One of the main points Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski make in their excellent look at modern day football ‘Why England Lose’, was that us as fans usually place all too much responsibility for a side’s success onto the manager. What they suggest, and go some way to proving, is that it is in fact wage bills are by far the most important factor in dictating a sides league position. They don’t imply that a manager’s influence is inconsequential by any means, however the point stands that only when a club is outperforming where their wage bill says they should be there are in fact signs of good management.
The main example that is carried through this section of the book is Arsene Wenger and Arsenal. The gunners have been ranked as the club with the fourth highest wage bill consistently in England, especially since Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour have arrived, joining Manchester United at the top of the wage bill pyramid. However, Wenger has often broken this suggested barrier and have indeed reached positions that Wenger deserves some serious praise for.
Taking this topic into this very moment there are two sides who are shining examples of the glorious combination of a good squad and a great manager. The first is Manchester United, third highest wage bill at the beginning of last summer (read more on the Guardian’s club by club financial analysis) behind City and Chelsea, yet Sir Alex’s side were destined to be champions months in advance of the end of May.
The second club was Swansea City. At the end of Brendan Rodgers’ last season at the helm before venturing off to Liverpool, Swansea secured Premier League safety comfortably enough, earning many fans on the way, all the while having the lowest wage bill in the entire league.
But when Swansea fans watched Rodgers pose for the press at Anfield, you would highly doubt they could’ve believed things were about to get even better for them. Michael Laudrup is exactly the kind of cool, calm and collected manager you don’t associate with English football. He’s already more articulate in English (probably not even his fifth language) than most British raised managers facing post match interviews. Laudrup’s somewhat unparalleled career and already quite impressive coaching exploits were enough to keep a bit of hope in the hearts of Swansea fans, but it was the transfer dealings to come that would really get everyone on board.
Bringing in almost 27 million euro through the sales of just Scott Sinclair and Joe Allen (neither of which enjoyed a good season at their new clubs), Laudrup brought in 5 players, who may just have been Swansea’s top five performers in a season that included a top 10 finish, ninth to be exact, and of course the League Cup and thus European competition next season. Ki Seung-Yong, Pablo Hernandez, Chico Flores, Jonathan De Guzman and of course Michu were all acquired for just 19 million (the price Allen was sold for), with De Guzman being a loan signing. Add in the January sale of Danny Graham to Sunderland, and Laudrup managed to deliver a better league finish, a trophy and Europa League football all the while making a profit of over 10 million euro in transfers.
So here comes the necessary question, how could Huw Jenkins and Swansea’s board be so tentative in giving Laudrup the funds he’s demanding this summer in order to progress the club further?
With Laudrup’s future at Swansea looking thread bare just weeks ago, with the club missing out on long term target of Laudrup’s Iago Aspas to Liverpool, it looked like the manager destined for a bigger stage was going to make the step up already, with PSG and Real Madrid lurking. But only positive stories have been released by the club since and indeed if all trouble is cleared up and the Dane is getting the backing he is asking for, well than I can’t wait for it to begin.
If Laudrup has proved anything, it’s that he knows how to get talent from the Spanish league. First of all, one of the best players in the Premier League season Michu is of course the highlight of his dealings in La Liga. But also, sublime centre half Chico Flores, and technically brilliant attacking midfielders Jonathan De Guzman and Pablo Hernandez were also extracted from Spain. Jose Canas, a defensive midfielder whose contract has just ran out with Real Betis, is due to arrive in South Wales officially when the transfer window actually opens on the first of July. Also, Jonathan De Guzman is reportedly very close to signing a new loan deal for another season at the Liberty. The midfielder currently owned by Villarreal is a touch of class in the Swansea midfield and was arguably even their best performer last season, going under the radar a lot of the time.
However, up front is where Swansea really look likely to invest properly. Star striker isn’t fact a natural striker at all, and performs at his best behind a front man. With Aspas already gone, and with rumoured target Bafetembi Gomis looking very likely to be off to Shakhtar, the names of Alvaro Negredo and Wilfried Bony are surrounding the club currently. Needless to say, both would be outstanding additions to not just Swansea but to the Premier League. Both are complete forwards with both strength, skill and a brilliant finishing ability.
Whatever the first XI that enters Swansea’s first game of the season at home to champions Manchester United, it will indeed be one with a distinct note of their Danish manager to it, and it is one that Swansea’s fans will be all too grateful for.