|Swansea’s unity as a team stems from a fan-based ownership.|
At the beginning of this season there was some cause for concern around the Liberty stadium. After an impressive debut in the Premier League playing an attractive style of football (newspapers labelled them ‘Swansealona’ at one point), things were looking drab. Master tactician Brendan Rodgers had left to replace Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool, unsung midfield genius Joe Allen following him, and the winger Scott Sinclair, who had matured so much during his time in Wales, sold, to Manchester City of all clubs in the opening few weeks of the season. The vital left-back Neil Taylor was confirmed as out for the rest of the season, and things were looking glum. Not only this but the Swans had missed out on Gylfi Sigurdsson’s permanent signature after an impressive loan spell in the second half of last term, and however exciting Michel Laudrup may have been as a new managerial appointment, he wasn’t known for staying around for long with his clubs. FourFourTwo predicted a 20th placed finish in their pre-season guide. Critics wondered whether this side who had been so impressive in the 2011-12 season could really do it again with their ‘lovely’, but perhaps not so ‘direct’ football. Indeed, legitimate questions were being raised over fellow overachievers Norwich City, but both clubs have been proving their mettle this season.
Laudrup worked quickly in the transfer window. Michu, who Sir Alex Ferguson had apparently once searched for on Google by accident (Sun exclusive: Fergie after Rayo Whatsyoumacallit midfielder!) was a bargain at only £2million. Chico was brought in from Genoa as a welcome addition to an already solid defensive line-up and central midfielder Jonathan De Guzman loaned in from recently relegated Villareal in Spain, as well as diligent South Korean midfielder Ki from Celtic. However, the real marquee signing came on the Transfer Deadline Day, when it emerged that Swansea had snapped up tricky Spanish winger Pablo Hernandez from Valencia. A bewildered Swansea coach on his way to work was cornered by Sky Sports News presenters. ‘What can we expect from Pablo Hernandez?’ they clamoured. ‘Well, he’s Spanish, so he’s small, good at passing… er…’ It was clear that the poor man didn’t have a clue. However, the diminutive winger was in fact something of a coup from Valencia.
There was now genuine cause for optimism as the team completed a 5-0 drubbing of their bogey team QPR in their new red away shirt. Looking like a better Wales, the new signings combined perfectly in their first game. The player who really caught everyone’s eye was Michu, the lanky Spaniard, netting two debut goals as an unorthodox centre-forward/midfielder. Still, here was evidence of the team moving in exactly the right direction after Rodgers’ departure, still playing that lovely passing football, looking unified and arguably even more attractive than last year. The Swansea fans’ mouths were watering.
But then Laudrup’s team entered something of a blip after a 3-0 win at West Ham. First there was a 2-2 draw at Sunderland, which wasn’t too bad, but this was shortly followed by losses to Aston Villa and Everton, as well as Stoke. In this early stage of the season it didn’t look awful, but there was a worry that things could backfire. Michel Laudrup already looked uneasy in his dugout.
The turning point may well have been their 2-1 win against last season’s good news outfit Newcastle. Since then there has been a well-earned point against Liverpool and an excellent win vs. the in-form West Brom. On Saturday this run continued as the Swans overcame Arsenal with two fine goals from Michu himself. Although all the focus has been on an anaemic gooner display which resulted in the team being booed off the pitch, Michu and Swansea should also be credited for a well-orchestrated win. For now the team from Wales look set to rise up the table, and one can’t help thinking that in the Manchester City dugout at the Etihad, Sinclair is kicking himself for swapping the opportunity to play with this magnificent side for a space on the bench at a ‘bigger’ club.
|Michel Vorm has been solid since joining from Utrecht.|
It was something of a surprise when the highly-rated Dutch goalkeeper, renowned as a penalty-saving king, left FC Utrecht in Holland to join Brendan Rodgers’ newly promoted Swansea, but even then his success was unprecedented at only £1.5 million. He was an instant fit for the club, excellent with his feet and distribution but also equally able with his hands, in the typical mould of a Dutch ‘keeper. Many fans already recognised his face from Football Manager, and on numerous occasions the Dutchman saved his team from dropping points, pulling off a number of impressive saves during the season, and becoming an instant hit with the supporters. It tells you a lot that many now rate him as one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League, and that some journalists would even place him in the top three alongside Joe Hart and Petr Cech. There were rumours that he would follow Rodgers to Liverpool this January, but judging by league position at least, and to a lesser extent team spirit, followers of Swansea should not be overly worried about this possibility. He also recently pledged his future to the club, so supporters can feel at ease.
The rock at the heart of the Swansea and Welsh National Team’s defence, Ashley Williams is the undisputed captain of this alluring outfit. Not only does he command his defence with ease, but he weighed in with a vital header for Swansea last season, against Manchester City. The defender has proved himself at this level, having been previously released by West Brom as a 16-year old. It is no surprise that the solid centre-back is now being closely watched by Newcastle’s Alan Pardew. Unfortunately for him, Williams has already signed a long-term deal, like Vorm.
|Michu has made an excellent start, scoring plenty of goals for the Swans.|
The gangly midfielder-cum-striker has made a storming start to life at Swansea City since arriving from Rayo Vallecano, where he helped the side stay up almost single-handedly, and can already be considered the bargain of the season at only £2million. Last season in La Liga he had an excellent scoring record from midfield (perhaps slightly exaggerated by the fact that he plays extremely high up the field for a midfielder) and was apparently being monitored by none other than Manchester United. The club won’t have too many regrets at the moment sitting in 1st place, but one of them will surely have been missing out on Michu, already having scored 10 goals for Swansea. The hard-working midfielder from Asturias is enjoying life in Wales despite the weather, and the club can expect the utmost loyalty from him- when offered a deal at first-divison Sporting Gijon whilst at Oviedo, the player rejected a chance to enhance his career because of the teams’ strong rivalry (so he won’t be moving to Cardiff anytime soon Swans fans).
Brendan Rodgers was the man who brought the best out of the tricky young winger as the manager realised his potential as a more attacking wide player (prior to Swansea’s promotion-winning season, he had played a more defensive role). It is easy to see now why the club splashed out on a then-record transfer fee of £400,000 for the diminutive Englishman, who has been even more crucial this season due to the departure of Scott Sinclair, taking the ball past bigger players with ease, and who is now being hailed as a future England call-up. It comes as no surprise that he came off Southampton’s conveyor belt of talent, although his career had waned at St. Mary’s prior to joining Swansea, being loaned out on several occasions.
Another of Swansea’s mouth-watering arrivals in the summer, and another of the club’s four amigos, including Chico, Rangel, Michu and himself, Hernandez took some time to acclimatise to the Premier League, having joined from Valencia, but grabbed his first goal in a fine draw against Chelsea, and was instrumental in the dismantling of Liverpool in the Capital One Cup. Although he has had to work hard to adapt to Swansea’s style of football, he has all the qualities to succeed in the Premier League, and had previously worked with Laudrup at Getafe. Here’s hoping that he will make just as much of an impact as his former Mestella team-mate Juan Mata at Chelsea.
The sense of team spirit in the Swansea City team is evident from the confidence that the Welsh club plays with, and their run of good form doesn’t look likely to end anytime soon, especially with so many key players pledging their futures to the club.