Why Chelsea and Arsenal could do a lot worse…
Having guided Swansea to Sunday’s Capital One Cup final where they are the overwhelming favourites against League Two outfit and huge underdogs Bradford City, manager Michael Laudrup has firmly put himself in the shop window this season for a bigger job next term and the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea could do an awful lot worse.
The 48-year-old took over the reins from Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers in the summer aiming to prove a point to his doubters while simultaneously guarding against second-season syndrome for the side. It was a brave and bold move by chairman Huw Jenkins to move for the former Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus legend considering he had failed in his last two jobs at both Spartak Moscow and Mallorca.
Laudrup’s reputation as not only a player but as a manager dictated that his teams played in a certain style with a particular attacking swagger, but from his time in Russia in particular, he was heavily criticised for leaving the back four hugely exposed at times and he needed the Swansea job to resurrect his managerial career as much as they needed him to carry on from where Rodgers left off.
One of the greatest tasks facing him almost immediately was keeping hold of the club’s key players, which always happens to every promoted side that does reasonably well in their debut season, with larger clubs looking to asset strip the bones and core of the team like preying vultures. Eventually, after a transfer saga of sorts which saw Rodgers go back on his gentleman’s agreement not to pursue any of his former players in his first year at Anfield, he was faced with replacing the promising Joe Allen, a key component of their midfield, after he left for £15m.
This is perhaps his greatest achievement at the club so far and the sort which will have caught the eye of bigger clubs monitoring his contractual situation at Swansea, because with that lump sum, he essentially brought in a completely new midfield, signing Michu, Pablo Hernandez, Jonathan De Guzman and Ki Seung-Yueng, while bolstering the back four with the canny move for Chico Flores.
With Villarreal midfielder De Guzman set to sign at the end of the season after a hugely successful loan spell, the aforementioned purchases completely transformed how the side played; they’re still a team that can boss possession, but they are much more direct and dynamic going forward and they’ve really cut down on the amount of sterile domination they at times bored teams to death with. They’re an altogether more lively, tactically fluid outfit now and they look well on course to beat last season’s 11th placed league finish and tally of 47 points considering they already sit in eighth with 37 points with 11 games remaining.
With the Dane’s contract running through until the end of the 2013-14 season, Laudrup’s agent has already revealed that discussions are underway about an extension with Jenkins and the rest of the board and just last week the man himself sounded fairly confident of staying at the club, telling reporters: “My intention is to stay. I have a contract for next year as well and I think it’s a very interesting team we’re building up here.
“We will try to build on in the summer as well. Now we have to stay in the present and the present is the league and to get as many points as possible and to win the Cup final. Then let’s see what happens next season with some new players coming in [and] the possibility of playing in Europe. It will be a very exciting season but first of all we have to finish this one.”
Nevertheless, his ability to deal in the transfer market and find bargains, his preferred style of play and the success he has had with it this term will not have gone unnoticed and there’s a strong feeling that he could be set for a summer departure to a much bigger club, with Chelsea’s managerial future up in the air still and Arsenal fans growing increasingly impatient with Arsene Wenger.
Over at Stamford Bridge, the odds on the club’s next permanent manager were dealt a big blow when Pep Guardiola chose to move to Bayern Munich and it seems a split race between the likes of David Moyes, Manuel Pellegrini, Gianfranco Zola and even Diego Simeone. Of course, if Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho wants the post, it is his to turn down but a lot can change between now and the end of the campaign even if the Portuguese’s role in Spain is increasingly starting to look more and more untenable. However, Laudrup may just provide the sort of style and substance combination that owner Roman Abramovich so craves.
At the Emirates, Wenger is walking on an increasingly short leash after another campaign of misery and failed potential. Promises have been made countless times to the fans but the doubters far outweigh the supporters now and only his strong relationship with the board is preventing a change in manager, which will become an even bigger topic of conversation should Arsenal miss out on qualifying for the Champions League this season. There’s a strong feeling that the club have gone stale under Wenger’s leadership and a change could provide the perfect boost for them to rebuild, and Laudrup fits in with their footballing ethos well so as to make it a smoother transition than most would fear upon the Frenchman’s exit, but removing him would be out of character for a hugely cautious board.
Of course, there is also the thought that Manchester City could be in the market for a new manager come the end of the season, putting into real context the sheer volume of uncertainty right at the top of the league with concerns to managers. Laudrup’s close relationship with sporting director Txiki Begiristain could play a part and he would be a fool to turn them down, but then again, many thought the same thing would be the clincher for Guardiola to move to the Etihad, but there’s no doubting that the Italian boss is under serious pressure and could be gone in the summer, the only flaw in this theory is that they will probably chase a bigger name.
It looks more and more likely that Laudrup will be facing a tough decision or two in the summer and Swansea will quite rightly be nervous at the vultures swooping in yet again for their man in the dugout. The club has proven a good breeding ground for top flight managers in recent times and while in public he may want to commit to the club, should the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester City actually come calling with a firm offer, it will be an entirely different story.
He remains an outside bet for those three jobs, though, simply because a lot needs to happen at each club for them to become available and he’s not the biggest name around in management terms, rather an attractive flavour of the month with the potential to go further, but one thing is for sure, if they took a chance on him, it would be hugely enjoyable to watch.