August 1, 2013 at 6:25 am

Thoughts on ‘Swansea City: The Rise and Fall’


Last night I watched the BBC documentary Swansea City: The Rise and Fall. As I watched, the documentary brought to mind several points either relevant to LFC fans or football fans in general which I thought I’d list in brief here:


1) Although Swansea previously enjoyed a period of success, it was largely due to the ability of their then manager John Toshack. The club failed to invest in a solid infrastructure, so when Toshack could no longer performs miracles and eventually left, the club went into free-fall. In a sense Liverpool have been through something similar, with decades of failure to modernise and maximise commercial opportunities. If it had not been for the brilliance of Rafa Benitez and the club’s massive support, poor management (both at board and manager level) could have seen the club fall even further.


2) Swansea’s decline was eventually halted by collective direct action. If fans are to win any fight waged against ‘modern football’ owners, it will necessitate similar modes of struggle. ‘Political talk’ is often unwelcome in fan communities, but at the same time complaints of high ticket-prices and other inherently political issues are commonplace. To win back football, fans will need to become activists – not just via social media, but through online and offline organisation and protest. SoS are a good example of this and largely due to the struggle for justice over Hillsborough, LFC are already more advanced in this than other clubs.


3) Swansea City turned their football club around not by adopting a ‘pragmatic’ style of football (which is  another way of saying ‘traditional, unsophisticated football’) but by adopting a purist approach. There is a school of reactionary criticism (I won’t call it thought) that remains suspicious of Brendan Rodgers’ ‘idealistic’ philosophy. This can be seen from calls for a Plan B involving Andy Carroll, through dismissive comments about Tiki-Taka (it’s often said that Tiki-Taka is just a re-branding of a passing game) to the favouritism of the very English in style (hard-worker, strong runner, determined) Jordan Henderson over the more continental Joe Allen. ‘Pragmatic’ often just means whatever fits with the hegemonic cultural norm or preference, rather than what is most effective.


4) Players who helped turn Swansea around were ones who were motivated and wanted to play for them. An ageing Roberto Martinez was attracted by the importance of the challenge of keeping Swansea in the  football league, James Thomas took an 80% pay cut to leave Blackburn and join the Swans because it was his hometown club, and Leon Britton, who had at first joined on loan from West Ham, returned as a permanent signing after the dramatic experience of helping to keep the club up, and also felt indebted to Swansea for giving him a chance. At Liverpool, Rafa Benitez was obsessed with bringing in players who wanted to play specifically for Liverpool, and Rodgers seems to place equal important on having players who are hungry to play for Liverpool above those who may have become complacent or are in it for the money.


5) When Swansea were promoted to League 1, they didn’t have the same resources as other clubs to acquire players of a higher level of physicality. With Roberto Martinez taking over as manager, they instead focussed on a possession, passing game with the aim of outscoring opponents, rather than an emphasis on defensive solidity. Despite Martinez getting the club promoted in his first season in charge, there were still fans who wanted him to revert to 4-4-2. We saw the same at Liverpool when Benitez introduced a hugely successful zonal marking system, and continue to see it under Brendan Rodgers, with some fans resistant to his progressive, continental methods.


6) When Martinez left for Wigan, his philosophy stayed. The once fans now running the club had bought into the philosophy Martinez sold them so much, they decided that any manager they would bring in in future would also have to be a zealot for passing, possession football. This meant any manager coming in would find a squad already well-suited to his way of playing, ensuring continuity and cohesion. This is also the way things are done at Barcelona. Liverpool fans will know that this is exactly what FSG had in mind when appointing Swansea’s Brendan Rodgers, who has since overseen a continuation of the changes to Liverpool’s youth system, with teams at all ages playing the exact same style of football and a stronger link between youth and seniors teams put in place.


7) The keys to Swansea’s success were a combination of specific sporting values and strategic approach. Emphasis was placed on acquiring players motivated to fight for the cause and capable of playing a ‘pure’ style of football, while off the pitch, making the club sustainable by adopting a holistic philosophy  – thus reducing the importance of individuals (managers) – was vital.


8) Since reaching their lowest ebb when the club was on the verge of being relegated from the football league, Swansea City has been owned and run by the fans (as are Barcelona, Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao, as well as almost all German clubs who must be 51% owned by fans). However, when they first took charge they had no idea what to do, and had to learn as they went along. They also took over the running of the club when it was small, and built it up slowly over time. For fans to take over and run a club the size of Liverpool would be quite a different prospect, especially as the club is not currently profitable. However, if the cub were to become profitable under a more sustainable commercial structure, fan ownership could help to ensure that the right decisions are taken to ensure the long-term health of the club.

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