Watch out Jose, there’s a new, slick, young, Portuguese manager in the Premier League coming for your most quotable title.
Well, in truth Jose Mourinho has long since been usurped at the top of the quotable managers table while the likes of Arsene Wenger, Rafael Benitez, Louis van Gaal and, most recently, Claudio Ranieri have held firm atop the Premier League pantomime machine of soundbite entertainment.
And whether he’s talking about Swans flying, sharks swimming or his own cooking, Carlos Carvalhal can do no wrong with a microphone in front of him. But there’s more to the 52-year-old than the caramel-laced words spewing from his mouth.
First rising to prominence after bringing third tier Leixões to the Portuguese cup final and subsequently the UEFA Cup in 2002, he soon brought Vitoria to promotion before embarking on a nomadic career across his homeland, Greece and Turkey, never truly settling anywhere and taking three years out of any hotseat after Istanbul Başakşehir let him go in 2012.
It was from relative obscurity, then, that he was selected to lead Sheffield Wednesday in 2015, working miracles last season bringing an exciting, physical and dynamic Owls side to the Championship play-offs.
While they have regressed back to the lower mid-table standing they’ve largely called home since their return to the Championship this season, Carvalhal’s stock was suitably through the roof when he was let go – yet his appointment at Swansea seemed to fly in the face of all lower table Premier League logic.
Untested at the top level of English football, Carvalhal has adapted fantastically well in his opening six games, taking eleven points after they picked up just 15 in 20 games under Paul Clement and engineering victories over both Arsenal and Liverpool; the latter of which came less than a month after the Swans were turned over 5-0 under the caretaker charge of Leon Britton.
Carvalhal has implemented all the qualities of his Wednesday side quickly, encouraging front-foot play with more intelligent runs forward. Swansea are now flexible, able to defend deep or press high and look decidedly more versatile in attack than the one-dimensional strategy employed by Paul Clement. Luciano Narsingh has looked a man transformed in the wide spaces since the change of management, with Carvalhal’s micromanagement of his runs putting a head on the previously headless chicken.
The increase in options going forward is exactly what Swansea needed, as under Clement they failed to find any effective route to goal this season after the loss of both Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente to Everton and Tottenham respectively.
While the loss of two key players would hurt any side in the bottom half significantly, Clement’s entire game plan seemed to be predicated on Sigurdsson’s set-piece delivery and Llorente’s poacher’s instinct. Without them, the Welsh side had no route to goal and would regularly withdraw within themselves in games.
It’s the exact opposite now. Swansea grow into games and pick off opponents, with Carvalhal dictating the attacking play like an orchestra conductor, applying pressure on key areas as they open up in the game.
It’s that attacking intent that’s driven the Swans out of the relegation zone – albeit only on goal difference – leaping ahead of a blunt Stoke City, a Huddersfield Town in freefall and a seemingly doomed West Bromwich Albion.
But even saying that about Alan Pardew’s side has to be taken with a pinch of salt, such is the nature of the battle at the bottom. Just as Crystal Palace and Swansea were written off before them, you would be a fool to not foresee a possibility of a Baggies revival at some stage.
Similarly, Swansea are nowhere near safe, and neither are 14th-placed Palace. Genuinely, any team from Everton downwards in the league could be relegated this season, and you would hardly guarantee the Toffees or Bournemouth are safe just yet either.
It makes it all the more bizarre Swansea would plump for Carvalhal in this context, but he continues to prove the initial doubters wrong on the pitch while the signing of Andre Ayew off it will no doubt help bolster an increasingly volatile attack; a welcome sight after Wilfried Bony’s long-term injury absence was confirmed.
If there’s one thing no Premier League manager can buy, however, it’s time, and as Garry Monk and Francesco Guidolin before him have shown, guaranteeing safety is no guarantee of continuation at the club into the new season.
This weekend’s fixture against Burnley has all the makings of a honeymoon-ender too. A home tie against a side out of form, but one that will bring exceptional defensive organisation, will not allow space to open up in the second half and will be looking for one point at a minimum. Swans fans may be expecting to win the game from the outset, a pressure in the league Carvalhal has yet to really feel.
It could be a perfect storm, but if they can avoid that banana skin, we will know that they mean business and we can continue to enjoy Carvalhal reviving the art of playful interviews off the pitch while Swansea continue to grow on it.
Alex Dunne, Pundit Arena