Another season is over, and even by Swansea City’s standards it was one of the most bizarre. A poor start followed by an inspired run, an awful and long mid season spell followed by a brilliant ending. Off the pitch we saw the usual boardroom unrest followed by rumours of new people coming on board which has now come to fruition to an extent, although more additions/departures seem likely. Let’s look at all the issues in more detail.
Players Out Of Contract
Ryan Manning looks likely to leave which is a real shame. The supporter’s player of the season has been a key performer and as things stand we have no back up unless Martin decides to bring Nathaneal Ogbeta back into the fold which seems unlikely. I’m still hoping that with changes being made behind the scenes we can come to an agreement over a new deal, but we need to be sensible about it, this club doesn’t have a bottomless pit of cash so we don’t want to go crazy either.
Joel Latibeaudiere is also out of contract and every time Martin talks about him I find myself more baffled and mystified than before. We’re talking about a back up centre half here, who has filled in at right back and right wing back on numerous occasions. Yet you’d swear our manager wants to build the team around him, it makes no sense. He’s clearly a good character who works hard, but is limited and I’m sick of him being asked to fill in in positions that don’t suit him. The board are partly to blame for not addressing the issue, but I can’t overlook the manager’s poor judgement here. I’d be fine with him staying as a back up, but if he’s first choice I’d rather he left as the manager isn’t going to change his mind on this.
Kyle Naughton is closing in on a decade in SA1 but I suspect this could be his swan song and it probably should be. He’s been a good servant, and until this season has been a key player since our relegation until this campaign. But since the World Cup he’s barely played, not getting any younger and is likely to be on a higher wage than his worth. I see no harm in considering him for a job behind the scenes if he has aspirations of coaching, but playing wise this should be the end.
The most realistic is likely to be Joel Piroe, who netted his twentieth goal of the season with more or less the last kick against West Brom with a quite brilliant free kick. In truth he hasn’t stood out as much as last term, but he’s come to life in the past few weeks and as we all know, goal scorers are the hardest players to replace. With only a year left on his current contract we need to try and tie him down to another one, even if it comes at the cost of a reasonable release clause. But failing that we need to sell, this club lost a lot of money in the last accounts, realistically you can only claw back the deficit by selling players and we can’t let an asset like him walk away for nothing.
Nathan Wood has attracted interest from Premier League clubs, and as he only inked a two year deal last summer we urgently need to tie him down or sell if there’s interest. In his case I believe he’s be better off remaining here, playing regular football will only help him long term, and he will still most likely get a move. He doesn’t want to make a move and waste his time on the bench at this stage. Hopefully he will take the same point of view and remain in south Wales for another year at least.
It seems unlikely that Morgan Whittaker will still be a Swansea player next season. Recalling him from his loan spell at Plymouth was one of those rare occasions where no party benefitted. The Home Park club lost a key player, although fortunately they still went up, Whittaker himself was playing well and improving, while Martin wanted him to remain in Devon, barely played him and his value has now dropped. We’ll go on to discuss this in more detail when it comes to the owners, but a move back to Plymouth now seems likely, but probably not for the money we’d have received before.
Areas To Strengthen
Goalkeeper is essential. Steven Benda won’t be fit for the start of next season, and while Andy Fisher’s form improved in April, it only went from abysmal to ok. While I sympathise with the fact our number one got injured and a reasonable replacement wasn’t signed, I don’t sympathise with the manager. He wasted £400,000 on Fisher when we had two established stoppers the year before and he’s nowhere near good enough. Far too many shots slip under him, he can’t catch a cross and his passing that he’s famed for isn’t that good either. We’re probably stuck with him but he can’t play if we want to be successful. You could argue he’s a key reason why we didn’t make the top six.
The key area for new additions this summer has to be full/wing backs. Replacing Ryan Manning will be key if he does move on but if Ogbeta is most likely moved on too then we need two players here. We’ve been linked to Joe Bryan and Jay Da Silva who would both make sense but aren’t players we could likely sell for a profit further down the line which is something we have to always bear in mind.
Right back we’re similarly light, Matty Sorinola’s loan spell will not be extended so we need two players here too (Latibeaudiere is a back up centre back just to reiterate) but there’s been no links here yet. One player we know well who’s out of contract is Ethan Laird, his loan spell with QPR wasn’t brilliant, but this is a player with pace which we’re crying out for and at his age we’d have a decent chance of making a tidy profit on him in years to come. This would be a no brainer in my view if his wages are reasonable.
At centre back we’ll need at least one addition depending on the futures of Latibeaudiere and Naughton, and if we go back to playing three centre halves. There’s been no speculation linking us to anyone in this position at this stage. With such a young back line it would help if we signed someone a bit more experienced but someone like that with the attributes we’re looking for is probably out of our price range.
In midfield we’re well stocked, it doesn’t feel like we need a lot in there, if we could secure a second loan for Luke Cundle that would be ideal though. He’s been a good addition for us and is unlikely to feature next term at Wolves, so it could a return for him would make sense for all concerned.
Moving onto the attacking positions and Martin has been courting Chiedozie Ogbene for over a year and with good reason. The only issue now is with him being out of contract will he get better offers from elsewhere? But that would be a good deal if we could bring him to the club. This one is probably less likely but Cardiff loanee Jaden Philogene impressed me in the latest south Wales derby and is likely to be farmed out on loan again, he’d give us something different with pace and trickery. His contract expires in 12 months so a permanent move wouldn’t be impossible, and if it wound that lot up it’d be a bonus!
Up front is likely to be the other key area that requires strengthening along with full backs, especially if Piroe departs as well then need two additions in that area. We may need to spend a few quid here with goal scorers being the hardest players to find. One player who it’s at least worth enquiring about though is Oli McBurnie. His contract is about to run out and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s not offered another one. His wages might be out of our price range, if that’s the case we move on. But if they’re realistic we should consider it, although I do wonder if some of his off field misdemeanours might put us off. I’d take the gamble, from the fans point of view he’d be a returning hero, and when I look at our current crop I’m not sure we have one. And he should be coming into his peak years, it wouldn’t be out of the question we could sell him on again, at this level he’d be a big threat for us.
I’m not sure we’ve ever had a manager that’s divided the fans or caused them to change their opinions as often as him. But then again, when you go on extreme runs of good and bad form then it’s hardly surprising. I have had my doubts about him, (still do on a couple of things) but our ending to the season has given me a lot of encouragement.
When we had seven wins in nine through September and October, I thought we were a little fortuitous in some of those games and came out on the right side of fine margins.
West Brom away being a good example, if the home side score their late penalty we probably lose, but after a great save from Steven Benda we end up nicking a late winner in an even game through Michael Obafemi.
Watford a few days later was similar, Ben Cabango scored an even later winner there, and if I’m honest I didn’t think we were that good at home to Cardiff, but we didn’t need to be after their early red card. Also in that run we were still spanked 4-0 at Burnley, which showed we weren’t as good as results suggested.
But this time it’s felt different. Apart from the victory over West Brom in a game similar to the one early in the campaign, every other result has reflected the match. We’ve had dominant wins over Bristol City, Wigan and Norwich. Deserved ones against Huddersfield, Preston and Cardiff (that would’ve been comfortable had Andy Fisher not given them a lifeline) and the draws against Coventry and Hull were fair.
Martin seems to have learnt lessons, he’s binned the wing backs that really didn’t work due to personnel not being up to it, in favour of a midfield diamond with two up front which has got the best out of what we’ve got. Olivier Ntcham has had his most consistent spell since joining, Jamie Paterson is back on form and Liam Cullen has been starting and scoring goals. None of these things were happening before the switch.
I feared for his future when we were on that awful run of three wins in twenty one and playing without any confidence, but I feel like we have now turned a corner. Without delay we need to offer Martin a one year extension. I wouldn’t commit to longer at this stage because of our previous bad spells, but we need to show we’re committed to this project. A lot of hard work has been done, and we’re now reaching the point we’re that might come to fruition, the last thing we need is to rip that up and start again.
I sigh and roll my eyes as I come into this subject. I’ll get the one positive out of the way before I stick the boot in. We won’t go bust under this regime, they may be clueless, delusional and out of their depth, but we won’t go to the wall and the money that’s been put in recently as new share issues has been vital.
But ultimately they’re holding us back, or should I say, Jason Levien is stopping us from having a chance to be successful. For some reason the moron seems to think he’s the best person to Jake footballing decisions at the club. You would’ve thought after he tried to loan Dan James to Leeds years ago that the penny may have dropped when we sold him for considerably more a few months later, that he wasn’t the best person to call the shots.
Sadly that isn’t the case. It’s well known that Michael Obafemi was a pain in the backside, to the point where he even attempted a Peter Odemwingie on deadline day so I’m told. After the issues with him the year before, we should really have been thinking to cash in while he was on form in case any issues resurfaced. We didn’t do that, and then inevitably they did resurface and we had to accept a crap deal because he’d done nothing in that half season and only Burnley wanted him. Yet another poor decision.
January in general was appalling even by our standards though. We recalled Morgan Whittaker to sell, only to not sell and barely play so his value has now dropped, to failing to sign anyone until the last day, to then trying to rush through a ludicrous deal for Karlan Grant that fell through.
Then we had that ludicrous interview where Levien tried to defend the decision making along with Jake Silverstein that only alienated us further. The worst thing about this was Silverstein appeared to be different Levien, he was a more regular visitor to Swansea and took more of an interest in the club. But aligning with him after that shambles has now tarnished him. He should’ve realised when at a fans forum the first two questions he was asked included derogatory insults at Levien and Steve Kaplan that if he sided with them he would lose any support from the fans.
The relationship between the Americans and the manager is believed to have been damaged considerably as a result of that transfer window and they’ve barely been on speaking terms since which doesn’t bode well.
But there have recently been changes behind the scenes with Andy Coleman coming on board as chairman and has purchased what the club described as a “significant shareholding”.
I was reasonably optimistic about this, as there’s been much speculation that Brett Cravatt and Nigel Morris are also thought to be coming on board which may lead to significant and much needed changes to how the club is run.
But Coleman’s bizarre statement on Sunday criticising speculation around the futures of Julian Winter and Josh Marsh, yet not clarifying anything was totally bizarre and gave off a terrible first impression.
Plus if both men move on which looks highly likely, that statement will look even more absurd.
Winter’s position looks particularly vulnerable, surely there isn’t room for a chief executive officer and a chairman and given that he’s been nicknamed “the ghost” behind the scenes that would suggest he’s not doing a lot anyway. His tenure has been disappointing, he’s lacked the authority and good decision making of Trevor Birch. The exit of Steve Cooper took far longer than it should have, and then pursuing of John Eustace before finally appointing Martin was a huge mess that didn’t leave a good impression, putting us on the back foot at the start of the 2021/22 season.
Marsh is harder to judge, the impression I get is that he’s worked hard but has probably been either ignored or overruled by Levien when it counts. But with speculation suggesting Paul Watson is coming on board from Luton as sporting director it would appear that his days are numbered after just a season at the Swans.
This will undoubtedly continue to play out over the coming weeks and months and without a doubt we badly need change, but unless Levien surrenders control then I can’t see much changing. For as long as he calls the shots a lot of others are wasting their time. He needs to realise that taking a step back and allowing more qualified people to do their jobs without interference is the best way for this club to be successful. Because our top ten finish this season has been in spite of his actions, not because of them. If he’d given Martin reasonable backing we probably finish in the top six.
Given our ending to the season, in normal circumstances I’d feel optimistic about our chances of a push for the top six next term. If we could keep our squad together and add three or four players in the correct positions we’d be in great shape. But most likely it’ll need to be seven or eight due to the expected departures. Plus can we really trust this ownership to understand what we need and deliver it? I think the answer has to be no based on what’s happened before. Another unpredictable summer looks likely, I just hope lessons have been learnt because we’re on the right track and it’d be incredibly frustrating to once again shoot ourselves in the foot.