By Dominic Smith
Forget the fawning over Bradford City for a moment. Theirs is a tale oft told in English cup
competitions, a ragtag bunch of promising youngsters, local heroes and fading pros defying the odds
and gaining thousands of new fans along the way. The fans have their big day out, applaud their
team’s effort then return back to the reality of lower league drudgery. Many fans would love to see
their team emulate this sort of success. We, as Leeds fans, remember the famous victory over Man
Utd in 2010.
But it is the Capital One Cup victors, Swansea City, who should really be admired. There are
obvious landmarks to celebrate; the club’s first English domestic trophy, a rare foray into European
competition and the highest margin of victory in a League Cup final ever, but theirs is a deeper and
more meaningful success.
It is from Swansea, not teams like Bradford, where Leeds United should be taking their lessons. This
season’s greatest victories have come in the cup competitions, unexpected triumphs against Everton
and Tottenham, but they have been unable to disguise a deep malaise within the club. League
performances have been insipid, performances uninspired, a squad disjointed, imbalanced and at
times – inept.
This is no accident. When Simon Grayson was given his marching orders by Ken Bates, Neil Warnock
was chosen as his successor due to an impressive record of promotions. But, in hindsight, it didn’t
make a lot of sense. Grayson’s squad, even after being ripped apart as a consequence of years of
underinvestment, still bore his hallmarks – wingers, ball playing midfield players, attempting to
attack with width, feeding the main attributes of main goalscorer Luciano Becchio. Warnock didn’t
like it, stripped the squad of width and changed the style of play attempting to bring the midfield
closer to Becchio and playing down the middle, forcing Becchio to hold up the ball and bring others
into play. Players were brought in to suit this system. When Warnock leaves, presumably in the
summer, a new manager will be appointed who may want to introduce his method and players, and
so we endure another squad overhaul.
Swansea’s ascent has been well documented. A series of managers – Martinez, Sousa, Rodgers,
Laudrup have been recruited by astute chairman Huw Jenkins. The philosophy and style of play
is built into the club – a positive, dynamic game built on ball retention, and players are recruited
and developed to fit. Managers are allowed a certain amount of leeway, Laudrup has for instance
instructed his fullbacks to push on and his Swansea team go from back to front quicker than
Rodgers’, but there is no radical restructure. Swansea have their own clear identity.
This ascent didn’t happen overnight. The owners were patient with setbacks, invested wisely, and
they are now reaping their rewards.
Leeds’ cup wins this were rightly celebrated, but we risk becoming a Bradford if we allow them to be
celebrated too much and too often. To get us back where we belong, we could do a lot worse than
becoming a Swansea.
Follow Dominic Smith on Twitter (@DomoTheBold).