x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Premier League: The only downside for Swansea City winning a trophy

After securing the Capital One Cup Final in his first six months with Swansea City, manager Michael Laudrup has skyrocketed to the top of every club's manager wish list, writes Richard Jolly.

After securing the Capital One Cup Final in his first six months with Swansea City, manager Michael Laudrup has skyrocketed to the top of every club's manager wish list. Eddie Keogh / Reuters
After securing the Capital One Cup Final in his first six months with Swansea City, manager Michael Laudrup has skyrocketed to the top of every club's manager wish list. Eddie Keogh / Reuters

It was the culmination of a decade like no other. Not just in Swansea City's history, but, surely in anyone's. Go back 10 years to the day and they were fourth from bottom of the Football League, the club's very existence at stake.

In the dark days of February 2002, it was more likely that Michael Jackson, bizarrely named an honorary director of their relegation rivals Exeter City, would come to Wales than Michael Laudrup.

Return to the present day and Swansea have climbed 82 places in the league ladder in the intervening period. They have also won the first major trophy of their 100-year history.

Sunday's Capital One Cup final was as one-sided as feared. Bradford City, the League Two giant-killers, found lightning did not strike four times in their bid to claim a quartet of scalps from the top flight.

Yet their lowly opposition should not deflect from Swansea's achievement. The silverware was secured in London.

Not at Wembley, but at Stamford Bridge, where Laudrup's tactical nous was apparent in their 2-0 semi-final first-leg win over Chelsea.

Factor in the fourth-round victory over Liverpool and it is apparent Swansea's path to glory was no simple stroll.

Yet while the Swans are in uncharted territory, they may soon find themselves in a familiar predicament.

During their swift, stylish rise, they have become accustomed to being victims of their own success. Three managers – Roberto Martinez, Paulo Sousa and most recently Brendan Rodgers – have been lured from the Liberty Stadium. A fourth has an appeal.

Some 72 per cent of Real Madrid fans polled named Laudrup their preferred successor to Jose Mourinho. When Rafa Benitez's troubled reign at Chelsea ends, he is an obvious candidate to take over.

Because, while the question is often posed if managers of smaller clubs can step up, Laudrup ticks all the boxes.

Unlike the admirable David Moyes, for instance, he has lifted silverware and not just, for those who are sniffy about the Danish league, in his homeland.

By taking Getafe to the quarter-finals of the Uefa Cup, he also has a track record in Europe.

And, of course, he has a pedigree as a player that brings immediate respect. If managers such as Rodgers and Andre Villas-Boas begin with an immediate disadvantage with footballers who only appreciate their own, Laudrup could play top trumps whenever the subject of medals is raised.

Five Primera Liga titles, plus one in Serie A and the European Cup gives him an enviable record.

He is the greatest Dane, named his country's finest ever footballer, and, some Swansea players have suggested, still the best in training, even as he nears his 49th birthday.

Yet that technical ability has been accompanied by a public modesty and dignity that has endeared him.

Style off the field is mirrored on it. Laudrup inherited a passing team and made them more progressive. If perpetual possession was partly a defensive ethos under Rodgers, now Swansea are more attacking.

They even fielded a central midfielder, Ki Sung-yeung, in the centre of defence at Wembley, to help them retain and use the ball better.

The wingers are urged to get in the penalty area more often and one of them, Nathan Dyer, scored twice at Wembley. So did Jonathan de Guzman, who has chipped in with eight goals from the centre of midfield.

The jewel in the crown, of course, is Michu, the signing of the season and a scorer 19 times.

If Laudrup can unearth him for a mere £2 million (Dh11.1m), wealthier clubs may wonder, what might he do if he could spend £10m or £20m on one deal?

His knowledge of the Spanish market is especially appealing in England, where British-based players command inflated prices, and the multicultural background of a multilingual manager equips Laudrup to both find and manage foreign footballers.

The final point on any unofficial job application ought to appeal to the challengers: Laudrup has won major matches.

His side have left Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea victorious this season. In his sole season in charge of Getafe, his team beat both Real Madrid and Barcelona.

On the other side of the equation, few were touting him for the top jobs 12 months ago. Indeed, he seemed a left-field choice by Swansea.

Many felt he was likelier to win the sack race than honours while the reality that each of the last six managers the Swans have chosen has elevated his reputation in Wales illustrates that much of the credit belongs with the club.

Yet Laudrup's achievements outstrip even those of his predecessors. It is understandable that his players, led by Michu, have been urging him to stay and typical of the Dane that has played down speculation about his future. Whatever ambition he has is concealed behind a smile.

But Spain, where his playing career reached its peak and where he still owns a home, must exert a pull.

Until recently, John Toshack was undoubtedly Swansea's greatest coach and the only man to manage both them and Real Madrid.

He already has to share one distinction with Laudrup. And in the next few months, perhaps they will be twinned again.

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