Report card: Swans grounded as Laudrup leaves an uncertain future
After the silverware of the previous season, it wasn't supposed to pan out this way. There was always a suspicion that Michael Laudrup would have left Swansea by the time we reached the summer months: the Dane guided the club to the League Cup and a ninth-placed finish in the previous campaign but he's never stayed long at any club and has enjoyed or endured a tetchy relationship with chairman Huw Jenkins. Yet few predicted his removal – delivered by email in February following just three wins in 13 games and with the club sweating over relegation.
Laudrup's crimes supposedly involved not placing much stock in training sessions, refusing to ever practice set pieces, possibly being obsessed with his hair, and going on holiday to Paris for two days following a defeat to West Ham. Jenkins decided he had to go.
His replacement, club stalwart Garry Monk, steadied the ship, kept the club playing a similar brand of quick, slick, attacking football and accumulated enough points to guarantee a fourth season in the Premier League. But handing him the job full-time seems a decision riddled with risk. He has neither the badges nor the experience – nor, some suspect, a tactical Plan B. And is the man they call 'Monks' just too close to his former team-mates to be the manager?
He has a squad far too good to be battling relegation, for now at least. Many of those players relocated to South Wales largely because of Michael Laudrup's contacts and reputation. Retaining them – particularly the likes of Michu, Wilfried Bony and club captain Ashley Williams – will test Monk's powers of persuasion this summer. Attracting players of a similar calibre without Laudrup's rep will be entirely impossible for Monk and for Swansea.
Of course, we should all admire Huw Jenkins' decision to put his faith in a young British manager rather than throw his chequebook at a fancy foreign coach with his own translator. But it seems wise to hold off on the applause until we see how the next few months pan out.
Would they have taken this in August?
No. An impressive squad managed by a man who the previous season guided them to their first major trophy in their 102-year history and a ninth-place Premier League finish... Expectations were cautious but higher than a season of grind.
Would they have taken this in January?
Yes, probably. Given that Laudrup was replaced by an unqualified and untested rookie who had the twin demands of the Premier League and Europa League to juggle, survival before the final day is as good as many could have hoped for.
The FA Cup win at Old Trafford was historic but it seemed more impressive than we now know it to have been. The 3-0 derby defeat of Cardiff in February, just days after Laudrup's departure, was a fiercely welcome assertation of local supremacy. But the slick and impressive 3-0 defeat of Valencia in the Mestalla last September surprised an entire continent.
Cardiff 1-0 Swansea. (Though many fans who view the larger picture would suggest the exit of Laudrup and his grand ambitions to be a far more significant loss.)
Hero of the season
Wilfried Bony arrived with a record of 31 goals in 30 games for Vitesse Arnhem, but he also arrived with a price tag (£12.5 million) his chairman apparently found hard to stomach. Twenty-six goals and a series of impressively muscular performances later, Bony has more than justified the fee. His agent may well get one or two calls this summer.
Villain of the season
It's hard to see past Chico Flores, the centre-half questioned by police on January 17 following a training ground 'incident' that involved Garry Monk, a house brick and some blood-curdling screams. No action was taken and the club moved quickly to play down the incident, with Flores forgiven and featuring regularly as the season progressed. Some might suggest Huw Jenkins is more the bad guy, for dismissing the club's most successful manager by email.
The season in microcosm
Liverpool 4-3 Swansea, February 23. Sandwiched between a two-legged Europa League encounter with Napoli, which the Swans were unfortunate to lose, they impressed but were ultimately undone in a breathless encounter at Anfield. City were fearless throughout, with Bony's physical threat and eye for goal (plus the clever promptings of Jonjo Shelvey) pushing the title chasers impressively close and illustrating their true strengths.
C-. Failed to build on the previous season's exploits but remained in the Premier League comfortably despite the upheaval. Room for improvement.