February 2014, and Swansea City – a bastion of stability and responsible leadership in the volatile world of modern English football – had descended into turmoil.
Teetering periously above the relegation zone after six defeats in eight Premier League games, the club was in freefall under Michael Laudrup. Twelve months previously he had led the South Wales side to their first-ever major trophy. Come 2014 and the Dane’s commitment to the cause was under question.
Drastic action was needed, and Huw Jenkins – chairman of Swansea since 2002 – decided in favour of sacking Laudrup, replacing him with long-serving defender and club captain of seven years, Garry Monk. At first, the appointment did not generate a great deal of enthusiasm, even amongst some Swansea fans.
Laudrup may have been overseeing a particularly rough spell in the club’s fortunes, but at least he had ample managerial experience stretching over a number of years. Monk, on the other hand, was an complete novice. Still registered as a player when named manager, he was stepping into his first coaching role at the highest level of the English game.
Many doubted whether he had the expertise to improve the situation at Swansea, and even after a South Wales derby victory in his first game in charge and an eventual 12th place finish in the league, Jenkins’ decision to award Monk the job on a permanent basis at the end of the season was met with some scepticism.
An effective, morale-boosting stopgap to quell the dissonance which had emerged during Laudrup’s final months he may have been – but was it wise to elect him as the man to lead the Swans in the long term? Was it not only a matter of time before Monk’s lack of experience in the Premier League told?
Such uncertainty has been emphatically quashed this campaign, as Jenkins’ bold call has proven to be a masterstroke.
Under Monk’s guidance, the Swans have made a phenomenal start to the season. Going into November’s international break, they lie in 5th place in the Premier League – above both Arsenal and Manchester United – with 18 points from 11 games.
Indeed, mentioning these two supposed heavyweights of English football is apt, as Swansea’s campaign so far has been bookended by superb victories over the Red Devils and the Gunners. As if the 2-1 victory at Old Trafford on the opening day wasn’t impressive enough, the way in which they came from behind to win by the same scoreline against Arsenal last Sunday showed just how far the South Wales club have progressed under Monk.
It’s games like these that make a mockery of the idea that the rookie manager would not have the requisite tactical intellect to triumph over the likes of Louis van Gaal and Arsene Wenger. It makes those who questioned Monk question themselves.
Gylfi Sigurdsson was a scorer in both of these matches, and while the Icelandic midfielder’s form for the Swans has been spectacular, it must be remembered that it was Monk who brought him back to the club with whom he had enjoyed a successful loan spell in 2012. Although Sigurdsson has been the Swans’ standout player, the other signings endorsed by Monk in the summer – particularly Lukasz Fabianski and Jefferson Montero – have also excelled.
The 35 year-old manager’s astute transfer dealings on the whole have played a large part in his side’s hugely promising start. Chico Flores – the Spanish defender who was widely believed to be the most disruptive influence in the dressing room last season – was quickly offloaded, as were the other Laudrup signings of Alejandro Pozuelo and José Canas. Monk deserves much praise for his resolve to imprint his own mark on the club, and on the basis of the current campaign, the players he has brought in to replace those he sold have looked an upgrade.
Ultimately, the brilliance of Jenkins’s decision was his realisation that what Swansea needed most was stability, not experience. Monk has been at Swansea for more than ten years, seeing the rise from League Two to the Premier League . He has a greater understanding of the workings of the club, its ethos and its footballing philosophy than any other potential managerial candidate could ever have possessed.
His steadying influence is precisely what the club needed after a trying season under Laudrup. After last season’s troubles, Swansea have a man at the helm whose stable leadership, tactical nous and wisdom in the transfer market could take them beyond their League Cup success of 2013.
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