That title’s a bold statement, isn’t it? Michael Laudrup’s sacking has already been ham-fistedly squeezed into that conservative, I-desperately-want-to-appear-reasonable-and-not-reactionary narrative based on the increasingly prevalent and influential myth that football managers always deserve more time.
Swansea to win – 1.70
Draw – 3.50
Cardiff to win – 4.75
(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)
The argument is that after winning the League Cup last year, the Dane deserved more than a few months to turn around Swansea’s poor run of form, and that he would eventually have guided them out of trouble. It’s a perfect line for anyone who wants to be outraged about any Premier League managerial sacking – those people who lurch from “he has to go NOW” when boards aren’t making a decision to “he shouldn’t have gone” when they do. This often seems to have more to do with personality, perceived intelligence and the attractiveness of the football than actual empirical evidence.
Laudrup is a perfect example of this. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, is a charismatic and intelligent man, has Won Things (compare this with some of the criticism of David Moyes at Manchester United), and has been successful at continuing Swansea’s style of possession football which is generally considered to be “attractive” and positive.
But much like Andre Villas-Boas at Tottenham, this is largely based on fantasy. Swansea have been awful this year. They don’t play attractive football – they pass it around continuously, mindlessly and tediously with very little spark. More to the point, they are only two points above the relegation zone and have lost the same number of games as West Ham, whose manager Sam Allardyce has recently faced a barrage of criticism from the media. Laudrup’s overall record is little better than that of Paul Lambert’s at Aston Villa. Moreover, he has close ties with his agent Bayram Tutumlu, and problems in the summer between Tutumlu and the club nearly led to Laudrup’s departure.
Any other manager in this situation, particularly if he was of the ilk of Allardyce – stereotypically English in personality and style of football – would be facing media pressure and criticism. A form of snobbery seems to have developed among football opinionistas: the exotic is greater than the down-to-earth, or “Manager X must be good because he’s foreign and tries to play football The Right Way, but Manager Y can’t be good because he’s English, plays 4-4-2 and shouts a lot”.
I don’t mean this as anti-intellectualism, nor do I believe that English managers are better. The point is it shouldn’t come down to nationality: a good manager is a good manager, regardless of his place of birth, playing career or accent. Foreign managers can be crap too. The English national team might not be very good but that doesn’t mean English football should plunge into a period of extreme self-loathing.
But the stereotypes remain. Whoever replaces Laudrup will now face the same problem in trying to convince football writing’s self-appointed intellectual elite as Tim Sherwood at Tottenham, especially if interim head coach Garry Monk, an English no-nonsense mid-Football League centre-half who rose to the Premier League with the team as captain, is handed long-term charge of the team. He will face that snobbery if the Swans don’t pick up results immediately.
Luckily, it seems Swansea fans are more receptive than the media. It is the outsiders and not them who are criticising the sacking of Laudrup. The fans trust their board, who have been patient, stuck to their philosophy and made perceptive decisions virtually every time they appointed someone. The fans have watched their team and seen them decline. They followed the summer problems when it looked like Laudrup would ditch the team for a bigger club who would accommodate his ego and his agent.
They will also be aware that Laudrup’s effectiveness has been short-term at every club he has managed at: immediate success, before a rapid decline and a departure under a cloud. The problem is Swansea has become a popular club in the media for their values and their style of football, and Laudrup has been the figurehead of this, even though this was a process begun under Kenny Jackett and continued under the leadership of Roberto Martinez, Paulo Sousa and Brendan Rodgers.
This weekend they play Cardiff, with whom their explosive relationship is well-documented. The first top flight derby between the two clubs ended with the
Bluebirds Red Dragons coming out on top in one of the most appalling games of football we will see this season (You clearly haven’t watched much of West Ham – ed.). Swansea were terrible, Cardiff were barely any better, and there wasn’t even any of the classic derby violence that we expect from and secretly hope for in such an encounter. With Laudrup at the helm, it was difficult to see anything other than this again – another tepid, uninspiring affair with the two sides more afraid to lose than desperate to win.
It’s a cliché, but Cardiff wanted it a little bit more that day. They are the club in this relationship with the chip on their shoulder at the moment. Arguably the main reason for some fans allowing Vincent Tan’s Glorious Revolution to take place was Swansea: their top flight status, their trophy, their popularity with the neutrals. Cardiff fans cannot stand seeing Swansea be successful. That certain supporters would be willing to trade in their history and traditions to get back at Swansea shows the ferocity of the rivalry between the two clubs.
A win for Cardiff in the Liberty Stadium would be enormous. Their win over Norwich last weekend ended a run of seven games without victory, though it had been a tough run of fixtures against the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal, and Manchesters City and United. To add a derby victory to this crucial win would give them serious momentum heading into a very winnable series of games: they play Villa, Hull and Fulham within the next four outings.
It would also be another huge blow for Swansea, who must now be considered relegation rivals. Remarkably, neither side has ever completed a league double in the fixture, and Cardiff have only won once in Swansea in the last 16 years. While a win for Cardiff will give them fresh impetus at a time when some have already written them into the first relegation spot, a defeat for Swansea might prove disastrous. That, in some way, explains the decision the Swansea board have made. If they had stuck with Laudrup, defeat was likely; choosing to make a change gives them a much greater chance of fending off Cardiff’s challenge.
Betting Instinct Tip – Despite their poor recent form, Swansea won their last home league game 2-0 against Fulham. Another 2-0 win on Saturday is 8.60 with GR88.com.
JAMES BENNETT (James) is a History MPhil/PhD student, who writes about soccer, Formula 1 and the NFL in his spare time to pay for his studies. He is also a Torquay United fan. He publishes articles in his sports blog, and you can follow him on Twitter and Google+.