Swansea City’s 1-0 defeat to Southampton on Tuesday evening, along with losing manager Carlos Carvalhal at the end of the season, is a double sucker-punch that only the club’s board can take responsibility for.
The timing of the decision, letting the world know that the 52-year-old Portuguese coach will be leaving three days before the Swans’ final Premier League game for some time (save for an unlikely ten goal swing going for Swansea and against Southampton) seems a tad empty-headed.
The final-day game against the Potters is now guaranteed to be treated just as a dead rubber between the two relegated sides, and any chance of a Saints collapse in the face of record-chasing Manchester City will not be capitalised on if the Welsh side are already waving the white flag.
It’s another in a series of distracting and disconcerting decisions doled out by the Swans’ American owners, Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien, whose short-termism has led the club into looking to hit the reset button in the second tier.
Carvalhal came in in December with the Swans stranded, and no fan will not thank him for extracting five wins from their faltering squad and giving them a shot at survival.
Alfie Mawson started strong but regressed in form, Luciano Narsingh initially benefitted greatly from Carvalhal’s appointment, and Ki Sung-Yeung shined in spurts, but only , whose has been consistently high-ranking in most goalkeeping metrics this season, can really hold his head high.
Carvalhal’s hybrid style briefly got the best out of a squad on paper that not only looked easily one of the weakest, but was performing even lower than those sunken expectations.
Even the appointment of a promotion expert may not have saved them, giving the former Sheffield Wednesday boss all the vindication in the world in his own methods.
Two advancements to the play-offs with the Owls had them fighting above weight, establishing his reputation firmly after several stints of promise in Portugal, and while his training regimen and approach came under sharp criticisms as he left the club with them regressing back to mid-table, Carvalhal’s appointment in Wales surely had the double feature of hopefully preserving a Premier League slot and giving them a safe pair of hands should they go down.
Except, that thought had not crossed the owners’ minds, and if it had they couldn’t convince Carvalhal to stick around if he activated a rumoured break clause.
Now, Kaplan and Levien will have to find and appoint the fifth permanent manager of their nineteen-month tenure, having bundled Francesco Guidolin, Bob Bradley, and Paul Clement out the door, and Chris Coleman has been installed as an early favourite – but how is Coleman any better a choice than Carvalhal?
The Welshman’s biggest success in club management, with Fulham, was now over ten years ago, and regardless of how well he performed in the Wales hotseat, both the Gareth Bale factor and his failed stints at Real Sociedad and Sunderland cannot be ignored.
Would Coleman prove an astute signing for most clubs in the league? Absolutely, but is he the right man to re-illuminate the “Swansea Way”? The jury is out.
One thing Coleman guarantees is some short-term credibility, a hometown boy turned good coming back to save the Lilywhites – but short-term thinking is why the club are in this position to begin with.
The owners are not the only guilty parties. Player recruitment, for which chairman Huw Jenkins has a large say in, has been consistently poor, and the crowd-pleasing returns of Wilfried Bony and Andre Ayew sum up the failings – a short-term gain (to get the fans back onside) with no long-term plan.
A hodge-podge squad, lacking any true leadership, will struggle in the Championship next season, especially with the selling reputation of the owners.
After Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente departed the club for a combined £58 million, that money was not reinvested effectively in the squad, with Roque Mesa’s £11 million arrival the highest fee.
Middlesbrough signed Britt Assombalonga for more, and since the decline of Michael Laudrup’s League Cup winners, Swansea have seemed content to always take the cheap option.
The loss of their two key players, who were not adequately replaced, put them on an immediate backburner coming into this campaign when they had flirted with the drop last season. Consistent trading down will not lead to improvement, at least not without a plan.
Swansea did have a plan when they came up in 2011. They had a defined style of play, a tendency to hire hungry, daring managers, and a solid recruitment strategy with good continental scouting.
They pursued their purist approach all the way to Wembley and a thumping final victory over Bradford City, and they were most people’s second-favourite Premier League side.
Since then, it’s been the sad old story of any side that abandons its core principles in order to remain part of the Premier League furniture.
Fittingly, Swansea will join Stoke in the second tier in August, another side that built a unique reputation then left it in the rear view.
Kaplan and Levien want to bring in a manager in the mould of Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers, according to The Telegraph, and reestablish their old identity and sense of being, looking jealously on at their Welsh neighbours Cardiff City going in the opposite direction.
Against all the odds, Neil Warnock took a squad of mostly free transfers and League One signings and moulded them into a solid and spirited collective. Sure, they’re not the easiest side on the eye, but they are Cardiff and they won’t back down from any side in the Premier League.
They reflect Warnock’s brash confidence – a confidence Swansea once possessed, but have long since lost.
Kaplan and Levien need to bring that confidence back soon – and if they’re taking a risk in letting Carvalhal go, Swans fans had better hope against hope they have a proper plan in place.
Alex Dunne, Pundit Arena