CHRIS WATHAN of the Western Mail says that planning ahead has been a significant part of the Capital One Cup finalists’ success
By CHRISTOPHER DAVIES
SOME CLUBS have found it difficult going on impossible to appoint – and keep – the right manager. Swansea City have made the task seem so easy you wonder why others have such problems.
Chris Wathan of the Western Mail has covered the rise and rise of Swansea, from the time they needed to beat Hull City in the final match of 2002/03 to avoid relegation to the Conference to the Capital One Cup final where they will play Bradford City on February 24; the prize for the winners is qualification for the Europa League.
Brian Flynn was the manager when Swansea defeated Hull 4-2 to retain their Football League status. Since then there has been a succession of managers who have each taken the club forward, yet Wathan believes the change of ownership in 2002 was the catalyst for enabling the Swans to proceed and prosper. Wathan said: “If I had to pinpoint a moment that changed Swansea’s fortunes it would be when the club was taken over.”
A group of local businessmen bought out the Australian, Tony Petty, with the Swansea Supporters’ Trust owning 20 per cent of the club. “That model still exists today,” said Wathan. ”Along with keeping their League status, that was a key point. It keeps a connection between the city and the club.”
Since then, Swansea have had five managers – Kenny Jackett, Roberto Martinez, Paulo Sousa, Brendan Rodgers and Michael Laudrup – with chairman Huw Jenkins rewarded for giving them an opportunity to step up.
Wathan said: “Swansea’s philosophy has been – why are clubs so obsessed with giving managers second chances? Why not give them a first chance? Jackett was a number two at Watford and Queens Park Rangers, Swansea was his first senior job and he brought a lot of professionalism to the club. Martinez had never been a manager before and the hand of Roberto is still evident now.
“Paulo Sousa had been in charge at QPR for only six months and although there were criticisms of the job he did, the side still managed the club’s
highest league position for 27 years and came very close to the Championship play-offs. Rodgers had done well at Watford, but was sacked by Reading…it was a gamble but only in the context of knowing which way the board wanted to take the club forward.”
Laudrup was on the market for nine months after he quit Real Mallorca on a point of principle after his assistant Erik Larsen, who now works with him at Swansea, was sacked. Having managed Brondby, Getafe, Spartak Moscow and Mallorca, the Dane was given his chance by Jenkins in the Barclays Premier League.
Wathan said: “They do things with a common-sense approach, a sort of succession planning. They almost know what they want before things reach a crisis point. They had already researched Laudrup and had him lined up before Rodgers left for Liverpool. The process had started and I’ve no doubt they have already thought about what will happen when Laudrup eventually moves on.”
The former Denmark international is doing an exceptional job, Swansea proving that entertaining football can also be successful. “Swansea, being the size of a club that they are, know they cannot rely on a manager being there forever. That’s not being negative or defeatist, it’s a realistic approach which means they can move on easier than those who bury their heads in the sand. “
Wathan said Swansea are “absolutely fantastic” to work with, a sentiment echoed by football writers from English national newspapers who have covered the club this season. “They always say how accommodating the club are and a lot of that comes from the fact many of the players and staff have been there from League Two. They’ve always been open, helpful and friendly to deal with and we all know how difficult it can be at various clubs.”
The press facilities at the Liberty Stadium are first class unlike, Wathan said, their previous home Vetch Field “where you had to lean out of the window to see who was taking a corner.”
To help establish close relationships with the media, there has been a Christmas seven-a-side game between the press and staff. “We have a meal and few drinks afterwards. For one reason or another we haven’t had a game with Michael yet and he’s been teasing us, saying we are running scared and that he’s going to nutmeg everyone.”
Laudrup, one of the few players to have played for both Barcelona and Real Madrid, was one of the finest forwards of his generation, winning 104 caps for Denmark in the Eighties and Nineties. “I’ve absolutely no doubt he’ll do what he promised,” said Wathan.
“The games are fun and a good bonding exercise. When Martinez was manager, there was a goalkeeping coach called Iñaki Bergara who, among others, played for Real Sociedad so to score past him was nice. Paulo Sousa, who went to three major finals with Portugal as an attacking midfielder, also played in goal against us, claiming a groin injury.
“That didn’t stop him, on one occasion, becoming rush-goalie, taking everyone on before rounding the keeper to score.
“This sort of thing illustrates the good relationship that has been maintained between the club and the media. Swansea are very much a community club…I did a interview with goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel who has played in Germany and Austria and he said how much he liked the family club atmosphere at Swansea.”
The coming days will be Wathan’s busiest period of the season as the countdown to the Capital One Cup final begins, with supplements, features and back-page leads to take care of. “The Western Mail is a national paper so what we’ll do is not quite to the extent of the South Wales Evening Post which is mainly a Swansea paper, but we’ll certainly have a field day with the final.”
Next season, Swansea are set to be joined by Cardiff City in the Barclays Premier League for the first time. It is a rivalry that could politely be described as intense and Wathan said: “From a journalist’s point of view the Welsh patch is a fantastic one. It would be tremendous for newspapers to have two clubs in the top division even if Swansea fans may be split about this. Some would love to see the clubs playing each other in the Barclays Premier League as it’s never happened before while others prefer Cardiff to be just below them, but it’s hard to see it staying this way because of the way they are playing.”
In March 1978 John Toshack, 28, became the youngest manager in the Football League and under him Swansea rose from the old Fourth Division to the First Division in four years. The team of Dai Davies, Robbie and Leighton James and Alan Curtis finished sixth in their first season in Division One and Wathan said: “I did an article a couple of weeks back speculating that the current team was their greatest of all-time. Toshack’s team played some great football and even led the division for a while, but the way Swansea have done it now…the way they are playing and winning admirers everywhere…this is probably a better achievement. “If they manage a first major trophy in their centenary season it will be difficult to argue against them.”