Well, yet another new season and yet another manager. This is becoming an annual event though I think almost everyone will agree that we’re far happier with Paulo Sousa leaving the club than we were about the defection of the Roberto Martinez twelve months earlier.
Yes, we finished in an admirable 7th position in the Championship but, to use one of my mate Jenko’s better lines, it was in spite of the manager, not because of him. We had a poor start last season but that was basically due to a horrendous injury list. When the key players returned so did our impressive form but although we weren’t conceding many goals we weren’t scoring enough at the other end either and this became Sousa’s legacy. I’m not saying “I told you so” to anyone but I genuinely felt back last August that Sousa wasn’t the answer. If we sift through the ashes of his eventful year in charge then the evidence really stacks up against the flash Portuguese. Obviously, the best aspect of his brief reign was our proud defensive record but at what cost? Of course, any team stripped of two players of Jason Scotland’s and Jordi Gomez’ calibre would struggle to score goals immediately but Sousa never resolved the problem.
From the moment Sousa infamously stepped out on the Liberty turf in his Armani suit and pearly smile we should have seen right through the sleazy fake. The ladies (including my current missus) immediately fell for him him, we all took to him and suddenly his predecessor was forgotten. However, Sousa is a stubborn man who sees himself as absolutely blameless and as the season wore on the cracks become wider and wider. His first mistake was failing to appoint a British Number 2 and instead wheeling in his mate Bruno. Reports filtering from Llandarcy were saying training was a joke and that there was no discipline. There were even reports that Bruno turned up on his first day with just a pair of old trainers and no boots. Unbelievable but apparently true. Sousa’s early interviews suggested his grasp of English was a dozen lessons below Rafa Benitez’ and, as has recently been proved by England’s woeful World Cup showing, a manager who fails to communicate tends to lose the dressing room.
Then there was the tinkering and bizarre team selection. Chopping and changing can work if you’re Chelsea or Manchester United with a large multi-million pound squad but not at our level and with limited resources. I personally believe in that age-old adage that you don’t change a winning team. Not Paulo. A player’s reward for being voted MoM – you’re dropped, son. Unbelievable. Cardiff away, a passionate local derby which demands the inclusion of certain players so you’d expect the likes of Cotts and Joey Allen to start, with Trunds to play a major part. Not according to Paulo – it has to be the in-form Gorka Pintado up front on his own, of course. Then there was the last game of the season when we just needed a win to secure a play off place. What does Sousa do? Sticks to 7-2-1 and hopes we nick a goal at the death. Baffling.
However, it was the style of play for which Sousa’s will be most remembered. Keep-ball, sit deep and hope to nick one on the break. Many Swans regulars became disillusioned and fair-weather fans who turned up for the odd game were instantly turned to stone, vowing never to return. It really was that bad. I genuinely feel for the Leicester City fans who are already nodding off and are covered in cobwebs as they witness their team bore their way towards the Championship trapdoor.
We were crying out for goals all of last season and what does Sousa do? He sends Stephen Dobbie, our only natural goalscorer, to a Championship rival for the remainder of the season under terms where he can’t be recalled. Simply astounding.
I did stop short of starting a fiercely vociferous Sousa Out campaign last season but, for me, the writing was on the wall and we were never going to go anywhere with the Portuguese clown. We couldn’t afford to sack him so the best thing that could have possibly happened to us in the summer was if he was poached by another club with an obviously clueless chairman. Huw Jenkins must have thought it was Christmas Day, his birthday and Beaujolais Day all rolled into one when Take Me To The Vetch Field sang out from his Blackberry during the summer and Milan Mandaric was suddenly on the phone. Fantastic.
Then came the job of replacing the failed Portuguese.
Contrary to some reports, colourful Landore FC owner and popular Clydach tycoon Tony “the Nak” Nakonecznyj wasn’t approached though there were dozens of fanciful names being thrown about at the time. The likes of John Hartson and John Toshack were obvious non-starters and although Gus Poyet or Gary Speed were realistic targets their respective clubs were never going to let them go. Then Paul Tisdale (as always) and some Scottish feller were mentioned before Brendan Rodgers eventually stepped forward as the front runner.
At the time of writing we have now won our two home league matches and lost both away games. I have only seen the 1-0 win against Burnley but saw more than enough to convince me that Rodgers’ appointment has been shrewd at least and a masterstroke at best. He may not have been the board’s first, second or third choice but he has proved to be the best man for the job. Also, what a refreshing change to actually understand a Swans manager. Seriously, was it me or were Sousa’s interviews completely baffling? He made Eric Cantona’s infamous seagulls & trawler speech seem perfectly understandable. Rodgers is articulate, intelligent and polished, an all-round decent bloke. He has been an absolute breath of fresh air at the club and we are suddenly moving in the right direction.
“Buck” has already proved he has some great contacts in the game and the capture of Scott Sinclair has been a real coup as the lad seems a snip at £500K (or even at £1M). All eyes will inevitably be on Cardiff’s very own Craig Bellamy on November 7th but I have a feeling that Scotty could have a big say on the outcome of the next big derby game. The only piece of Rodgers’ jigsaw that is glaringly missing at the moment is a 20 goal targetman and although I’d prefer someone like Roque Santa Cruz I’d be happy with big Frankie Noublé, despite the fact that he’s never scored a league goal. The lad is a real handful and I reckon would plunder no end of goals at this level with the supply he would be receiving from Scotty, Nathan Dyer, David Cotterill, etc.
I understand that a deal to bring Arsenal starlet Henri Lansbury to the Liberty is also very much alive though I’m a little confused at this one. When Premier League managers allow to deals like this there is usually an agreement for the player to start most games at the club he is loaned to. Now, unless Darren Pratley is leaving within the emergency loan window I can’t see where young Henri will fit into the team, unless Rodgers plans to rotate (as his predecessor did), which I can’t see. Interesting one. Regarding Kemy Agustien, my contacts who went on the Dutch tour inform me he’s absolute quality and if this is true then I agree that he should be snapped up as soon as possible.
So, after suffering the boring football, negative tactics, constant rotation, list of excuses and cryptic press conferences of last season we can all look forward to flowing football, refreshing optimism, a settled side, loads of goals and intelligent post-match reason sweeping through our club.
Indeed, a most welcome breath of fresh air.