ARTICLE by Tomos Wyn Jones
PICTURE by Swansea City FC.
THE last ten years at Swansea City have been a roller-coaster of emotions to say the least.
At the start of it, the club was playing in the second tier of English football (Championship) and was just starting to lurk around the play-off spots more often that not. They endured seasons of going close to securing promotion back to the top flight after decades away from it.
But, with the arrival of Northern Irish manager Brendan Rodgers in July 2010, the Swans eventually went one better on May 30, 2011, as they beat Reading 4-2 at Wembley in the play-off final, with Scott Sinclair scoring a hat-trick to secure Swansea’s status as a Premier League club in the following season. The Swans became the first Welsh club to play in the Premier League era and returned to the top-flight for the first time since the 1982/83 season, where they were convincingly relegated from the then Division one.
The target for the 2011/12 season was inevitably for the Swans to survive in the top division. And they did it in style, with the South Walians finishing comfortably in 11th place, picking up wins against Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool in the process, and drawing against Chelsea, who went on to win the Champions League in the same season. Under the guidance of Rodgers, they played a unique style of football, they didn’t hold back in terms of defending, like other promoted sides, and feared no opponents, as could be seen in some of their stand-out victories. The Liberty stadium was rocking throughout the season, relishing the opportunity of facing some of the biggest and best sides in Europe, and looked comfortable playing amongst the elite.
But it was, perhaps, the 2012/13 season where Welsh football peaked in the English system. With manager Rodgers and midfielder Joe Allen departing for Liverpool, and star winger Scott Sinclair moving on to Manchester City, the Swans had to rebuild their squad. Champions League winning player Michael Laudrup took over the reigns at the Liberty and the club also secured the services of Michu (below) from Rayo Vallecano, who would try and provide additional goal threat for the Swans -and boy he did come up with the Ace card that season. The Spanish forward produced one of the best-ever individual performances for a club outside the so-called ‘top six’, scoring an impressive 22 goals for the Swans. And as if this wasn’t enough, the club also secured its first ever major honour in the English system, as it won the 2012/13 Football League Cup at Wembley, with Bradford City of League two crushed 5-0 in the final – Nathan Dyer (2), Michu and World Cup 2010 semi-finalist Jonathan De Guzman (2) scoring in the Wembley rout. This win also secured the Swans a place in the Europa League for the 13/14 season – taking them into a European competition for the first time in more than two decades. They then went onto finish 9th in the Premier League table too.
With Cardiff City winning the championship in 2012/13, the Premier League in the following season would see two Welsh sides involved for the first time in its history. It was also the first time in the top division’s history that Cardiff City and Swansea City would be playing in the top flight together. And the season started in complete contrast for both sides, with the Bluebirds 3-2 winners over eventual champions Manchester City, and the Swans falling to a 4-1 defeat in David Moyes’s debut as Manchester United manager. Although Swansea came through the qualifying games of the Europa League, they struggled for league form, with their first win eventually coming on match-day four. And they were also eliminated in the opening rounds of the League Cup, failing to retain the trophy following a shock defeat against Northampton Town. And the Swans’ trend continued in the league and Europe too, with a 1-0 defeat in the South Wales derby, but qualifying for the knockout stages of the Europa League – having even beaten Spanish giants Valencia 3-0 away. It got to a point in the season where the Swans were losing consistently (six defeats in eight games), and after West Ham’s win against the Swans, Michael Laudrup was dismissed from his post as manager, with former Swans star Gary Monk filling in as interim player-manager. And he started in the best possible way, taking revenge on Cardiff at the Liberty stadium in a 3-0 win. But Monk couldn’t lead Swansea any further in their dream European campaign, as they were eliminated in the round of 32 of the Europa League against Rafa Benitez’s strong Napoli side, which consisted of world class players such as Gonzalo Higuain and Marek Hamsik. But Swansea managed to turn their season around in the end, finishing comfortably in mid-table (12th).
After their remarkable European run, the Swans had a healthy bank balance to spend in the 2014 summer transfer window. Arsenal goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, Lyon striker Bafetimbi Gomis and Southampton midfielder Jack Cork were amongst the many arrivals at the Liberty Stadium. And their business in the Summer market paid off, as the club secured its highest-ever Premier League points tally (56 points) and finish (8th), narrowly missing out on a European place by four points. The 2014/15 season also produced some of the best football the club has ever witnessed and included 2-1 home and away victories against Manchester United, and a double against 13-time top division winners Arsenal. Although they had to deal with the loss of star striker Wilfred Bony mid-season, the Swans weren’t phased by this situation. Garry Monk (below) was seemingly working wonders at the Liberty stadium, and picked up the Manager of the Month award for August. Swansea were living comfortably in their first four years in the Premier League, as the club finished no lower than 12th in the table. With the club in a big financial hole at the start of the century, it was a miracle to think that it would even be playing in the football league, never mind in the Premier League. Chairman Huw Jenkins had worked hard at the club, and as a lifelong Swansea supporter, shared the same passion as the supporters.
However, the Swans’ decline started again in the 2015/16 campaign. Garry Monk didn’t, or rather couldn’t spend as much as he did in the previous summer, with the transfer bill only coming up to £9.1m, with the majority of the new signings being free transfers. After a promising start to the season, collecting eight points in their opening four games, including another win against Manchester United, the Swans lacked consistency after that. And following a series of defeats, including a 3-0 thumping at the hands of eventual champions Leicester City, Garry Monk found himself out of a job, with the club in the relegation zone around Christmas time. With Alan Curtis standing in as caretaker manager for a month, chairman Jenkins brought in former Coppa Italia winning manager Francesco Guidolin as coach on January 18, 2016. And the Italian made quite the impression, picking up wins against Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, and a draw against Manchester City on the final day of the season. Guidolin guided the Swans to a 12th placed finish, steering clear of relegation by 10 points. Swansea didn’t play free-flowing football throughout this season, and with the loss of danger man Jonjo Shelvey in January, the majority of their play had to come through full backs Neil Taylor and Angel Rangel, who were not used to playing forward in previous systems under different managers.
After a highly-successful European Championship in the summer for Wales, some of England’s best clubs became increasingly interested in some of the Welsh stars at Swansea. Everton eventually swooped in to sign Swans captain Ashley Williams on a £12m deal and the club also lost their top scorer from the previous season, Andre Ayew to fellow Premiership side West Ham United, in addition to Euros hero Eder heading to Lille OSC. Swansea had big holes to fill all around the pitch and made their record signing at the time, with the arrival of Borja Baston from Atletico Madrid for £16.2m – although this would prove to be a flop. They also recruited the services of former Juventus star and recent Europa League winner Fernando Llorente from Spanish side Sevilla. After winning their opening game of the season to Burnley 1-0 at Turf Moor, the Swans went on a rotten run, failing to win a game after this until the end of November – and sandwiched in between this was the dismissal of Guidolin from his post as manager. And his successor proved no better, with American Bob Bradley failing to improve Swansea’s fortunes on the pitch, picking up only two wins during his tenure (although this did include the thrilling 5-4 win against fellow strugglers Crystal Palace). The Swans’ future looked grim and they were staring at relegation down to the Championship. A few days into the new year, Bayern Munich’s assistant manager Paul Clement (below), who was Carlo Ancelotti’s understudy, was delivered the task of steering Swansea clear of relegation. He started well, defeating Liverpool at Anfield, but the Swans continued to fail to put a string of positive results together, and were still in trouble in the relegation zone. Playing well but not picking up results wasn’t good enough, and by April, the odds were stacked up against them, losing five out of six during the period. But the turning point in their season came on April 22, as they were 2-0 winners over Stoke City. A draw against Manchester United, followed by a win against Everton secured the Swans’ survival in the top flight for another season, but the warning signs was there to be seen.
The intent was there by Swansea to build on their performance of the 2016/17 season, by making some big signings in the summer, including securing the services of talented Englishman Tammy Abraham and Euro 2016 golden boy Renato Sanches on, as well as former star striker Wilfred Bony re-signing for the Liberty side. But the Swans were dealt with a huge blow, with one of their best ever players Gylfi Sigurdsson heading to Everton for an Undisclosed fee. With Fernando Llorente leaving for Spurs also, Swansea knew they were in for a rough ride, and after yet another poor first half of the season, Clement lost his job as manager just before Christmas. Carlos Carvalhal took over, after a successful stint as Sheffield Wednesday boss, and started his tenure just as many others before him had – in a positive manner. He picked up wins against Liverpool, Arsenal and West Ham United, but the Swans were struggling to overcome teams on a similar level to themselves, only picking up draws in games they should’ve won. They faced Southampton on May 8 in what was a relegation decider, and the Swans failed to break down the Saints defence – Manolo Gabbiadini eventually going on to score a crucial winner for Southampton. On May 13, the Swans’ fate was sealed, as they slumped to a 2-1 defeat to Stoke City, and were relegated to the championship.
Inevitably, following relegation, the manager and several players left to seek playing in the top flight again, with promising manager Graham Potter coming in, having been a successful boss at Swedish side Östersunds. It was certainly a year of transition, with many young players given an opportunity of playing first team football – with now Manchester United winger Daniel James starring throughout the season. Kosovan Bersant Celina and Scottish forward Oli McBurnie also thrived playing in the Championship. But Swansea fans were uncomfortable with dealings happening at board level, following an American investment in 2016. Amid criticism and many calls to go, chairman Huw Jenkins left his post as club chairman, claiming he had ‘lost control’. And in March 2019, Scouser Trevor Birch was appointed chairman of the club. The club pushed for promotion back to the top flight, but fell short in the end, finishing in 10th place – however, they had also gone on a brilliant FA Cup run, before going out against eventual winners Manchester City 3-2 in the quarter finals, having been 2-0 up.
With Potter leaving for Premiership side Brighton & Hove Albion, speedy winger James departing to Manchester United, Oli Burnie moving to newly promoted Sheffield United and Jordan Ayew moving permanently to Crystal Palace, another rebuild was required at the Liberty stadium ahead of this season (2019/20). Former Bangor City player and England youth team’s manager Steve Cooper was appointed Swansea manager, their 8th permanent manager of the decade. And he started in the best possible way, going through August unbeaten, even managing a 1-0 away win at Elland Road against Leeds United. The Swans remained in the play-off places for the first half of the season, and won the first South Wales derby of the season 1-0 too. But, as in previous seasons, the club struggled for consistent form, and until the suspension of football due to the Coronavirus pandemic on March 13, the Swans found themselves mid-table, though, still only three points off the play-off spots.
With the EFL Championship now set to resume play on June 20, Swansea will look to try and break into the play-off places and secure a place back in the Premier League after a two-year absence. But, having said that, Swans fans are eternally grateful to be in a position they are in no, following their situation at the start of the century. They have produced and developed some of the country’s finest talents in the from of Daniel James and co, and long may that longevity continue.