Swansea City are finishing their preparation for their fourth Premier League season in a row, a remarkable achievement if we take into account where they came from. It was only ten years ago that their current manager, Garry Monk, made his debut for the club against Northampton in League Two.
Since then the Swans climbed the divisions, won the League Cup, and defeated Valencia at the Mestalla. On the other hand, they were very close to the relegation spots for the large part of last season. This season will determine if they can take their project to the next level, stall, or even worse, slump back to the Championship.
The appointment of Garry Monk as manager on a permanent basis was a surprise to many. The common belief is that he will not be able to deal with the pressure, he is too inexperienced, and Swansea will fall behind under him. It would be hard to argue that Monk is not the most experienced manager of the League; even he admits that he thought that getting a job at this level would take more time and effort, but the opportunity came, and he intends to make the most of it.
One thing that is on the side of Monk is his knowledge of the club. He was there, playing under all the managers who made the club what it is now. He played under Roberto Martínez, Paulo Sousa, Brendan Rodgers and Michael Laudrup. The return to the values of Swansea City will be much needed, as reports of training ground bust-ups have emerged last season. Some reports also suggest that the corrosion of the club’s ethics under Laudrup was one of the main reasons behind his sacking.
Monk intends to use this knowledge and continue the same possession-based, entertaining brand of football that earned the envy of many in Britain and abroad. When he became the new manager, he talked about putting “a bit of the Swansea way back into things”. There is no better man for that.
Many feared that Monk will not be able to attract top talent to the club. It is hard to argue that his Danish predecessor had a more illustrious career, but Bafétimbi Gomis was a striker wanted by multiple Premier League clubs before he chose the Swans. The list of leaving players includes bigger names than those arriving. Chico Flores, Ben Davies, Michel Vorm and Michu are off to other clubs, while Jonathan De Guzman is unlikely to return from Villarreal.
They signed Lukasz Fabianski, who was second choice for most of his time at Arsenal, but contributed greatly to last year’s FA Cup win. Gylfi Sigurdsson returned from Tottenham, and he can help address one of the biggest problems of last season, scoring goals from midfield.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Gomis and Wilfried Bony looked like they had a good chemistry together during preseason. The duo can play an important part in keeping the club in the Premier League, but the biggest concern for me is on the other end of the pitch. As Sir Alex Ferguson said, your defence wins you titles. I believe that this is true at the bottom of the table as well; your defence will keep you in the league. Fabianski is not as good as Vorm in my opinion, and letting Chico go might leave them short in the center of defence. Ben Davies' departure to Spurs means that three of the regular starters out of their back five are gone.
They still have Kyle Bartley and Jordi Amat to partner Ashley Williams in the center of the defence. Angel Rangel will be a familiar face on the right side, while Neil Taylor is looking forward to a long season as their first choice left-back. For me, the key question is how well their new defence will perform. Although I don’t look too much into pre-season friendlies, they have kept only two clean sheets out of seven games.
Even though Swansea reshaped their squad during the summer, and most of the performers who led them to League Cup glory are gone, Swansea had made a habit of proving their doubters wrong.
The strength of the club is their identity, building a team that is much more than the sum of its parts, and involving their players in something bigger than themselves. In Garry Monk, they have a man in charge who understands the process inside and out, so even though I might not be a fan of their transfers, only they can decide who fits their vision, and who doesn’t.
Unless you are a Cardiff City supporter, you must have a soft spot for the Swans. Even though I fear that relegation is coming, I hope they will be here to entertain us for many seasons to come.