Michael Laudrup proving the right choice at Swansea City
It is a profoundly unfair comparison. One was a decent lower-league goalscorer who worked his way from Bridlington Town to Hamilton Academical via Doncaster Rovers, Wigan Athletic, St Johnstone, Southend United, Boston, Bury and Clyde. The other was one of the greatest forwards of his generation, gracing Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid with his talent and winning a century of caps for his country.
Until this summer, common denominators between Graeme Jones and Michael Laudrup were conspicuous by their absence. Then Brendan Rodgers left Swansea City and their former assistant manager Jones, who now holds the same role at Wigan, was installed as the favourite to replace him. Instead, the eventual appointment was Laudrup, bringing stardust to South Wales.
We will never know how Jones would have fared although, untried as a manager, it is safe to assume Swansea would have been widely touted for relegation.
Judgements can be premature but, two games into his reign, the choice of Laudrup looks a masterstroke.
The hardest job can be succeeding an overachiever. At Swansea, the task is complicated by the style of play. Rodgers once said that 90 per cent of managers would not have suited the club. His words still ring true.
With two wins from two, eight goals scored, none conceded and his signings starring, it is safe to say that Laudrup belongs in the appropriate minority.
It is also possible that, rather than signalling a decline, the summer exodus to Anfield will permit Swansea to reach still greater heights. Or rather, the profits from the departures of Rodgers and Joe Allen will.
As those who were fortunate enough to witness Allen's assured performance against Manchester City know, the midfielder is a class act. As a Welshman who graduated to Swansea's first XI, there is a particular sadness to his departure. But a fee of £15 million (Dh87m), plus the £5m Liverpool paid in compensation for Rodgers, is a windfall for a cash-conscious club.
A decade ago, Swansea were bought for £1. This is a club whose very existence was threatened during traumatic years. Now the supporters' trust own 20 per cent of the shares and have a seat on the board. A reluctance to take financial risks is both understandable and admirable.
But, when spent well, £20m can transform a team. Just £2m was required to purchase Michu. The most prolific midfielder in Spain's Primera Liga has continued in the same vein in the Premier League, a brace in the 5-0 win at Queens Park Rangers followed by another goal in Saturday's 3-0 defeat of West Ham United.
Chico Flores arrived for a similar fee, replacing the borrowed Steven Caulker in the heart of defence. As some of Swansea's success last season can be attributed to players owned by other clubs, whether Caulker or Gylfi Sigurdsson, there was an enforced short-termism.
Now there need not be. Like Rodgers before him, Laudrup is willing to play the loan market but he is also able to spend. Kyle Bartley has arrived from Arsenal, the South Korean Ki Sung-yeung has become the club record, £5.5m signing and further funds are available. But Swansea are still in the black, even before Scott Sinclair completes his move to Manchester City. They are not putting the club's future in jeopardy.
And they are evolving. The danger with a team where each member enjoys the finest year of his career is that each will suffer a hangover. Reinforcements reduce the risk of such a relapse, while Laudrup is tinkering with the blueprint in a bid to make Swansea more clinical.
The wingers Wayne Routledge and Nathan Dyer are urged to come infield more often in the final third. Both are becoming more productive. Routledge has three assists so far, Dyer two goals and one assist. The striker Danny Graham got the third against West Ham and is getting tips from Laudrup as he aims to become more prolific.
But the basic philosophy remains the same. Swansea pass and pass and pass. One second-half move against West Ham consisted of 43 passes. It was quite a way to defend a lead, even if it is the method Swansea have used since Roberto Martinez's appointment five years ago.
What Laudrup has brought, apart from a hint of glamour, is his contacts book and his knowledge of the European game.
It is an unoriginal observation, but buyers can get more value for their money on the continent rather than in the inflated English transfer market. In their ethos, Swansea have long looked abroad.
The difference is that now the European elite are casting their gaze at the Liberty Stadium. Laudrup was never short of fans in Barcelona, but his charges are gaining admirers at the Camp Nou.
"I love the way Swansea play ... respect," the watching Cesc Fabregas commented on Saturday. Respect indeed.
Two games this season have also brought two wins for Everton, along with two indications of Phil Jagielka's quality. The England international produced a masterclass of defensive defiance as Manchester United were defeated at Goodison Park.
As Everton excelled in beating Aston Villa, he showed his footballing ability. Marouane Fellaini's second goal of the season came from a pinpoint cross, delivered from the right flank, by Everton's marauding centre-back.
Published: August 27, 2012 04:00 AM