It's nice when it works - Interview
Thursday, 5th May 2022 15:53 by Clive Whittingham
For our final oppo interview of the season we welcome back Phil from Planet Swans and Keith from our sister site Swansea Independent to discuss Russell Martin’s first season of Championship football – neatly summarised by recent games with Reading and Bournemouth, both of which Swansea led by three goals only to draw.
How would you assess your season overall?
PS: Your typical rollercoaster. After two years in the play-offs this was always going to be a tough one with a new manager and very much a new squad. There have been some undoubted highs – a first league double over Cardiff being the obvious one – but some low points performance wise as well. When I sit and look back now we are probably roughly where I expected us to finish and the signs of progression are there. And on that basis it feels OK.
SI: Very up and down - one minute superb and unstoppable, as per Cardiff 4-0, 3-0 home and away against WBA, and Coventry the same. Going 4-1 up at Reading then drawing 4-4 encapsulated Swansea City’s season in one game. Then there’s the Bournemouth game, 3-0 up two weeks ago and pegged back to 3-3. It isn’t disastrous but the away performances at Sheffield Utd, Stoke and Blackpool were awful. Going from the sublime to the ridiculous probably sums it all up. Not having strength in depth to cover substitutions, over-playing the passing game most certainly and at times the passing is so slow it’s like sleepwalking. However, if the Swans can consistently producer their sublime over 90 minutes they will be unplayable next season. And that’s an IF. Did I mention we did the double on Cardiff City?
Swansea league results so far…
And Russell Martin's first season managing at this level?
PS: I am sure he will be the first to admit that he has learned much and has much more to learn. We can see what he is trying to do although the frustrations are there at times. He has made some good signings in his time here and I cannot help but wonder what if we had managed to get Matt O’Riley ahead of Celtic in January. That said, with a full summer ahead of him and the right players this season could well be the foundations for better times ahead.
SI: It’s been hard for him; players don’t tune in to a complete change of training methodology immediately. I doubt there is a club in the Championship that trains and plays like Swansea. Off the field Russell Martin is big into no egos and plenty of personal feedback. Putting the players in to seriously uncomfortable situations and not just on the training pitch. In one-to-one sessions, in groups and as a team. As I said not just football, in life terms as well so they can develop their personalities as a group with one aim. Joel Piroe and Michael Obafemi just didn’t get it at first. They became insular and rebelled by not turning up on time for training or simply not listening. Both were dropped during the season but as it all began to make sense to them they clicked. Something like 35 goals between them is the result. Next season the manager needs 100% support not only to add to his squad so he can deliver a serious promotion drive but to retain his better players as well.
70% of the ball and a 5-1 loss at Forest - that's always going to be the criticism of this style, not how much of the ball but what you do with it. What have you made of the approach overall? Happy or frustrated?
PS: You have it bang on “it’s what you do with it” – possession stats don’t interest me much, goals do. The possession game works but we have conceded too many goals this season where we have been architects of our own downfall. That means it becomes frustrated but when we move the ball quickly we are good to watch – and dangerous. More of the latter, less of the former and its happy but for now I sit firmly in the camp between frustrated and happy. Is that frappy?
SI: It’s seriously frustrating, and extremely pleasing all in one game. Most people can see the benefits in dominating the ball, as I said the manager now needs support. If the club do that Swansea can become serious contenders next season. If they don’t and Martin stutters he won’t last long. But that’s more down to the club than him. It’s clear and obvious it works, he just needs an extra four players in and for the deadwood to leave.
What needs doing to the team over the summer? Any early rumours?
PS: A left wing back will almost certainly be a must together with a couple of new defenders. We are likely to need to replace Piroe but we may already have Obafemi to fill those shoes but we will need another striker at least. Much will depend on who we hold onto as well - once again we have a few saleable assets so early decisions are needed there.
SI: Midfield and attack needs sorting and definitely two decent defenders. A goalkeeper looks to be on the cards, but it’s too early yet. The Swans need to deflect any interest in Piroe that’s for sure, maybe offer him better terms to settle him down. He has found a home at Swansea for the first real time in his career. He is young and should be steered away from the bright lights of the Premier League where he could easily disappear into the ether.
Summer Ins >>> Joel Piroe, 21, CF, Eindhoven, £1.8m >>> Michael Obafemi, 21, CF, Southampton, £1.8m >>> Flynn Downes, 22, CM, Ipswich, £1.5m >>> Kyle Joseph, 19, CF, Wigan, Undisclosed >>> Liam Walsh, 23, CM, Bristol City, Free >>> Oliver Ntcham, 25, CM, Celtic, Free >>> Jamie Paterson, 29, AM, Bristol City, Free >>> Rhys Williams, 20, CB, Liverpool, Loan >>> Ethan Laird, 20, RB, Man Utd, Loan
Summer Outs >>> Connor Roberts, 25, RB, Burnley, £2.5m >>> Jamal Lowe, 27, RW, Bournemouth, £1.5m >>> George Byers, 25, CM, Sheff Wed, Free >>> Andre Ayew, 31, CF, Al-Asad, Free >>> Declan John, 26, LB, Bolton, Free >>> Kieron Freeman, 29, RB, Portsmouth, Free >>> Barrie McKay, 26, RW, Released >>> Jordon Garrick, 23, RW, Plymouth, Loan >>> Josh Gould, 24, GK, Ebsfleet, Loan >>> Kyle Joseph, 19, CF, Cheltenham, Loan >>> Wayne Routledge, 36, RW, Retired
Winter Ins: >>> Andy Fisher, 23, GK, MK Dons, Undisclosed >>> Hannes Wolf, 22, AM, Borussia Monchengladbach, Loan >>> Cyrus Christie, 29, RB, Fulham, Loan
Winter Outs: >>> Jake Bidwell, 28, LB, Coventry, Free >>> Morgan Whittaker, 20, RW, Lincoln, Loan >>> Liam Cullen, 22, CF, Lincoln, Loan >>> Steven Benda, 23, GK, Peterborough, Loan
Player of the season candidates?
PS: The award has been done it was Joel Piroe. He would have been run close IMO by the likes of Kyle Naughton, Flynn Downes and Jamie Paterson but a deserved winner – more than 20 goals at this level doesn’t happen as often as we would all like as fans.
SI: There were two overall, Joel Piroe obviously and he got the accolade last week. Flynn Downes though is a wonderful footballer, athletic and quick and very solid on the ball. He will be a big part of next season if the club don’t cash in. In fact both will.
Weak links in the team?
PS: Ryan Bennett and Korey Smith are already moving on but I hate referring to them as weak links – they did a job for us but they aren’t what we need now. Our bench needs some strengthening for next season so expect the likes of Dhanda, Fulton and Cullen maybe to be moved on in the summer (assuming we can do it). There have been early question marks over Andy Fisher who was a key Martin signing in the summer but not going to call him a weak link but there are areas of improvement needed there.
SI Some would say Andy Fisher the keeper. We signed him from MK Dons for £400k, he has had some scary moments but he is being asked to play almost as an extra defender, he has to make brave and quick decisions, they don’t always come off. That’s down to the manager wanting him to do that, he is a great shot stopper though. His weakness is the team’s weakness, adapting to playing this very different dominating game at a high level. The defence needs shoring up, to get anywhere near the play offs playing this way will require players who can adapt into this way of playing very quickly.
Opinions of our old boy Ryan Manning?
PS: He’s had a good season at the front end, less so since he decided to get himself sent off and suspended for periods. He has been a good signing in his time here IMO, scored a couple of great goals this season but I struggle to see him being here next season – think he is another one destined to move on but I would wish him well. Nice guy that I am.
SI: He is another great example of good one week bad the next. He has had two reds this season, and been injured. He can score goals, we have seen that and he can lose concentration as well. He has an anger button he needs to find and reset when going into a tackle that’s for sure. He isn’t a favourite for many but he is for me a key player when he is on his game.
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