Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Swansea City: 3 Candidates to Replace Garry Monk

The axe fell with some inevitability on Garry Monk on Wednesday afternoon. With Swansea City chairman Huw Jenkins telling the press just 24 hours earlier that "something has to change", it had become a question of when and not if Monk would depart.

Contrary to the common media narrative of a club "hitting the panic button" after a sharp downturn in form, a gradual deterioration of the team's style of play and lack of an overriding vision had seen concerns build amongst fans, the board, and- most worryingly- a seemingly bemused and frustrated first team squad.

Even last season, when praise was being lavished upon the former Swansea captain, the expansive and attractive football for which the team were famed and lauded since the arrival of Roberto Martinez had all but vanished, despite having the most accomplished- and highly paid- squad in the club's history. Only a tight defensive unit and the endeavours of outstanding individuals elevated the team to an improbable eighth position.

With the disintegration of that previously near impregnable defence, Monk's position became untenable, and the club will now seek out a man who can restore the footballing values which became integral to Swansea as a global brand. They will also require someone who possesses sufficient pedigree that- in the short term- Premier League status next season will be assured.

Here are three potential candidates that might fulfil the board's criteria:

Marcelo Bielsa:
A manager once described by Pep Guardiola as "the best in the world", Bielsa's reputation as a coach is beyond reproach. In an era where managers are praised as "students of the game", the Argentine is the nearest the sport has to a professor.

Bielsa allies intensity and peerless tactical knowledge with a disciplinarian's fastidiousness and rigour. Should the squad and staff of Swansea need shaking up, Bielsa isn't a man who would think twice about doing so.

His teams are known for their high tempo and fearless attacking philosophy, which would surely delight the fans starved of such excitement over the last 18 months. He is also unattached and could join the club immediately, the only question being whether Huw Jenkins and co. could accommodate the needs of one of the most demanding managers in the game.

Lucien Favre:
The enigmatic Swiss would be an choice out of left-field, but he certainly possesses many of the qualities that would lend himself to the best of the club's recent traditions.

Like Bielsa, he is a fastidious individual with an exhaustive knowledge of the game and a complete vision of how each position on the pitch should be played according to the system selected. His appointment would almost certainly herald a return to the high-tempo passing football that characterised Swansea's ascent, and his renowned ability to develop young players and thrive on a modest budget would be attractive to the board.

The one potential drawback is that the enigmatic qualities that make him an attractive proposition could also see him become a target of the predatory English media should the team stutter. He has also been known to depart abruptly after sudden slumps, as he did at previous club Mönchengladbach, leaving their chairman despairing at losing a man whom he regarded as the club's best ever manager.

Phillip Cocu:
Less celebrated than his former Dutch team mate and managerial sparring partner Frank De Boer, Cocu goes about his business in very much the same way as he did as a player: unassuming, intelligent, and squeezing every last drop out of the talent and resources made available to him

An impeccable CV as a player saw him win over 100 caps for the Netherlands, five league titles- including one with Barcelona in La Liga- and his managerial apprenticeship took him to a World Cup final as assistant manager. Cocu is a man with exceptional experience at the very top level.

He was typically patient and calculated in preparing for his chance in the hot-seat at Eindhoven, where he has been universally praised for the consistent quality of his team's football, and his role in developing young talents like Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay.

Although still under contract, the compensation would be affordable for the Swans, and having had much of his young team sold from under him last summer, he may think this is the right time- and Swansea the right club- to chance his arm in a major European league. His considered manner and relative youth mean he could be attractive as a stabilising and long-term solution for the Swansea City board.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Castaignos to try his Luc with Swans?

Dutch striker Luc Castaignos has once again been linked with Swansea City, and the 22 year old seems keen to rebuild his career slowly but surely, after a false start with Inter Milan.

Luc Castaignos knows a thing or two about the burden of expectation in football. The all time record goal scorer for the Netherlands Under 17 team made his Eredividsie debut at just 16. Within 18 months, and having scored 15 first choice goals for Feyenoord, the tall elegant striker had drawn comparisons with Thierry Henry and was swiftly purchased by Milanese giants Internazionale.
It was all too much far too soon, and his only season at the San Siro was a miserable one, chracterised by indiscipline and injury, and culminating in a single goal from just eight first team appearences. However, despite his insistence he would only depart Inter for a 'big club', rumoured transfers to Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur- among others- never came to fruition, and he found himself back in his homeland with FC Twente.
In that time Castaignos slowly rebuilt his career and reputation, and despite a handful of niggling injuries and being part of a club in the midst of a financial crisis, has averaged a goal every other game in the previous two seasons. Both the player and his club now seem resigned to parting company, and Swansea City- who are reported to have been scouting the player for some time- are keen to proceed with a transfer for what could potentially be a bargain price.

The Netherlands have been a happy hunting ground for the scouts of Welsh club, and chairman Huw Jenkins is keen to make Castaignos yet another in a series of successful investments, including goalkeeper Michel Worm and previous star striker, Wilfried Bony. The Dutchman could provide much needed competition to Bafetimbi Gomis whose perfomances since Bony's departure- despite good recent goalscoring form- have been adequate rather than outstanding.

Wary of repeating the international misadventures of his teens, the player has publically conceded he is not ready for the Champion's League's elite sides: “At the end of this season I will have to choose, partly because it makes FC Twente healthier. I want to go abroad, preferably to a nice top performer in England or Germany, so I can get used to the league. I have enough self-knowledge to know that I’m not ready for the real top.”

Given their long-standing interest, and the way in which they helped develop the career of powerhouse forward Wilfried Bony, Swansea City would seem to be in pole position to entice Castaignos. A player who, despite his depth of experience, has yet to reach his twenty-third birthday. Certainly, if he could emulate a fraction of his Ivorian predecessor's success, could represent yet another bargain for which the South Wales club has become famous in its recent ascendency.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Bale Could bring Soul to The Red Devils

It happened again. Only now it's more an expectation than an exception. The world's most expensive footballer dragged over hot coals for his performance in a Real Madrid team who, on paper, should effortlessly sweep all before them.
Gareth Frank Bale has become emblematic of the side's barely accountable decline. Although individually, he wasn't that poor- certainly not compared with his lauded team mate, Cristiano Ronaldo- it was his contribution, effort, body language that was analysed to the point of near meaninglessness. And, as it is across the British media on a near daily basis, the question of whether the Welshman will soon return to the Premier League.
The possibility has been perenially dismissed, both by the player's agent, Jonathan Barnett, and various figures in and around the club, including the manager, Carlo Ancelotti. Never the less, it is the rumour that simply refuses to go away. The bulk of reports from the UK's more established outlets suggest a strong and ongoing interest from Manchester United- and to a lesser extent Chelsea- that has persisted sinced they attempted to gazump his transfer to the Spanish giants from Spurs.

Moreover, aside from any- quite reasonable- resentment that hyper-criticism of his contributions have become a self-fulfilling prophecy, due to a resultant dip in confidence, all non-official indicators suggest all is not well in Bale's personal life. Footage of the player being abused by fans as he leaves the Bernabau are becoming increasingly common, and suggestions that his young family have failed to settle abroad appear to have been confirmed when The Telegraph's Mark Ogden revealed on MUTV that they have already moved back to the UK. This, combined with the fact that Bale is widely known to have struggled learning Castilian, paints the player as an isolated figure in and out of the dressing room.
The belief that it is only a matter of time before the Welshman returns to the Premier League was echoed by the Sunday Express reporter, John Richardson, who has stated that he believes that a move to Manchester United is essentially 'a done deal' and that, contrary to statements by the player and his agent, he is 'very unhappy' at his treatement. This is significant as, while the online versions national tabloids will happily fill pages with baseless tittle-tattle regarding transfers, few established journalists will put their names to so strident statements unless they are confident in their sources.

Bale's return, then, seems all but inevitable. However, his options may be limited. Few clubs across the world could afford his transfer fee and wages. Bayern Munich are both wealthy and keen to rejuvinate their squad, however, given how the winger and his family have already struggled in foreign climes, it is unlikely that Germany would be any more appealing than Spain. Therefore, the Premier League presents itself as the only realistic possibility. Given that the player would likely demand Champion's League football, the only options would be the current top four: Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United.

Arsenal would seem the least likely destination given the transfer patterns and behaviour of both club and manager. Though massively wealthy and showing an inclination towards bigger spending in recent years, the £80m plus required to capture the Welshman seems improbably bold, and no link has been made thus far. This, coupled with the lack of silverwear they have seized across the last decade, probably rules them out of attracting the very elite of the game. Chelsea would surely be interested, provided his purchase would not threaten their compliance with FFP, and Manchester City are doubtless keen to rejuvinate an aging squad lacking in pace, urgency, and width.
However, although question marks must exist over whether- following the purchases of DiMaria and Depay- Manchester United would consider a winger a top priority, England's most successful club appear to be the inevitable destination. Di Maria has appeared unsettled following a positive start and United maybe prepared to cut their losses if it means attracting the Real Madrid man.

Although he would demand a huge outlay, and the club have other positions in need of strengthening, they would loathe to miss out on one the game's few global superstars, not least to either Chelsea or their City rivals. And to be beaten to the winger by either Mourinho or their City rivals would send a message of surrender neither the board nor Luis Van Gaal would tolerate.

But aside from the fact that the transfer to the Red Devils would be the path of least resistance, the team could give him the pride of place his talent deserves. No longer condemned to being the straight-man for the increasingly petulant and megalomaniacal Ronaldo, Bale would be afforded the freedom to attack opposition as he sees fit, while his manager could return to his cherished 4-3-3 formation of vintage. With a team attuned to his needs but with the quality of team mate he could scarcely dream of in his time at Spurs, the potential for what he might achieve in the prime of his career is frightening.
With an unprecedented television and kit deal, United are freed from the shackles placed upon them by the debts of the Glazer family, and are now able to aggressively pursue the world's best. And the very best player available this summer is Gareth Bale, whose purchase would be emblematic of the club's ambitions to once again compete with the Europe's elite. It is a transfer that the club and the Premier League as a whole not only wants, but needs.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Year Zero: Why Manchester City need a New Blue Revolution

It was one of the strangest sights seen on a Premier League football field; a player of Yaya Youre's ability, one who, at his best, can lay claim to being the best all-round midfielder on the planet, pumelled into mediocrity by Manchester United's ungainly Belgian, Marouanne Fellaini.

And, yet, it could not be denied, and it was a microcosm of the trajectory of the City's two great clubs. One, in Manchester United who, under Luis Van Gaal, appear a team reborn, the other, the nouveau riche under Manuel Pelligrini, in desperate decline.

Of course, this was somewhat attributable to the United players finally grasping the Dutchman's exacting tactics, but that does not account for a side who are champions, and who had a share at the top of the league table at Christmas, buckling so feebly. Indeed, for all the talk of contrasting 'philosophies', so much of City's woes seemed in part due to a squad, many of whose one time leading lights, now seem disinterested.

Former Liverpool centre-half, Jamie Carragher's, explanation for the seeming lack of vigour was a prosaic if not unreasonable. As he postulated on Sky Sports' excellent Monday Night Football alongside Gary Neville, that the squad assembled so expensively- especially its midfield- no longer retains the vigour of youth that can stand up to the energy of the Premier League's elite. It's certainly a tempting theory, and on its surface its hard to argue that the City players appeared weary and only became more so as the game goes on, but, under scrutiny, this appears simplistic.

It is certainly true that United possessed the youngest and most energetic central midfielder in Herrera at 25, and he dominated his opponents with elegant passing and high-intensity pressing. However, he was accompanied in the centre by Michael Carrick who, at 33 was the senior of every player on the pitch bar Martin Demichelis, and one who lacked mobility even in his physical prime. For all the plaudits surrounding his distrubution, it is common knowledge among Premier League managers that Carrick's languid playing style can be targeted, yet Toure, Milner and Fernandinho gave him one of the most unurried afternoons of his career.

No, the fact that the City team's average age is rising alarmingly is not reason enough alone to account for their decline. It is a factor, certainly, but it is one which shares its brunt with the seeming tactical and emotional torpor of the club's manager, as well as the elementary lack of quality in transfers in recent purchases. Since the arrival of Pellegrini, City have acquired the likes of Jesus Navas, DeMichelis, Fernando, Fernandinho and Mangala, all at great expense, and none of whom have given more than a tentative indication that they may be equipped to give the owners the Champions' League glory they demand.

But it must be remembered that, while the core of the team are getting older, they are far from their dotage. Toure is 31, but an outstanding all-round athlete, and one who was among the league's top scorers last season. Whereas, Vincent Kompany, in less than two years, has gone from being among the very best centre-backs on the planet to a near liability, and a man who plays as if the weight of the world were upon his shoulders at a mere 29. The man-management of these individuals- among others- must be brought into question. One of many questions that now look set to seal Pellegrini's fate.

Perhaps the figure who should be most concerned, however, is Txiki Begiristain, the club's director of football, charged with installing a dominant Barcelona-like model of free-flowing, attacking football. It is under his stewardship that not only have many of said flops been acquired, but also a manager installed who increasingly appears outwitted by the best of his colleagues. 

The side are now perilously close to losing out on Champions League football, and seem in need of a drastic overall of both players and staff. With the shapes of Klopp and Ancelotti on the horizon, Pellegrini's days seem numbered, but past mistakes may make the club's owners wary of allowing Begiristain to oversee the new blue revolution.