Ahead of our game on Saturday we at The Faithful have invited Kevin Elphick from Vital Swansea City to answer a few questions for us on both Manchester United and Swansea City.
TF: Provide a brief review of Swansea City’s 2013-14 Premier League season?
KE: It was a long season that saw far too many poor, disappointing performances, but one that cannot be forgotten for many different reasons – some good, some not so.
The main (good) one being our Europa League campaign. It was such a huge achievement for us to win a trophy and to qualify for the competition – in which we did well to go as far as we did given our small, inexperienced squad.
Things started to go wrong under manager Michael Laudrup though after such a great debut season under the Dane the season before. Our performance levels dropped, losing at Cardiff City in November just made things worse and it wasn’t a great surprise to see Laudrup sacked in February. Wins were becoming few and far between and we started to slowly fall into a relegation battle. Given our performances and some training ground incidents, it was clear that a change was needed to boost morale and to get the squad playing as a team.
Garry Monk was appointed just before the derby game, in which we comfortably beat Cardiff City at home – the perfect start for the rookie boss. Performances were inconsistent, but nevertheless results improved and we easily finished above the bottom three in the end in 12th.
TF: Three seasons back in the top-flight with league finishes of 11th, 9th and 12th respectively, a fairly steady performance as the club aims to establish itself as a Premier League team.
Winning your first major piece of silverware the League Cup two seasons ago, which earned Swansea the right to participate in the Europa League competition last season, reaching the last 32 stage. Is the Europa League tournament a hindrance both financially and impacting in various ways, not least that these additional games (54 in total) had a adverse effect on the clubs domestic performance?
KE: Whilst it was a great feeling to see us play in the Europa League, I don’t think we will miss it this year – the League is always a priority and distractions we can do without. It was a hindrance in some ways but a lot of fans, including me, won’t accept that it was the only reason for our poor form under Michael Laudrup. Performance levels were way below par before we entered the competition, and the diabolical showing at West Ham was the last straw.
TF: Manchester United and Swansea City faced-up on three occasions last season, United coming out on top in both the Premier League matches 1-4 (a) 2-0 (h). Your moment in January the FA Cup-Third Round, United 1-2 Swansea City. Taking the lead through Routledge in the 12th minute, completing the smash and grab Wilfried Bony heading the winning goal in the 90th minute, knocking the Red Devils out. Discuss?
KE: It was a great moment at the time, beating United at Old Trafford, but considering we needed Premier League points, it didn’t mean so much when we lost there the following week and we had added to our fixtures following our FA Cup progress. Nevertheless, you still can’t ignore such a feat, having not even come close before to getting a win away at United, and you’ll never know when it’ll happen again.
TF: Tell us about Swansea’s top goal scorer last season Wilfried Bony, the Ivory Coast international hit man netting a total of 16 (25 in all comps) goals, 12 of these strikes in the second half of the campaign, is he on fire?
KE: He made a slow start to life in the Premier League, but while some fans wrote him off early – branding him a big waste of money, you could see there was potential, and within a few months he proved why we broke our transfer fee record for the striker. It was frustrating to hear some fans give him abuse early on, he arrived late, missed the majority of the pre-season and he needed an individual training routine to help get him up to speed. He soon did, and at the turn of the year he was scoring every week, and by the end of the season he was a huge fans’ favourite thanks to the impact he made following Monk’s appointment. His earlier critics were soon kept quiet after he cleaned up the end of season awards.
TF: Your second highest goal scorer last campaign was ‘Own Goal’ contributing the most in the Premier league putting 8 in the net. Enlarge on this ‘Own-Goal’ character?
KE: Our best free signing in years! But on a serious note, it was becoming evident that we needed to get goals from other sources than Bony and own goals, though it’s quite astonishing to think just how many own goals our opposition conceded against us.
TF: Why was your top goal scorer (18) of two seasons ago 28 year old Miguel Michu allowed to leave on loan recently joining Rafael Benetiz’s Napoli for a season (with options) recently?
KE: Last season he was plagued with injuries, he barely played and when he did finally return late on in the season he looked a shadow of his former self. His attitude became a big problem and he had little to no desire to stay on at Swansea City so it was the correct decision to allow him to leave on loan. We wanted to sell him, but it looks like that’ll happen next year now.
TF: Your thoughts on Swansea’s summer transfer business (net spend £2.85m) adding ex Arsenal Lukasz Fabianski on a free transfer to replace £3.5m-Michel Vorm. Bolstering the attacking firepower signing Bafetimbi Gomis to support Bony, bringing back Gylfi Sigurdsson on a free from Tottenham Hotspurs to the football club, in addition recruiting speedy winger Ecuadorian International, Jefferson Montero. Happy the Jacks have strengthened sufficiently, to improve on last season?
KE: Keeping Bony was absolutely key after helping us avoid falling into a relegation battle last season. Fabianski looks decent on a free transfer but I still have doubts over his distribution skills, which are so important in our way of playing out from defence. Gomis was regarded as one of the most attractive free agents this Summer, and he’s looked promising, his strength and height up front should compliment Bony well and they could develop an excellent attacking partnership. Sigurdsson is another good addition, replacing Michu and with de Guzman not staying, he adds a much needed set piece taker. Montero has plenty of pace and skill to beat defenders and he may even beat Routledge to a starting place – which would be very unlucky and unfortunate for him, after having probably his best ever season for us. What’s been missing though is a few defensive signings. After conceding so many soft goals last year, I would have liked us to have prioritised strengthening the defence early on, but we did the opposite and boosted the attack. With Chico leaving just a week before the season starts, it has prompted Monk to step up his search for a defender, and the arrival of Napoli’s Federico Fernandez would be superb.
TF: What was the general feeling among Swansea City supporters on Cardiff City’s relegation, Vincent Tan’s decision making, the dismissal of Malky Mackay and the ‘Bluebirds’ appointment of United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as their manager?
KE: To be honest, I’m not one of those Swansea City fans who cares much about our rivals. Some fans love to talk about them all of the time and how much of a laughing stock they are (which of course they are) but I haven’t got much time for them or their owner – but I’ll answer the question!
If it was any other club, I’d be saying that Tan should never be allowed near a football club ever again, but Cardiff have got away with being in millions of debt amongst other things to experience the Premier League for one year before an instant return to the Championship. The Swans are a great model of how to get continuous success through patience, good planning and having directors and a chairman who know the club inside out – compared to the Red Birds who have lost their identity, been bought by a man who barely knows the rules of football and trying to rush and buy quick success.
Malky Mackay didn’t deserve to leave the club for footballing reasons, but rumours would suggest non-football reasons for his sacking. It’s clear Mackay and Tan didn’t get on at all, and Tan snubbed him by sacking his head scout and appointing his own man – an unknown rookie. Despite his success in his native Norway, it just didn’t work out for OGS and Cardiff stood a better chance of survival by sticking by the man who built the team that won promotion. I’m not sure if OGS is the man to get them back into the Premier league either, but who is under Tan’s ridiculous regime?
TF: Vincent Tan recently stated the “The main person responsible for Cardiff’s relegation was Malky Mackay.” But with Solskjaer’s record with the capital team; played 18, three victories, three draws and defeated twelve times, netting 17 goals with 42 conceded. Should Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have ever left Norway to join Cardiff City?
KE:As mentioned above, a definite no, and maybe, deep down, he regrets the decision – particularly working for someone like Vincent Tan who wanted to sign players based on their date of birth!
TF: On the last occasion I interviewed you I asked the question, ‘Michael Laudrup does not appear to stay at the clubs he manages for too long.’ Discuss please the series of events that led to the Danes departure?
KE: It’s been a habit of Laudrup’s – falling out with the club’s owners and leaving a year or two after being appointed. We hoped it would be different here – especially after his debut season – our best Premier League finish, our first ever major trophy and Europa League qualification. The following season was disappointing though. Ever since the cup win, our performance levels suddenly dropped, and they never increased again until Monk took over, and we gave the performance of our lives to beat Cardiff City 3-0 at the Liberty Stadium. A lot was said about Laudrup’s commitment and attitude, with plenty rumours suggesting he had lost interest and wasn’t as committed as he was following his early success. True or not, the majority of our fans appeared in favour of the club’s decision to sack him.
TF: Tell us about the new Swansea boss Garry Monk, what does the ex centre-back bring that is different to Laudrup, Rodgers, Martinez and Sousa, is his knowledge of all 4 Divisions with Swansea vital?
KE: Loyalty I hope! He knows the club inside out and that was the big attraction for the club to appoint him. There was a mess left behind when Laudrup left, and the board felt he was the man to sort it out – and you can see why. He knows exactly what the club is all about, having experienced so much success – and the key elements to that success right from the bottom division to the top. He knows what those key elements are and what’s required to play for the Swans, and he can get that across to the players. The board have stuck with their philosophies ever since Roberto Martinez took over and implemented the attractive, passing football. They felt that they were beginning to lose their identity somewhat, and that’s why Laudrup was shown the door, and Monk – a man who’s been with the club for 10 years, was brought in. There were stories of unrest amongst the squad, training ground incidents and that wasn’t something you normally associated with Swansea City. Monk is expected to revert back to the philosophies and methods used by Martinez and Rodgers, and has insisted on having only players who want to play for the club – having let some go who no longer wanted to be here.
TF: What are Swansea’s aspirations for this season?
KE: As with every other Premier league season, it’s avoiding relegation once again – particularly now with Garry Monk – a rookie in charge. There’s been a lot of changes to the squad and Monk has a tough task this year. Anything around 15th place or above should be seen as a success for the 35 year-old.
TF: Put us in the picture regarding the younger players at Swansea like 19 year old Josh Sheehan as an example, that we will likely hear more about in the future?
KE: I don’t know a great deal about Josh Sheehan, although he has been involved in some of the pre-season friendlies. There’s also Stephen Kingsley, and Adam King and most likely to earn a few first team appearances is Jay Fulton – after showing promise at the end of last season.
TF: Provide an assessment an assessment of Swansea’s first 6 matches, United (a) Burnley (h) West Brom (h) Chelsea (a) Southampton (a) and Sunderland (a) and your expectation?
KE: It’s tough to predict as the start of any season is. I don’t expect to get anything at Manchester United or Chelsea, so we should be looking to get home wins against Burnley and Southampton. Burnley are the new-boys of course and Southampton have suffered during the Summer so they’re our best opportunities for early wins. West Brom and Sunderland may also be teams who could finish around us in the bottom half so it’s a must to avoid defeat against that lot.
TF: What is your worst season scenario?
KE: Simply, relegation and the loss of Wilfried Bony in the January transfer window.
TF: Which three teams do you believe will be relegated from the Premiership this season?
KE: West Brom, Burnley and it’s a tough call between the other promoted teams, and I’ll be surprised if Southampton and Aston Villa aren’t involved in a scrap near the bottom.
TF: Your initial impressions of Louis van Gaal in the Dutchman’s tentative steps at United?
KE: He really impresses me and I think he’s the sort of manager with credentials and honours that should have been brought in last year to replace Sir Alex Ferguson, rather than a guy who’s barely won a trophy as a manager. In time, I’m confident Van Gaal can develop United into the force they used to be. United fans I’m sure will be more patient with Van Gaal, who’s adopting a new formation that worked wonders for Holland in the World Cup. Van Gaal will restore a winning mentality and after a top four finish this season I predict, they should be targeting the title the year after.
TF: Where do you think Manchester United will finish in the league table this season?
KE: As mentioned above, top four would be a decent start to Van Gaal’s United career. He still needs to bring in some more quality as I don’t think you have the squad to compete with the likes of Chelsea or Manchester City.
TF: Fantasy time you have a choice of three United players to transfer to Swansea City, who would they be, why did you choose them?
KE: Van Persie for obvious reasons, Fletcher – a great all-round midfielder with a superb attitude, and I think also Juan Mata would suit our system perfectly.
TF: Swansea’s record last season against the top eight clubs, played 16 matches – two points won. Comment please?
KE: Michael Laudrup always used to talk about how more important the games were against lesser teams, those expected to finish in the bottom half. And you wondered what effect this had on the players when Laudrup openly spoke about the lack of expectation there was in getting anything from the top 4-6 teams. It’s no surprise then that we only managed two draws against the top clubs. As Monk has said recently, any team can beat any other team on their day, so we should see every game as a chance of getting 3 points, as opposed to Laudrup’s “glass is half empty” attitude and lack of belief he had in his team getting results against top 4 sides. Aston Villa managed 10 points against the top four last year so you’ve got to approach every game the same.
TF: Your favourite Manchester United blog-forum to read, ( exclude the Faithful) ?
KE: I wouldn’t read a Manchester United blog really, too busy keeping up to date reading Swansea City websites!
TF: A slice of spurious fun for the penultimate question. The most ridiculous rumour associated with Swansea City during this summers free – for – all lunacy?
KE: I can’t remember there being any ridiculous rumours this year, but you couldn’t beat the David Villa rumour last year!
TF: Finally Kevin your score line prediction for the match on Saturday?
KE: I’m hoping we can compete well and give you a good game, as opposed to last season’s heavy 4-1 defeat. A 2-1 loss wouldn’t be such a bad thing away at Manchester United on the opening day.
We would like to thank Kevin for taking the time out to share his views.
What do you think will be the score at Old Trafford on Saturday?