By Mark Scully
Swansea City became the first Welsh side to be promoted to the Premier League in 2011, and over the last two seasons have become the darling of fans up and down the British Isles for their Barcelona-esque style of football. The Swans firmly believe in playing football the right way. However, life hasn’t always been so attractive for the Swansea faithful…
The 2002/03 season almost saw Swansea slip out of the Football League. Current Doncaster Rovers manager Brian Flynn was in charge of the Welsh side on the final day of that season, as the relegation-threatened side beat Hull City 4-2 at The Vetch to stay up; thanks to a hat-trick from local boy James Thomas.
In the home side that day was an unknown midfielder on loan from West Ham United called Leon Britton. Joining permanently soon after, Britton has seen most things during in his time in South Wales. The small dynamic midfielder has been a key part of the rise and rise of Swansea and, despite leaving the club at the beginning of the 2010/11 season to join Sheffield United, he re-joined the Swans just a few months later after failing to settle in South Yorkshire.
It is no coincidence that clubs who have moved to new stadiums, with the influx of extra revenue, enjoy an upsurge in success. The likes of Hull City, Brighton & Hove Albion and Swansea City are all prime examples of what a move can do for a club and a city. In 2005 when The Swans left the old Vetch, which clearly had seen better days, for the outstanding Liberty Stadium, it heralded a turn in fortunes that has been carried on throughout the last eight years.
The Football League Trophy was won in 2005/06, under Kenny Jackett, with a 2-1 win over Carlisle United. Swansea had a lethal strike partnership at the time with Lee Trundle and Adebayo Akinfenwa and it was both strikers that netted the goals. Current Swansea players Garry Monk, Alan Tate and Britton all played in the victory, which saw Roberto Martinez make a late appearance as sub.
The following season, following Jackett’s departure, Martinez took his first steps into management and instigated the change in attitude towards the playing style of Swansea. In his first full season in charge, Martinez guided Swansea to the League One title at a canter. Some of the players that day are still key players for the side or are plying their trade in the top flight elsewhere: Tate, Britton, Andrea Orlandi, Garry Monk, Angel Rangel, Joe Allen and current skipper Ashley Williams. The core of the team that brought the success has been together for the last four-five seasons.
Following Martinez’s move to Wigan Athletic, Paulo Sousa took over the reins and continued the good work. Next up was Brendan Rodgers, after previous jobs at Watford and latterly at Reading where he disappointed badly. The Northern Irishman guided the Swans to the top flight via the play offs at the first attempt; made all the sweeter for Rodgers given they beat Reading in the final at Wembley.
Last season, their first season in the top flight, Swansea finished 11th and Rodgers got his first big managerial move by joining Liverpool in the summer. Huw Jenkins, the chairman of Swansea, who has overseen the new stadium and numerous talented managerial appointments, continued his own fine form by giving the reigns to Michael Laudrup. Another manager who plays football the right way; Laudrup one of the best players of his generation having played for some huge European heavyweights in the likes of Lazio, Juventus, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Ajax. His relatively short managerial career began in 2002, but he has already managed in four different countries.
Laudrup has guided the Swans to eighth in the league so far; outstanding given this is only their second season in the Premier League. Swansea will lose Laudrup eventually, his stock in the English game is high and, across Europe, his name is well known – that alone will attract clubs to him. If Swansea can beat City on Sunday, they will be back in Europe for the first time since taking part in the European Cup Winners Cup back in 1991; which ended just as quick as it started when they faced AS Monaco.
This season, Bradford City are being held up as inspiration to others. Scott Rendell of Luton Town, prior to The Hatters 3-0 defeat against Millwall, cited The Bantams as an example that dreams can come true. Likewise Barnsley boss David Flitcroft pointed to Bradford’s success, and hopes his Barnsley team can emulate such dreams.
For me though, Swansea are the inspiration for lower league clubs wanting success in the leagues. A well run club that has appointed some superb managers over the last eight years. That is not luck; that is consistently excellent judgement by Jenkins.
Whatever happens on Sunday, it will be a special occasion for both South Wales and the city of Swansea, and also for West Yorkshire and the city of Bradford. Realistically if Swansea win, the press will be saying that they were expected to anyway. Lose and they join Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa in being laughed at for crashing out to a League Two side.
I believe that Michael Laudrup’s men will be the toughest opponent that Bradford City face during the cup run. The style of play along will dictate that Bradford see little of the ball for numerous periods of the match. Throw in the likes of Michu upfront, who has been prolific during his first season in the English game, and it’s a tall order for the Bantams to add to the amazing cup story of the 2012/13 season.
Cup Final: Width of a Post build-up
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