Swansea were once the Premier League’s very own answer to Barcelona (no, really).
With their tiki-taka style of football, selection of Spanish mavericks, Real Madrid-esque white kits and their left-field choices in the dugout, the Swans had a certain Iberian flavour to them when they came up from the Championship back in 2011.
So let’s take a look back at when the little club on the Welsh coast were genuinely one of the most interesting and exciting teams to watch.
Martinez, Sousa and Rodgers
Swansea’s rise to the Premier League really began under Roberto Martinez, with the Spaniard hailed for converting the side from renowned long-ballers into stylish passers.
Signing the likes of Angel Rangel and switching Leon Britton’s position from the wing into more of a silky, Xavi-esque style midfielder (no, really), the Swans went from mid-table obscurity to League One champions within a year.
Martinez left for Wigan not long after, but his vision was carried on by Paulo Sousa and later Brendan Rodgers, who finessed their possession-based style and built the team around the likes of defender Ashley Williams and youth prospect Joe Allen.
He also re-signed Britton from Sheffield United and – alongside Allen – created a midfield duo capable of blowing apart the Championship, much like Xavi and Andres Iniesta at Barcelona.
Life in the Premier League
Nobody quite knew what to expect when Swansea reached the top-flight in 2011.
Like all newly promoted teams who are Premier League newcomers, they were heavy favourites to go straight back down.
And they didn’t get off to a great start, losing their Premier League opener 4-0 to Man City – with some fella called Sergio Aguero scoring twice on his debut – but they soon settled in and were comfortably mid-table by Christmas.
The January signing of the Gylfi Sigurdsson from Hoffenheim strengthened their style further, with the Icelandic attacker playing ahead of Allen and Britton and giving them more diversity when roaming forward.
At one point, Britton was besting the likes of Xavi in terms of passes completed in Europes top five leagues, while Swansea were the sixth-best side for passing-accuracy.
The Swans finished their first season in 11th, but their resounding success inevitably meant the big boys came calling.
Rodgers was snapped up by Liverpool to replace Kenny Dalglish at the start of the 2012-13 season and he took Allen with him, so the Swans turned to Michael Laudrup as his replacement.
One of the classiest footballers of his generation, Laudrup was signed up purely for his understanding of Swansea’s well-renowned style of play.
Laudrup turned out for both Barca and Madrid in his playing days, but it was Los Blancos who Swansea resembled more-so that season.
The club celebrated its centenary year with an extra special home kit of white and gold – which was very similar in style to Madrid’s kit that season.
The Dane signed a host of Spanish-based players that complimented his new vision for the club, snapping up Chico Flores and Jonathna De Guzman from his previous club Mallorca.
But the biggest success story was the £2million capture of Michu from Rayo Vallecano, who’d finished the season before as the top goal-scoring midfielder in La Liga, but had seemingly gone under the radar of Europe’s big sides.
Cup triumph and Europa League madness
With Laudrup’s slightly more direct and attack-minded style of possession play, Swansea became undoubtedly the most breath-taking team to watch in the league.
Michu was an instant hit, rubbing shoulders with the best goal-scorers in the Prem with 18 goals, only coming behind the likes of Robin Van Persie, Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale.
Season highlights included their brilliant 2-0 win over Arsenal – with Michu scoring twice – while they passed the Gunners off the field at the Emirates, but their biggest triumph was in that year’s League Cup.
Swansea reached the final – besting the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea on the way – before going up against League Two’s Bradford.
They duly won 5–0 – the competition’s greatest winning margin for the final – with Nathan Dyer and De Guzman each scoring twice.
In fact, when the Swans were awarded a penalty in the second-half, Dyer was desperate to take the spot-kick for his hat-trick and was involved in a furious exchange with De Guzman to take it.
Madness of the cup, eh?
Beginning of the end
Not only was that the club’s first major trophy in their history, but it also meant they qualified for the following season’s Europa League.
That’s right, Swansea were in Europe, and famously beat Spanish giants Valencia 3-0 at the Mestalla in the group stage, before losing out to Napoli in the round of 32.
Later that season, they beat Welsh rivals Cardiff 3-0 at the Liberty Stadium, but it wasn’t enough to end their poor run of results and Laudrup was sacked soon after.
That was about as good as it got.
They enjoyed some success under Garry Monk – while new signing Wilfried Bony matched the disillusioned Michu in terms of goals – but constant managerial changes (they went from Monk to Francesco Guidolin to Bob Bradley to Paul Clement in the space of 13 months) blurred the club’s philosophy.
Relegation last season was certainly a sad end to the fairytale story of the Swans, as they were once so much fun to watch.
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