Ten years after the almost dropped out of the Football League and in the year of their centenary, Swansea City triumphed at Wembley to win the first major trophy in the clubs history, which will also see the club play in next season’s Europa League. The Swans journey has been a fairytale one – one that differs from their final opponents Bradford – both clubs have gone in opposite directions in the last decade.
The Bantams were simply out-classed by their Premier League opponents and while it is easy to be patronising about Bradford they could have no qualms about the result itself. However, their journey to the final itself is something that should be acknowledged – particularly the victories over three Premier League clubs: Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa. Bradford beat more top flight opposition on their cup run (3) than QPR have done in 27 games this season (2). It was Michael Laudrup who paid the League Two side the biggest compliment: “This final will remain in the history books, a small part because of us, a large part because of Bradford.”
On many levels, Swansea are the model club for Football League clubs, both on and off the field. Philosophy is a term that is continually bandied about in football these days, but Swansea are a club who have put that into practice. Kenny Jackett, Roberto Martinez, Paulo Sousa and Brendan Rodgers have all played their part in the Swans revival, lying the foundations and now Michael Laudrup has added the finishing touches with something tangible – a trophy. The faces may have changed in the dugout but stability remains. Chairman, Huw Jenkins personifies that stability – he does not deal in knee-jerk decisions.
Laudrup, whose stock continues to rise, has been touted as a future Arsenal, Chelsea or Real Madrid manager, Swansea has played a part in his own revival as a manager. This was the Dane’s first trophy since 2005 with Brondby in his homeland. To his credit, Laudrup has added substance to Swansea’s already stylish play – the foundations were already there but a frequent criticism of the Swans last season was they lacked a killer punch, or rather passed the ball for the sake of it. Laudrup has made the club more attacking and has added his own hallmarks to the side.
Michu, Chico Flores, Jonathan de Guzman, Pablo Hernandez, Ki Sung-Yeung have all played huge parts in Swansea’s season, all of whom were signed by Laudrup. It was also a great moment for the likes of Ashley Williams, Leon Britton, Gary Monk and Angel Rangel most of whom have made the journey up the leagues with Swansea and played in yesterday’s final. Laudrup said that this was one of his most successful moments as a manager: “As a manager it’s absolutely at the top, winning a trophy for the first time in 100 years”
It was probably Leon Britton that best summed up Swansea’s success: “We did what we’ve always done: pass the football”
“Someone has just asked me what the difference was – I said about £220m”
Those were the words of Stoke manager Tony Pulis following his side’s abject defeat to Manchester City on New Year’s Day. He continued by saying “They’ve [Manchester City] got a bit of a head start on clubs like us”. The hypocrisy of Pulis knows no bounds. He frequently moans about topical issues such as refereeing decisions and diving yet when the shoe is on the other foot and his club get the rub of the green, Pulis’ smug shit-eating post-match grin is nauseating. A prime example is in the previous fixture between Stoke and Manchester City back in September where the Potters secured a 1-1 draw – their goal coming through a handball by Peter Crouch. Asked about the decision, Pulis said he was “delighted”, “It’s lovely for us, a smaller club getting a decision against a big club”
What Tony Pulis would like us all to believe is that Stoke are this small club that have been built on a shoestring budget, which is insulting. The Potters’ starting eleven vs Manchester City cost £35m: Asmir Begovic (£3.5m), Andy Wilkinson (academy), Robert Huth (£5m), Geoff Cameron (£2.5m), Ryan Shawcross (£2m), Cameron Jerome (£4m), Jon Walters (£2.75m), Charlie Adam (£4m), Glenn Whelan (£500k), Steven N’Zonzi (£3m) and Kenwyn Jones (£8m). If you include Stoke’s bench, of which their record signing Peter Crouch (£10m) sat then the cost of the matchday 18 rises to £55m.
Naturally, the money spent does pale in comparison to that of Manchester City, but only City and Chelsea have had a higher net spend than Stoke City’s £75m over the past five seasons. Pulis’ side have spent an average of £15m per season over the last five years during their time in the Premier League. The club’s transfer record has been broke six times since 2008. Pulis may have not had the magnitude of money that City or Chelsea but he has had significantly more to spend than a lot of other managers in the Premier League.
Defeat against City was only their fourth of the season, their other three defeats have come against table toppers Manchester United, fourth placed Chelsea and Norwich. They are the only side yet to suffer home defeat in the Premier League in keeping with the cliché that the Britannia Stadium is a tough place to go. Pulis, who has never been relegated as manager nor have Stoke been ever sucked into a relegation battle have finished 12th, 11th, 13th and 14th respectively with points totals of 45, 46, 47, 45 over the last four season. Steady progress? Hardly. Yes, Stoke have reached an FA Cup final and played in Europe over the past two season but for Pulis to suggest that the reason for defeat to Manchester City comes down to money is belittling to footballer watchers out there. His side showed no ambition and didn’t register their first shot on target until near the hour mark.
Even on Wednesday, as Ryan Shawcross signed a new long term deal, Pulis was quoted as saying: “We’re not going to do what Manchester City have done, we’re not going to do a Chelsea,” What, spend money? “we have to build gradually and steadily, and that’s what we’ve done over the last five years.” Perhaps, Tony. But you’ve done it by spending a significant amount of money. The players didn’t just arrive at Stoke.
This might seem like a rant against Tony Pulis and in some respects it is. But it is Pulis’ small time mentality that has irritated me the most. Stoke are by no means a ‘small club’, they attract near enough to 27,000 for the vast majority of their Premier League home games. Pulis has had money to spend, his side wasn’t build on small change scrimped together from down the back of a sofa. Questions can certainly be raised as to whether the money has been spent wisely enough. Should Stoke be getting more bang for their buck?
Having navigated the final international break of 2012, the Premier League returns as we kick on towards the last weeks of the year. Already the league is beginning to take shape – the two Manchester clubs occupy the top two places, while Chelsea are just one point behind City in third. It is the team that occupy fifth place that is the most surprising.
West Brom have made their best start to a season for 30 years, under their third manager in three seasons, with Steve Clarke picking up where Roy Hodgson left off after last season’s 10th place finish. Clarke, to many was seen as an unknown quantity having never previously filled the role of manager. However, what he does bring to the table is 10 years experience as a coach and assistant manager having worked with the likes of Jose Mourinho, Gianfranco Zola and more recently Kenny Dalglish.
‘Boing-boing’ were words associated with the Baggies a few seasons ago because of their reputation as a yo-yo team bouncing from the Championship to the Premier League. Now, West Brom are certainly the model club in terms of structure. Clarke, like Hodgson before him, works under the title of ‘Head Coach’.
After chairman Jeremy Peace, the main man at the Hawthorns is the outgoing Dan Ashworth, their Director of Football, a position which is much maligned in England, due to some high profile failings. However, the Baggies are an example of a club that implements the model to a great degree of success.
Unfortunately, after five years in the position – just as his hard work is finally bearing fruit – Ashworth is due to take up the role of the FA’s new Director of Elite Development next summer. Although it has been reported that he is keen to take up the position as soon as the New Year but has been charged with finding his own successor before departing the club.
Operating on the second lowest wage bill in the top flight, the Baggies are a further example of a club following another much maligned philosophy as of late, the Moneyball strategy. Mainstay players such as Peter Odemwingie, Jonas Olsson, Youssouf Mulumbu, Graham Dorrans, Jerome Thomas and Steven Reid were all signed for small fees (or in some cases no fees at all). This summer, there was the story of Ashworth of traveling to Argentina where he climbed over a fence in Buenos Aires to watch Claudio Yacob train before subsequently signing him on a free transfer.
After 11 games, the Baggies find themselves fifth (halfway to the fabled 40 point barrier) but Albion will have their sights set on breaking into the top 10 this season rather than even contemplating relegation. Six wins those opening 11 games, five of which have come at home, West Brom beat Liverpool 3-0 in impressive fashion on the opening day of the season – the Baggies dud suffer a blip recently after an impressive start, back-to-back defeats against Manchester City and Newcastle were followed up with consecutive wins against Southampton and Wigan.
Clarke hasn’t been afraid to rotate his squad, with just three players starting all 11 games this season – Mulumbu, Olsson and Gareth McAuley. In the attacking third, the Scot has seen his strikers share the burden of goalscoring, Romelu Lukaku, Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie have contributed three goals apiece this season, while midfielder James Morrison has also scored three goals. One stat that sticks out about the Baggies is the fact that only Stoke and Reading have had less possession in the Premier League (43.1%).
Another of Clarke’s former clubs are the visitors to the Hawthorns this weekend, European Champions, Chelsea. West Brom beat Chelsea last season which proved fatal for Andre Villas-Boas. Roberto Di Matteo also makes are return to a former club, one which he led into the Premier League. Clarke and the Baggies are flying high, it is a question of can they keep it that way?
“I’ve come to a club where the philosophy of the team and mine fits” those were the words of Michael Laudrup in a recent interview about Swansea. As a man who has played for both Real Madrid and Barcelona, the Dane was seen, not only as a coup for the Welsh side – a far cry from the fourth division battling extinction – but as someone who can carry on the continental style of football baton, started by Roberto Martinez which was in turn passed on to Paulo Sousa and the recently departed Brendan Rodgers.
The Swans passing style won them many plaudits last season, as they finished the season with some comfort, finishing 11th in the Premier League and rewarding smart punters who had placed their Betfair football bets on Swansea. Laudrup who has managed in his homeland of Denmark, Spain and also in Russia – has had mixed success to date in his short managerial career from Getafe to Spartak Moscow to Mallorca. This summer, along with losing manager Brendan Rodgers, Swansea also lost Joe Allen, also to Liverpool, Scott Sinclair to Manchester City, while Steven Caulker and Gylfi Sigurdsson’s loan spells both ended at the end of the season.
Second season syndrome is something that is usually whispered about when it comes to a club who gets promoted and stays up, but then for the next season it is forever lurking in the shadows. Many have suggested that after this weekend’s 3-0 defeat to Everton, the club’s worst home defeat since a 3-0 loss to Middlesbrough in August 2009 under Paulo Sousa – the so-called honeymoon period looks set to be drawing to a close for Laudrup. The club began the season with a flourish with 5-0 and 3-0 wins over QPR and West Ham respectively but have slipped a little in terms of back-to-back defeats in the league to Aston Villa and Everton.
Laudrup, speaking after the defeat to Everton said: “It’s never good to lose, especially not in this way, but it can be a good wake-up call for everybody after the start we had.” The game against Everton was interesting in that Swansea were never allowed to settle into their passing game, the Toffees pressed and harried the Welsh side – David Moyes also outthought Swansea under Rodgers on both occasions last season. Similarly with Paul Lambert (now of Aston Villa) was Norwich manager last season and beat Swansea both home and away.
Has Laudrup tried to change things too soon? This summer, the Swans added no less than seven players to their ranks, some of who have worked previously with the Danish manager – Michu who has slotted into the squad with ease was a bargain buy, the flamboyant Chico Flores, midfielders Pablo Hernandez, Ki Sung-Yeung along with Kyle Bartley, Dwight Tiendalli and Jamie Proctor. While Jonathan de Guzman and Itay Shechter have come in on loan deals. Almost all of whom have made first team appearances.
Something that needs to be addressed immediately is Swansea’s lack of plan B when they go behind in games – only three times last season did they gain points having gone behind. There has also been a distinct lack of discipline this season with 10 yellows and 2 reds accrued in five Premier League games where as last season the Swans received just 40 yellows and 2 reds in 38 games.
The honeymoon period might be drawing to a close for the Dane, but arguably, Laudrup’s real test comes in the form of Swansea’s next three games where they will face Stoke, Reading and Wigan before coming face-to-face with two of the big boys Manchester City and Chelsea.
There was very much a sense of dread surrounding the start of Ireland’s qualification for the 2014 World Cup – after the disaster of the European Championship which saw Ireland suffer three consecutive defeats – the hope and optimism that was present a couple of months ago has since faded. Irish football almost hit another low point yesterday, as it took two late goals from Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle to salvage three points and a 2-1 victory over Kazakhstan, a nation ranked 116 places below Ireland.
Yes, Ireland did get all three points, but not even that could paper over the cracks that are present in the current Irish set-up and under the current leadership. Almost a year to the day since that famous 0-0 draw against Russia – Ireland were reduced to continuous long-balls against a side ranked 142nd in the world. To be outplayed is one thing, but Ireland were dominated and outclassed, as Kazakhstan looked to pass the ball around, much more than Ireland did. The lack of variation from Trapattoni and the players was worrying. Long-ball, to a certain extent should be used as a last resort; however, Ireland insisted and persisted on it throughout.
Last night, Trapattoni reached a half-century of games in charge and it is already looking likely that he won’t be in charge of Ireland for another 50 games. The Italian has constantly been coming under-fire since the Euros and as a nation, Ireland remains to be divided about the 73-year old and his management style and whether he should continue to manage the national team. His lack of willingness to change, coupled with the lack of communication and the fallings out with various players, most recently, Darron Gibson and Shane Long. As former Ireland manager, Brian Kerr wrote today: “The minute attention to detail required to be successful at international level is not evident from Giovanni Trapattoni” while Kerr goes on to describe the manager’s tactics as “crude and outdated”. And, unfortunately, it is hard to disagree with him.
In a bristly post-match interview with RTE’s Tony O’ Donoghue, Trapattoni remained in a defiant mood, proclaiming: “I’m happy because we achieved the result,” he continued by saying “now in this moment; all that is important is the result”. The fact remains; this is an Irish squad that has lost both “momentum and confidence” as Miguel Delaney writes. From that unbeaten run before the Euros, along with the successive clean sheets – just three minutes into the opening game, as Mario Mandzukic found the back of the net “The solidity was shattered”. The signs are that the months ahead are going to be tumultuous for Trapattoni.
As immature as it was, the Irish frustration was best encapsulated in a post match tweet from James McClean (which he has subsequently apologised for). McClean clearly felt hard done by, having sat on the bench for the entire game last night, while Simon Cox started out of position on the wing and with Shane Long and Kevin Doyle both coming on, meant that Ireland played the game with at least three strikers on the field throughout.
Yet Ireland looked blunt and lacked attacking intent. There was no ingenuity or no guile. Ireland may have a limited pool of players (which will grow more limited if Trapattoni continues to fall out with them) and are not blessed with the talent of the past, however, there is no way the squad should be relegated to offensive, long-ball tactics against a side ranked as low as Kazakhstan. Ireland can and are better than that, despite what Trapattoni might think and believe. The Italian might have picked up the pieces following the Steve Staunton era but things are beginning to crumble again.
Trapattoni has now presided over Ireland for a little over four years and this is his third qualification campaign after the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championships. The 73-year-old was awarded a new contract last autumn when he achieved qualification for Poland and Ukraine; this should have been put on hold until after the tournament because since then, circumstances have changed massively – as Miguel Delaney also wrote today: “In the wider world of international football, managers of European teams last on average, 2 years and 11 months.”
In that respect, the Trapattoni era has run its course. It is time for change!
Last season’s Champions League winners – Chelsea
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As we enter the final week of the summer transfer window and as managers look to put the finishing touches to their squad before the window – *creaks/slams/quietly shuts (*insert as appropriate) on Friday night – it looks as if it will be a busy week at Loftus Road for Mark Hughes and QPR. Hughes has been playing the transfer market in the same way as a teenager plays Football Manager, albeit, an out of date one – snapping up as many players as is possible. Is QPR’s slapdash approach to the transfer market sensible?
QPR survived the drop by the skin of their teeth last season, on the final day of the season, despite losing 3-2 to Manchester City, results elsewhere meant that Hughes’ side survived leading the former Fulham and Wales coach to proclaim: “We will never be in their situation against while I am manager.” Much to his dismay, after a busy summer, QPR were humbled 5-0 by Swansea on the opening day of the season. Just two players – Clint Hill and Adel Taarabt – remained from the squad that was beat 4-0 on the opening day of last season by Bolton.
Since that opening day, and since Tony Fernandes took over the club as chairman, 15 new players have arrived – last season: Joey Barton, Luke Young, Armand Traore, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Anton Ferdinand, Nedum Onuoha, Djibril Cisse, Bobby Zamora. This season: Ryan Nelsen, Andy Johnson, Robert Green, Samba Diakite, Park Ji-Sung, Junior Holliett and Jose Bosingwa. As Jamie Jackson wrote last week, just six of those signings could “be expected to have a significant sell-on value or have their best years ahead of them.”
Loftus Road has almost become the home of the over 30’s. According to transfermarkt, QPR have the oldest squad in the Premier League at an average age of 29.4, ahead of Stoke City at 29.1. While, a couple of those could be leaving during this week, namely, Rob Hulse, Jay Bothroyd, DJ Campbell and Tommy Smith. Joey Barton seem ever the more likely to be given a free transfer this week, also as he wishes to move to France to join Marseille. Hughes, however, continues to be linked with players that are over 30 – Real Madrid defender Ricardo Carvalho, Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe and Inter Milan goalkeeper Julio Cesar have all been touted with a move to Loftus Road.
Hughes and Fernandes have brought in a wide range of Premier League experience this summer, but one can’t help but feel that the slapdash approach to bringing in players is not entirely sensible and could come back to bite them in the future. If reports are to be believed, while QPR may not be bringing in players for large transfer fees, there have been murmurs about the type of wages that the club is paying those players that have joined. Both Norwich and Swansea have gone about their business pragmatically and logically, unlike QPR.
As much as, one swallow doesn’t make a summer, one bad result doesn’t make a season, as QPR drew their second game of the season on Saturday, 1-1 against Norwich – but September brings three of the Premier League’s big guns, Manchester City (A), Chelsea (H) and Tottenham (A) before the visit of newly promoted West Ham at the end of the month. QPR were tipped by many to achieve mid-table safety, despite their outlay this summer, second-season syndrome can always be lurking in the shadows.