Swansea on cusp of something special amid Frank de Boer reports
Paul McNamara examines reports linking Ajax manager Frank de Boer with the Swansea City job
Frank de Boer is making no secret of the fact that he would quite fancy the Swansea City manager’s job. And why wouldn’t he?
A four-time Dutch title winner as Ajax boss, De Boer, it appears, would have few qualms about swapping the multiple European champions for a team that survived in the Football League by the skin of its teeth in 2003.
This is where we are, now, with English football and its almighty Premier League.
Money is a huge factor, of course. The £5.1bn set to pour into the clubs’ coffers across the next three years has become the reference point in any argument about which of Europe’s major leagues holds sway over its peers.
Indeed, that £5.1bn is a figure is now as familiar in our footballing lexicon as the number 11 representing the length of Jamie Vardy’s goal-scoring run – or even 1966, and all that entails.
But it is more than cash that is luring some of the continent’s stellar names in our direction.
This Premier League season is opening up boundless possibilities, hitherto considered inconceivable.
Leicester City are leading the way in upsetting the established order, with Crystal Palace and Watford not far behind in demonstrating how things might be changing.
While this trio of free-spirited teams, all of whose football is laced with vitality, wit and a real joy, thrive, England’s top-flight is heavy on sides punching feebly below their weight.
Chelsea plainly scoop the honours in that respect. But with the timing of Jose Mourinho’s end-game coinciding with Manchester United plumbing unforeseen depths, the spotlight has swiftly turned to Louis van Gaal’s curious Old Trafford tenure.
Across Manchester, Manuel Pellegrini’s team are three points from the league’s summit. Nevertheless, this is a strangely subdued Manchester City, their standards falling way below what should be expected from an expensively assembled, highly-gifted group of players.
Everton, armed with their strongest squad for 20 years, are seeing a golden opportunity to compete at the top end of the Premier League obliterated by Roberto Martinez’s kamikaze style.
All of which brings us back to Swansea. The side which finished the last campaign in 8th spot is currently languishing down in 17th.
But while some Aston Villa followers are injecting a dose of dark-humour into the Midlanders’ dire predicament, suggesting their side’s horror season is all part of a plan to ape Leicester’s remarkable 12-month ascent through the division, Swansea can prise some genuine solace from the rise of Claudio Ranieri’s men.
All of the players integral to the Garry Monk-led side that performed so strongly last time around remain at the Liberty Stadium – albeit Wilfried Bony was lost to City half-way through that campaign.
Others have come in, most notably Andre Ayew, who started the season like a train but, in common with many of his team-mates, lost his way as Monk’s reign unravelled.
When the Swans rocked Manchester United with a scintillating second-half display at the end of August, going on to win 2-1 and consequently stretch their unbeaten start to four games, everything appeared rosy in the Welsh club’s garden.
Certainly, nobody watching on as Ayew and Bafetimbi Gomis scored against United could have envisaged that Monk would win only one more match as boss, before being sacked on December 9.
It is precisely that unpredictability, though, that makes the Premier League such an enticing prospect for managers currently plying their trade elsewhere.
De Boer, in charge of a predominantly winning team that plays in a glitzy 53,500 capacity stadium in a city where he is adored, will nevertheless sense an opportunity to bolster his stock appreciably in South Wales.
The Dutchman would be downsizing in some respects. Swansea play their home games in front of fewer than 21,000 people. The League Cup won in 2013 was the first major addition to the club’s trophy room.
The highlight of their subsequent Europa League venture was the twin-victories over unheralded Swiss outfit St. Gallen. Napoli bundled Michael Laudrup’s team out at the first knock-out stage of the unloved competition.
Increasingly in modern day football, however, and in the Premier League especially, history is bunk. If it weren’t, any player worth his salt coming to England would only agree to sign for Manchester United or Liverpool.
Today, though, Yohan Cabaye lines up for Crystal Palace, while West Ham United are eagerly awaiting the return to fitness of Dimitri Payet. Stoke City field one of the most exciting attacking units in the country.
This is the league that De Boer is eyeing up. He will see a playing staff at the Liberty with a good deal of talent already on its roster.
Imperious centre-half Ashley Williams, the sublime Gylfi Sigurdsson, Ki-Sung-yueng, the underrated Korean ball-player, Jonjo Shelvey, who promises so much but continues to be a frustrating enigma, sporadic match-winner Jefferson Montero, and Ayew, are all in place. That is a solid base with which to work.
What’s more, since Alan Curtis took temporary charge following Monk’s departure, there has been an indication that this group is rediscovering its mojo.
After being unfortunate to lose at Manchester City in Curtis’ first game at the helm, there has been a slight return to the flowing, expressive football for which this team is renowned.
Swansea are unbeaten in the three matches since Kelechi Iheanacho’s freak goal did for them at the Etihad. They haven’t conceded in that period, to boot.
Of paramount importance for Swansea now is to get their managerial appointment right, to recruit the man best equipped to continue the recovery and then run with it.
Be it imminently or, as has been mooted, following the conclusion of this season, with Curtis holding the fort until then, Huw Jenkins has to identify an individual with the capacity to replicate Ranieri’s feats – or those of Quique Sanchez Flores and Alan Pardew, at Watford and Palace, respectively.
The Swansea chairman can take his pick from a far vaster pool than ever before. Jenkins has form for getting this right. He has had his hand on the Swans’ tiller since 2002, overseeing the club’s remarkable climb from the day 12 years ago when James Thomas’s hat-trick led the team to victory over Hull City – and their last-ditch escapology act.
Kenny Jackett, Martinez, Brendan Rodgers, Laudrup and Monk have all famously contributed to a remarkable story of sustained success in the intervening period.
Jenkins initially looked set to hire Marcelo Bielsa to replace Monk. The combustible Argentine, with his frantic brand of football, would be a popular addition to the Premier League – but probably, after a compelling introduction, not so much with fans of whichever team he took over.
For all Bielsa’s pedigree and imaginative ways, Swansea can do better. Theirs will be one of the most coveted vacancies in the European game.
If De Boer is not shy of letting it be known that he might like a tilt at managing the Swans, then you can bet there will be plenty of similarly qualified candidates ready to chuck their hats in the ring.
Yes, Swansea are enduring their poorest season since Rodgers masterminded the team’s 2011 Championship play-off triumph, completing the club’s seven year journey from League Two to the top-flight.
But, with the Premier League awash with cash, and the traditional limitations on its lesser lights cast to the wind, the Welsh team could be stood at the cusp of something special.
Jenkins’ next move has the potential to be a game-changer – and the chairman is duty-bound to ensure that he doesn’t sell Swansea short.