Swansea: Poor recruitment paves the way for failure

With Swansea City hanging onto their place in the Premier League by their fingernails, the origins of this struggle can be seen in their recruitment.

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Swansea City were once the hipster’s club in the Premier League: playing bold, exciting passing football espoused by Pablo Martinez and retained by Brendan Rodgers. 

It was continental play that got the club promoted to the top tier and saw them finish consistently in mid-table. 

Most mid-table sides find it tough to find their own identity but here Swansea had carved their niche. Unfortunately, that’s something they lost as progress came to fast at them. 

Having their centre-backs play long ball to their strikers in the 1-0 loss to Southampton was a perfect contradiction of the style that got them here. 

It’s no wonder why they’re going down.

Decline and fall

Reuters/PETER CZIBORRA

Swansea’s decline really came after the sacking of the under-performing Garry Monk in December 2015. 

But underlying the chaos is their abject dealing in the transfer market since 2015, especially since the loss of Wilfried Bony to Manchester City. 

That was a failed move for Bony, but equally for Swansea, who never replaced his goals effectively. 

Eder arrived from Braga for €6.7 million, scored no goals, and then found himself loaned to Lille in the winter, making his move there permanent in 2016. 

He was replaced in the winter by Alberto Paloschi for 9.5 million euros, another underwhelming striker from Chievo Verona; after two goals in ten games, he too was shipped out in six months to Atalanta. 

Swansea incurred a €5.7 million loss on both strikers: both were given just six months each. It was an example of haphazard planning.

Silver lining

2015 had one good purchase: Andre Ayew from Marseille on a free, who top-scored with 12 goals. 

But for Ayew, there were several duds. Franck Tabanou arrived from Saint-Etienne, reportedly fell out with the management, and played no league games before being shipped out on loan twice. He left on a free last summer. 

Leroy Fer joining on a loan in the winter (joining permanently in 2016 for 5.6 million euros from QPR) was a solid replacement for Jonjo Shelvey, who at least fetched Swansea 16 million euros. 

But 2015 was the first indictment that Swansea were struggling recruitment-wise.

Reuters/DAVID KLEIN

That point was hammered home in 2016. Ayew was sold for €24.1 million to West Ham, a deal that delivered financially but not to great effect on the pitch. 

Ashley Williams also made a move to Everton for 14 million euros, a deal that in hindsight was made at the right time. 

In that regard, Alfie Mawson proved to be one of the best purchases in recent years, stepping into his shoes seamlessly; a €5.9 million arrival from Barnsley that was worth the money. 

Fernando Llorente also arrived for the same fee, and at least replaced Ayew’s goals, scoring 15 goals that truly kept Swansea in the league.

Off-field dilemmas

Off-field issues were hardly helpful. 

Francesco Guidolin was sacked in October after a poor run of results, to be replaced by the out-of-his-league Bob Bradley. 

It did not help that Borja Baston, at €18 million, was given only seven starts in the season, scoring just one goal. Baston, with a significant goal record in Spain, clearly did not fit. 

Along with Mike van der Hoorn, Swansea’s business wasn’t enough. Paul Clement did well to keep Swansea in the league, with some inspired winter purchases: Martin Olsson replaced Neil Taylor, who was swapped for Jordan Ayew. 

Tom Carroll and Luciano Narsingh were the other two purchases and, combined, they galvanised the squad. Swansea managed to stay up but they were stretching their luck.

The last straw

Last summer was the last straw of the three-year cycle of poor recruitment. 

In his three years, Gylfi Sigurdsson was by far Swansea’s best player, so to sell him to Everton (even for nearly €50 million) was a death knell. 

Reuters/JASON CAIRNDUFF

Add Fernando Llorente’s decision to move to Spurs to be a back-up striker, and a large source of goals vanished. 

Jack Cork was sold to Burnley and has hardly missed a minute in their chase for Europe. Instead, Swansea brought in an old cult figure in Bony: good for terrace chants, but injured too often to prove goals. 

The idea behind Roque Mesa was sound, but he came at the wrong time. Like Amat and Baston in the summer, Mesa was sent off to Spain in the winter. It took six months.

Sam Clucas was a good, if over-priced buy but Andre Ayew in the winter hasn’t been. 

And Renato Sanches? Nothing sums up Swansea’s recruitment more than trying to rebuild a lost prodigy when they needed a rebuilding of their own. Wrong place, wrong time, and all the hype surrounding his arrival quickly dissipated. 

Andy King was a puzzling loan, while Tammy Abraham has toiled and tried his best but the situation is beyond his years.

Too much turn-over

There has been too much of a turn-over, both managerial and players, for a club that required stability. 

If they find themselves relegated, they would only have themselves to blame. A huge rebuild will be needed in the summer, especially if they go down but even if they don’t. 

Mawson will find himself a new club but he may be the only one that deserves a move. 

One wonders if the Ayew brothers, Bony, Fernandez, Fer, Fabianski, Ki, and Narsingh would all hang around in the Championship. 

And that’s before contemplating whether or not Swansea would go the way of Sunderland, as tough as that is.

The transfer approach has been muddled- perhaps a case of ‘too many cooks spoiling the broth’. Deviation from the model that brought them success has been their doom. 

The American owners can be blamed as can all the managers prior to Carvalhal. But it’s truly a collective failure. 

By not effectively replacing players who provide the bulk of creativity and goals, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. The squad looks a mess, and it will take time for Swansea to rediscover their mojo. 

It is a shame to see them struggle after their halcyon days, but relegation would be deserved, as harsh as it sounds. The blame for that would lie squarely at the management. 

Swansea are truly a case-study on how to build an identity and yet stray away from it to the point you’re unrecognizable. 

It’s a sad, cautionary tale on how to deal in the transfer market. A long re-build awaits.

Will Swansea bounce back next season if they are relegated? Let us know in the comments section below.

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