Saturday, 16 June 2012

Sense and Sensibility.

On Friday 15th June 2012, Michael Laudrup, on his 48th birthday no less, signed on the dotted line and agreed to become the new Manager of Swansea City FC.

To say that I was delighted by the news is something of an understatement. I was, and still am, really very very excited.

Michael Laudrup's appointment confirms that Huw Jenkins and our Board have shown both Sense and Sensibility. That this is the case, of course, will play out over the coming season, but undoubtedly they've shown both bravery and originality, and, we will get to decide.

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen's great novel, is a diagram of modern mores, and more. The outcome, ultimately, will indeed leave us all to decide, but we couldn't argue against the fact that this is a progressive and ambitious appointment, which, if ultimately successful, will just add to the remarkable journey of Swansea City FC.

The past few weeks have been overly nervous for us Swans, since BR's decision to take up the Liverpool challenge saw us condemned (almost), once again, to seek out a Manager capable of continuing the successful story of the last 10 years.

Once again, our estimable Chairman and Board were tasked with finding yet another uncut gem, as it were, since this is patently what's required at Swansea City. And, once again,  it would seem that they've delivered, with the appointment of Michael Laudrup drawing a huge proportion of regard and positive approbation. not least for its willingness to think "outside the box".

The immediately preceding weeks had seen the supporters nervous, to say the least, with a wish that HJ and Team could come up yet again with an ace from the hole, and to continue with our fabulous progression. There was, however, no guarantee of this, and whilst it would be foolish to assume that all from now on will be smooth, ML's tenure does tick the requisite boxes.

With regard to ML's playing career, its hard to say anything other than that it was stellar..........just check out this fabulous array of achievement, or this.

Enough said there then. 

Plus, when pundits such as Sid Lowe, the Guardian and Sky TV's Spanish Football expert post such articles as do tend to take notice. Btw, if you doubt the regard this man is held in in football circles, take some time to read the comments below as well as the article.

These are all fabulous achievements, and genuine reason to think that his tenure at Swansea City will be successful, but they're not the real reason why I feel so delighted at this fitting placement. Let me explain.

This, I believe, to put it crudely, is doing things in the "right way".

The story starts, surprisingly, a long time (in modern terms) ago, almost 10 yrs to the day. Astonishingly, looking back, I was there.

On that fateful day, I made the bizarre decision that the least I could do was to watch my Club slip out of the Football League, but, thanks to James Thomas and a whole host of others, that was the day both I, and the Club, were "born again" - almost.

Brian Flynn's team (and the Swansea City massive) did more that day to re-kindle my faith in Humanity, leading to a love affair with no end.

I don't need to tell you but the outcome of all those years led us into the modern era, and with a Club that's 20% owned by us fans, a realistic outlook on Football that seems, as is proven, to work.

It's hard to argue where the modern Swansea City was created precisely (it was probably connected with several outlooks), but there's no argument that subsequent to the Board's appointment of Roberto Martinez, Swansea began to play in a style that was noticeably different, with a pass and move and ball-retention philosophy that we Swans hadn't seen for years. What's more - it worked- and we fans bloody loved it.

Given Wigan's snaffling of Martinez and his Management crew, for the first time recently, we saw the Swans Board go "off the wall" with the appointment of Paulo Sousa, a European Cup winner as a player. Whilst Sousa's tenure did at least make us defensively resilient, most of us fans (and the Board as well) were probably glad to see him snatched by Leicester City. Ah well, it's easy to look back.

What me mustn't ever forget is that over this period, the Club had risen from the Third, to the Second, to the Championship level, which put us within striking distance of dreamland. The Premier League.

There is a point to be made here, of which, most of us Swans are well aware, but of which seems to be something that the greater football diaspora has only recently been made aware. It is this.

We play in a particular way - one, moreover, that's more familiar in Spain and other regions where retention of the ball is all. When we have it, our opponents don't, so if we can dominate possession we can dominate the result.

It's worked, thus far, for us - but, given that it also is boosted by the pedigree of Barcelona FC, I'd find it hard pressed to argue against it. Plus, it's aesthetically pleasing. I, and I guess you, enjoy it.

It's all very well to have a pattern of play that satisfies us, the fans, but what our Club has done is to have both that and an approach that is successful in meaningful terms. In other words, not only have we pleased the eye, we've climbed upwards and stayed there too.

This, it seems to me, has been a collective endeavor. I've hinted at RM's setting us on the path, and Sousa's undoubted defensive advancement in making us hard to beat, but it all came together with Brendan Rodgers' freeing up of the parts, and making us both a successful Championship side that got up through the play-offs, and a resilient and buzzing first year PL survivor, playing it must be said some of the most pleasing on the eye football in the division.

We've learned, from our last 3 Managers, that success breeds covetousness, and each has been snatched by a bigger rival. We've come to understand, moreover, that in the modern fishbowl of PL supremacy, it was ever thus.

However, the Club has shown that it too has grown upon these lines, with both Martinez and Sousa attracting compensatory payments from Wigan and Leicester. Some of us thought that Wigan, particularly, had got off lightly with their £2.5 m reported compensation being short shrift for all of our workaday staff.

Still, we survived, as is our wont, and it meant that when Liverpool came calling for Brendan and his first team coach Colin Pascoe, Liverpool's compensation was £7m +. Evidently fair, it seems to me.

Couple that, of course, with our ultimate employment of Michael Laudrup and you'll begin to see that I suspect we're on the right track.

Listen, there's no guarantee that a player with a stellar playing career and a promising but unfulfilled Managerial advance should have anything other than a tough time ahead in this League. I'll comfort you with this - who would you rather have managing us - Ian Holloway, Gus Poyet or any other of the bookies shouts, or somebody from left field who has at least an equal if not better pedigree? Yes, me too.

So, we set up for the new season with a new Manager and a further challenge to see if we can continue in this fantastic division whilst retaining the style we've all come to love and admire. Plus, we are not alone.

Many people have hitched a ride on our success last year, and it's just lovely to see and hear respected football pundits take notice of our style as well as our results.

And that's the key, don't forget. This is a journey that should we wish to make long term then it has some caveats along the way. Think on this.

The employment of Michael Laudrup is a really progressive move by our Board and Chairman. HJ had stipulated, all along, that the Club would seek out a Coach who was reflective of and prepared to work with the ethos on which the Club's play is based. Ie, we're a club that plays possession based pass and move football, and seeks to develop players from within - be that first-teamers or up and coming youngsters.

The corollary, of course, as I've banged on about before, is that we develop and implement a Club facility for Training and other purposes that is specific to Swansea City. Progress on the RTB Landore site seems to be encouraging. I'm hopeful of learning more re the Fairwood/Swansea Uni developments mentioned in the past year too.

Secondly, if we're good enough to stay in the division for a second year, then we can be confident that there will be the first stage of Stadium development, and that in itself will ultimately be self financing.

Talking of which I was delighted to see this week the PL's latest Sky TV deal which encompasses a massive increase to £3.18 billion (yes,billion) for domestic rights alone. Current estimates suggest that the bottom PL Club is likely to clear more than Man City made from last year in winning the Title, but that's from season 2013-14 forward.

That's how key it is to stay in this division. And that's before the Worldwide deal comes in, which is likely to dwarf the domestic set up as it does currently.

That's the level that we deal at nowadays, so the appointment of ML was key in that respect alone.

What is delightfully pleasing is the quality of candidates that were linked with this vacancy. Other than ML, both Marcel Desailly and Dennis Bergkamp were two of the names in the frame, along with more usual suspects Ian Holloway, Gus Poyet and ex coach Graeme Jones.

How refreshing that our current stature allows us to shop in slightly more exalted circles, and to appoint from this superior level. Excuse me for saying so.

What Huw Jenkins and the Board have achieved by securing the service of a member of this fabulous footballing dynasty is to demonstrate once again that they value the Swansea City system and ethos above all else.

Even Michael Laudrup, a genuinely exciting appointment, knows that the value of Systems, and how they can be used, is key to our development as a Club.

It'll be no surprise to anyone who's read me previously that I'm endlessly fascinated by the way we, Swansea City, play. And, by extension, how most teams reflect their Manager's avowed philosophy. Each game I attend nowadays sets an endless puzzle to try to analyze the general set up of each of the teams, and how that has influenced, or, occasionally, settled the outcome. It's perhaps not surprising to some, because, you'll either see or get to know,as I said previously, and I'll repeat it, I'm a Swansea City fan.

Incidentally, if you're intensively fascinated too by this kind of thing, or even if you're just vaguely interested, can I recommend Jonathan Wilson's "Inverting the Pyramid", a football book that like the game itself, leaves you wanting more. I've very recently been privileged to see Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Javier Hernandez and Nemanja Vidic confirm what Leon Britton, Michel Vorm, Joey Allen and Scott Sinclair show me week upon week - a propensity to make the extraordinary seem just everyday and normal. That's how lucky I am.

When I started watching live football, in 1964, it would be fair to say that formations never crossed my mind. Ipswich Town's 2-1 victory at the Vetch may not have been wholly attributable to Jimmy Leadbetter's mastery down the left wing (an early left sided Midfielder/Winger in a 4-4-2) - but it seemed so to me.

Coincidentally, or not, Alf Ramsey, their Iconic manager of that era went on to create the "wingless wonders " of 1966, and we all know what happened there, since parts of the Press have reminded us ever since.

That England's 4-4-2 may have been the modern game's precursor of Barca's "false 9" system seems hard to come to terms with. Until, that is, you see it for what it was - a stepping stone from from the WM formation that held sway until Hungary's 6-3 destroyed that particular myth, and a pointer to ongoing football evolution.

If we cast our minds back, there is plenty of evidence that football systems have always evolved and changed, generally for the betterment of the game.

After all, the World Cup, from its inception in the inaugural tournament of 1930 had produced Uruguay, Italy, West Germany and Brazil each winning it (3x2 and 1x1) in the seven tournaments possible prior to England getting their sticky hands on it for the first and only time, in 1966.Since then, incidentally, the 19 tournaments to date have produced 8 differing and different winners, England included.

The point of this enumeration and reminder is simply this.

Despite our understandable English-centric perspective, to compare the Uruguayans of 1930 to the Brazil of 1958 or 1962 is to compare chalk and cheese, in systemic terms.

And, astonishingly, the WM was done for long before Sir Alf Ramsey cast it into the bushes.People had, already, been doing it differently, for many years.

Think back to all the World Cup tournaments you've seen.Some are far more memorable than others : think Brazil  1970, Argentina 1992, and Italia 1996, and Spain 2010. Notice I've gone for the winners of the Tournaments, and not the venues. Before Blatter turned FIFA into his own personal fiefdom, the globe had already been trotted.

So, after that wander down History's lanes, we embark on our second season in the PL with a great deal more optimism than a couple of weeks ago when we first realized that Brendan Rodgers was indeed going to leave us for Liverpool FC.

A degree of trepidation remains, for ML's first season in England will indeed require difficult work, but I'm confident and excited to see him try.

Welcome to Swansea City Michael, you'll get every support from the fantastic JackArmy. A warm and friendly welcome awaits you at the Liberty Stadium.

Onward, Swansea City.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very good article