By David Lynch
It was a fair indication of how far Swansea had come that Michael Laudrup, the club’s first choice to replace the departing Brendan Rodgers, opted to accept the managerial role on offer over the summer.
And after a season of further success at the Liberty Stadium, Laudrup has now been earmarked as a potential successor to Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini, if the Italian loses his job with the current Premier League champions.
At the end of the 1997-98 season, whilst Swansea were putting the finishing touches to a campaign which saw them finish 20th in the fourth tier of English football, Laudrup was winning the final trophy of an illustrious playing career. Having already lifted the Champions League, La Liga and Serie A, the then-33-year-old helped Ajax to yet another Eredivisie title before hanging up his boots for the last time.
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The former Barcelona star joined a club whose principles meshed perfectly with his football vision and had the tools to maintain it - and evidence that this is a perfect union has been regularly supplied this term.
The Swans go into Sunday’s date with their former manager looking forward to their first-ever cup final a week later, a Capital One Cup clash with Bradford for which they will be favourites.
They have also already won at Anfield this season, but to earn another victory would be testament to the visitors’ great work as it is damning of the hosts.
Swansea are, effectively, the anti-Liverpool: using a small budget to improve their team tangibly during each transfer window whilst the Merseyside outfit waste greater sums on simply damaging their output in their pursuit of Champions League football. This summer perhaps provided a microcosm of the status quo, as Michu, Jonathan de Guzman and Pablo Hernandez arrived in Wales financed by the lucrative departure of Rodgers and the sale of Joe Allen – who has thus far struggled on Merseyside.
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Of course, much of this success has been down to an improved backline which concedes an average of just 1.12 goals per game – the third best defensive record in the league. Ashley Williams and Chico Flores, yet another marvellous Laudrup signing, have combined to form an unbreakable defensive wall. Unfortunately, it is one which, yet again, appears to have caught the eye of Liverpool.
Williams has this week been touted for a move to Anfield, and it is this sort of news which represents the real problem for Laudrup at Swansea. The club’s stature dictates that this part of the journey will be the hardest; keeping such a talented bunch together under the stewardship of an astute coach is nigh-on impossible with the vultures looming.
The 48-year-old boss is not immune from such speculation either, and could well be the subject of such a departure come the summer. City are eyeing Laudrup and with Chelsea – and possibly even Arsenal – also soon set to possess a managerial vacancy, the former Denmark international is sure to be a wanted man.
How Swansea react in the face of this interest should it materialise in the summer will be a true test of their ambitions. Any questions about the quality of their staff have already been answered.
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