“Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.”
An endless catalogue of Johan Cruyff’s most famous quotes succinctly sample the workings of one of the most phenomenal brains to grace the game. Cruyff was a footballing pioneer, and as Jonathan Wilson shrewdly observes in The Barcelona Way, the Dutchman “defined the style that would inspire many coaches across the world”.
His legacy is embodied best by Ajax and Barcelona but his influence stretches far beyond the confines of his two most beloved clubs. In February 2007, Roberto Martinez sought to fulfil his prophecy of adorning Swansea City with a style reminiscent of Cruyff’s Barcelona of the 1990s.
“Barcelona’s team under Cruyff was the most important inspiration other than his own father,” Martinez’s nephew Pau Prior reveals.Embed from Getty Images
“That influence grew stronger when he struck a strong friendship with Johan’s son Jordi because then he was able to talk to his main idol.”
The origins of Total Football derive from two British coaches: Jack Reynolds and Vic Buckingham. They laid the foundations for Rinus Michels to popularise one of the most pioneering tactical systems with his famous Ajax and Netherlands’ teams of the 1970s.
Cruyff was the catalyst in both teams and developed an unparalleled tactical understanding of the game. His close connections with Ajax and Barcelona has created an intrinsic link between Dutch and Spanish football.
Frank Rijkaard, Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique maintained the Cruyffian philosophy to propel Barcelona to another glorious era during the 21st century. Martinez launched a mini revolution of his own in South Wales and vowed he had “unfinished business” at Swansea in his autobiography Kicking Every Ball after being deemed surplus to requirements by his predecessor Kenny Jackett.
Jackett was a pragmatist, whereas Martinez was a lover of aesthetics. An inevitable clash of philosophies ensued and Martinez was released by Swansea as a player in 2006. Yet just seven months after he was forced out by Jackett, Martinez was replacing him in the dugout for his maiden managerial role.
“Kenny’s approach was very different to Roberto. There is no right or wrong, they’re just different,” Darren Pratley, who played for Swansea between 2007 and 2011, says.Embed from Getty Images
“Roberto came with different ideas, different training sessions. Training was enjoyable because you always had to figure situations out for yourself. It was more focused on football fitness rather than the old traditional sessions and everything was done with the ball.
“He changed the philosophy. Roberto’s teams are known for playing out from the back and building through the thirds. At first it was foreign to the boys because that style wasn’t necessarily around, especially in League One.
“It was mainly route-one, second balls, but Roberto changed that. When you listen to managers now talking about the process, if you changed the way you played every time you lose, then there would be no consistency in the team.”
2007-2009: Martinez’s Messiahs
Martinez made radical changes and finished three points outside of the play-offs after registering two defeats from his first 12 matches. He loaded his backroom staff with contrasting personalities. His assistant Graeme Jones in particular was a complementary paradox to Martinez’s overly positive personality.
“Martinez was an exotic character and always wanted to be positive and create a nice atmosphere,” Nathan Dyer, who played 347 times for Swansea, observes.Embed from Getty Images
“Graeme could do a bit of both. He would tell you if you did really well but make sure that you pulled your socks up if you grew complacent. A lot of the players needed that because sometimes you can get too comfortable and he made sure that we never did.”
In a summer of sweeping changes, Swansea chief scout Kevin Reeves toured Europe, casting his skilfully trained eye over the plethora of unfound treasure seeping from the lesser known environs of the continent. His judgements were shaped by foresight and his findings helped construct the empire that Swansea would be built on for the next decade.
Swansea delved into the Scottish, Dutch and Spanish markets to build the new generation and the influence of Cruyff was a prevailing theme. Technicality was the most heavily craved trait – something Angel Rangel, Andrea Orlandi, Ferrie Bode and Guillem Bauza possessed in abundance. The goalkeeper always represented the first line of attack in any Cruyff team and that was the main factor for replacing Willie Gueret with Dunfermline Athletic goalkeeper Dorus de Vries.
“Dorus came from Holland with the influence of Cruyff,” Pratley says. “If you’re going to build from the back then you need a goalkeeper that can play. That was when I started to see the game differently from a tactical point of view.Embed from Getty Images
“We used to say to Dorus, ‘you’re our spare player’, so if we couldn’t go forward then we would go back to Dorus and recycle the play. Willie was a great goalkeeper but he wasn’t really good with his feet. He wasn’t the sort of player that could play out from the back, whereas Dorus could.”
Jason Scotland, purchased from St Johnstone for £25,000, was also a shrewd buy. He was initially signed to partner fan-favourite Lee Trundle until he dropped a bombshell days before the new season.
Trundle had voiced his ambition to play in the Championship and joined Bristol City for a club record £1m. His departure proved to be a blessing in disguise. Martinez switched to a 4-3-3 formation, which was far more conducive with his triangular weaving, possession style, and entrusted Scotland to spearhead the attack.
Scotland finished his debut season as League One’s leading scorer with 24 – further underscoring Martinez’s decision not to invest in a replacement for Trundle.
“I had a good relationship with Jason,” Pratley reveals. “He was one of the best strikers I’ve ever played with. He could do it all – he could hold it up, run in behind and get in the box and score goals.”
Martinez had to build a community before he built a successful football team. His multilingual skills avoided language barriers becoming an issue and social gatherings helped create a strong team spirit. The foreign imports immediately felt at home and Martinez was the main orchestrator of the project.
“The fact that Roberto was the main instigator of the project cannot be understated,” Rangel, a Spanish full-back signed from Terrassa for £10,000, insists.Embed from Getty Images
“He would keep things simple and effective and the main point was to always focus on ourselves. The fact that there were other Spanish players there at the same time made me feel that I was not alone. Roberto knew that our English wasn’t very good at but he would always pull us aside to go over the point again in Spanish.
“He had all the values to bring everyone together and we gelled as a team immediately. I think Roberto knew that was going to happen because you don’t only sign players, you sign people first.”
Swansea lost three of their opening seven league outings, but succumbed to one defeat from their following 25 matches to attain an unassailable 15-point lead at the League One summit. They clinched the title with two games left – finishing on 92 points with a 10-point lead over runners-up Nottingham Forest.
Martinez was crowned League One manager of the year and five Swansea players featured in the team of the season as the Swans ended a 24-year absence from the second-tier. Just as they had done in the previous campaign, Swansea lost their season opener, this time at Charlton Athletic. Seeds of doubt were immediately dug up before they could grow. Martinez vehemently trusted his philosophy and Swansea remarkably defied the odds once again.
“Sometimes you can change your style when you get promoted because you get nervous,” Pratley observes.
“You think when you lose a game in the Championship that you’re going to get overrun and overpowered but we stuck to our philosophy and it paid off again. It suited us more in the Championship because you’ve got more time on the ball. Everyone would run and battle in League One, whereas the Championship was more tactical.
“Plus the recruitment was done in League One for players that could play in the Championship.”Embed from Getty Images
Swansea narrowly missed out on the play-offs but the ‘Swansea Way’ was gathering momentum. The team that would reach the Premier League was gradually forming but Martinez wouldn’t be the one to lead them there. He controversially switched to his former club Wigan Athletic in June 2009 – going from ‘El Gaffer’ to ‘El Judas’ overnight.
2009-10: Sousa’s Solitary Season
The harmony within the group would be taken on a bumpy ride under his successor Paulo Sousa. The two-time Champions League winner was charming. He enjoyed a decorated playing career, spoke five different languages and swaggered into his first press conference in a three-piece grey suit and a pair of striking brown Gucci shoes. Putting the bravado aside, the Swansea board either ignored or were simply blind to the warning signs. He had been dismissed by Queens Park Rangers for “divulging confidential and sensitive information” after he revealed that Dexter Blackstock’s loan move to Forest had been agreed without his knowledge.
History would repeat itself again. Sousa made details surrounding Leon Britton’s contract negotiations public, fell out with captain Garry Monk and told Kristian O’Leary he could leave in front of the players. Monk described it as a “wasted season” in Loud, Proud & Positive, but Dyer argues that his deviation from Martinez’s attacking style provided Swansea with another dimension.
“Paulo was more strategical than Roberto,” Dyer declares. “We had to learn from a booklet with in-depth information on the opposition before each game. It would include everything from throw-ins and corners to goal-kicks and free-kicks.Embed from Getty Images
“Learning the tactical side of the game was a new thing for me but it was knowledge that proved valuable in the future. He brought a different side to our game. He was very defensive and that made us hard to beat.”
Hard to beat they were indeed. Only Newcastle United (35) leaked fewer goals than Swansea (37) in 2009-10 but they were also the lowest scorers in the Championship with 40 goals. Swansea ended the season in seventh-place and just one-point adrift of the play-offs, but supporters weren’t disappointed to see the back of Sousa when his abrupt exit to Leicester City was announced.
2010-2012: Rodgers’ rise to the Premier League
Brendan Rodgers was a peculiar appointment from the naked eye. He had earned a good reputation as a top developer of youth at Reading and especially Chelsea, but his early managerial career had been disappointing. His solitary season at Watford resulted in a 13th place finish and he lasted just 23 games at Reading. But one credential that Rodgers did boast was his allegiance to the Cruyffian model.
Rodgers took Spanish lessons for seven years and visited Ajax, FC Twente, Barcelona, Valencia and Sevilla to broaden his horizons. He was innovative and studious and was always looking to evolve his coaching skillset. He studied neuro-linguistic programming for five years, which proved crucial to ridding Swansea of the toxicity caused by Sousa.
“Brendan created a family club,” Dyer says. “Normally unless you’re in the starting line-up, or on the bench coming on, then you can feel like an outcast. He made sure that that wasn’t the case because he knows you’ll deliver for him when called upon because he’s treating you well.Embed from Getty Images
“He used to say, even to the press, ‘if you make a mistake, it’s on me because I want you to play this way’. He’d never come out and say ‘he should know better’ because he’s instilling that confidence in us to trust what we’re doing and the philosophy that we’re working towards.”
Swansea climbed into the automatic promotion places with four consecutive wins in February 2011. Rodgers, a coach always thinking outside the box, was an expert at finding different ways to alleviate pressure.
“He did little things like taking us away on days out such as the theatre,” Pratley reveals.
“Team bonding was good because it made us forget about all the pressure. He took all the pressure off us and it just made us concentrate on our performances and getting results.”
Swansea just fell short in the race for automatic promotion but headed into the play-offs with momentum. Their play-off semi-final first leg at Nottingham Forest got off to the worst possible start when Neil Taylor was dismissed after two minutes.
The Swans held out for a goalless draw and Alan Tate replaced Taylor after Swansea lost their appeal against his dismissal. Swansea may have been synonymous with flair and technicality, but the bedrock of their side was predominantly British.
“You can’t get any better than having a solid base in defence,” Dyer states. “That British structure with Tate, Ashley Williams, Monk and Leon Britton was vital because everyone else can fit in around them.Embed from Getty Images
“They made sure that the ship stayed steady and bringing in the Spanish players and others from Europe brought flair and a different mindset.”
It was another Brit who sealed their passage to Wembley in the dying stages of the second leg. Swansea held a slender 2-1 lead thanks to goals from Britton and Fabio Borini. The clock ticked into stoppage time when Lee Camp deserted his goal for a late Forest corner. Swansea cleared and the ball broke for Pratley just inside his own half.
“The manager was actually telling me to run the ball into the corner,” Pratley laughs.
“I could hear the fans shouting shoot and I saw the goalkeeper off his line and I thought why not take a chance and it went in. It was a great feeling, probably the best atmosphere that I’ve experienced.”
The passion of the scenes when Swansea supporters spilled onto the pitch would be matched by the reception the players received at Wembley.
“I still get goosebumps thinking about it now,” Rangel reflects with a nervous smile.
“You could see all those thousands of Swansea fans waiting for us as we drove towards Wembley on the bus. If a Wales derby is emotional then the final felt like, ‘I’m finally here. Three to four years ago I was in Spain and this is the day that I can actually make it to the top’.”
Swansea didn’t settle into their usual rhythm and uncharacteristic concessions of possession became a frustrating theme of the first 20 minutes. Then Phil Dowd awarded Swansea a penalty against the run of play when Zurab Khizanishvili chopped down Dyer inside the box.Embed from Getty Images
Scott Sinclair converted confidently from the spot, and scored a second just 74 seconds later, to put Swansea in the ascendency. Stephen Dobbie added a third before the break but a second half fightback from Reading reduced the deficit to a single goal.
Jem Karacan’s deflected shot hit the post and Monk swooped to the rescue with a last-ditch block to thwart Noel Hunt. Swansea immediately sprung an attack of their own and Dowd pointed to the spot again when Andy Griffin upended Borini and Sinclair dispatched his penalty into the bottom corner to the delight of the fans.
Swansea had come full circle. James Thomas’ hat-trick against Hull City had rescued the Swans from plummeting out of the Football League in 2003. Eight years later, Swansea were destined for the Premier League, and the similarities between both games were all too uncanny for Thomas.
“The similarities between the games against Hull and Reading are incredible,” Thomas says.
“Sinclair with a hat-trick, like myself against Hull, and to win 4-2 in such dramatic circumstances makes it fitting for a fairy tale.”
Sinclair’s hat-trick extended his tally to 27 goals for the season and killed the game as a contest. Barcelona had just secured a second UEFA Champions League triumph in three seasons on the same turf two days before, and now Swansea were set for the grand stage too.Embed from Getty Images
Pratley and de Vries left Swansea after securing promotion. Both had been integral to Swansea’s recent rise but the recruitment bolstered those positions rather than weakened them. Michel Vorm, signed from ADO Ten Haag, was another fine distributor of the ball, Wayne Routledge provided Premier League quality and Danny Graham filled the void up top.
If Swansea needed a lesson on the tough reality of the top-flight, then they were cruelly handed one by a merciless Manchester City.
“I played two games in bed thinking about the game the night before,” Rangel reveals. “Nerves started to rise because we’d never played at that level. You’re coming up against players you’ve been watching for years such as Yaya Toure and David Silva.
“Sergio Aguero came on and scored two goals on his debut and we lost 4-0. We could see that it was going be tough. We had a brand of football which was successful in the Championship but people started to ask whether it will work in the Premier League.”
Those questions were partially answered when Swansea defeated West Brom 3-0 to register their first Premier League win in September 2011. Swansea still only managed four wins from 19 matches by the turn of the year but it was in the second half of the season that everything clicked into place. Swansea prevailed 3-2 against Arsenal in a Premier League classic and also inflicted defeat on Man City and Liverpool respectively.
As had been the case under Martinez in the Championship, the ‘Swansea Way’ proved the shining light.
“We just believed in the way that we played so much that they started to call the Swans a loner in terms of our style,” Dyer recalls.
“It turns out that we were an Achilles heel for a lot of teams. They were surprised by how we would find solutions and get out of trouble, instead of falling into a mode of kicking the ball long. Some results shocked people but deep down we weren’t surprised because we knew how we played day-to-day.Embed from Getty Images
“Throughout that year, we had players come into the dressing room after the game to congratulate us and they acknowledged the way that we conducted ourselves on the pitch.”
Michael Cox argued in The Mixer that Swansea’s possession style was “better as a defensive tool”. That was perhaps the biggest difference between Rodgers and Martinez.
Martinez played open and expansive attacking football while simultaneously keeping the ball, whereas Rodgers preferred to dominate possession and build attacks with more patience. Swansea averaged just 3.8 shots on target (only five sides averaged less) but only Joe Hart (17) and Tim Krul (15) registered more clean sheets than Vorm (14).
Arsenal (57.7%) and Man City (56.6%) were the only two sides to average more possession than Swansea (56.2%) in 2011-12. Britton’s role as the pivot in a three-man midfield was instrumental in transforming Swansea into the Premier League’s new masters of possession.
Britton completed 93.4% of his passes in 2011-12 – more than any other player in Europe’s top five divisions, including Xavi and Thiago Alcantara. Most players work in seconds but Britton worked in milliseconds. He finished the season without a goal or an assist but his ability to keep the ball moving was priceless.Embed from Getty Images
“You could give it to Leon in any situation, even when he’s surrounded by players, and he’d find a solution,” Dyer observes.
“The link between the defence and him was so important to the way that we played. If we didn’t have him then we couldn’t have played the same way because we’d have to miss out the midfield at times. He was always providing an angle and an option for his teammates.”
Swansea ended their debut season 11 points clear of relegation in 11th place and Rodgers received the greatest possible accolade for his work when he was offered the Liverpool job.
Rodgers’ departure to Liverpool was just the beginning of a mass exodus. Joe Allen, a proud product of the Swansea academy, followed Rodgers to Anfield. Steven Caulker opted to join recently-promoted Welsh rivals Cardiff City and Gylfi Sigurdsson signed for Tottenham instead of extending his loan deal.
2012-2014: The Laudrup Transformation
Swansea’s board responded by appointing a member of football royalty. Michael Laudrup’s arrival brought Swansea closer than ever to Cruyff himself. The Dane played a starring role under the Dutchman to inspire Barcelona to four straight league titles and their maiden European Cup in 1992.
He adopted a philosophy very much aligned with Cruyff – placing a huge amount of importance on possession and the utilisation of space. “Michael was inspired by the clubs he’d been at such as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Ajax,” says Casper Ankergren, who worked under Laudrup at his first club Brondby.Embed from Getty Images
“Everything was about keeping the ball and bringing quick wingers into the game. We were not just playing football for the sake of it though, he was very results-driven.”
The players were in awe when Laudrup landed at Swansea. He was a childhood idol for many and now he was the man in charge.
“His ideas on how to play the game were so clear that we wouldn’t even talk about the opposition,” Rangel reveals.
“He did very well and his recruitment was unbelievable. So you lose a big manager and top players but then you realise you can replace them. He really took us to the next level.”
Laudrup really did take Swansea to the next level and they also continued their reputation as shrewd recruiters. A clutch of top signings enabled them to rebuild quickly. Laudrup surprisingly didn’t go for high-profile names. Chico Flores and Jonathan de Guzman had previously played under Laudrup at Mallorca.
Pablo Hernandez and Ki Sung-yueng arrived from Valencia and Celtic respectively for a combined total of £10.75m. But the most successful purchase of his reign was the £2m signing of Michu from Rayo Vallecano.
“Laudrup stood him up and said: ‘This is Michu, wherever he is on the pitch just pass him the ball,” Dyer recalls. “We were like, ‘is this guy Messi?’. I liked that he had the tenacity to go with his quality. He had that anger in him to say ‘don’t think I’m a pushover because I’ll put it in’.”Embed from Getty Images
Michu arrived in Britain as a relative unknown but had pedigree in Spain. He had been languishing in Spain’s second-tier at Celta Vigo until 2011-12 before exploding onto the scene with La Liga’s newly-promoted Rayo Vallecano. He finished his solitary season in the Spanish top-flight with 15 goals – more than any other midfielder.
Laudrup converted Michu into a centre-forward and he marked his debut with two goals in a 5-0 win at QPR. His predatory instincts were obvious from the outset, as he finished the season with 22 goals in all competitions, but it was his ability to interlink play that made him so important.
“Michu was the all-round perfect number nine for the Swansea style,” Rangel declares. “He could be an extra midfielder because he would drop in and link up play. Then he would be a nuisance in the box and most of his goals were all one touch finishes.”
The silky Spaniard played as a nominal false nine. His ability to drag opposing defenders out of position provided space for Dyer and Routledge to run in behind and transformed Swansea into a devastating attacking force.
“We became more of a counter-attacking threat, so when we went forward, we went full force,” Dyer says.
“Before we would be more patient with our build-up, whereas under Laudrup, we had more pace and skill. The fact that we could keep the ball at the same time made such a difference too. I loved watching Barcelona when the likes of Ronaldinho played for them so I was like a kid in a candy store when we were playing like that.”
Swansea’s demolition of QPR marked the start of an historic season. Two late Michu strikes earned Swansea a 2-0 win against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in December 2012 and propelled them to within three points of the top four.
They also reached the League Cup final for the first time in their history – eliminating Liverpool and Chelsea respectively in the process. League One outfit Bradford City had reached their first cup final since 1911 but they were there on merit.Embed from Getty Images
The Bantams eliminated both Martinez’s Wigan and Arsenal on penalties before prevailing 4-3 over two legs against Aston Villa in the semi-finals. Bradford had nothing to lose, whereas Swansea did. It was a prime opportunity to crown the six-year project started by Martinez and the players didn’t disappoint.
“We weren’t physically the strongest or the tallest but playing at Wembley worked in our favour,” Dyer says.
“It’s such a massive pitch and it’s tiring to run up and down. It was so big that they weren’t able to get near us and by the time they could even attempt to close us down, the ball was over the other side of the pitch.”
The term ‘men against boys’ came to mind when witnessing Swansea’s dismantling of Bradford. The Bantams fielded centre-back Curtis Good at left-back – an area of weakness that Swansea ruthlessly exploited. Swansea stretched the pitch to isolate Good and switched the ball to Dyer who terrorised him throughout. It was the perfect illustration of the positional play that they’d worked on under Laudrup with players interchanging positions with such fluency and dictating the tempo of the game with ease.Embed from Getty Images
The 5-0 victory heralded braces for Dyer and de Guzman and another goal for Michu. Swansea supporters sensed it was only the beginning of a golden era but grey clouds beckoned.
A season of iconic proportions ended in anticlimactic fashion. One win from their final 11 games saw Swansea limp to a 9th place finish. Laudrup loaded the squad with further ammunition in the summer and avoided losing key players. Wilfried Bony was the marquee signing of the window from Vitesse Arnhem for £12m and his tally of 25 goals across all competitions would prove crucial as Michu faced an injury-ridden campaign.
The Swans juggled European and domestic football well. They progressed to the Europa League group stage and condemned Valencia to a 3-0 defeat in their opening game.
“It was an unbelievable night,” Rangel reflects. “We had some great trips but the 3-0 win over Valencia at a ground as historic as the Mestalla was incredible.”
That famous night at the Mestalla was one of the few highlights in a season that promised so much but delivered very little. Swansea were 10th at the beginning of December 2013 but an eight-match winless streak saw them plummet down the table. A 2-0 win over Fulham momentarily spared Laudrup’s blushes but defeat at West Ham in February 2014 proved the notorious final straw.
“It was quite upsetting because I had a really good relationship with Laudrup but there were a lot of factors that led to him being sacked,” Rangel reveals.Embed from Getty Images
“The football philosophy was still there, but the results weren’t. Maybe we had too many Spanish players because there was eight of us at the time. The English core was starting to be taken over by the Spanish and some of them didn’t have a great handle of the English language.
“It still wasn’t the main reason. Laudrup maybe didn’t have the character that Rodgers did to be the boss and didn’t have everything under control. Football boards didn’t have the patience that they did a few years before and that was why they were so quick to get rid of him.”
2014-2016: Monk’s Momentary Success
Monk stepped in as interim manager and marked his debut in dream fashion with a 3-0 win over Cardiff. He initially retained Swansea’s possession style but a run of one win from his next seven league matches and a 3-1 aggregate defeat against Napoli prompted him to rethink his methods.
Swansea’s possession figures dropped by an average of 11% in the final six matches of the season. Yet the change in style led to victories over Newcastle, Aston Villa and Sunderland respectively. Monk perceived those results as an indication that this was the new way forward.
“He had in his mind that he wanted to create his own team rather than continuing what we were doing,” Dyer says.
“A lot of things did change. The way we played definitely changed. We were defensive and worried about the other team and not ourselves. We couldn’t understand why because he played in our team previously. Changing things when we were doing so well and not having an explanation why we’re going down that route was strange. It wasn’t as if we were in the relegation zone and losing games so the philosophy was still working.”
Monk’s determination to alter the landscape of the club was reflected in the transfer market. Vorm left for Tottenham and was replaced by Lukasz Fabianski, who was significantly less adept with his feet. Six Spaniards were offloaded, including Chico and Hernandez, both of whom played integral roles in the 2013 League Cup triumph.
His deviation from the Swansea model generated great short-term results. Swansea registered a club record 8th place finish in the Premier League and won back-to-back games against Manchester United and Arsenal respectively. It seemed that Monk’s appointment was justified but the long-term effects of abandoning their principles would prove irreparable.Embed from Getty Images
“It did work for one season but after that things didn’t work out for him,” Rangel argues. “Garry’s assistant Pep Clotet was a big believer in organisation. He thought we didn’t need the ball to win games but you have to understand the culture of the club.
“In in the end, Garry actually admitted to us that the ‘Swansea Way’ wasn’t the route forward.”
2016-2018: The Downfall
The signings during the 2015 transfer window were disastrous. Eder failed to score in 15 outings across all competitions and Tabanou didn’t play a single Premier League minute.
Swansea collected just six points from a possible 33 in Monk’s last 11 league matches at the helm. A 3-0 home defeat against Leicester in December 2015 ended his 11-year stay at the club. In Monk’s defence, he was faced with a difficult introduction to management. The pressure to earn points was much greater than it was for Martinez in League One but the latter stages of his spell symbolised the beginning of Swansea’s downfall.
Francesco Guidolin rescued Swansea from the drop in 2015-16 but he too was sacked after five defeats from his opening seven games during the following season.
Bob Bradley spent 85 days in the Swansea dugout – winning just two of his 11 games (D2 L7) and conceding 29 goals. The American never settled on a preferred starting XI and made an astonishing 36 changes to his team in the Premier League.
Paul Clement steadied the ship – inspiring the Swans to nine victories from their final 20 games but the ambitions of the club had changed dramatically.
“We went from enjoying the Premier League, knowing that we would finish midtable and maybe push a little bit higher, to fighting for survival,” Rangel admits.
The final season was a sorry sight for everyone involved. Clement was fired with a record of three wins from the opening 18 games and Swansea were the lowest goal scorers with 10 goals. Carlos Carvalhal threatened a revival but the damage was already done.
“I thought we could still stay up,” Dyer admits. “We had a lot of quality but everything that had happened over the course of the last couple of years had a domino effect.
“We had so many managers in such a short space of time and you start to ask what are we doing and where are we going as a club?
“It had knocked down all the good work that we had built up. You had people that were trying to fill gaps rather than sustaining a team that warranted fans to come in and pay their money.”Embed from Getty Images
Carvalhal won 2-1 at Watford on his debut and also defeated Liverpool, Arsenal and West Ham respectively. But the victories were just papering over the cracks. Swansea kept just 28% and 25% possession against Liverpool and Arsenal respectively. Swansea had previously prided themselves on dominating the opposition, whereas the main target now was survival.
And they would even fall short of that.
Relegation was confirmed with a 2-1 defeat against a relegated Stoke City at the Liberty Stadium. The fairy tale drew to a dark and depressing end but there could still be light at the end of the tunnel.
The Return to the Swansea Way
Graham Potter and Steve Cooper played attack-minded football with a focus on possession and Russell Martin is the same.
“I’ve played against his teams at MK Dons and the way that they played and make the pitch big is hard to play against,” Pratley says.
“He suits Swansea down to a tee, especially with the way he wants to play and his philosophy. Roberto didn’t get promoted in his first season but he implemented his style and in the end that was key to us getting promoted.”
It’s yet to be seen if Martin can resuscitate the ‘Swansea Way’. Swansea finished 15th place and 14 points adrift of the play-offs in 2021-22 but they did score in 32 of their 46 league matches. More poignantly, Swansea finished the season with an average of 63.8% possession per game – more than any other side. Possession alone won’t guarantee success but there are signs that Swansea are rediscovering their identity.
Just as Barcelona looked to Cruyff for inspiration in times of trouble, Swansea must do the same with Martinez.