By Liam Twomey
If a week is a long time in football, 345 days is an eternity. Less than a year after leading Swansea City to the first major trophy in the club's history, Michael Laudrup finds himself unemployed and no-one who has been keeping up to date with events on the south coast of Wales over the past 12 months can be truly surprised.
Indeed, the parting might have come even sooner. Last week the Swansea board met to discuss the possibility of sacking Laudrup, before opting instead to undertake an overhaul of his backroom team and publicly insist their coach was safe. But following Tuesday’s crunch meeting with the Dane on his return from a two-day break in Paris, chairman Huw Jenkins decided to pull the trigger.
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The chairman's words highlighted his belief that the most spectacular success story in British football over the past decade has lost its way. Swansea, since their Capital One Cup triumph over Bradford City at Wembley last February, have won just eight of 35 Premier League matches, drawing nine and losing 18.
Confined within a single season that total of 33 points would put them more or less where, two points above the drop zone, they currently find themselves – stuck in a fierce relegation battle.
In mitigation, Laudrup could point to the Europa League commitments which have seen Swansea play four more matches (37) than at the same stage last season, or the injury problems which have deprived him of last season’s top scorer Michu, No.1 goalkeeper Michel Vorm and key midfielders Pablo Hernandez and Jonathan De Guzman for long periods, along with several others.
But results were not the only cause of tension between Laudrup and Jenkins. Relations have been cooling for months, stemming from last season’s incredible achievements.
In building on the solid foundation afforded him by Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers and leading Swansea to their first ever major trophy, Laudrup established himself as one of the most fashionable managerial targets in Europe.
A timely poll of 40,000 Real Madrid supporters conducted by Spanish newspaper Marca in the week of the Capital One Cup final revealed 78 per cent wanted the Dane to succeed Jose Mourinho in the summer, well ahead of rival candidates Rafa Benitez and eventual appointee Carlo Ancelotti. On hearing the result, Laudrup admitted he was “proud” and “grateful” for the endorsement.
Rumours of an exit persisted for weeks, and the perception grew among senior figures at Swansea that their manager was more concerned with his own progression than that of the club.
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Transfers soon became another point of conflict. In June Laudrup publicly criticised his employers’ inaction in the summer market, and days later Swansea cut all ties with Tutumlu amid suggestions he had attempted to sell Ashley Williams and buy, among others, Arouna Kone and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang “behind the club’s back,” according to a South Wales Evening Post report.
Swansea eventually strengthened with six players for a combined cost of just over £20 million – including striker Wilfried Bony for a club-record fee – but the bad feeling lingered.
Laudrup’s attempts to manage expectations after an historic season also raised ire. “Unless we find a couple of hundred million pounds I think last season we achieved nearly the maximum we can in terms of the table,” the Dane remarked in May when questioned about the possibility of his team improving on their ninth-placed finish. “Even consolidating is going to be very difficult.”
But Jenkins, who encountered sceptics at every stage of Swansea’s incredible rise through the divisions, is a firm believer that ambition should not be stifled. “We have to make sure whoever comes in to manage, coach and play for us in the future, they can't be talking about different levels of leagues within a league,” he told reporters in November. “To me, that is complete failure.”
Decline was never going to be tolerated. Neither was indiscipline, and the high-profile training ground spat between Chico Flores and new caretaker boss Garry Monk (a penny for the Spaniard’s thoughts when he heard about that appointment) combined with reports of worsening dressing room fractures between the Spanish contingent and the rest, raised understandable fears that Laudrup was losing control.
In such a climate the end was inevitable, but the timing is significant. Laudrup’s trademark reticence after November’s south Wales derby loss away to bitter rivals Cardiff City is understood to have particularly infuriated Jenkins. With the return match on Saturday, the task of restoring the city’s pride now falls to former captain Monk, a man more tightly woven into the fabric of this unique club.