|Swansea hope Spanish flavour will keep the Welsh flag flying â opposition profile|
Thu 16th Aug 2012 22:13 by Clive Whittingham, Miguel Ortiz, Abi Davies
Swansea City are the opponents for QPR on the opening day of the 2012/13 season. Swans fan Abi Davies and our man in Spain Miguel Ortiz give LFW an idea of what we can expect from them.
In 2011 a film from unheralded French-Lithuanian director Michel Hazanavicius took the world, and particularly the dinner parties of Hoxton and Islington, by storm.
At the start of the year Hazanavicius had been a complete unknown. He’d been directing bits and pieces of mostly dreadful rubbish since 1988, beginning with poorly received dramas and shorts for television and eventually progressing onto parodies of old spy movies after the turn of the millennium. Within 12 months he’d won five Oscars, three Golden Globes and seven Baftas.
What made this all the more remarkable was the film that finally put him on the map was a silent one. The Artist is an old-style, black and white, silent movie focusing on the lives of silent movie actors in Hollywood as the rise of ‘talkies’ rendered their art obsolete. Critics rushed to shower it with semen and that special group of Londoners I affectionately refer to as ‘twats’ spoke about literally nothing else for a good six months. Shoreditch sandwich bars starting operating an entry policy: you had to have seen it, loved it and be willing to chat about it for seven minutes with the tattooed girl with pink hair behind the counter before you were allowed to order your £5.75 goat’s cheese and red onion focaccia.
“It’s so ironic because, like, it’s a silent movie, but it’s about silent movie stars, and it’s, like, totally aware of itself you know,” vegan’s would snort while drizzling olive oil over every single fucking one of their meagre possessions.
Hazanavicius gushed: “The Artist was made as a love letter to cinema, and grew out of my admiration and respect for movies throughout history.”
I’m sorry, excuse me, a little bit of sick just came into my mouth for a moment there.
Thank God, I thought at the time, for my horrible, grimy, chavy football obsession. Praise the Lord for the chance to spend eight hours downing lager in the Crown and Sceptre with the other Neanderthals, free from the open mouthed mock outrage that still to this day greets my admission that I’ve tried to watch The Artist twice and fallen asleep on both occasions because the sodding thing is so tedious I’d rather perform fellatio on the rotting corpse of a dead fish than watch it all the way through to the end.
And then Swansea City turned up - the footballing equivalent of The Artist and the Tate Modern, Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst in footballing form – and ruined that for me. Suddenly trendy football people were all crowding around talking about how bloody marvellous Swansea City are and winding back video tape so we can watch the same seven minutes of halfway line based possession again, only this time count the passes together and stifle admiring little giggles every time another dozen are completed. The cutting, incisive analysis of their approach would flow from the mainstream football broadcasters: “They do play lovely football don’t they Swansea?” “Oh yes Gary/Richard/Ed lovely football indeed.”
I am fully aware that there is much to admire about Swansea City. Ten years ago this was a club playing in a stadium that a less favourable council official could have condemned on the spot, saved from relegation from the bottom division into non-league on the final day of the 2002/03 season at the expense of Exeter City. Perennial strugglers and a pest to the banks that held their accounts, Swansea were a fair bet for extinction. They are now a Premiership club, playing in a new stadium, under the faultless chairmanship of Huw Jenkins who is up there with QPR's own Tony Fernandes as the man you'd most want running your football club.
Jenkins has overseen a revolution at Swansea that has enabled them to climb four divisions without ever once compromising their values or artificially buying success. They’ve won plenty of hearts and minds on the way. A process started by former QPR assistant boss Kenny Jackett but really developed under the revolutionary management of Roberto Martinez has been continued by Jenkins carefully selecting Martinez's replacements and keeping his own hand firmly on the tiller rather than theirs. Paulo Sousa, Brendan Rodgers and now Michael Laudrup all bring their own ideas to the table – the Swans were stupidly defensive under Sousa for example – but the style and transfer policy remains constant and therefore the success has been maintained despite the Liberty Stadium being raided for its managerial talent by supposedly bigger and almost always less successful clubs on a frequent basis. This is a club to be thoroughly proud of, and held up as a rare example of good practice in a sport riddled with dreadfully run enterprises.
Nevertheless, the next person who tells me that Leon Britton had a better pass completion percentage than Iniesta last season shall be thrown under a train.
Swansea are boring to watch. There, I’ve said it. And up to, but certainly not including, the final of Euro 2012 I thought Spain were a dour, sloppy ball of nothing interesting whatsoever as well. So shoot me. No, really, shoot me - the sweet relief of death couldn’t come soon enough during the summer as one person pretending to know something about football after another banged on about just how chuffing marvellous it was that Spain were winning matches playing without a striker. How I longed to grasp them around the throat and scream in their face that had the Spanish picked Bilbao’s excellent Fernando Llorente at the top of their team instead of nothing at all they’d have trounced absolutely everybody out of sight, and rather than try to appear as some sort of all knowing football-aficionado by praising their approach for 120 minutes of face-tearingly dull nonsense against Portugal people would have been able to marvel at what football traditionalists like to call a thumping 4-0 win.
But, I accept, I’m being terribly English about all of this. It’s because of people like me that England are rubbish – stringing two passes together and then kicking the ball long down the field towards a fat Geordie who looks and plays like a horse that’s been at the fermented fruit again. It’s also because of people like me that Swansea are doing so well. At Molineux last season, just before half time, Swansea put together ten passes on the halfway line and went nowhere. The people like me, who find this dull, started to boo and jeer and demand that a Wolves player come out of the line and do something about the monotony. It was Kevin Foley who took the bait eventually, rushing forward from left back out of pure frustration leaving a large gap in behind him into which the Swans played Danny Graham and he then squared for Joe Allen to score a second goal of the game. That’s Swansea, boring teams into submission, and that seems to be the way football is going.
Down with this sort of thing.
As she did in April, Swans fan Abi Davies kindly took time out to give LFW a quick run down on life at the Liberty Stadium. You can read more from Abi in her blogs at Wales Online and match reports on The Ball Is Round. As ever, we thank our visiting supporter for their time and insight.
A big summer of upheaval at Swansea. What do you make of Brendan Rodgers going to Liverpool? How do you think he'll do there? What is the Swansea fans' attitude to him? Managing Liverpool is a prestigious opportunity that may have never arisen again for Rodgers, therefore it is impossible to begrudge him the move. At Swansea he inherited a squad playing with a possession based approach, with the structure already in place for him, therefore I think it'll be interesting to see whether he succeeds at Liverpool, now that he has a far greater challenge to instigate that philosophy. I feel he has done well to bolster the squad with Joe Allen and Fabio Borini, and providing the whole group of players buy into Rodgers methods, they should have a great season.
And what do you make of the Laudrup appointment? What's the general feeling about him among the fans?
Excitement! Chairman Huw Jenkins already had a phenomenal record of appointing managers and I feel he has picked another man well tailored for the job of taking Swansea forward in Michael Laudrup. The new manager instantly had fans on board as his success as a player earns him instant respect. Whilst insistent on playing with the same philosophy that Swansea play with so well, Laudrup has still managed to tweak certain aspects of Swansea's game to ensure they have the versatility to conquer all opponents. A trait that I feel can only be a good thing.
You've obviously lost Allen and Sigurdsson from the team as well - what effect will that have? Are Swansea fans worried about the season ahead?
Both, along with Steven Caulker, were vital to the Swans side last season and to a certain extent I feel the presence of all three will be missed. I personally think the void left by Caulker will be the one most difficult to fill, as the centre-back played an integral role last season, building a colossal partnership with Ashley Williams and offering some much needed height and pace at the rearguard.
What do you make of your new signings?
I was quite fond of Michu during his time at Rayo Vallecano and providing he can continue in the same form that he has shown throughout pre-season, he will prove to be a fantastic addition to the Swansea squad. The midfielder appears to have all the attributes to make him a key feature in the Swans side during the forthcoming campaign and his ability in the air will give us a different dimension in the final third. De Guzman is another who has shown great promise since joining Swansea. Seemingly the natural replacement for Joe Allen, the midfielder looks composed on the ball and has delivered numerous impressive, perfectly weighted cross field passes.
How has your pre-season gone?
Amidst the turmoil surrounding the change in personnel, I feel pre-season has gone well. Our new signings have shown great potential whilst we have also been given some stern challenges to test our resilience.
What's your prediction for Swansea this season?
This will undoubtedly be a difficult season for the Swans and I expect them to face a far more astute challenge to retain their Premier League status than they did last season. However, with the reinforcements made by Michael Laudrup, I feel we will survive with a sixteenth place finish.
On a week to week basis we can receive literally half a dozen e-mails into the LFW account at any given time. Mostly these are helpful correspondence pushing penis enlargements or asking to stash some money found in an old lock up in Nigeria in my bank account for a bit, but it’s always nice to hear from people and it’s especially nice when you hear from people like Miguel Ortiz. Miguel lives in Spain and offered us his expertise from that part of the world should QPR ever head over to La Liga with Tony Fernandes’ credit card. Well, we’ve waited a while for that without getting a chance to utilise our man Miguel so we’ve put him to work on Swansea instead.
The Swans turned to Michael Laudrup as a slightly left field replacement for Brendan Rodgers this summer, his first experience of English football as either a player or manager. On the field the Danish international’s career was incredibly successful. He won La Liga five years in a row in the early 1990s – four times with Barcelona with whom he also won the European Cup in 1992, and then again after moving to Real Madrid in 1995. He won 104 caps for Denmark, scored 37 goals and won Euro 92 and the Confederations Cup in 1995. He has been named the best Danish footballer of all time, and the best foreign import to Spain in the last 25 years by a poll conducted in 1999. Swansea should perhaps consider him as a replacement for their departing central midfield players.
Things started well in management too. He helped coach Denmark to the knock out stages of the 2002 World Cup then took up the head coach position at Brondby where he won two Danish Cups and the Danish league in 2005. They also finished as runner up three times. He was linked with a return to Real Madrid but ended up moving to the smaller La Liga team in the Spanish capital Getafe. And here we turn to our man in Spain, Miguel…
“In his first visit to Barcelona after he signed for Real Madrid suffered real verbal abuse - only Luis Figo got worse. That’s the key, he could be a legend there but he choose to cross to the enemy lines. Just because of this he will never coach any team of Barcelona, so it was no surprise to see him start life as a coach here in the Madrid area.
“His first serious coaching role was at Getafe where he inherited a talented squad moulded with the canny eye of chairman Angel Torres who has a shrewd eye for the youth players and loan market. As you would expect from an elegant player he stated his intention to play nice football, keep the ball, doing our game and all the usual chit chat. But in fact they did it. Getafe played nice football, arrived at the end of the season in a good position at the league, and went out in the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup at the hands of Bayern Munich where they only lost because of a mistake from unorthodox goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri. They also made the final of the Copa Del Rey for the second time but lost against Valencia 3-1. At the end of the season he did not extend his contract at El coliseum Alfonso Muñoz and left because he had a better offer in Russia.”
That Russian offer was with Spartak Moscow but his time there was not a conspicuous success and he was sacked after seven months. Given that he had been in talks with Greek side Panathinaikos before moving to Moscow but didn’t get the job because he wanted a clause in his contract that allowed him to leave if a Spanish side came into him it may be fair to assume his heart wasn’t quite in it. He couldn’t agree terms with Athletico Madrid in October 2009 and eventually turned up at Mallorca in 2010 so we’ll turn it back to Miguel at this point.
“This time at Mallorca and he came very humbly, knowing that the club was in a difficult financial position and couldn’t back him up with much transfer activity. With the team old guard, a couple of loanees and free transfers, he did fine, using a more defensive approach, and kept them out of troubles during the whole season except for the last day that saw them become involved in the relegation battle but survive. During the summer he complained about the lack of funds for invest in the team, departures and replacements not suitable for the league and after two games in charge a rant at the newspapers saw him having a furious bust up with Lorenzo Serra Ferrer (Mallorca chairman and former coach at Mallorca, Betis, Barcelona and others) and that got him the sack.
“As I said before, the Getafe chairman Angel Torres is a master. He profits from the Real Madrid youth teams, bringing them to El Coliseum to develop them, signing players for almost nothing or from the free transfer and building them into stars. So Laudrup had a real good squad at his disposal.. At the end only inexperience and personal mistakes prevented real success there.
“At Mallorca he recognised that the team was inferior in terms of skills and pace so he adopted a more defensive approach. Laudrup likes to play one touch and go in the typical Ajax / Barcelona style. He could do it at Getafe but not at Mallorca. At Mallorca the play was more about holding the shape, counter attacking and quick transitions and hard work with the set pieces. Possibly at Swansea he will put Guzman a little deeper alongside the holding midfielder and taking advantage of his dynamism to set up his attack. He’ll have one full back attacking and the other remaining very deep and defensive, with the wingers cutting infield ahead of them supporting the usual lone striker. “My opinion is, he will struggle with the physical approach and second ball of the English game. His midfielders are not going to have time to do a good first control, rotate and find a good option, but he’s a smart lad and he will change is thinking to adapt himself to the English game.”
And you’ll forgive me for turning some of this Miguel’s way as well. Last season playing Swansea was about patience. QPR may have won 3-0 in the game at Loftus Road but it was tense until the first goal went in as Rangers held their shape rigidly and tried to stare out the visitors. The perils of losing that shape and patience were shown by that earlier referenced goal at Wolves before Christmas.
We know, because Laudrup has told us, that the main difference we’ll see from them this season is the wingers will come in field more to support the strikers. He claims this doesn’t amount to a total change in the style of play that we’ve become accustomed to from the Swans but I beg to differ. The traditional ‘out’ ball in English football for a player with no options is long, down the line, in behind the full back. Some managers, notably Ian Holloway when he was at QPR, often utilised this “turn him around and hunt the mistake” technique as plan A. Swansea use their wingers as out balls, stationing a wide man tight to each touchline at all times. It leaves them open through midfield, as Laudrup has noticed, but it makes their out ball across the field a whole lot more dangerous than the traditional English way. It’s a technique pioneered by Roberto Martinez and Ian Holloway is now one of the biggest exponents of it – which is why his Blackpool side is so much more attacking than his QPR side was and why his winger Matt Phillips might be about to move to Southampton for £6m.
We also know that Swansea have been much more attacking than previously during pre-season, and they’ve been leaking goals as a result. But the main changes have been in personal with Sigurdsson, Caulker and Allen gone from last year’s line up and De Guzman, Michu and Chico coming in which sounds rather like Laudrup has been swapping football stickers for Pokémon cards. For info in the three new arrivals it’s back to our man in Spain.
“ Michu – a nickname in north-western slang – is a midfielder who came through the youth teams at Oviedo. The club had heavy financial problems that saw them drop divisions into the third tier where he made his full debut in 2003/2004. He helped them to promotion and after a couple of seasons he was transferred to Celta de Vigo B for 2007-2008. He made full debut for the first team that same season and again helped them win promotion. He was part of a resurgence of the team after years of obscurity, even scoring in the promotion against Granada. They were relegated again in 2010/11, but he got his transfer to Rayo Vallecano - a nice team from a humble Madrid neighbourhood. He settled excellently, scoring 15 in his new position in front of the deep lying midfield pair and behind the nine arriving from second line.
“He is a tall, leggy player - not very gifted but combative and a knack for goals arriving late into the box, attacking second balls or from set pieces. He’s good under pressure and when defending set pieces. He scores a lot of headers. He’s possibly peaked by scoring 15 last season and getting a lucrative contract in England, but to me this is a bargain. He’s the kind of player you always want on your team, he never gives up and will break his face for the team. “Another interesting point - while at Celta in the summer of 2010, Oviedo’s eternal rivals Sporting Gijon agreed a transfer for him but he declined saying that he was Oviedo through and through and he couldn’t play for Sporting. Few are like him these mercenary days but his gamble paid dividends, Sporting got relegated this year and he is in the Premier League. I rate him highly and I hope he will have a good season and settle in England (well Wales). “De Guzman is Canadian born, and came through the PSV Eindhoven youth teams. Can play six or eight and is a typical Holland player - technically skilful, good pace, good attacking movements, good tactically - but he’s awful in front of goal, although of course he scored against my team. As I said is very dynamic and can play in two positions.
“Chico is another nickname and in pure southern slang it means ‘small’. He came through the Cadiz FC youth team, was loaned to Barcelona B, back to Cadiz and was then transfered to UD Almeria where he was excellent and eventually sold for big money to Genoa. He spent last season on loan at Mallorca. He’s a typical old school Spanish central defender with good positional sense, strong in the air, good on the tackle but not very comfortable with the ball. He can play in right full back or holding midfielder but only because he’s mobile - when it comes in terms of putting the ball on the ground, he’s certainly no Beckenbauer. Obviously as an old school defender he’s prone to a two footed tackle. He will adapt himself to the English game well - he is a tough lad.”
We’re of course indebted to Miguel for his insight this week, and thank him for his time.
Pictures – Action Images