Man of the year, Alan Curtis
After Swansea City finished eighth in the Premier League last season, hauling-in a club record 56 points, the team and its supporters may have begun to dream of “more”, with “more” possibly equating to European football—a finish that would qualify the Swans for a lucrative continental competition. The 2015-16 campaign began brightly enough, with the sharp, young manager, Garry Monk, presiding over eight points from the first four matches, including a 2-2 draw away to defending champions Chelsea and a 2-1 triumph over Manchester United at the Liberty Stadium, the third straight defeat of the legendary club. But a considerable dip in form, punctuated by a listless home drubbing at the boots of eventual champions, Leicester City, prompted the brass—a bit hastily, perhaps, a bit hysterically—to sack Monk in December and install Swansea legend, Alan Curtis, as caretaker manager, a role he’d undertaken in 2004. Suddenly, the greatest story in sports, a club that had come within a game of its extinction, but through essential community involvement climbed all the way into the Premier League, appeared jeopardized. Even as the Swans slipped into the relegation zone for a short stretch, the steely legend, Curtis, steadied the players, and even substituted briefly for Monk’s eventual replacement, the reputable Francesco Guidolin, an Italian manager who ultimately guided the Swans to safety, including a memorable 4-1 late-season romp at West Ham, a side actually chasing European glory in its final fixtures.
Player of the year, Gylfi Sigurðsson
Nobody enjoyed Monk’s dismissal, especially since the former Swans defensive stalwart and captain had earnestly ushered the club to safety after Michael Laudrup had gotten the sack, himself, during the 2013-14 season. The following campaign—that of 56 points and the eighth place finish—featured league doubles (sweeps) over Manchester United and Arsenal, as well as no extended periods of rot. Thus, who would’ve expected to encounter miserable ten-man Swansea, at home versus relegation rivals Sunderland in January, chasing the game around, immersed in a precarious 4-2 defeat? During the match, defender Kyle Naughton had been harshly sent off owing to a challenge (later declared fair) on a Sunderland player, and shockingly, a game the Swans had earmarked—to bear points—had horribly slipped away. Out of nowhere, then, the Swansea City board improbably produced Guidolin, a manager who captain, Ash Williams, had to Google. After relieving Garry Monk of his duties, Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins had jetted to South America, hoping to entice the fiery El Loco, Marcelo Bielsa, to pace the sidelines, but instead, the sixty year-old Italian, Guidolin, who’d impressively managed a string of smaller clubs in Serie A, assumed sideline duties in time for Swansea to defeat Everton, the first such outcome against the Toffees in a league match. Guidolin, an avid bicycle rider who envied the prospects of riding along the Welsh coastline, developed a lung infection before facing Arsenal away, an illness that required prolonged hospitalization.
Andre Ayew became the club’s leader goal-scorer
At Arsenal, most prominently, the former Swans forward and Wales international, Alan Curtis, oversaw the club as caretaker, and the players responded, producing a somewhat lucky but undeniably vital 2-1 conquest at The Emirates. A few weeks later, after presiding over an important comeback draw, 2-2, at Stoke, Guidolin would lead the Swans to the club’s first ever league victory over Chelsea, 1-0, punctuated by a goal from Iceland international, Gylfi Sigurðsson, the highly acclaimed player of the year, who generated the club’s most crucial finishes. Andre Ayew, the first-year international from Ghana, would regain his early season form, starring in late-season defeats of Liverpool and West Ham, along with a 1-1 draw versus Manchester City on the final day, to help the club reach 12th in the table at 47 points. Yet the defeat of West Ham, 4-1, in London, might provide Swansea City supporters with the most incisive vision of the future, by virtue of its youthful starting lineup, showcasing the center-backs Jordi Amat and Fede Fernandez, left-back Stephen Kingsley, winger Modou Barrow, and midfielder Leroy Fer, on loan from Queens Park Rangers. Wayne Routledge found the net, Ayew found the net, Ki Sung-yeung found the net, and the much maligned (but dutiful) Bafetimbi Gomis (the self-proclaimed “Black Panther”) ended his goal-scoring drought. The Swans fielded players from Poland, England, Argentina, Catalonia, Scotland, the Netherlands, South Korea, Gambia, Spain, Ghana, and France, but the “Tower of Babel” implications failed to materialize as this fleet international lineup flew around the pitch in harmony. Notably, Jack Cork wore the armband, as captain Ash Williams took a well-deserved breather. Ayew would eventually close the season as Swansea’s top scorer, netting 12 important goals.
The D.C. Jacks celebrate with the ritual Penderyn toast
As a founding member of the D.C. Jacks, this blogger toasted Swansea City’s achievement of reaching safety (a 3-1 defeat of Liverpool) by hoisting a glass of Welsh single malt, Penderyn, in the company of other founding members of the D.C. Jacks. We realize that uncertainty lies ahead for the Swans. Even as several Swansea players prepare to participate in the Euro 2016 competition, the club will be weighing offers for some of its stars, considering swoops for other players, and conceiving of its tactics for the 2016-17 Prem. Might we witness the return of Wilfried Bony, beloved striker from Cote d’Ivoire, now languishing on Manchester City? Will the “Welsh Pirlo” Joe Allen, now a Liverpool standout, return to South Wales, as has been rumored? Will the American investment group that owns the Memphis Grizzlies of the NBA and D.C. United of MLS, purchase a controlling interest in Swansea, thus arriving with a substantial cash infusion? Noting that the great new champions, Leicester City, triumphed unexpectedly with a variety of unconventional strategies and players, but nevertheless with conventional international billionaire ownership, undoubtedly the Swansea board may decide that it needs to trade the satisfaction of being a community-owned enterprise for the added security of greater resources. We’re sure that’s not an easy decision to make. The community and the club have fought hard to ensure a sixth-straight season at the top, a feat that has obviously emerged from great competence and great decency. Next year, the somewhat severe but undeniably generous Francesco Guidolin—with Curtis at his side—will lead Swansea City in the greatest professional sports league in the world. To that, we say, Up the Swans!
cultural affairs week 2016 editorial schedule
Monday: Blue Jay Z
Tuesday: The Swans Survive
Wednesday: USA to Elect Donald Drumpf?