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Martin - Perspective so far
at 19:25 15 Sep 2021

Martin didn’t get a pre-season with us, and has had five weeks to come in to a new club and get to know a completely new set of players and league, while attempting to change the identity and style of play back to where we were during our most successful period. This was the sole reason the owners paid almost half a million pounds to bring him here, full well knowing it would be a difficult transition at first. They did not do that just to change the script after a month or persevere with Cooper’s negative tactics. No matter what a few contrarian posters on here want or think, Martin will be here and the club are prepared for the long haul, so best to shape up and live in reality.

Our players have had two years, and this pre-season, of Cooperball built around sitting deep, clearing the ball under any pressure and hoofing it up to Ayew hoping he can get fouled and win a free-kick. It was always going to take a bit of time to get them to change their instincts at this point, and it’s certainly going to take longer without a pre-season to show them his preferred methods and patterns of play. Martin’s system is very dynamic but structured, built around positional play, and is very complex and different from what they have been accustomed to. Additionally, as Farke and Martin have both said recently, pre-season is about building fitness, and our squad is still not up to snuff on that yet. A long list of injuries and COVID outbreaks combined with a congested run of 7 games in 21 days did not help either, as the team barely had a handful of training sessions together before the international break. We saw a much-changed group of players this weekend, and that will only continue to get better with time.

Norwich under Farke has dominated the Championship playing positive, possession football but it didn’t happen overnight. His first season at Carrow Road resulted in the club finishing 13th and there were calls at difficult moments, mostly on social media, for him to be sacked. Pukki and Krul were unheralded free transfers and Buendia was an unknown brought in for just over £1m. Cantwell started just 18 games that first promotion season and had minimal impact (1 goals, 2 assists). Norwich’s leadership, sporting director Stuart Webber, understood that to build anything of quality takes time, patience and mettle, especially with the best architects. Farke was given time to develop the squad and implement his system, and they have achieved promotion in two of the following three seasons, while playing some of the best football the league has ever seen.

When Thomas Frank took over Brentford in October 2018 they were 6th in the division. They then lost eight of their first ten matches under him and were 17th or lower from the beginning of December until March, only finishing 12th after three wins to end the season, one of which was a forfeit by Bolton. And he wasn’t implementing a new playing style or getting to know a new team. He is a bright, quality coach but his reign has mostly been a continuation and slight refinement of the work that came before him by Dean Smith. Brentford stuck by him, and now they are beating Arsenal and in the top half of the PL a few seasons later.

Quality work takes time. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Martin is doing quality work, within a very difficult set of parameters, and has already had some impressive performances with our players and the type of football we are seeing. The results will come. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Time, patience and holding your nerve are the keys.
Why Fulham turned to Marco Silva – a coach who still has a point to prove
at 21:18 21 Jul 2021

Why Fulham turned to Marco Silva – a coach who still has a point to prove

Peter Rutzler and more

Marco Silva is back in English football.

His task? To return Fulham to the Premier League and draw a line under the Scott Parker era.

Silva’s appointment has restored some much-needed optimism at Craven Cottage — helped by the return of club legend Luis Boa Morte as his assistant — after an uncomfortable few weeks.

Parker’s exit, confirmed on Monday, threw a curveball at the club’s pre-season planning. The coach they wanted to lead them to a third Premier League promotion in five seasons was evidently not committed to the cause and more than that, the process of cutting ties proved long and arduous. Talk of mutual termination with two years left on Parker’s contract and a known destination only complicated matters further, before Championship rivals Bournemouth ultimately agreed compensation.

Parker officially left on the day the squad returned for pre-season. With no manager in place, first-team coach Stuart Gray oversaw proceedings, supported by under-23s coaches Mark Pembridge and Colin Omogbehin.

The whole saga appeared to leave the west London club playing catch-up. Unsurprisingly, there were no warm words from chairman Shahid Khan for the departing Parker. “Scott’s departure does nothing to shake my confidence, however,” Khan said. “We will hire a new head coach who is capable of achieving our goal of promotion and will be committed to Fulham and its supporters.”

Fulham needed a replacement who could lift a gloom that has followed a second top-flight relegation in three years and Parker’s unceremonious departure. And quickly.

Luis Boa Morte, left, will assist Silva at Fulham – just like he did at Everton

It was decided early on that Silva was the man for the job.

It’s understood that once it became clear there were overtures from Bournemouth for Parker — as The Athletic has documented — Fulham began planning for the possibility that he would decide to leave. Silva had been previously identified during the club’s ongoing due diligence and was seen as an excellent fit by sporting director Tony Khan and the Fulham recruitment team, particularly with regards to his playing style and personal ambition.

Outwardly, Silva was not initially seen as one of the favourites for the job, with Swansea City’s Steve Cooper and former Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder considered among the frontrunners.

It is understood that Cooper and Wilder were both under serious consideration. So too was long-time Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe, but he made it clear he was not interested in the role. Multiple plates were spinning but Fulham’s prime target behind the scenes was Silva, a coach to underline the ownership’s promotion ambition.

Discussions with Silva were kept under wraps during what was a secretive recruitment process for the Portuguese coach. There was a determination to keep his name out of the media in case talks did not reach a positive conclusion. Shahid Khan met with Silva in Portugal last week and was impressed by his eye for detail and knowledge of the squad.

“Marco came prepared, with a full understanding of the players we have and ideas on how we can move forward this season,” said Shahid Khan in a statement announcing Silva’s appointment. “I loved his energy and optimism, and I’m confident Marco Silva is the right choice.”

Silva was the only coach spoken to by Shahid Khan. Coupled with excellent references from previous clubs, executives and players alike, who are said to have spoken highly of his professionalism and the man personally, it was decided he would be the coach entrusted with leading Fulham’s attempted promotion campaign.

Silva was also contacted by top-flight Crystal Palace, but they decided to go in a different direction and have since agreed terms with Arsenal great and former New York City and Nice manager Patrick Vieira.

Former Hull City, Watford and Everton manager Silva was reportedly also offered positions at Turkish side Fenerbahce and Russia’s CSKA Moscow. He turned those down for Fulham. A provisional agreement was reached on Wednesday and he was formally announced as Fulham’s new coach a day later.

Silva has signed a three-year contract and it’s understood he will bring with him the men who comprised his coaching staff at Everton: Bruno Mendes as head of performance, Goncalo Pedro as first-team coach, Hugo Oliveira as goalkeeper coach and Antonis Lemonakis as first-team analyst. And in a move that will undoubtedly excite supporters, Boa Morte, the former winger who was a hero of the club’s 2000-01 Premier League promotion season and spent over six years with the club as a player and later coach, also returns to Craven Cottage as Silva’s No 2. “Wherever Silva goes, Boa Morte goes,” said a source close to the new head coach.

For the club, the appeal of bringing back a well-loved figure who knows the club and its values was a bonus to Silva’s appointment.

Silva was set to arrive in the UK from Portugal on Thursday and will need to serve a quarantine period before setting foot at Motspur Park.

Portugal is on the UK government’s amber list, meaning he would be required to isolate for 10 days. However, he is expected to take a PCR COVID-19 test on day five and should that return a negative result, he would be able to end his quarantine through the “test and release” scheme. Gray will likely continue to oversee pre-season, while Silva will do some work remotely.

Fulham will now want to turn the page on the Parker era. There was a willingness to make a statement after the new Bournemouth coach’s unhappy exit and, in Silva, they feel they have secured a Premier League manager.

In an interview last year with The Athletic, Silva outlined that his best days were still ahead of him, saying: “My aim is to keep working in the top five leagues in Europe. The Premier League is a clear target for me and Spain, Germany, Italy and France.”

It has long been felt that Silva would not return to English football to manage in the second tier. He was once considered by Nottingham Forest, who are owned by Evangelos Marinakis, whom he worked under at Olympiakos in 2015-16, but they thought that it would not be possible to recruit him when they were a Championship club. However, Fulham’s proposal evidently proved persuasive.

In Silva, Fulham now have a coach who prefers a more attacking brand of football, which would directly address one of Parker’s criticisms as head coach: his more conservative style of play. Fulham struggled for goals last season, with a league-worst nine scored in their 19 home league games. It is hoped Silva can address that with his preference for a fluid 4-3-3 system built on incisive wingers, high full-backs offering width and hard-working midfielders.

Silva is a coach with a point to prove in England, yet also one who has been aggressively headhunted on more than one occasion. He first won plaudits here for turning around a sinking Hull City ship after joining halfway through the 2016-17 season. Although he was ultimately unable to keep them in the top flight, he did enough to entice Watford to appoint him. He started superbly at Vicarage Road, lifting the team into the top four after eight games and staying as high as eighth until early December.

Interest from Everton turned his head and he was ultimately sacked in January 2018 with form stagnating. Watford blamed Everton’s “unwarranted approach” for him that season as the “catalyst” for their decision.

He joined Everton that summer and his only full season in charge saw the Merseysiders finish eighth, two places higher but five points worse off than they later managed in high-profile successor Carlo Ancelotti’s only complete campaign. Form took a turn for the worst the following season and Everton were in the relegation zone when he was sacked in December 2019.

He has a strong track record before his time in England and although he has no Championship experience, he has won promotion before, leading Portuguese side Estoril up from the second tier in 2011-12, then helping them qualify for the Europa League a season later. Silva was then headhunted by Estoril’s big-city neighbours Sporting Lisbon, where he won the Taca de Portugal (Portuguese Cup) in 2015-16 before moving on and taking the Greek title in his only season (2016-17) with Olympiakos.

There is no denying, though, that Silva’s aura has faded a little and he needs to demonstrate his credentials to quell the questions marks that hang over him in England. He has not stayed at one club for more than one full season since his first job with Estoril a decade ago and what he can bring to a club over a longer period of time is something of an unknown.

But this is something that Silva will surely be determined to showcase at Fulham. At 43, he is still a young coach and he has inherited a squad he can work with effectively at Craven Cottage.

He and Fulham will hope they are a match made for promotion.
It’s better for Cooper and Swansea to part ways now than go through the motion
at 20:47 21 Jul 2021

It’s better for Cooper and Swansea to part ways now than go through the motions

Stuart James

The only surprise about Steve Cooper leaving Swansea City is that his last game in the dugout was on a Tuesday night in a pre-season friendly at Plymouth Argyle, rather than the Championship play-off final at Wembley back in May.

Almost two months have passed since that sobering loss to Brentford, when Swansea were well beaten and Cooper sounded afterwards like a man who knew that his journey at the club had run its course. It felt like a question of when, not if, Cooper would move on. Few imagined it would take this long.

Crystal Palace were keen on him but not keen enough and instead chose Patrick Vieira. Fulham also gave serious consideration to appointing the Welshman before deciding to go for Marco Silva. West Bromwich Albion turned to Valerien Ismael, Scott Parker switched to Bournemouth and suddenly all the horses on the managerial merry-go-round were taken.

Cooper could have opted to stay on and see out the final 12 months of the three-year contract he signed when he replaced Graham Potter in the summer of 2019, but that always seemed an unlikely option and, in the circumstances, would not have suited either party.

There were signs of tension behind the scenes with the club’s US owners and little in the way of a working relationship with the chief executive Julian Winter, who was appointed as Trevor Birch’s replacement at the start of September last year. Cooper had been particularly close to Birch.

In many ways, it would have worked out better for Swansea — as well as for Cooper — if Palace or Fulham had offered him the job and a compensation package had been agreed. Nothing materialised, though, and that left both manager and club in a quandary as the new season started to come into view. Did they muddle through the next nine or 10 months like a couple who know their marriage is coming to an end, or agree to go their separate ways now?

In the end, it was the latter and although the timing of that decision raises major questions, it is arguably better this way than going through the motions and, potentially, making a change two or three months into the season when another club is pursuing Cooper or things have badly unravelled.

It would also be naive in the extreme to think that Swansea have just found out Cooper is not going to be their head coach any longer. It is understood the club have been exploring options for some time and that an appointment will be made swiftly.

As for Cooper, he is expected to take a break from management rather than jump straight into another job.

On the face of it, Cooper had more to lose than gain by continuing at Swansea. After leading the club to the play-offs in successive seasons and accumulating 150 points in the process — quite an achievement for anyone, let alone somebody who is managing at senior level for the first time — his stock is high. This season promises to be much more challenging for the Welsh club, though, and Cooper knew it.

The Premier League parachute payments have come to an end after three seasons in the Championship and the message inside the club is that Swansea will once again need to trade at a profit in this transfer window. In other words, sell their best players.

Cooper fought hard to keep his captain Matt Grimes at the Liberty Stadium last year, but it would be futile for anybody to try to do the same again. Swansea need the money and the time has come for the midfielder to move on. Grimes will leave this summer and there is every chance that Connor Roberts will follow him, despite currently being injured.

Andre Ayew, Swansea’s top scorer last season, has already departed as a free agent, saving the club the best part of £80,000 a week but leaving a sizeable hole in a goals column that was already light.

Freddie Woodman has returned to Newcastle United after back-to-back season-long loans and Marc Guehi, who spent 18 months on loan at Swansea, went back to Chelsea earlier this summer before being sold to Palace for £18 million. That’s the spine of last season’s team gone.

Did Cooper have the motivation to build another side? Did he have the energy? There was a sense within the club that successive play-off campaigns with little in the way of a break between the two seasons — Swansea played 64 matches in under 12 months — had taken their toll on a coach who put his heart and soul into the role.

“I couldn’t have given any more in the last two years because that’s what the job demands and that’s how I personally live my life,” Cooper said after the Plymouth friendly, when he chose his words carefully about his future. “There’s nobody that could have worked any harder than me because I’ve been so proud to be a part of this brilliant football club.”

Perhaps the most curious thing about Cooper and Swansea is that he leaves with a hugely impressive results record — a 45 per cent win percentage and two top-six finishes — yet with supporters conflicted and divided about his time in charge because of a style of play that was hard to define at times.

Swansea were efficient and disciplined defensively under Cooper but rarely expansive and free-scoring. They regularly found a way to win matches despite averaging the fourth-lowest number of shots per game in the Championship last season and rarely dominating the ball.

It was a formula that worked for a long time but it was also hard to see how the run of results that had Swansea on course for automatic promotion with 11 games of last season remaining was sustainable, and so it proved as four consecutive defeats followed in the space of 20 days. Swansea ended up finishing fourth and although they navigated a way past Barnsley in the play-off semi-finals, Brentford were simply too good for them.

Not that missing out on promotion can be seen as any sort of failure for Cooper. Swansea’s owners made such a mess of things during their two years in charge in the Premier League that the club have sold anyone with any value since being relegated and reinvested very little in the squad. They were certainly not geared up for an automatic promotion challenge under Cooper, put it that way.

Cooper had to beg and borrow to get players in and he used his contacts excellently in that respect. His close relationship with talented youngsters and top Premier League clubs through his work at the Football Association — with whom he led England Under-17s to win their World Cup in 2017 — enabled Swansea to sign some exceptional players on loan.

Chelsea were happy to let Swansea borrow Guehi and Conor Gallagher. Rhian Brewster joined from Liverpool on loan — and was sold to Sheffield United for £25 million six months later. Morgan Gibbs-White signed on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers. Woodman arrived from Newcastle. In short, clubs trusted Cooper not only to give those players game time but also to develop them, and Swansea reaped the rewards.

Although the return of Ayew ended up being an unexpected bonus for Cooper (that was by accident rather than design since the club couldn’t find a buyer for their record signing after he had spent the 2018-19 season on loan at Fenerbahce in Turkey), the Ghanaian forward was never an out-and-out striker and that position became a problem for Swansea last season.

Cooper hoped it would be addressed in January, when he wanted to bring in Cauley Woodrow from Barnsley, but Swansea’s owners were not willing to sanction a deal that, in truth, was never close to getting done.

Leaving aside the question of whether Woodrow was the right fit, there was a school of thought at the club that Swansea’s owners missed an opportunity to capitalise on their league position by failing to bring in a No 9 of any description, and it is easy to imagine what sort of message that sent to Cooper, his staff and the players.

Although there was a feeling among some that Cooper’s relationship with the owners deteriorated over time, it is understood that the last few weeks have been amicable. He oversaw the return to pre-season training at Pennyhill Park in Surrey and there was no indication whatsoever that his commitment had waned, even if the end was in sight.

All the while, Swansea have continued to pursue signings and that process will accelerate under the new coach, with a striker seen as a priority. The club plan to make use of the loan market again, although it remains to be seen what impact Cooper’s departure will have on the calibre of players they can attract. Talks have been held with several top Premier League clubs and those conversations will need to be revisited when his successor is appointed.

The transfer window is not closing until the end of next month — time is still on Swansea’s side in that respect.

The same cannot be said for the start of the season, however, which is only 17 days away and leaves very little time for a new coach to become acquainted with the players.

Christian Fluthmann: ‘Norwich are a model club – I’d love to do what Danie
at 00:28 29 Jun 2021

Christian Fluthmann: ‘Norwich are a model club – I’d love to do what Daniel Farke has done at an English club’

Michael Bailey

“Going back on it in my mind sometimes, it plays like a movie,” says Christian Fluthmann.

The 39-year-old smiles a lot during his Zoom call with The Athletic from Essen, Germany. He appears to be a man appreciating what he has and where he has been, with a glint in his eye over what the rest of his career has in store.

Fluthmann has a particular place in the Norwich City chapter that began with the arrivals of sporting director Stuart Webber and head coach Daniel Farke in the spring of 2017: he is the only member of the German coaching set-up to have left.

It happened in November 2018, with Norwich’s promising Championship start threatening to achieve something remarkable after a challenging first campaign of transition. Fluthmann’s return to Germany after leaving his first-team coach and analysis role was a moment of personal necessity.

It led to some essential learning experiences, including as a head coach in his own right. He even came close to competing alongside Farke as a Championship manager.

Before Norwich, Fluthmann was Borussia Dortmund academy’s head of analysis and under-16 coach, a team he led to three successive titles. Now academy manager at German fourth-tier club Rot-Weiss Essen — “the Sunderland of German football,” says Fluthmann — there are a host of directions Fluthmann’s career could take from here.

“I have to decide one day on my way and what I want to do, but I’m still young and proud to learn every day,” Fluthmann tells The Athletic. “I always said I wanted to be a head coach before I was 40. I did that with Eintracht Braunschweig at 38.

“Would I want to work as a head coach again? Of course. But when the pandemic came, it felt good to work in football at Essen: somewhere I could develop myself for the coming years. I learned that from Stuart and Daniel. They have such a clear vision. They do things in a way that helps them in the coming years. That is a key to this business. A lot of people work just in the short-term way.

“The philosophy I learned from Stuart and Daniel, as well as studying economics in the past, I can bring that coaching and other knowledge to make a good philosophy for a club one day, maybe as a sporting director too.”

It was early 2017 when Farke first mentioned his plan. The Dortmund II head coach was out of contract in the summer and aware that if a move came, he wanted Fluthmann to come with him.

Although the pair were at Dortmund, their paths only crossed with a shared meeting once or twice each week. Come May, Farke told him, “It’s time”.

“’Time for what?’ I asked,” recalls Fluthmann (circled below). “He told me he was moving to England but he never said which club — just that the colours would be interesting because yellow was still in. I looked at the Championship clubs with yellow and asked him if it was Norwich. He sent me a smiley face.

“It was a big step, a first time at professional level, going abroad but with my family still in Germany. I didn’t think for a minute about it because it was a huge chance to work in England as a young coach. It was clear I had to go, especially with Daniel. He was a head coach I could move abroad with.

“It’s the way he leads a group. His relaxed atmosphere. He has clear ideas and is calm. That was impressive for me. Also his style of playing was important because if I was analysing games and I had a different way of thinking about football to him, it doesn’t work.”

Fluthmann was one of the trickier Dortmund staff members for Norwich to get — partly because Farke’s Dortmund II assistant Eddie Riemer and fitness coach Chris Domogalla had agreed to the move, but because of how high Dortmund regarded Fluthmann. After three weeks of negotiations, Norwich could announce Farke’s backroom team.

Fluthmann’s team of four included Lee Dunn — now Norwich’s head of performance and recruitment analysis.

“In the beginning, Daniel had to do more things and also explain to me what was important for him, especially in the match plan,” says Fluthmann. “Then after 20 games I could come into the office and say, ‘Daniel, look, this is the opponent, they play this style and we have to do this against them’. It was really interesting.

“After each game we had these benchmark principles to see if we played the last game the way we wanted. Things like playing good counter-pressing, the chances we created. We would analyse it, take some clips and add them into our database that showed our principles for how we play, as Norwich, that we could then show later as perfect examples.”

It was not an easy start. What sticks out to Fluthmann is a 4-2 defeat at Aston Villa and the following 4-0 defeat at Millwall in Norwich’s opening month, a game that Riemer admitted to The Athletic he locked himself in the away dressing room toilet after full-time “for some minutes just to get it all out of myself, the disappointment; it felt devastating”.

“We had a bad run at the beginning,” Fluthmann says. “But Daniel was really strong in his body language and the players realised he wasn’t just a good, calm guy but that he could also go the other way. The international break (that followed) was interesting because they expected us to make changes but we stuck with our playing philosophy. We worked harder on it. The senior players felt it wouldn’t work with us but in some situations Daniel would say, ‘Look, you have trust in this style or you are on the bench’.

“Daniel deserves credit for that, deciding everything just on his style of play; it was never personal. They were difficult moments but it was also so important that Stuart stuck with Daniel. It all helped.”

So was the rest of that first season. Norwich stumbled to 14th place, behind Ipswich Town and Leeds United on goal difference. That summer they sold their standout player, James Maddison, to Leicester for a club-record £24 million and still found the recruitment they needed to improve. Norwich won the Championship the following season; Fluthmann had left the previous November.

“Regrets? No. It was a personal situation,” says Fluthmann, who joined Braunschweig’s coaching set-up on his return to Germany. “It was absolutely fair on my family that I had to leave. We were on our way to promotion and that would have been good for my career and experience. But it was my first time to say that while the football business is important for me, my personal situation and family was more important. I would do it every time again in the same situation.

“Going from the top of the Championship to the bottom of the German third tier with Braunschweig, it was a big gap but a big experience and we did some historic things. We were nine points off safety, which is a huge gap after 16 games. In the end, we were the first club to stay in the league from that position.

“Watching Norwich since I left, I see the typical principles of Daniel and it’s nice to see, but especially with the dominance of last season. It looked absolutely normal for the players to do what they were doing: their positional play, moving the ball forward with low passes. It was very impressive.

“The Premier League will be different and they will need to adapt. Emiliano Buendia is hard to replace because he has huge data (impressive stats) but also the type of personality he is: so positively aggressive, so focused. He is an absolutely professional player and worked in the international breaks just on his body and individual condition.

“I’m absolutely thankful for my time at Norwich.”

It is one thing watching a head coach and preparing for the gig in future, and another to do the job.

Having helped Braunschweig survive in the German third tier as assistant manager, Fluthmann was promoted to the club’s head coach role that summer following Andre Schubert’s move to Holstein Kiel. Braunschweig were top of the table after six wins from Fluthmann’s opening seven games. A subsequent run of one win in eight saw Fluthmann fired.

“I learned so much,” Fluthmann tells The Athletic. “The decision-making was totally different. As an assistant or youth coach was absolutely easier! I never imagined as a head coach you would think about such small details and take so long to make maybe one decision. I’ve had to learn to trust your feeling. I would ask my staff; you have to know their opinion. But you take the decision.

“Managing up with a board of directors is interesting. Some are clear on your philosophy and calm, but some are emotional and see only the result.

“My style is to play out of the back four, have ball possession, aggression, playing vertical passes with good positional play. But I knew from working as assistant that you couldn’t play that with that Braunschweig squad, I had to adapt.

“We stayed compact, tried to win the ball and then play in those high-transition moments with counter-pressing, and it worked. But then the opponents adapted to that. They analysed our style and we didn’t create as many chances. They gave us the ball and we had no options or ideas anymore, so we started the process to my style: good positional play, good structure, overloading the centre.

“But that takes time and you rarely get time in football at the professional level. We didn’t lose two games in a row but we weren’t getting the same positive results. I had to stick to my philosophy. If you’re not authentic in what you’re saying to the players, they feel that. If you’re a coach with such high standing and experience, so many titles, then maybe you can do what you want. But as a young coach, it is hard.

“That’s why Norwich are a role model in having a clear philosophy, playing with trust, giving people time to stick to their ideas. That first season we had a bad run and everyone was talking about how the ball possession was shit and it didn’t work like in Germany. But Daniel and Stuart said no. This is our vision. We were convinced the second season or one after, we would be promoted.”

Last October, Fluthmann could have managed in the Championship and coming up against Farke.

“It was also unrealistic, to be fair,” smiles Fluthmann, who received a surprise call from Barnsley chief executive Dane Murphy. “He noticed I’d been at Norwich and they were looking for a young, foreign coach. We had a chat on Zoom for two hours. He talked about his philosophy for Barnsley, their view on transfers, working with data. Then he asked me about my philosophy, my typical way of working as a coach and a leader. It wasn’t like an interview; more a totally relaxed chat. It was a good atmosphere.”

Fluthmann was informed after a couple of days he was in the final two, before later being told Barnsley would be going with the other candidate: Valerien Ismael.

“I’m proud I got to that point,” adds Fluthmann. “Barnsley are a good example that if you have a clear idea of playing and squad planning, you can have a good chance to get higher.”

It remains to be seen how Brexit will impact such moves for foreign coaches in future, but Fluthmann is a rare German coach for one reason: he completed his Pro Licence in England.

“It was a topic here. The German course is known to be good but it is also 10 years old and they want to see what they could bring in from England. The German federation asked me what advantages there were for me to do it in England and what they were doing.”

Fluthmann finished his course in June 2020 alongside Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, Kolo Toure, former Mexico head coach Juan Carlos Osorio and Chelsea first-team coach Anthony Barry.

“You go work and learn together; it was outstanding,” says Fluthmann. “Frank was one of the best players in the past but completely open-minded. He would say he had to learn as a manager, day by day. He never felt he could do that job immediately and in a perfect way. He was really interested in Norwich because of coming up against us while he was at Derby, and also in the German course.”

Fluthmann has laid a lot of foundations. He remains in contact with those he joined at Norwich and others who left. Another job in England is an aim after his “brilliant” experience with Norwich, while he also appreciates the chance he has to build something at Essen — a club situated within easy reach of Dortmund, Koln and Gelsenkirchen (as well as the club where Farke will always be considered a legend: SV Lippstadt 08).

“The football business is special and you don’t know what will happen in the coming days but I’m happy to be working and I’ve learned so much from the past,” says Fluthmann. “I’m calm and convinced things will come and I’m fine with whatever comes next.”
Swansea City – producing as many players for Euro 2020 as Barcelona
at 23:04 28 Jun 2021

Swansea City – producing as many players for Euro 2020 as Barcelona

Laurie Whitwell and Jacob Whitehead

When it comes to ranking the academies supplying the most players at this European Championship, would it surprise you to learn Swansea City account for as many as Barcelona?

La Masia is on par with Landore — the facility based in the shadow of the Liberty Stadium — by laying claim to the development of seven players competing at Euro 2020.

In research conducted by The Athletic, Swansea rank joint-10th for academy products, with Ajax, unsurprisingly, accounting for the highest total on 16. The Dutch club finds fingerprints on the Netherlands squad as well as those of Belgium, Denmark and Hungary.

The table below shows the top-ten rankings for academy representation at this summer’s Euros, with Manchester City second on 11, and Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Benfica also well represented. Manchester United narrowly miss out having produced six players. (Mason Greenwood’s withdrawal from Gareth Southgate’s squad proves pivotal here.) Swansea are the highest second-tier team on the list.

Swansea’s position is exclusively down to qualification by Wales, in a similar way to other clubs on the list. Dinamo Zagreb are the lifeblood of Croatia, Dynamo Kyiv supply Ukraine, Lech Poznan feed Poland, and Rabotnicki, the least well-known of all, provide for North Macedonia. Still, for Swansea, a Championship club based in a city of 240,000, to be rubbing shoulders with some of the game’s biggest teams suggests they are doing something right.

Connor Roberts embodies that spirit as well as anybody. The 25-year-old from nearby Neath joined Swansea’s academy when he was nine and has risen through the ranks to play more than 150 times for his hometown club, winning 29 Wales caps. He scored his second international goal by adding the gloss to victory over Turkey last week, and in the dressing room afterwards allowed himself a moment to reflect on his journey.

“After the game, having messages from literally everyone I know, who has supported me, it almost brought a tear to my eye,” he says. “I’d worked so hard for a moment like that, and it actually happened.”

Roberts has little trouble reeling off the six other Swansea graduates readying to face Denmark in the last 16. Joe Rodon, Daniel James, Ben Davies and Joe Allen are all mainstays of the starting XI, while Ben Cabango and Rhys Norrington-Davies, who subsequently progressed through Sheffield United’s system, are gaining valuable experience.

Having initially joined Swansea in 2004, Roberts has been at the club at the same time as all of them, even though Cabango is the only current team-mate. Allen left for Liverpool in 2012, Davies departed for Tottenham Hotspur in 2014, James signed for Manchester United in 2019 and Rodon joined Spurs last summer.

“I was there with pretty much all of them, I’ve seen them grow alongside me, get their debuts, play really well, get the plaudits,” says Roberts. “Then it’s nice to line up with Wales knowing there are players who have been on a similar journey to you, know what it’s like to play for Swansea and more importantly for Wales.”

Cardiff City account for four players — Aaron Ramsey, Chris Gunter, Tom Lockyer and Rubin Colwill — with Wrexham supplying one in Danny Ward.

“We have a couple of superstars but the squad is littered with players who have been at clubs similar to Swansea and worked really hard to get in this position,” Roberts adds. “When we do line up, we have players who want to give everything, so it’s all for the better.”

Roberts and James are close, and there is also a long friendship with Davies, who is 28.

“Ben Davies is from the little village by me, so we played rugby together when we were very little,” Roberts explains. “I played for Crynant, he was Seven Sisters. I also played with him at Swans football at youth team once.

“Seeing him break into the Swans team then the Wales team and doing really well, it motivated me to try and do that. To see him in the first team, all my mates and the people around where I’m from were giving him the plaudits, as he deserved, it’s weird to find myself in a similar position now. Hopefully, I can continue to make them prouder.”

The set-up at Swansea has come on hugely since Roberts first signed up. Using revenue from seven seasons in the Premier League, Swansea invested £8.5 million, adding a lecture theatre with full match-analysis facilities and a new indoor barn including a 4G astroturf pitch.

“I initially joined Swansea City development at the time because they didn’t have an academy, then I eventually signed for the centre of excellence,” he says. “We always joke with Ben Davies about how when we were younger we used to train in a community park. It wasn’t the set-up it is nowadays. We used to get on the minibus every weekend, go to places like Torquay and Swindon and Yeovil, so it’s changed a lot.”

Quite. Now Roberts travels in a luxury coach, and the destinations are Baku, Rome and Amsterdam.

The statistics perhaps provide a cautionary note to Swansea, who last summer downgraded their academy from Category One to Category Two. The shift reportedly saves £4 million per year, but if it leads to a diminished production line that would be a shame.

In purely business terms, their success in developing talent has provided dividends. Allen was sold for £13 million, Rodon for £15 million, James for £18 million while Davies, alongside Michel Vorm, was swapped with Spurs for Gylfi Sigurdsson, who later transferred to Everton in a deal worth £45 million.

All that being said, money is a distant concern to the Swansea boys representing their country this summer. “I want to make my own memories and show people what I’m about,” says Roberts.
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