Bob Bradley has been fired as manager of Swansea City.
On the face of it, this seems like a no-brainer. Bradley managed Swansea to a meagre 8 points from 11 games, and leaves with Swansea only off bottom of the Premier League because Hull are slightly worse. He has completely lost the confidence of the fans, who have been calling for his firing even before the dreadful loss to West Ham yesterday.
There’s a lot of ‘I told you so’ flying about right now. Bradley’s appointment was greeted with a bunch of scepticism from the start. People said that they doubted Bradley would be successful because that he had no prior experience in any of Europe’s top leagues; but mainly, I’m sorry to say, most of the cynicism stemmed from the fact that he is American.
However, I think Bradley has been extremely unlucky and has been made a scapegoat for of the off-field failings of Swansea over the past few seasons. Swansea were already terrible when Bradley replaced Francesco Guidolin, and they haven’t given him either the tools or the time to try and make a difference.
It’s true that Bradley has failed to organise the defence; Swansea conceded 3 or more goals in 8 of Bradley’s 11 games and conceded a whopping 29 goals in total under him, but that’s only partially Bradley’s fault, as he inherited a desperately poor squad of players and wasn’t given the opportunity to make any changes.
A few years ago, Swansea City were hailed as the club that all clubs should aspire to be.
Swansea made it to the Premier League in 2011 and made an impact immediately, beating Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City in their first season. Under the management of Brendan Rodgers, Swansea, unusually for a promoted club, weren’t just trying to grind out enough points to stay up, they were trying to win by playing possession football.
That Swansea team was a mix of smart recruitment coupled with home-grown talent and good coaching; all of which was made possible by the way the club was run.
At a time where a lot of clubs were in chaos and fan ownership being floated as an idea to save clubs from the whims of owners making bizarre decisions; Swansea were held up as an example of how a club should be run, with the fact that a supporters trust owns 20% of the club being used to show that fan ownership was a possibility.
Swansea then went on to thrive in the Premier League; surviving losing Brendan Rodgers to Liverpool and some of their best players, by appointing another shrewd coach in Michael Laudrup and again making some really good signings. Laudrup was replaced by club stalwart Garry Monk, and even though they had their best ever Premier League finish under Monk, things started to go wrong then.
Last season, Swansea got themselves in a sticky situation and Monk’s lack of prior coaching experience meant that he didn’t have the tools to know what to do when the tough times hit, and he was fired. Guidolin did enough to keep them in the Premier League, but was fired after Swansea started this season by only gaining 4 points from the first 7 games.
So what’s gone wrong?
The transfer policy has been a major problem for Swansea in the past few years. Simply put, Swansea have sold a lot of their best players, often for large profits, and haven’t properly replaced them.
The smart signings made when Brendan Rodgers and Michael Laudrup were managers seem to have stopped. I may be way off base here, but to me that suggests that Swansea were heavily reliant on Rodgers and Laudrup’s contacts for player recruitment rather than their own scouting network. So, when the managers went, their contacts were no longer available to them, and Swansea have suffered ever since.
Whereas other teams- Southampton immediately come to mind-have managed to stay competitive after losing their best players every summer, Swansea seem to lack a clear transfer strategy. They sell players, but seem unable to replace them. Even when good players have wanted to come to Swansea, such as Joe Allen, who wanted to return to Swansea when he left Liverpool, Swansea haven’t managed to get the deals done.
Last summer, Swansea sold their best two players; Andre Ayew and Ashley Williams, and haven’t adequately replaced either. Williams’ loss has been especially keenly felt, as Swansea’s defence has fallen apart without his organisational skills and leadership as well as his solid defensive play.
Ayew was last season’s top scorer, and the closest Swansea have come to replacing Wilfried Bony, who left them 2 years ago, as a reliable source of goals ever since. Neither Borja Baston nor Fernando Llorente, who were signed to replace Ayew and Bafetimbi Gomis, have made much of an impression so far.
This means that this season Swansea have a toothless attack, a leaky defence and are just desperately short on quality in their squad and need to make some signings in the January transfer window to stand any chance of staying up.
Off the field it’s hard to say what Swansea’s long-term strategy is. This is their 3rd firing in a little over a year. As they say, if you hire someone and they fail after a year, it’s their fault, if you hire them and they fail after three months, it’s your fault.
What got them to where they were was a string of successful managerial appointments, from Kenny Jackett to Roberto Martinez to Paulo Sousa to Brendan Rodgers to Michael Laudrup. They seemed to know when to appoint a hungry rookie (in the case of Martinez), a savvy veteran or a guy who had good ideas but hadn’t really been able to apply them fully.
That changed when they fired Garry Monk. Swansea didn’t seem to know what to do. First they appointed Alan Curtis as interim manager (he’ll probably be caretaker manager now Bradley has been fired), but then changed their minds and hired Guidolin, a veteran manager on a short-term deal.
Guidolin was then given a long-term contract, only to be fired after 7 games of this season, and replaced with Bradley, who seemed to be the best of a really uninspiring list of candidates. It’s not really clear who Swansea will go for now. Sam Allardyce would have been a good choice to keep them in the Premier League, had he not just joined Crystal Palace. Wales manager Chris Coleman is a possibility, as is Alan Pardew.
Last summer, Swansea sold a 68% stake in the club to Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien. This was done with minimal consultation with the supporters trust. Kaplan and Levien’s didn’t consult with the supporters trust at all when they took the decision to hire Bob Bradley, something they later apologised for. They would be wise to listen to the opinion of the supporters trust this time around.
It’s not too late for Swansea. They are only 4 points away from being outside the relegation zone. With the right signings in January, and they do need signings fast, they can still avoid relegation.
The decision to fire Bradley is sad for two reasons. The first is that, in the minds of many, it reinforces the (completely wrong) notion that an American isn’t capable of coaching in a top European league.
The second is that Swansea, who were once seen as the model club, have turned into another club whose sole aim seems to be Premier League survival.