Many will be impressed by the imperious manner in which Manchester United regained the Premier League title this season. After Manchester City had snatched away Sir Alex Ferguson’s dreams of capturing league titles nineteen and twenty one after the other, the Scotsman wanted to show his arch-rivals who was top dog in Manchester.
While United’s form has been very impressive this season, the gap between the so-called Top Four and the rest of the table is fast closing. Tottenham Hotspur and Everton both came mightily close to qualifying for the UEFA Champions League.
But it is neither those two nor the four clubs that occupy the Premier League’s top four berths that have impressed me this season. The club that in my opinion has been the most impressive have aren’t even English to begin with.
I speak here of Swansea City.
While Sir Alex Ferguson’s United were expected to show bounce-back ability on a grander scale than usual, the Welsh club have continued their journey up the Premier League table under Michael Laudrup, who has successfully built on top of the foundations Brendan Rodgers erected for this club.
Swansea didn’t have the money of Queens Park Rangers and Reading, yet it is the teams that wear blue stripes that find themselves in the football championship next season. What they did have at their disposal though was the ingenuity of Laudrup.
Having spent seven years as a player and two as a manager in Spain, he knows the workings of clubs in La Liga. Real Madrid, Barcelona and the chasing pack aside, few clubs have large sums of money to spend on transfers. Having managed Getafe and Real Mallorca in the past, Laudrup knows how to run a club on a shoestring budget.
That financial nous that he has brought to the Liberty Stadium this year has reaped rich dividends. Michu is the Swans’ top scorer but given the way he plays in England, you wouldn’t know he’s been here only one season. The 27-year-old was brought in for a paltry £2 million from Rayo Vallecano and has found the back of the net 22 times this season.
Michu aside, the rest of the players brought in this season have all been sound investments. Swansea paid £5.5 million towards Pablo Hernandez, who is the team’s top goal provider with ten assists, having found the back of the net five times. Spanish defender Chico Flores came for £2 million and has been a mainstay in the Swansea team, playing 21 games for his side, while Dwight Tiendalli, who arrived on a free midway through 2012, has played as many games as Flores has also been a very useful acquisition. Ki Sung-Yueng arrived from Celtic for £6 million and has played 38 games.
The sales of Joe Allen, Danny Graham and Scott Sinclair see Swansea raking in a profit of around £8.5 million, but that amount is set to increase because of the club’s trophy success and their entry into Europe.
This season is Swansea’s one hundredth in existence as a club. What more memorable way to mark your centenary than with a trophy and break records doing so?
On the 24th of February, Laudrup wrote his name by guiding Swansea to their first ever major trophy when his team lifted the League Cup against Bradford City, beating the League Two side 5-0, breaking another record by putting up the highest ever score in a League Cup final.
This means that the Welsh club will be playing in Europe next season and is an adventure for fans of Club Pêl-droed Dinas Abertawe (which is their name in Welsh) will be surely looking forward to.
In 2002, when the club was languishing in last place in League Two, which meant they were the lowest-ranked professional club in the football pyramid, who would have foreseen that Swansea’s rise could have been so meteoric?
They are now the first Welsh club to play in the Premier League and Laudrup is committed to his task of taking Swansea to greatness, having reaffirmed his desire to stay with the south coast club once the papers linked him to the recently vacant job at Everton.
One of the signs that a club is truly great is a derby game it competes in. The white-hot rivalries that exist in the Premier League are all well-known and closely followed. But to add to the games that pit Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and City and even the lesser-known matches between Newcastle and Sunderland will be the Premier League’s first ever Welsh derby.
The presence of Cardiff City in England’s top flight as Championship winners means new battle lines will be drawn across Wales. Cardiff’s new-found wealth which has propelled them to the Premier League means they are the polar opposite of Swansea, who have established themselves as one of the league’s more respectable names by looking at inexpensive players.
This is a respect they have earned. Victories against Arsenal and Chelsea and battling performances against United, City and Tottenham mean they are a team nobody can take lightly, a fact that was established under Rodgers last season.
Given the manner in which they have risen up the Premier League, it won’t be surprising to see them challenge for a Europa League berth next season. Their jaunt in Europe, though, could do them more harm than good. As Newcastle United have found out this season, playing on both domestic and continental fronts can be detrimental.
Laudrup, however, is an excellent manager, and will plan well in advance on how to tackle the extra fixtures and miles that come with European football. Swansea have had a great season, and fans of the club can look back on it with no regrets.
Or maybe just the one in my opinion. Nathan Dyer should’ve been allowed to complete his hat trick and write his name in the annals of the club’s history as the first ever Swansea player to score three in a cup final.