Swansea City 2011/12 Season Preview
You couldn't think of a bigger and better contrast between two clubs in terms of size and wealth this coming Monday when Swansea City travel to Manchester City for the opening game of their 2011/2012 Premier League season.
Some Swansea City fans will remember when we paid £35,000 for Paul Connor when Brian Flynn was manager - thinking how far we'd come that we were actually able to pay some money for a player. Not long prior to that, the Jack Army faithful held a protest and marched along the city centre streets, and raising cash to save the club from possible liquidation.
Little did any of us know, that within 8 years, we'd win a match in front of almost 90,000 fans at Wembley that would be worth around £90million in future payments, and win us promotion to one of the best club leagues in the world.
It's been a remarkable journey, one thanks to the recovery and re-build in 2003 and being lucky enough to be run by a board of directors who are also Swansea City fans.
From lonely days standing on the North Bank terraces with just a couple of thousand in attendance watching on a cold Tuesday night, to queues lasting throughout the day and night to buy tickets for the play-off final. It all demonstrates just how far we've come in such little time.
Manchester City, on the other hand, tells a different story, especially since 2008 when they were bought by Abu Dhabi United Group. Millions of pounds were spent and some of the game's biggest stars arrived at the City of Manchester Stadium as the Blues look to dominate the English top flight, just like their arch rivals United have done since the 90s.
Monday's match will be shown live on Sky Sports, amongst a host of other tv channels in various countries around the world, and I'm sure they'll also tell the story of the two clubs and the 'David and Goliath' sort of match-up that's lined up for their viewers.
But an end to the comparisons and the 'little' talk of Swansea City though. We're not here to make up the numbers or be the whipping boys. We're here on merit, we deserve to be there and we have the ability together with the tactical qualities of manager Brendan Rodgers to cause some surprises and a few upsets along the way.
The former Chelsea Youth Team manager is always keen to bring in attacking and pacey players and the emphasis on having those qualities continued during pre-season, as he brought in the likes of Wayne Routledge, Leroy Lita and Danny Graham, but while we're blessed with pace, there's a concern regarding a limited defence that's clearly lacking strength in depth.
Goals should hopefully not be a major concern, scoring them at least, it's leaking them at the other end that we'll need to think about. A major boost recently was the arrival of Holland's number 2 goalkeeper Michel Vorm , a position that's probably most important to fill following the departure of the number 1 jersey holder - Dorus de Vries. Vorm has the quality and all-round ability that could save us a few vital points next season but the defence in front of him will surely need further strengthening - with Steven Caulker being the only new defender signed this Summer.
A lot of newly promoted teams tend to start their seasons well, on the back of the previous year's success and I expect Swansea City to be no different. Blackpool were the same as they started their Premiership campaign last season with a thumping 4-0win away at Wigan Athletic. A 6-0 defeat at Arsenal, and a 4-0 loss at Chelsea quickly afterwards brought the Seasiders quickly back down to earth, but they soon recovered with 2-1 win at Liverpool. A lack of consistency was always expected from Ian Holloway's side, as their pre-season spending and strengthening was limited, but despite failing to avoid relegation on the final day, an 18th place finish was still a remarkable achievement for Ian Holloway, his team and the club as a whole for getting there in the first place.
The Swans have similar contrasts with Blackpool. Both are small clubs who have come from nowhere in the bottom divisions to reach the top flight - both getting there via the play-offs. Both clubs have a manager who has got the absolute maximum from his playing squad with a limited budget and they both like to play attractive football. Their manager Ian Holloway even admitted that former Swansea manager Roberto Martinez and his style of play inspired his return to football management, and what a decision that was - experiencing promotion to the Premier League in his first season - again, the same as Brendan Rodgers, who also returned to football management after a long time of re-thinking and consideration - before returning and making a big impact on the game.
Swansea City, you have to say, look to be better equipped and better prepared to avoid relegation compared to Blackpool. More squad strengthening has been made due to there being far less limits on how much money that we can spend - the only one is still maintaining a strict wage plan, which blocked our attempts at signing Villareal midfielder Marcos Senna. Despite that early setback this Summer, Rodgers has brought in the Championship's top goalscorer Danny Graham (£3.5m), Newcastle United winger Wayne Routledge (around £2m) and Holland's number 2 goalkeeper Michel Vorm (£1.5m) - to name a few. They join players who have been tipped for Premiership success too, Scott Sinclair, Nathan Dyer, Ashley Williams, Angel Rangel, Neil Taylor and Joe Allen in particular.
After a rather slow start to our Summer transfer activity, plus the long wait for a new goalkeeper following de Vries' departure, Swans fans now appear to be more upbeat and confident of a successful rookie year in the Premiership. We were delighted with the early capture of Danny Graham from Watford, but had to wait a while before further signings were made. Some have questions over Tottenham Hotspur loanee defender Steven Caulker who lacks experience but will make up for it with his ability. A quiet few weeks saw some worried comments on internet message boards from supporters, but the double signing of Wayne Routledge and Leroy Lita, quickly followed by Vorm's arrival recently has seen the fans' confidence grow somewhat.
Of course the football pundits and majority of journalists who are writing their season previews nationwide have us as their automatic choice for a long struggle and relegation, but it's up to us now to prove them all wrong. Norwich City, also promotion winners, are surrounded with more confidence that they can avoid the drop, while QPR are seemingly the most popular for a straight return to the Championship due to a lack of squad strengthening during the last few months.
Swansea City chairman Huw Jenkins has mentioned recently of the club's plans for continued growth and success as they've made their way up the English football tier. Whether they can continue that with their biggest challenge yet is the big question. You can't under-estimate just how good and how tough the Premier League is, and I expect a promising start, but we'll also find it harder later on as injuries settle in to upset the team, and our lack of strength in certain areas will show through, but hopefully our earlier form can deliver an impressive 15th place finish. Initially I predicted 17th, but a few more signings recently and news that we're targeting defenders, makes me more confident of a slightly higher finish.
Wherever we finish next May, lets make the most of it and enjoy being the first ever Welsh club to reach the Premiership!
UP THE SWANS!