With Swansea 90 minutes away from a historic cup win and European football, we take a look at how the side has excelled under Michael Laudrup after the loss of Brendan Rodgers...
Swansea City fans and players alike would have feared the worst when their beloved Brendan Rodgers signed on the dotted line that made him the next manager of Liverpool FC. The Northern Irishman, who is considered a legend at the club for making them the first Welsh side to secure promotion to the Premier League, left the Swans after a remarkable season which saw them finish 11th.
And 11th position was not attained through gritty and hard-fought football; rather the style of play implemented by Rodgers was on more than one occasion compared to the likes of FC Barcelona. The possession-based 'tiki-taka' football reaped a multitude of dividends that saw the Swans defeat Liverpool and eventual champions Manchester City.
It was not just the style of play that was highly commended about Rodgers, another quality of his that came to the fore and aided his move to Liverpool was his magnificent man management expertise. Having worked as a youth and reserve team coach in his tenure at Chelsea and having come up the ranks working with young talent, Rodgers identifies the importance of motivation and involvement that a manager needs to have.
Rodgers brought glory to the club
He isn’t the typical manager who sits in the background while his first-team coach does all the talking. Rodgers is a task-master who gets into the scheme of things from the word go and is a vocal tactician at best. It was this complete package that Swans’ stakeholders felt would be extremely difficult to replace when he chose to join the Merseyside club.
Enter yesteryears’ superstar, the Danish legend Michael Laudrup. Having enjoyed a more than glittering career as a player with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Ajax and Juventus, Laudrup took up coaching and management for the first time at the 2002 World Cup as an assistant to Morten Olsen for the Danish side.
He then went on to manage one of his old clubs, Brondby IF back in Denmark. There he built a reputation for facilitating stylish play and giving youth players ample opportunities. Then in 2007 he was snapped up by Madrid-based Getafe with whom he achieved a mid-table finish and a Copa Del Ray final appearance. Next came a not so successful seven months with Russian side Spartak Moscow before he returned to Spain, this time to manage Real Mallorca. Here he proved his mettle by being unflustered by the lack of economic backing and helped keep the team in the top division.
Laudrup: Working his charm at Swansea City with some smart signings
So on June 15, 2012, Laudrup signed for Swansea, vowing to take the club forward after a great time under Rodgers. The former Barcelona man brought the promise of attractive play coupled with the exuberance of the youth.
And the Great Dane has carried the mantle in some style. Swansea made an absolutely swashbuckling start to the Premier League, scoring 10 goals in their first 3 games. And a lot of credit for that and what followed must go to the firepower that Laudrup injected into the Swans’ ranks through his transfers.
Most new managers would wait to settle in at the club before choosing to spend. But no, Laudrup had come prepared having done his homework. Swansea lost the instrumental Joe Allen to Liverpool and the effective Scott Sinclair to Manchester City. But Laudrup came with a plan which involved the introduction of players like Michu (Rayo Vallecano), Jonathan De Guzman (on loan from Villarreal), Chico Flores (Mallorca) and Pablo Hernandez (Valencia), successfully raiding the Spanish market in the process. Not to mention the addition of Sung-Yueng Ki from Celtic coming in handy in midfield this season. Making five signings in quick succession was a clear statement of intent that he very much meant business at the club.
Out of the four signings, a particular 2.2 million pound acquisition in the form of Michu has turned out to be a revelation, to say the least. The Oviedo-born forward has been an attacking master-class, notching up 17 goals in all competitions already, proving to be the catalyst to Swansea’s good work this season. Blessed with a peach of a left side-foot, he has scored extremely crucial goals in the league against the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal while consistently chipping in against the other teams. He has been actively leading from the front for the Welsh club even in the Capital One Cup, scoring goals of top quality against Chelsea and Liverpool en-route to the final.
Michu has literally taken the Premier League by storm
The beauty of Laudrup’s signings lies in their versatility and their value for money. Let’s start with the crown jewel Michu himself. The Spaniard can play either as an out and out number 9 or even as a support striker in the presence of a target man like Danny Graham. He can also link up on either flank with the likes of Wayne Routledge, De-Guzman and Pablo Hernandez. The result of this is that he can pop up anywhere in the opposition half and cause trouble, which has been pretty obvious this season.
The same goes for De Guzman. The Canadian-born Dutchman has been a threat all season, scoring 7 goals and accounting for 4 assists; not to mention his chemistry with Michu causing problems aplenty for the opponent. As for Pablo Hernandez, he can play on either of flank and provides an able option to Laudrup to stretch the play. In defence, Chico Flores too boasts of flexibility, as the former Mallorca man can play in the centre or as a wing-back.
So many options coming at such a low price has raised Laudrup’s worth as the man in the dugout. His tactical acumen must be appreciated as Swansea’s flux under him hasn’t actually felt like one. He has taken up from where Rodgers left off and come February has helped Swansea to a Cup final at Wembley and 9th in the league. Laudrup must also be lauded for making his new transfers from distinctly different backgrounds settle into the Swansea style of play as smoothly as they have.
As seen in the case of QPR, new signings never had the impact they were meant to have, with the club suffering from a lack of team chemistry. But at Swansea, with dependable stalwarts like Garry Monk, Leon Britton and Ashley Williams, the blend of experienced and new faces has been exquisite, making for some beautiful viewing this season.
Swansea are a spirited mix of old and new
The 48-year old manager has relinquished all doubts and concerns of the players and fans had as to how they would cope with the loss of Rodgers. The former has kept the faith of the board by giving good result after another. They have been extremely resilient at home, with teams finding the trip to Wales a surprisingly daunting prospect as has been evident from results this season.
It is seen that the promoted teams do exceedingly well in their first season, but do not showcase consistency in the following term. Swansea's results however have shown otherwise.
By appointing Michael Laudrup as their top man, Swansea have somewhat assured themselves a stable future in the Premier League. Well that is what their recent showing suggests to say the least. After Roberto Martinez and Brendon Rodgers, he too is clear crowd favorite who has pretty much lived up to his lore.
What remains to be seen for the remainder of the season is whether Swansea can consistently do what they have been doing. Laudrup and his dedicated coaching staff need to work hard and win the Capital One Cup and stay gung-ho even in the league.
The Swans can make history and promise themselves European football next season in the form of the Europa League if they down Bradford in the final next month. The former’s talisman Michu has put pen to paper on a four year contract, giving fans another reason to cheer. These are clearly good times at the Liberty…
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