Garry Monk's Excellent Work Flying Under The Radar
Since Kenny Jackett left Swansea in February 2007, the Welsh side have made intriguing and inspired appointments for their managers. Current Everton boss Roberto Martinez got his start at the Liberty Stadium and led the club to the Championship before heading off to Wigan and Merseyside. Paulo Sousa proved nothing more than a season long stop gap but still almost guided Swansea to the play-offs. Brendan Rodgers led the Swans to the promised land when he took over and kept them there with some wonderful football. Michael Laudrup was a legendary player and led Swansea to the League Cup and into Europe where they won at the Mestalla 3-0. So, when Laudrup was sacked with the club two points above the relegation places in February 2014 it was arguably Huw Jenkins’ biggest decision in his time as chairman. Would he go for a short-term fix to avoid the drop before going for his main target in the summer? Would he find someone with a similar footballing philosophy to his previous managers?
Jenkins stuck to form and went outside the box when he chose former club captain and still player Garry Monk. A rock at the heart of Swansea’s defence for nearly a decade, Monk had risen through the leagues with Swansea but was starting to feature less and less in the Premier League. He had been expected to join the backroom staff in a reshuffle that was supposed to aid Laudrup but instead he was thrust into the hot-seat and expected to thrive.
And thrive he has. While Monk may not have instilled the same attacking flair of past bosses or lead the club to trophies or Europe, he has brought about a real sense of stability to Swansea which is arguably something that might have been lacking in the managerial department. The average shelf life of Swansea manager in the last few seasons has been eighteen months to two years and as Monk approaches that marker, there looks to be no sign of a departure nor another club swooping in for the Swans boss which is hardly surprising as Monk’s work in South Wales has been largely ignored.
Monk took over a squad that was struggling badly for form and belief with Laudrup’s final few weeks in charge looking increasingly desperate and ragged and with no chance of changing it at all, Monk led Swansea from two points above relegation to nine and twelfth place last season, one place behind manager of the season Tony Pulis’ Crystal Palace. He was unfortunate to see his side knocked out of Europe last season by a Napoli side that was stronger on paper and led by a Champions League winning boss in Rafael Benitez. This season alone, Monk has beaten Manchester United and Louis van Gaal twice and saw Swansea equal their Premier League points record this past weekend at Everton (a game Swansea viewed as two points thrown away) with the club in eighth place and still having six games to play.
It’s not just on the pitch where Monk has proved himself. Transfer wise, he has pulled off some superb dealings. Gylfi Sigurdsson floundered at Spurs and Monk was quick to snap up his former teammate which has been a masterstroke. Ecuadorian Jefferson Montero has frustrated more than entertained but has the ability to be a difference maker in big games (see the win at Old Trafford) while Argentine Federico Fernandez has been a very able replacement for Chico Flores. Bafetimbi Gomis is no Wilfried Bony but Monk was able to convince him to stay when he was struggling and has been rewarded with some decent performances from the Frenchman while Jack Cork and Kyle Naughton look to be very solid buys to add depth to the squad. Monk has also brought back Korean Ki Sung-Yeung into the team after he was unwanted by Laudrup and has been rewarded with some excellent performances. And Ki is not the only player who looks revitalised under Monk.
Jonjo Shelvey has long been touted as a future star with big emphasis on future. Now 23, Shelvey finally looks to be making a consistent breakthrough under Monk and is starting to become a decisive influence for the Swans. Lukasz Fabianski was rather justifiably nicknamed “Flappyhandski” by many during his time as back-up at Arsenal but the Pole has been a very good replacement for the departed Michel Vorm and has 11 clean sheets this season (only Simon Mignolet and Fraser Forster have more). Wilfried Bony’s form under Monk was good enough for Manchester City to spend £28 million on the Ivorian while Neil Taylor has returned at left back after his long injury lay-off and the departure of Ben Davies with some solid performances. Monk has found himself able to get players playing for him and the club in the way he wants them to and that is not something every manager is able to do at such an early stage of their career.
One of the big factors that has helped Monk is his familiarity at Swansea. The majority of the squad are former teammates of the Swans boss which gives him an instant respect in the dressing room which will also permeate through to new signings. He’s also loved by the fans for his tenure with the club which means that he will get what few managers need and what is deemed such a precious commodity – time. Monk has had time and freedom to manage his way and the results are showing. Swansea have quietly crept into eighth place based on a solid defence that has only conceded 40 times all season in the league (only bettered by the top six) despite only scoring 38 times.
And that there is perhaps the biggest criticism of Monk’s time at Swansea. The lack of goals is fine when the defence plays well but what happens if the defence begins to falter? Where do the goals come from? Wilfried Bony scored nine by January and is still Swansea’s top scorer so who is the next man Monk has in mind to get the goals? This is the big test that Monk faces now. How does he get rid of the problems and elevate Swansea into the top six or seven?
If the past 14 months are anything to go by, Garry Monk is more than capable of building on his impressive start at the Liberty Stadium. So why, with young and English being in vogue in the Premier League, are more clubs with managerial issues looking towards Monk? Maybe it’s because he’s still relatively new and in his comfort zone. Or maybe it’s because he’s not the fashionable choice, a solid and hard-working manager that gets the results in a low-key manner. And that’s the way Swansea fans would like it to remain.
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