Swansea and Paul Clement Gamble On Each Other – And Win
In the end Swansea City did it with room to spare, a combination of their impressive win over already-relegated Sunderland and Hull’s ineptitude in the south London sunshine at Crystal Palace was enough for Paul Clement to guide his side safely to another season of Premier League safety.
Considering the mess the club was in when Clement took over and the general sense of disillusionment that pervaded the club – fans and players alike – the turnaround has been nothing short of a miracle. Clement has pulled off Mission Impossible.When Clement took over at the start of the year – January 3 – and midway through the season, Swansea were bottom of the table, two and three points behind Hull and Sunderland respectively. It is indicative of the work Clement had ahead of him that Swansea were somehow behind Sunderland who have now aimlessly drifted to the Football League.
Following the failed experiment with Bob Bradley and the strange tenure of Francesco Guildolin, Swansea couldn’t afford to get their next managerial appointment wrong, and understandably, there were eyebrows raised when the club decided to take a punt on Clement. For both parties it represented a massive gamble. No Premier League club prior to Swansea had survived the threat of relegation using three managers in a single season, yet by hiring Clement the Welsh club put their faith in a manager taking his first job at the elite level to keep them up.
The risk Clement took was perhaps even greater, leaving behind a cushy and no-pressure job as Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant at Bayern Munich to lead a fire fighting exercise at one of the Premier League’s basement clubs seemed like a gamble not worth taking. Surely if he had failed that could well have put a dent on his CV strong enough to keep him out of the running for jobs in this division. Alan Curtis, long-time Swansea first-team coach and sometimes caretaker boss, perfectly captured what a lot of people when thinking back in January when Clement agreed to take the job. “He had the security of a top job at Bayern Munich but wanted the challenge. I told him if I was him I would have stayed in Germany.”
Working alongside Ancelotti and admiring the view from the top of the Bundesliga would appeal to many, but not Clement, who had made no secret of his desire to be the No1, to make his mark as a manager. His dismissal at Derby County last season was harsh by any standards; Derby were fifth at the time, five points off an automatic promotion place despite being on a run of seven matches without victory. It was this desire to stake his claim as a bona fide manager that saw him arrive at Swansea to take up the daunting task of achieving survival.
To keep Swansea afloat Clement has overseen not one, but two upturns of form in just five months. In his first six games in charge he led the club to four wins to take them up to 15th before three consecutive losses to Tottenham, West Ham and Watford saw them dragged back into danger. The main ingredient in Swansea’s resurgence under Clement has been the establishment of a sense of unity within the club, of a side pulling together in the same direction. Asked to name the players who have been the most important to the cause in the build-up to the Sunderland win, Clement was quick to praise Leon Britton, Jack Cork, Wayne Routledge, Nathan Dyer and Angel Rangel, all of whom are long-term stalwarts of the club.
Britton in particular has been crucial to Swansea’s survival, making his ‘debut’ under Clement just three weeks ago in the home win against Stoke. The 34-year-old skipper’s return to the side has also coincided with the upturn in results; three wins and an unlucky draw at Manchester United, with three clean sheets kept in the process. Off the pitch Britton has been a leader, too, gifting the 25-man squad a DVD of Jack to a King – a documentary about the club’s rise from almost going out of the Football League to reaching English football’s elite level. Britton also led a whip-round within the squad to buy all 3,000 tickets allocated for the Swansea supporters at Sunderland.
Clement has attributed some of his success at Swansea to embracing minimalism, a process that involves conveying the correct information to his players while keeping meetings brief, sometimes as short as three minutes, so that everything is ‘’clear and concise’’. It’s a trick, he says, he picked up from watching ‘’a really good documentary the other day called Minimalism, on Netflix.”
The work has bore fruit, with Swansea picking up 26 points in 18 games since Clement’s arrival – more than West Ham, Bournemouth, Burnley, Stoke, West Brom, Sunderland and Middlesbrough – after registering a miserly 12 in their first 19 games. Through a combination of some clever signings in the January window – Tom Carroll, Martin Olsson and Jordan Ayew have all been impressive – and a tightening up of the defence, Swansea have pulled off one of the greatest escapes in the history of the division.
Swansea can now look forward to a fruitful pre-season under Clement as they prepare for their seventh consecutive season in the Premier League, thankful that the massive gambles taken by both club and manager have been handsomely rewarded.