It was just gone 7pm on Boxing Day and a small group of reporters were walking away from the Liberty Stadium when a Swansea City supporter approached. “Has he gone yet, boys?” asked the fan, smiling in a way that made it clear it would be viewed as good news if there was confirmation that Bob Bradley was clearing his desk.
That moment arrived 24 hours later, when Swansea announced that the first American to manage in the Premier League had been sacked after less than three months in charge. Bradley won only two out of 11 games, picked up just eight points, conceded 29 goals, shipped three or more on eight occasions, made a total of 33 team changes after starting his reign with a 3-2 defeat at Arsenal and fielded six different back-four combinations.
Quite a set of numbers, all in all, and it is fair to say that by the end of the drubbing at the hands of West Ham United on Boxing Day, during which a significant number of Swansea supporters chanted “we want Bradley out”, the former USA coach was none the wiser as to what was the best starting XI to select from the woefully ill-equipped squad that he inherited.
Swansea’s American owners, Stephen Kaplan and Jason Levien, had been determined to stand by their man and give Bradley a chance to bring in a few players of his own in January. Yet the West Ham match shredded those plans. The performance was abject and the atmosphere inside the Liberty Stadium poisonous. Swansea had been well beaten for the third successive game and Bradley had reached the point of no return.
His position was untenable and there is no escaping the fact that results were awful under his watch, yet anybody conducting a wider inquest into where everything has gone wrong at Swansea, in particular the question as to how a model club have turned into such a mess in the space of a season and a half, would not spend too long going through Bradley’s 85 days as manager.
Instead the spotlight is likely to shine an unfavourable light on the people running the club, especially the chairman, Huw Jenkins, who was as influential as anybody in the rags-to-riches story behind Swansea’s rise from the depths of the Football League to the top flight. Once the man who could do no wrong, Jenkins has presided over a number of desperately poor decisions in recent times, both managerially and in the transfer market, and the result is that Swansea have lurched from one crisis to another.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the club’s decline is the speed with which everything has unravelled. In May last year Swansea finished eighth in the Premier League with a club-record points total. Their attractive and distinctive playing style – “The Swansea Way” – was deeply ingrained and integral to their success. Garry Monk, a bright, young, homegrown manager was in charge of the team, supporter representation on the board won admirers, and the club operated in the black. Swansea, in short, provided a blueprint for many to follow. Fast-forward 19 months and they have become just another Premier League club.
Monk lost his job last December after a bad run of results and it will not have escaped the attention of many Swansea supporters that while they were being thumped 4-1 by West Ham this Boxing Day, their former manager was overseeing a victory at Preston by the same scoreline for his promotion-chasing Leeds United side.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the decision to sack Monk, the bottom line is that so much of what Swansea have done since has made little sense, arguably no more so than when Jenkins announced in May that he was giving Francesco Guidolin a permanent contract to continue as manager. It was a decision that stunned people within the club, never mind outside, and meant that Swansea missed a crucial opportunity to rebuild.
Guidolin had been appointed in January on a short-term basis after a protracted search for Monk’s replacement initially ended with Alan Curtis, the highly respected and long-serving first-team coach, being given the job until the end of the season. Curtis, however, was asked to stand aside 11 days after being handed the reins to make way for the Italian. Swansea ended up finishing 12th, on the face of it vindicating the decision to bring in Guidolin, yet there was little appetite among staff and players for him – a likeable man but uninspiring coach – to stay on as manager.
Jenkins would have known that was the case – the chairman has his ear to the ground and canvasses opinion from time to time to gauge the mood – yet he still opted to give Guidolin the job. Five months later came the predictable news that Guidolin had become the first Premier League managerial casualty of the season.
By that point, though, it was clear that Swansea’s problems ran much deeper than their flawed choice of manager. Some poor dealings in the transfer market over the course of the past three windows left the squad looking painfully short of quality, with the ins and outs in the summer compounding the errors that had been made before and raising serious questions about the recruitment strategy headed up by David Leadbeater and ultimately overseen by Jenkins.
One of the more bizarre issues that has come to light in recent years and prompted a level of bemusement among some working at the club, including managers, is the frequency with which Swansea scouts turn up for Swansea matches. It is a curious practice to say the least.
Kaplan and Levien soon realised that the process of identifying players needed to drastically change and take on a much more analytical approach, yet in terms of what happened in the summer, the damage was done. Ashley Williams, the captain, and André Ayew, last season’s top scorer, were sold without being adequately replaced, so much so that players such as Jordi Amat, who would have been on the fringe under previous regimes, were thrust into the role of being regular starters.
A club-record £15.5m was spent on Borja Bastón, who has scored only once since joining from Atlético Madrid and looks set to follow in the footsteps of Éder and Alberto Paloschi, two strikers who were brought in from overseas in the last 18 months and failed to make any sort of impact.
Other decisions have been odd. Nathan Dyer was farmed out on loan to Leicester at the start of last season because he was deemed surplus to requirements, returned after failing to make one Premier League start for the champions and was rewarded with a new four-year contract.
If there was one key error of judgment, though, it was the failure to re-sign Joe Allen from Liverpool. Allen was available and everything seemed to be set up for the Welshman to return to the club, yet Swansea dragged their heels over the finances and Stoke jumped in to take a midfielder whose ability and character would have been invaluable at the Liberty Stadium this season.
During that period Swansea were undergoing a change of ownership that earned Jenkins and several other board members millions from selling shares and at the same time, prompted accusations from some supporters that those directors had taken their eye off the ball and put their own interests before those of the club.
Jenkins, who has supported Swansea for more than 50 years and continues to run the club on a day-to-day basis, would no doubt deny that was the case. He did, however, concede prior to the win over Crystal Palace last month that mistakes were made in the close season. “I will be the first to admit that there are a number of things I personally could have dealt with differently in the summer which may have helped us to start the season in a far more upbeat and positive way,” Jenkins wrote in his programme column.
Either way, the focus for Swansea now has to be forward rather than back. All eyes are on the managerial search and the long list of candidates, including Ryan Giggs, Roy Hodgson, Chris Coleman, Gary Rowett, Paul Clement and Alan Pardew. Yet anybody who has watched Swansea on a regular basis this season will know that the players need to be changed as much as the manager if the club are to have any hope of avoiding relegation, and therein lies the huge challenge facing Jenkins and Swansea’s American owners.
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