It was a euphoric and momentous day in the month of February this year that saw Swansea City fans take over England’s national stadium in their numbers, waving their flags and bellowing out ‘Hymns and Arias’ as their club stood on the precipice of winning their first ever major trophy after 101-years of existence.
Having got the better of recent torments that seemed to shower over any ray of hope in lower divisions, for those noble supporters that stood on the terraces at Wembley, watching the stalwart defensive duo of Garry Monk and Ashley Williams raise aloft the Capital One Cup with ticker tape flashing past their eyes, there couldn’t have been a more satisfying and joyful feeling to experience from the beautiful game we all love and cherish so much for those supporters.
Fast track four months on, the man that masterminded that success, Michael Laudrup, was rumoured to be considering his future with the Welsh outfit after preliminary discussions with chairman, Huw Jenkins, over the budget he had to operate with this season.
The Dane, still widely considered as one of the greatest midfielders of all time from his elegant playing days at the likes of Juventus and FC Barcelona, confirmed on Friday that he was made substantial offers from big clubs this summer but none were as interesting as the job he already had in the South Wales.
Paris Saint Germain, Monaco and Real Madrid were all mooted as potential destinations for the 49-year-old to embark on, but Laudrup isn’t your ordinary manager and venturing into the spotlight, this time from the proverbial touchline rather than on the pitch, doesn’t appeal to him right away. His humble and serene posture has won many adorers and it’s crazy to think that we’re talking about the same man who won seven league titles with four different clubs when catching the eye as a proficient attacking midfielder.
He’s taken Swansea to another level in a short space of time and with European football to look forward to this season, married with a third-straight Premier League campaign to digest, the Swans are in ecstasy and the new additions to the squad this summer will ensure more excitement can soon follow.
The sound of the UEFA Europa League theme music being played at the Liberty Stadium on a night match, should they get past the opening qualifying stages, is a wonderful deliberation but Laudrup knew that Swansea needed to invest this summer to cope with the strenuous fixture list that comes with the glamour of competing in Europe.
Swansea only have to look at fellow Premier League side, Newcastle United, who just about survived the drop zone last year as their paper-thin squad struggled to cope with the strain the Europa League puts on your domestic campaign.
The Magpies’ boardroom greatly underestimated the need to add more depth in order to be competitive on all fronts last summer, and that sparked a last minute trolley dash in the January transfer window as an influx of Ligue 1 players were brought in to help see the club over the line of safety.
Although some clubs such as Everton, who reached the last-32 of the Europa League in 2009/10 yet finished 8th in the Premier League, have proved it is possible to cope with the demands of Europe’s second most prestigious club competition, Laudrup will have pointed out how big of an impact the fixture congestion had on Newcastle’s season to the Swansea hierarchy, therefore a host of new players have all been recruited in the last few weeks to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen to them.
The Spanish assemblage has continued at the club with the signings of Jose Cañas, Jordi Amat and Alejandro Pozuelo from La Liga, whereas youngsters Gregor Zabret, Alex Gogic and Jernade Meade will ensure a bigger number for Laudrup to choose from as Swansea look to test themselves across four competitions.
But Swansea’s summer spending so far has not only signalled that they are preparing well to handle the laborious nature of the Premier League and Europe combined, but it has also given evidence to the contrary that they can actually give both competitions a good crack, as purchases such as, Wilfried Bony and Jonjo Shelvey are more about improvement rather than adding more faces for the sake of needing to do so.
Bony, 24, scored 31 goals in the Eredivisie for Vitesse Arnhem last season and his £12m acquisition is a fantastic coup for Swansea, not only because of the sheer amount of competition there was for the Ivorian’s signature, but it again highlights the big leaps forward the club have made over the last few seasons and it could prove to be a bargain if he can hit the ground running.
Swansea already have a dynamic and talented midfield that has been heavily praised from the watchful eye of the neutrals since they first arrived in the Premier League three years ago. Jonjo Shelvey, who has moved from Liverpool this summer for £5m, is a promising England U21 international who already has European experience, having scored four goals in last season’s Europa League for Brendan Rodgers’ side.
The quality and depth that has been brought in this summer will give Swansea the ammunition to potentially move onto another level and there is no reason why they can’t be serious dark horses in this season’s tournament, given the experience Laudrup already has with Getafe in the same format of the competition a few years ago.
In the 2007/8 UEFA Cup, the previous name of the Europa League, Laudrup was impressing in his first season in-charge of Getafe after replacing Bernd Schuster at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez and took the Spanish side within touching distance of the semi-finals, losing in extra-time to Bayern Munich.
The Spanish outfit pipped Tottenham and Anderlecht to first place in Group G, swept aside AEK Athens and Benfica in the knockout stages before drawing 4-4 on aggregate with Bayern – a side that boasted the likes of Oliver Kahn, Lucio, Frank Ribery and Miroslav Klose at the time – but two late goals in extra time from Luca Toni dumped Getafe and Laudrup out after putting up a valiant fight over two legs.
The defeat was bittersweet, as losing so tantalisingly close to glory is always sour, but for Getafe to reach that far and almost knock out Bayern was a triumph in itself. Laudrup inherited a side from Schuster that finished as runners-up in the Copa del Rey the year before, but this Swansea side is as entertaining and as solid as you can find these days, thus it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them knocking on the door in the latter stages under his guidance.
It was screaming out to Swansea all summer that investing money into the squad was crucial and they have managed to deliver so far. The team is strong but it now more importantly has a bit more depth and with the magical Laudrup remaining in the dugout for at least another year, 2013/14 could prove to be the club’s best season yet.