By Oliver Platt
"This final will remain in history, a small part because of us, a large part because of Bradford," said Michael Laudrup after Swansea's triumph in the Capital One Cup final. It was as graceful a statement in victory as we have come to expect from the Danish manager but as magical as the Bantams' run to Wembley was, the Swans deserved this day.
Only eight years ago, after all, Swansea were no better off than Bradford are now. Their progress to the Premier League has been a triumph of long-term planning in a short-term game; it was not the charisma and talent of a single manager that inspired this remarkable rise but a chairman, Huw Jenkins, and a board of directors that developed a vision and stuck to it.
|A MATCH FOR THE BEST
Swansea's top results
||Chelsea 0-2 Swansea (CoC)
||Swansea 1-1 Man United
||Arsenal 0-2 Swansea|
||Newcastle 1-2 Swansea
||Chelsea 1-1 Swansea
||Liverpool 1-3 Swansea (CoC)
The commitment to a stylish, passing-oriented style can be credited to Roberto Martinez, still running the midfield in the later days of his playing career alongside the emerging Leon Britton, who conducts the Swansea orchestra to this day.
After a brief spell away at Chester, Martinez hung up his boots and returned to Wales, where Swansea had moved into the Liberty Stadium two years earlier. With a population of around 240,000, the city had untapped potential and the new ground was an achievement of the local council as they looked to replace the ageing Vetch Field.
Swansea needed three seasons to get out of League One and achieved promotion from the Championship in the same timeframe under Martinez, Paulo Sousa and, latterly, Brendan Rodgers.
Sousa spent only one year of mixed success at the helm but here the benefits of continuity and a familiar philosophy are most visible. The Portuguese led the Swans only one place higher than Martinez had done the previous campaign but nevertheless left his own legacy by signing players like Nathan Dyer and Neil Taylor that fit the club's blueprint.
Reaching the top flight was remarkable enough, done as it was without a significant individual benefactor as clubs like Reading and Wigan had enjoyed, but Swansea have proved that even the widening gaps in wealth in the Premier League can be bridged if you try hard enough. Their semi-final victory over Chelsea was symbolic; a triumph of patience over Roman Abramovich's expensive and unchecked restlessness.
Laudrup's appointment was, even by Swansea's considerable standards of progress, a big step. He continued the trend of young, talented coaches at the Liberty Stadium but while Sousa had played for a number of top clubs, Laudrup was one of the finest players of his era and naturally raised expectations as a result.
The reality sunk in for Britton before Sunday's final. "The LDV Vans Trophy [Football League Trophy] in 2006 was a massive, massive game for Swansea at the time," he recalled. "But it's funny because the gaffer asked us in a team meeting the other day, 'Has anyone played in a final?' Me, Garry Monk and Alan Tate all wanted to put our hands up, but we were too embarrassed.
"You can't say to Michael Laudrup, 'Yeah, we played in the LDV Vans final against Carlisle and won 2-1' - he's won La Liga titles and things, so we kept our hands down. The boss would have been saying, 'What's the LDV Vans? Is that even a cup?' I don't think it would have gone down too well. He meant proper cups.
"You would have never thought that, seven years down the line, we would be in a Capital One Cup final at Wembley, with the chance to win a major honour and qualify for Europe."
And therein lies the intriguing next chapter. In a poll conducted by Spanish daily AS, Laudrup steamed ahead of the likes of Rafael Benitez and Carlo Ancelotti as the preferred candidate to succeed Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid, collecting 78 per cent of the 40,000 votes cast. Michu, Ashley Williams and Chico Flores, meanwhile, have attracted the attention of top clubs in the Premier League and across Europe.
Balancing the added weight of a Europa League schedule while maintaining their league form will be a challenge next season and now Swansea are rising to a level where the inequality in spending power becomes significantly more of a factor.
|You can't say to Michael Laudrup, 'Yeah, we played in the LDV Vans final against Carlisle and won 2-1', he meant proper cups
"We're realistic enough to think we're probably never going to be a club that can compete with the top six or seven in terms of where they're at with budget - it's just a totally different planet to us," Monk admitted.
"But if we can finish in the top 10 and win a major cup final, especially in our centenary year, I really don't know how we would top that. It's the pinnacle for this club."
Perhaps the financial reality will prove too much to contend with over the course of a full season, even if they have already managed to match or beat the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal on individual occasions. Swansea, though, have got this far. They have earned the right to look upwards with optimism.
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