Many believed Swansea City’s sacking of Michael Laudrup was odd when the Dane departed on February 4th 2014. Many believed it was odder that he was replaced by Swans’ defender and previous captain Garry Monk. This was a risk. But this risk has certainly paid off.
When Laudrup left the Liberty Stadium, he left having secured Europa League football for the Swans after winning their first major trophy in the club’s history. Swansea’s 5-0 victory over Bradford City in the Capital One Cup Final at Wembley sent the Swans sailing into Europe and gained plaudits for their attractive, passing football.
However, as is regularly the case, Europa League football hindered Swansea and in February of last year, after six defeats from eight games and sitting two points above the relegation zone, Laudrup was sacked. Heads turned and eyebrows were raised when Garry Monk immediately replaced Laudrup. From one day taking part in a training session to the next day leading a training session, the man with more than 200 appearances for the Swans has not just consolidated what his predecessor had achieved, but bettered it.
Monk was thrown straight into the deep end and he had to steady the ship to prepare his side for his first match, a massive match. It wasn’t a match between two massive teams but a massive match for the two teams. A match where three points are irrelevant compared to bragging rights. A match that means more to the fans than to the players. A match that gets the Welsh blood boiling. Bitter rivals Cardiff City were the opponents.
The Englishman led his Swansea side to a triumphant 3-0 win over the Bluebirds. It doesn’t take a lot to pump players up for a local derby, so could Monk pump his players up for the final games of the season to avoid the drop?
Indeed, in his next 13 games, Monk and his side achieved Premier League survival after picking up 15 points. Monk celebrated beating the drop by signing a permanent three year contract with the club as manager prior to their final game of the season, a 3-1 win at Sunderland.
This was now Monk’s side. He had the summer to put his stamp on the team and on the club. What he’s achieved between then and now has been nothing short of spectacular. He has brought Swansea City up another level. He has improved the passing style they have gained such an impressive reputation for and recruited shrewdly. The 36-year-old has been dealt his fair share of cards that have hindered him this season. Wilfried Bony’s £28m departure for Manchester City is the most high profile of these as well as injuries and Monk finding himself in the spotlight after labelling Victor Moses ‘a cheat’ for diving.
Monk has dealt with the challenges superbly and his astute business in the transfer market has gone a long way to contributing to this record breaking season for Swansea City. Monk’s side are just the third team in Premier League history to achieve the double against Arsenal and Manchester United in the same season, have broken their points tally record by nine points and achieved four more wins than they ever have in a Premier League season.
However, maybe the most intriguing record heading into the final two games of the season is their highest ever finish in the Premier League. Their previous record of ninth is within touching distance as they breathe down the neck of Southampton. Whether we’ve focused too heavily recently on discussing whether Chelsea are ‘boring’ and watched in bewilderment at Nigel Pearson’s bizarre press conference outbursts or just assumed that the top seven were a dead cert for contenders for the European places, Swansea City have quietly snuck into the picture and are poised to crash the party.
Southampton’s poor run of form has led to them at risk of losing out on their fight for a Europa league place. Monk has picked up 19 points in the last 10 games compared to Southampton’s 11 and have won twice as many games in the same period compared to the Saints. With the two sides’ contrasting runs of form, Europa League qualification is a real possibility for Swansea City.
If Monk and his men manage to qualify for the Europa League, he will be itching to do it better than Laudrup and continue to prove to other clubs up and down the country that you don’t always have to look abroad for talented managers. With people bemoaning the influx of foreign managers into our leagues, Swansea have shown it’s possible to look closer to home and find a successful manager within the club’s current setup.
Swansea Chairman Huw Jenkins had a decision to make when he dismissed Laudrup. He could have either taken a risk on someone with experience or risk appointing a man who knows the players, knows the club and knows the league. We’ll never know which risk was the better one to take, but what we do know is we now have a hungry, young English manager that has been given the chance and has done exceedingly well.