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Laudrup exit leaves Swansea in tough spot

Max Hicks
February 5, 2014
ESPN FC discuss Swansea's decision to sack Laudrup


Michael Laudrup sacked. It is hard to know where to begin. Those are three words I never anticipated reading, let alone writing, at least in the same sentence. Some might argue it was inevitable given Swansea's recent results, but nothing about the move fits.

The timing is horrible - four days before the South Wales derby. The sacking itself is anomalous with the way Swansea City do business. It's been many a long year since a manager was ousted mid-season. The repercussions are almost unthinkable.

There still hasn't been an adequate reason provided, and there likely never will be. That said, John Cross alluded to the players' unhappiness with aspects of Laudrup's approach, suggesting how "several player delegations went to Jenkins to complain about Laudrup's lack of training and discipline".

Jenkins' solution - to overhaul the coaches working under Laudrup - became a deal-breaker for the Dane. This is a man who left his last post following a similar power struggle when his assistant Erik Larsen was sacked for speaking out against the board at Mallorca.

Whether all this is true doesn't change the situation. Following Swansea's 2-0 defeat to West Ham - Laudrup's last game in charge - the manager took two days off in Paris, allowing his entire squad two days break at the same time. The move apparently didn't send the right message, and Laudrup paid the price. Maybe the players should have instead - Laudrup was actually right.

Now, Swansea might well pay a price of their own. For starters, the club will no longer be getting the £10 million release fee stipulated in Laudrup's contract. I think everyone knew the Dane would be moving on after this season regardless, preferably to take an offer from a bigger club with all parties benefiting in the process. Instead, Swansea have to endure a self-inflicted mortal blow at a crisis point in their season, and without a pay-off.

Laudrup led Swansea to their maiden major cup win last season © PA Photos
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Defender Garry Monk - the player rumoured to have been recently threatened with a brick by Chico Flores, although the club denied the reports - has been appointed as "head coach" for the time being, assisted by Swansea stalwart Alan Curtis. So in other words, the players are now literally in charge.

The same approach didn't hurt Chelsea in 2011 when Roberto Di Matteo, appointed purely to act as the conduit for John Terry and Frank Lampard, went on to win the Champions League. Crucially, no Chelsea players had brandished bricks at Terry or Lampard prior to that change.

The question now is which players are behind the change, and which aren't? Laudrup transformed this side by bringing in half a squad's worth of primarily Spanish talent - do those players now want to play? The question is whether they signed up for Laudrup, or for Swansea City.

If the players do want to leave, Michu should at least still fetch £15 million - which should help the club find replacements - but deprived of Laudrup's allure and contacts book, will Swansea still find diamonds like Michu? Or be able to convince them to come? The Swansea scouting department has been very good for a long time, but there's no denying how much Laudrup improved this squad via his own agency.

Transfer disputes seem to have also played their part. Huw Jenkins was critical of the Wilfried Bony deal, unhappy that his usually spend-thrift club had blown £12 million on a single player. However were it not for the Ivorian's recent form, Swansea would likely be a lot worse off. The striker has been worth every penny.

It also seems highly unlikely Laudrup really wanted David Ngog or Marvin Emnes either, with all due respect to those players. Emnes doesn't seem like a Laudrup signing, not least because the Swansea board have admired the player since he enjoyed a one-month loan spell at the club four years ago, well before Laudrup's appointment.

Perhaps blame Johan Cruyff, Laudrup's mentor, who once said that in football, 90 percent of the time the team with the best players wins. It's simple logic, and it's true. If Laudrup wanted to strengthen the squad in January, he should have been allowed to. Making forward progress is an unsettling business - it forces small clubs like Swansea to spend sums of money on individual players which would have bought the entire club 12 million times over ten years ago, but that's is necessary at the top level.

Laudrup understood that this side need to reach higher and further and show some ambition, even if it means taking some risks. The board's apparent reluctance to match that ambition represents a far bigger risk - in the top flight, the plankton get eaten up. Swansea were poised to become a top ten Premier League side under Laudrup. With an ageing Championship-level defender as player-manager, maybe less so. It's like something from a computer game.

Perhaps we'll never know what went on behind the scenes but despite Swansea's recent bad run, Laudrup's achievement with the club was worthy of a better conclusion. The Dane brought Swansea their first ever major trophy and their highest finish in the Premier League. In short, Michael Laudrup was the best thing that has happened to Swansea City in years. Maybe he is a difficult character, but the board's reluctance or inability to work through those difficulties has left the club's Premier League future on a knife edge.

Laudrup won't even get to see just how far he could have taken the squad he assembled in the Europa League, a competition he won the right to compete in. The Swans better hope their track record of managerial appointments holds up. Marcelo Bielsa would be a good start. That's seems highly unlikely but a week ago, so was Garry Monk becoming player-manager, so you never know.

Laudrup was sacked after the club's 12th Premier League defeat of the season © Getty Images
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