessed this genius with a ball at his feet, think of a Welsh Messi. Ok, not quite in that league but the same attributes - small but incredibly strong and quick feet, Curt could go inside or outside making him very unpredictable and deadly to mark.

Leighton James – The best crosser of a football ever to wear a Swans shirt, dazzling with both feet and very direct. He wasn’t the hardest worker on a pitch but with Phelan sitting behind him Leighton would be free to preserve energy and hurt teams in devastating fashion. Better on the pitch than with a microphone that’s for sure.

John Toshack – Big John was often only considered a manager of our club, but his impact as a player was almost as big. Before signing for us, he was considered one of the best strikers in Europe having won everything with Liverpool just a few years earlier. Purely from a playing perspective, it was a privilege to have Toshack in a Swans shirt just through his prime and in this team he would hit 20-plus goals a season.

The Bench 

Roger Freestone – Awesome shot stopper who controlled the penalty area in the air by reading the game perfectly from corners and free kicks.

Bob Latchford – Justifies his inclusion for that first season in 1981 - a predator with his feet or head, that played to score.

Jan Molby – A majestic player who played with his head up. Despite his size Jan dominated the midfield though his vision and awareness. The big man never gave a ball away in his time on the pitch at Swansea.

Nigel Stevenson – Speedie was always dominant and a genuine hard man of the back four, quiet yet motivating I don’t remember him ever having a bad game, and would recommend not to tell him if he ever did!

Chris Coleman – Cookie replaced Phelan and it was like for like in style if not size. Physically massive with a crisp left foot who often played in the middle when called on.

Nathan Dyer – His pace and energy terrifies defenders, bring him on after an hour after the Curt and Leighton have worn the full backs down.

Joe Allen – I believe Joe will get better and better, had a good few seasons with us and needs including for that Ninian Park celebration.

Having only missed a handful of home games in thirty years and despite not going away as often as I would like, I don’t believe there are any glaring omissions in this squad, but fire over your missile to @71_alec or feel free to add your comment below with your pitch on who and why.

Individually I believe every one of them would hold their own in any top four side, assembling them collectively would have put us right in among them.

Dare we dream!

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...

Saturday, 4 May 2013

The Hatching of the Swan - a poem

Though I enjoy writing, I find poetry to be too far out of my comfort zone and, as a result, it is something I've rarely attempted. As my nan once told me "Chris, you are a shit poet".

However a Swansea City fan called Noel has emailed me with an inspiring poem focusing on the creation of the football club we all love.

So here, in a ForzaSwansea first, is a poem:

by Noel Stephen Evans

It was the 14th June in 1912.
Where they met, at the Royal Hotel.
The board of directors were gathered there.
With Mr J W Thorpe, there as well.

He was to be our first chairman.
The excitement was rife in the air.
A public meeting was called for.
Enthusiasm was for all to share. 

Discussions were heard so intently.
With all the notes taken down.
And everyone so proud to witness.
The birth, of our own Swansea Town. 

Our home was our beloved Vetch Field.
In the Sandfields, down by the sea.
Walter, our first ever manager.
Our boss, and our first goalie. 

The first match we drew against Cardiff.
1 - 1, with the old enemy.
And the hundred years that did follow.
To play them, seemed so fittingly. 

Our first ever goal at the Vetch Field.
Was scored by our own Billy Ball.
He also did score our first hat-trick. 
And our first, to get sent off and all.

That first year for us was amazing. 
As we finished, third in the league.
And also lifting the Welsh Cup.
In the final, we beat Pontypridd. 

So that's where our history all started.
We're so proud just being a Jack.
The seeds were laid, and the foundation set.
Where the Swan had come to hatch. 

And all that's gone before us.
With the tradition of our great club.
We've all got so much to be proud of.
In our team, that we all love.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Swansea City: Snubbed!

After the recent PFA Player of the Year announcements, ForzaSwansea's passionate American Swans fan, JACOB CRISTOBAL hits out at the exclusion of Michu and Ben Davies.

Recently Luis Suarez did a very Luis Suarez thing and bit Branislav Ivanovic. Before that was the weekend where we saw the shortlist for the PFA awards Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year. I understand the uproar of Suarez being on the shortlist, but I also understand the fact that he has kept Liverpool afloat despite being a liability of embarrassing magnitude.

Looking at the other nominees, I understand Bale’s inclusion, Van Persie’s, Juan Mata’s, and yes - even Eden Hazard's! The one inclusion that boggled my mind along with a lot of others is Manchester United’s Michael Carrick. When I saw the shortlist on Saturday, I went, “Huh. No Michu - but Carrick is in? Really?” No, no tables were flipped in anger, it was just puzzling. I’m not saying that Michael Carrick shouldn’t be nominated - it’s hard to argue the fact that he was voted on by his fellow footballing peers.

Looking at the other candidates they all have one thing in common: goal scoring. I know it’s not the be all, end all tool of measurement for a player’s effectiveness and influence, but Michu is fourth on the list of top scorers this season, leading all midfielders in the Premier League. And you know what, he did the same thing in La Liga the season before that.

But at the end of the day, them's the breaks and while individual accolades are nice to put on the mantle, no one can take away how Michu has arrived onto the Premier League in stellar fashion, becoming the latest Swansea City hero.

Ben Davies - Better than Welbeck?

If Michu’s snub was baffling, then Ben Davies’ exclusion for PFA Young Player of the Year was ridiculous. If there’s one Swans player that has won my affection not named Michu, it is Ben Davies. A graduate from the youth squad, we all know what Davies has done since coming in for Neil Taylor in August.

His emergence and locking down of the left back position has been nothing short of amazing (ask Brendan Rodgers if he finally recovered Raheem Sterling) and if I may go completely homer for a minute, we here in Seattle have something of our own teenage riot turning heads with right back DeAndre Yedlin of the Sounders FC. I swear I am not picking on Manchester United but how and why is Danny Welbeck on the Young Player shortlist over Davies?

If you look at the EA Sports Player Performance Index, which the Premier League swears by, Davies is ranked #75, above Welbeck at #235 by the most lopsided leaps and bounds. Davies has played in more matches than Welbeck, has the same amount of goals and it only took him eight shots, whereas Welbeck had to take 39. I wonder how Welbeck would feel knowing a defender has a better shots-to-goal conversion than him? Here are a few other comparable stats between Davies and Welbeck.

  • Average Passes: Davies - 42.5 / Welbeck - 18.4
  • Pass Success %: Davies - 82.8 / Welbeck - 86.4
  • Average accurate/Total Long Balls per game: Davies - 2.1 / Welbeck - 0.3

Make of that what you will in terms of who is the better player, and really they picked the wrong player from Manchester United.

There’s another aspect with the PFA awards that I’m sure I can’t be the only one asking. Should players be eligible for multiple individual honours? With this year’s nominees, Bale and Hazard are in Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year. Should it be that if they’re nominated for let’s just call it the “senior” one, should they still be eligible for the YPOY? If you take them off that list, you then open it up for a combo of De Gea/Nastasic/Davies in there. That would make for a more appealing pool to choose the winner for YPOY and quell the majority of journalists screaming “___ was snubbed!”

Maybe that’s something the PFA should consider so the field is more open. Again, in the end this is just how these things play out. It’s always tough for these sort of individual accolades to be dwindled down any shortlist. There’s always going to be debate about who got in over someone else across message boards, news articles, social media, pubs and the like. So while being officially recognised by their footballing peers in the form of an individual honour eluded them this year, Michu and Ben Davies have nothing to be sad about.

I bet they would gladly prefer the love and recognition from the supporters any day of the week. And hey, there’s always next season right?