Opinion: Swansea City’s Premier League ambition stands on stilts and the downfall will be brutal
Swansea City have booked their place in the top-six for a second season running. Steve Cooper has worked wonders so far, but what the Swans are doing won’t last.
Swansea City have a trip to Watford standing between them and a second play-off bout in as many seasons. They snatched 6th right at the death of last season, losing out to Brentford in the play-off semi finals as many had expected.
This time round, Cooper’s Swans looked as though they’d plugged the gaps of last season and were genuine top two contenders right up until New Year. Since then, they’ve dropped off and now out of automatic promotion contention – yet more cause for praise, but cause for disappointment too.
Cooper has good players at his disposal, a lot of names with both Premier League and Championship experience and yet they enter the final game week of the season in the worst run of form compared to their confirmed play-off rivals Brentford, Bournemouth and Barnsley. It’s a run of just three wins in ten and it exposes a fundamental flaw in their bid for promotion.
Swansea City have fielded just 24 different players in the Championship so far this season – the joint-second lowest number in the league and exactly the same amount as they used last season. Cooper simply does not have enough players to maintain the levels of football that his side were playing in the first half of the campaign, with some drained performance since the turn of the year highlighting that.
Also concerning is Swansea’s increasingly reliance on loan players. The likes of Freddie Woodman and Marc Guehi will leave huge voids once they depart and so too Conor Hourihane, who’s scored some important goals through the most difficult part of Swansea’s season even if proving a contested name in the process. Permanent deals for any of these seem unlikely given the club’s reluctance to spend in recent seasons, and so the cycle looks set to go frustratingly on.
Cooper has not only delivered two seasons of play-off football to Swansea but he’s also been in charge for two consecutive seasons of profits in the transfer market. Transfermarkt claims Swansea City’s transfer profits from the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons total close to £50million, yet Cooper’s record signing is the £800k capture of Lowe from cash-strapped Wigan Athletic last summer.
There’s a certain lack of ambition stemming from the club’s hierarchy which is becoming more and more potent. Failure to win the upcoming play-offs, or at least compete in the final would certainly put their current methods into perspective. Promotion done on the cheap doesn’t last, and relegation from the Premier League can kick-start a series of relegations – see examples at Bolton, Portsmouth, Sunderland and Wigan.
An ideal scenario would see Swansea promoted and the club spend some of those millions they’ve raked in over the past two seasons, and claim ‘saving for the big time’. Even in that fantasy, Cooper would still have a lot of recruiting to do in the summer, and even then, so many questions have been asked of Cooper this season that it leaves a certain doubt over his ability to manage in the top flight should he ever take Swansea there.
A less ideal scenario would entail Swansea falling short in the upcoming play-offs, finding themselves with an even more streamlined squad going into next season and subsequently back in the loan market – or rather, square one. Whilst Cooper has ultimately done a fine job with what he’s got, he and his current side have a ceiling that’s rapidly come into sight and this budget promotion only foresees costly relegation.
Swansea are playing a dangerous game and history dictates that sooner or later, their ways will be their crushing demise.