The final whistle at the Liberty Stadium against Manchester City brought to an end what has been a turbulent season for Swansea which had a happy ending thanks to Francesco Guidolin. He has taken to Premier League management like a duck to water, with his impact at the club resulting in a magical relationship forming between him and the fans who appreciate what he has done to ensure Swansea can look forward to their sixth successive season in the top flight.Bringing the curtain down on the campaign with a 1-1 draw against a top team who finished fourth in the table symbolises the progress that has been made under Guidolin, and while the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson can look forward to representing his country at Euro 2016 this summer, Swansea can begin preparing for the season ahead with the increase in television revenue coming up on the horizon.
Coral may believe we have an outside chance of challenging for a Europa League spot once Guidolin gets his feet firmly under the table on the back of his new two-year contract and enjoy his first full season at the Liberty Stadium, but it may be time to reflect and breathe a sigh of relief that our Premier League status has been retained.
It all started so well for Swansea, with Jack legend Garry Monk carrying on his fine reputation as a promising manager with a 2-2 draw at reigning champions Chelsea. The game may have turned out to be the beginning of Jose Mourinho’s demise at Stamford Bridge, but more importantly it showcased what a superb signing Andre Ayew would turn out to be.
It is amazing to think that Ayew cost us nothing from Marseille, given how quickly he become one of our best players; scoring three goals in his opening four Premier League games may have had something to do with it as well. The latter of those three goals came in an impressive 2-1 home victory against Manchester United which put the Swans right near the Premier League summit. Surely it was beyond our wildest dreams that the team could surpass all football betting odds and stay the distance?
Unfortunately for the Jack Army and Monk, the bubble soon burst. A 1-0 defeat at newly-promoted Watford in mid-September signalled the beginning of an alarming slump of form that not only saw Swansea fall out of the Capital One Cup at the third round stage at Hull, but also pick up just two victories from their next seventeen league fixtures. The decline in form resulted in Monk losing his job in early December and long-serving coach Alan Curtis taking temporary charge for the second time as caretaker manager.
However, any hopes that Curtis had at keeping the job were thrown into doubt following Swansea’s shock 3-2 FA Cup exit at the hands of League Two side Oxford United. There is no taking away the influence that Curtis has, and always will have, behind the scenes at the club, with his calming influence and ability to handle players invaluable qualities that we should never overlook.
It needed a strong pair of hands to come in and steady the ship, although the decision to appoint Guidolin in mid-January came as a surprise to many pundits and fans. The 60-year-old was considered a shock appointment given his lack of Premier League experience, especially at a time when Swansea were just two points outside the relegation zone and could not buy a win for love nor money. It may have resulted in punters racing onto sports.coral.co.uk/football and back the Swans to sink without a trace, but there was an immediate calmness about Guidolin when he arrived at the Liberty which suggested that Huw Jenkins had done his homework and brought in a man who could turn the club around.
How right he was. Back-to-back victories against Watford and Everton immediately lifted the pressure and tension around the Liberty as Swansea went on a four-game unbeaten run that provide invaluable respite. Losing against in-form Southampton and Tottenham may have been a case of two steps forwards, one back for the team, but March 2nd could be valued as the turning point that changed the entire season.
Travelling to the Emirates to face an Arsenal side challenging for the league title was a daunting proposition, especially after Joel Campbell put them ahead after just fifteen minutes. Instead of throwing in the towel, Swansea rolled up their sleeves and responded superbly, with goals from Wayne Routledge and skipper Ashley Williams securing a huge 2-1 victory that provided a significant confidence boost across the players, fans and city.
Swansea made full advantage of the springboard earned at Arsenal by winning five of their remaining ten Premier League fixtures – a run which included victories against Chelsea (1-0), Liverpool (3-1) and a resounding hammering of West Ham (4-1). Guidolin was instrumental in reigniting the spark into the team and rediscovering their old swagger, with the quality of football being a joy to watch. It speak volumes when you consider that Guidolin lost just five of the sixteen games he has been in charge of, and from a perilous position in the table he guided the club towards safety in impressive fashion.
We can only hope that Guidolin’s impressive early record as Swansea manager carries over into next season, especially now that speculation over his future has thankfully ended through the new contract he thoroughly deserves. He has instantly won over the fans and players, especially Ashley Williams who had to go on Google to find out who Guidolin was, but while the team have bought into his philosophy and style of play, it remains to be seen what the summer holds in the transfer market.
The rumour mill will inevitably throw up a whole host of names, but Guidolin appears to be a shrewd man who will use the money provided by Jenkins wisely. There is no reason why, with the current squad we have, that we cannot aim for a top ten finish, and if we manage to pull off one or two more signings like Ayew, then the Jack Army may harbour hopes of a European adventure.