Swansea City prove that firing underperforming managers quickly need not be a bad thing

Under new manager Paul Clement almost certain demotion to the Championship has been replaced with optimism of retaining Premier League status, writes Richard Jolly.
Paul Clement saw his Swansea City side beat Leicester City 2-0 at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday, February 12, 2017. Rebecca Naden / Reuters
Paul Clement saw his Swansea City side beat Leicester City 2-0 at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday, February 12, 2017. Rebecca Naden / Reuters

When the manager of last month beats the manager of last year, not just in England but – given Fifa’s award for the best coach, in the footballing world – it can be taken as another sign of the stunning decline that has followed spectacular success for Leicester City and Claudio Ranieri.

It can be seen as a 90-minute illustration that football is an industry where short-termism pervades.

It, however, also highlighted the considerable impact Paul Clement has made at Swansea City. Including the 2-1 triumph at Crystal Palace, when he was due to have a watching brief but came down to the touchline to have an input, Sunday’s 2-0 win over the fallen champions was his fourth victory in six league matches. It is all the more remarkable as Swansea had only won two of the previous 20. A team that looked doomed to the Championship rose to the heights of 15th.

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Along the way, Swansea sent a message that can jar: firing sometimes works. Some bemoan any managerial dismissal. Some, in a straw-man argument cite the example of Alex Ferguson’s start at Manchester United to argue all managers merit time without acknowledging what an anomaly, in so many respects, the Scot was.

Swansea, who are responsible for 50 per cent of dismissals in the Premier League this season, seem an advertisement for impatience. Salvation could come via the revolving door.

Like Hull City, another team transformed by a managerial appointment after the dismissal of a transparently decent man who had worked hard in difficult circumstances, they can argue that a policy of firing and hiring is justified.

Yet Swansea created the need for change themselves. Their board spent 2016 making poor decisions. They were wrong not to rehire Brendan Rodgers, wrong to surprisingly give Francesco Guidolin a new contract, wrong to replace him with Bob Bradley, wrong not to re-sign Joe Allen, wrong to sell Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew without securing replacements and wrong to buy Borja Baston, let alone for a club-record sum.

They began 2017 by getting something right and choosing Clement, a career coach but a relatively untried manager who belongs in Swansea’s tradition of successful appointments such as Rodgers, Roberto Martinez and Garry Monk. He was overlooked in October, an error that was remedied three months later.

On a human level, Bradley merits considerable sympathy. He had long harboured an ambition to manage in the Premier League, and he will probably never do so again. He was entitled to think he did not have a proper chance. He had just 85 days and 11 games in charge, was deprived of either a pre-season or a transfer window to forge his team and seemed to be firefighting from the start. A gregarious character did his best to get to know everyone at all levels at the Liberty Stadium. Many liked him.

But on a professional level, it was not working. Any manager whose teams concede at least three goals in 72 per cent of their games is struggling. Their team are automatically imperilled when they are that porous.

Given Bradley’s considerable experience and fine track record in a variety of other jobs, it seems unfair to simply state that Clement is a better manager. Rather, the newcomer has done better in this particular predicament, winning at Anfield and beating relegation rivals and mid-table sides alike.

Alfie Mawson, the centre-back with three goals in six games under Clement, embodies the new era. Gylfi Sigurdsson, who supplies goals and assists in copious quantities, is a match winner. New signings Martin Olsson and Tom Carroll have been influential arrivals.

But beyond individual contributions, it is notable how good Swansea’s shape is. Ignore names and numbers, and it is evident well-drilled players are in the correct positions. Clement has brought order where there was chaos in a way that represents bad news for underperforming managers everywhere.

When they had the reputation as the best-run club in the league, Swansea used to be role models. They have lost that tag, but in a way they are examples again. Firing is cruel, but it can work.

Published: February 13, 2017 04:00 AM

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