Monday, 27 October 2014

Garry Monk learning on the job

Eric Imhof gives us his weekly take on all things monastic

I feel like I’ve become something of Garry Monk’s unofficial biographer. Every week, before I put fingers to keys, I let all manner of marginalia swim through my head, from sales of jerseys in America to Sweyn Forkbeard, and every time I end up writing almost exclusively about Garry Monk. Although I’m often critical of his decisions, I’m fascinated by his existence, relative to the other types of managers currently occupying such coveted positions in the Premier League. It’s not just that Monk is anachronistic (in a good way), he’s sincere in a climate of cynical irony: a working-man’s coach in a league of conspicuous luxury.

What other manager publicly declares that he punishes players for diving in practice? Or answers press-conference questions honestly? Or, for that matter, answers directly to his team’s fans?

And then, on the other side of the coin: what other manager puts in substitutes while behind with ten minutes remaining and hopes it’ll make an impact?

But in my view, any naïveté is more than made up for with earnestness - so long, of course, as Monk learns from his mistakes. And in this past match against the Foxes (who currently enjoy my second-favorite logo), it was evident that Monk is indeed learning. Just the fact that he started Jefferson Montero shows some promise that the Swans will not become, as they did for long spells last season, a Swiss army knife with every piece removed but the bottle opener: a predictable side with only one option.

And without conceding right before half-time, as was so common this season, the Swans could actually play with a lead in the second half, absolving Monk from the decision of when and how to substitute to climb back into the match. Of course, having Shelvey back, and with no strange calls going against his squad, Monk could actually carry out his initially-planned gameplan. Such signs of progress came as no small relief to both players and fans alike.

But making good adjustments against Leicester is one thing; the real test comes during the next five matches. What has been described as a “brutal” Premier-League fixture list for November, not to mention a trip to Anfield in two days for an FA Cup fourth-round draw, will provide the trial by fire that will—I don’t want to say “show if Monk has what it takes”—but show how far Monk has come since taking over in tumultuous (and tempestuous) circumstances near the end of last season.

With only two wins needed by the end of December to stay on track for safety, and with expectations slightly lowered considering the quality of his opponents during this stretch, I think Monk should take some risks. For one, he should definitely prioritize the Liverpool match, meaning he should start Bony and Montero together once again, and should look to attack and press until a two-goal lead is achieved. Sounds easy enough, right?

Then, against Everton, why not start Gomis again, since it worked well last time, and maybe even throw Emnes in the mix earlier than normal, just to see what happens? I’ll leave speculation over other possible tactics and player combinations to the people who know such things way better than I do. But the point remains: I’d like to see Monk grow as a manager over this November gauntlet—both by shoring up old mistakes and by taking new risks.

Honestly, they could (and might) lose to Everton, Arsenal, and City, and I won’t be even the slightest bit disappointed if the Swans do the little things right—meaning no lapses in concentration right before the half, no silly cards, and at least one goal in the second half of one of the games. If a string of mentally strong games can be put together by Monk, then he’ll go from being merely an endearing Serpico to being a major contender for architect of the future of Swansea City. I for one am rooting for him.

Thanks as usual to Eric for this great piece. He runs @AustinJackArmy - give them a follow on Twitter or if you're a Jack in Texas get in touch with him!