Swansea City – Sleepwalking their way into the Championship

Just over four years ago Swansea City reached the peak of their climb as a football club when 32,000 spectators watched on as they not only beat but also humbled Valencia in their own back yard.

This is Valencia, former La Liga winners and Champions League regulars. Jonathan de Guzman ripped a 30-yard free kick into the top corner to complete the rout as Swansea supporters watched on incredulously.

Since then there has been a steady decline in standards on and off the pitch, and four years on Swansea sit at the foot of the table for a successive Christmas, ready to meekly surrender their Premier League status.

The sacking of Paul Clement is a frantic attempt to address the predicament Swansea find themselves in, but the manager is only the tip of the iceberg.

The combination of minimal investment into the squad, no identity or strategy on the pitch, and a dreadful recruitment policy is the perfect recipe for relegation.

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With the immense payments Premier League clubs receive from TV companies in this day and age, it’s increasingly rare to see clubs turn a profit in their transfer activity. This is mainly because they don’t have to.

Only one club has recorded a positive transfer spend in the last two summers – Swansea City.

Not content with that, they recorded the highest net transfer profit in the entire division this summer, being the only side currently in the bottom half to do so.

If the owners are surprised that the strategy of continuously selling your best players and replacing them with worse ones has resulted in Swansea propping up the table, they shouldn’t be.

In the last two off-seasons, Swansea have sold their captain, both top goal scorers from either season, and the most talented player to ever wear the shirt.

This is not uncommon for smaller clubs, however that is no excuse for failing to release any adequate funds for suitable replacements.

Last season the club survived relegation with one game to spare, before significantly weakening the squad. The predictability of their current plight is all too evident for the fans.

The ambition of the club has been unashamedly scaled back in the past few seasons, and whilst a mid-table finish used to be the aim, 17th place now qualifies as a successful season.

This paltry ambition in the boardroom is reflected on the pitch. Swansea have set up every game to snatch a 0-0, regardless of the opposition, and there’s no discernible attacking strategy at all.

This has led to a tactical crisis when the defence is inevitably breached, as there seems to be no subsequent plan of action. It is no revelation that Swansea have not picked up a single point after falling behind this season.

Unfortunately this approach was relatively successful early on in the season, meaning that their urgent problems were not addressed when there was still time.

Respectable results such as goalless draws away to Spurs and Southampton masked dour performances in which they failed to register a single shot on target across both games. This helped disguise themselves in mid table early on.

However, attempting to draw every game 0-0 is not only a miserable attempt at survival, but also an unfeasible one.

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When the good fortune runs out, as it did away at Everton on Monday night, the desperateness of the situation is revealed.

Six years ago in their debut Premier League season Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair started on either wing, with Wayne Routledge waiting in reserve if either was unavailable.

After improving and establishing themselves in the Premier League, last week’s match against West Brom marked the point at which they had regressed further below their original starting point.

Dyer and Routledge started on either wing, looking to add to their impressive combined total of zero goals or assists this season.

A recipe of a squad desperately thin on quality, dangerously low on confidence and with no notable spirit or unity has led to 10 league goals this season at the halfway mark.

The worst ever team ever in Premier League history (Derby County 07/08) managed 20.

The reluctance to invest serious sums of money in the playing staff does not necessarily guarantee poor performances.

A shrewd and canny use of the transfer market can bypass this and not only unearth hidden gems, but also acquire targets perfectly suited to specific roles. Burnley are the perfect example of this.

One of the few clubs with a positive net spend this summer, they seemingly only bought players to fit their style of play, with a specific role in mind.

Chris Wood has slotted in seamlessly up front, and Steven Defour has combined tenacity and creativity to offer them the drive and direction they need in midfield.

Astronomical amounts have not been spent, but Burnley have been efficient and astute with their money.

This could not be in greater contrast with Swansea’s erratic and wasteful approach. With all the technology and expertise available to scouting teams in the modern era, Swansea do not seem to have any palpable transfer strategy.

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Their record transfer, Borja Baston, was signed last summer with noticeable excitement to how he would fare. Baston managed four starts across three different managers, grabbing himself a single goal.

None of the managers could find a way to fit him into their system, and he was soon shipped out on loan.

It is unclear who dictates Swansea’s transfer policy after their American takeover, but it seems apparent that the manager has little say.

Roque Mesa, this season’s big money signing was given one start in the opening 12 games of the season, before being thrown into the side recently out of seeming desperation.

The transfer strategy of buying players unwanted by the manager has rarely led to success.

Not enough to be buying players unfit for purpose, there is also a reluctance to invest in the correct positions.

Gylfi Sigurdsson single-handedly kept Swansea up last season, and the decision not to replace him shows an astonishing lack of foresight.

The less said about the Renato Sanches experiment the better.

It looks like being a sad end to Premier League football for a club that has completely lost its identity since it first graced it in 2011.

Long gone are the days of Bony and Michu up top together with Michael Laudrup at the helm.

With Clement’s recent dismissal the plan going forward is similar to last season’s, change the manager and provide some belated investment in January.

However, with a board willing to see how little it can invest before relegation happens, if it doesn’t arrive this season, it will in the next.

The Author

Felix Tasker

Freelance football journalist - @boxtoboxfootbal and @bpfootball

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