As we approach the penultimate month of the Premier League season, few would have expected Garry Monk to be in with a shout of collecting the Manager of the Year award when it is all said and done. In fact, the odds on Monk, who was appointed Swansea boss on a permanent basis in July, being one of the first managerial casualties this year stood pretty high.
But, amidst all the derision and hindsight 20/20, there was good reason for Monk’s name to be falsely associated with managerial misery.
Swansea had appointed a man with four months of touchline experience, steering Swansea to safety with two games to spare in his short stint of the sideline, and were on a downward trajectory in the Premier League, accruing five points less than they did under his predecessor, Michael Laudrup, a season earlier.
The jump from player to manager in such a short time span had proven too much for the likes of Alan Shearer and Roy Keane. Monk was, in truth, imperilling his coveted, 226 appearance reputation in Swansea to build on the high expectations set by Brendan Rodgers and co. before him.
However, regardless of where Monk’s managerial future lies in years to come, the once-Swansea captain has enticed plenty of suitors with his fruitful baptism on the Swansea touchline, showing experience and maturity beyond his years.
He has guided his side to 8th place in the Premier League, seven points clear of closest challengers West Ham, and yielded an impressive 47 points with six matches remaining. In doing so he has equalled Swansea’s highest points tally in the Premier League – set by Brendan Rodgers in the 2011-12 season – and has them within touching distance of Europa League qualification, permitting Arsenal and Liverpool meet in the final of the F.A. Cup and they are able to leapfrog Spurs or Southampton into 7th place.
It’s a feat which has been achieved amidst both adversity and setbacks. Monk watched as the club sold top goalscorer Wilfried Bony to Manchester City midway through the campaign, divesting the 36-year-old of a 15 goal a season striker whose strengths married the Swansea style of football. Prepared to drop deep, hold the ball up and finish with conviction and aplomb, Bony’s 34 goals in eighteen months was imperative to Swansea’s sustainability in the Premier League.
His departure seemed to cause a ripple effect in the side. As the announcement of his exit became inevitable, Monk stood puffing his cheeks on the sidelines as he watched his side being obliterated by Chelsea at the Liberty Stadium. Jose Mourinho’s side were 4-0 up at the break with Andre Schurrle later compounding the Swans misery late on in the second-half.
Just a week removed from that dismal defeat, Swansea crashed out of the F.A. Cup to Championship side Blackburn Rovers. Their season was at risk of petering out, but Monk reaffirmed the Swansea faithful that they would have something to shout about when May rolls around.
It is little wonder that Monk managed to captain his side to the top-tier of English football given the unequivocal nature of his business. He is guileless and blends his head with his heart when he addresses the media. His modern, gel-swept parted barnet acting as the antithesis to his forthright persona.
But Monk’s maturity extends beyond the microphones and press room. On the field, his tweaks and sacrifices have raised a few eyebrows initially, but in time those alterations have began to bore fruit.
The arrival of Jack Cork from Southampton in January catalysed the tactical switch from a 4-2-3-1 that Monk had adopted upon arrival to a diamond-shaped system, orientated to the sheer wealth of talent that Swansea possess in central-midfield.
Cork, whose departure from the Saints raised a few question marks, has slotted in seamlessly, assuming the deepest role in midfield whilst Ki Sung-yueng and Jonjo Shelvey have acted as the interiors.
But the aforementioned tweaks Monk has made to what is, in truth, a traditional 4-1-2-1-2 shape is what has made his tactical knowhow particularly surprising. Cork rarely stations himself at the base for the entire 90 minutes, rotating with both Ki and Shelvey. This decreases the chances of the deepest midfielder being marked out of the game as all three are on the move and recycling the ball.
Results have slowly began to improve, with the Swans unbeaten in five of their last seven since the tactical switch. He has oversaw a famous 2-1 victory over Manchester United and, as most would concur, was unlucky not to see his side pick up atleast a point against Liverpool at the Liberty Stadium.
Swansea were unfortunate not to strike first blood in that match, though it was Monk’s ex-boss, Brendan Rodgers, who tactically outmanoeuvred his former captain that day. Parallels can be drawn between the two and how they have restored the fortunates of their respective side’s midway through a season.
Rodgers has been extolled for his tactical shift in December, rescuing Liverpool’s season in the process, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if Monk hadn’t taken a leaf out of his old superintendent’s copybook when his side sunk into their malaise. The now-Liverpool boss established a brand of possession based, midfield orientated football in Swansea, with Monk appearing to preserve the club’s tradition of playing attractively and effectively.
Though for all the praise he has lapped up for his tactical acumen, his adeptness in the transfer market has been particularly marked. Granted, he shouldn’t garner all the applause for the transfer-dealings, with the people upstairs taking their share of the credit, but it goes without saying that Monk has bedded the arrivals into the squad with great care.
Gylfi Sigurdsson, for example, had experience of playing in a Swansea shirt — a successful loan-spell in south Wales back in 2012 earned him a move to Spurs – so went straight into the side, bringing dynamism and end-product to match. Federico Fernandez, meanwhile, arrived from Italian side Napoli off the back of a Coppa Italia triumph and has merged a formidable pairing with Ashley Williams in the heart of defence.
Behind him, Lukasz Fabianski arrived from Arsenal and, like Fernandez, had steered his side to domestic glory – Fabianski being the first choice goalkeeper in Arsenal’s FA Cup triumph – and has transformed into one of the most reliable pair of hands in the Premier League.
But it was Bafetimbi Gomis who arrived from Ligue 1 side Lyon with the biggest reputation. Injuries, a lack of fitness and scarce game time stymied the 29-year-old’s Premier League career initially, with rumours of the Frenchmen wanting a move back to his homeland surfacing consequently, but it’s been Monk who has rediscovered – at least some of – the Frenchmen’s previous form.
He has paired him alongside the diligent Wayne Routledge in attack, netting four times in seven appearances since, but it’s the Frenchmen’s all-round play which has benefited from the switch. He has become increasingly involved in the Swans build-up play and he is able to profit from the lightning pace of Routledge, Nathan Dyer and Jefferson Montero — as demonstrated against Aston Villa.
The temptation to replace Bony within the same window was there. Swansea had, after all, received £25 million for his services, and with Gomis faltering the Swans’ goalscoring options appeared sparse. Instead, Monk persisted with the once-feared forward and he has duly delivered – though his squad is still lacking another centre-forward for the depth chart.
Monk marauds the touchline with his hands firmly planted in his trouser pockets, donning a suit befit to his hunger and ambition. Just three short years ago he had led his side to Premier League promotion; now, he’s traded the mud for the pencils and notepads.
“He [Monk] is going to go on and be an outstanding manager,” remarked Brendan Rodgers earlier in the year. And on the basis of this season alone, there’s little evidence out there to disprove such.