Monday, 24 November 2014

Infectious positivity

Swansea City have displayed many positive characteristics over the last month, says Eric Imhof

I must admit that I was fearful heading into November. The Liverpool-Everton-Arsenal-City gauntlet (interjected with international duty) posed the real possibility of four straight defeats, and although the Leicester win put everyone at ease, a slump heading into December could’ve put the Swans back in the frustrating position they found themselves in last season: struggling even for a very basic level of confidence. 

Instead, November has been a banner month for Garry Monk and the Swans - a month that has not only serendipitously brightened the season but perhaps has also given new light to the near future for the South-Wales outfit. 

In short, it’s exciting to be a Swans fan again. It may come as terse to some for me to write that, especially considering the rocketing out of the gate we saw in August, but I really, really didn’t want to slog through another lugubrious season like the last one. The silly mistakes that marked September and October were, to put it generously, slightly troubling. I was starting to wonder if August was merely a fluke. But no more: yesterday’s loss to City had me grinning (and I know I wasn’t alone), a true indicator that things really are looking up for little Swansea City. 

Why was I grinning, even in a narrow defeat? Well for starters, precisely because the defeat was narrow. Last season, City would’ve won this game by three or four goals, and Laudrup would be spending the post-match interview talking about how much better City are in every position. To have Pellegrini praising his side for a one-goal win at home to the Swans shows the level of confidence, intensity, and devotion that Monk has inspired in his players; they went there to win, and expected to get a result. Why shouldn’t they? When the interviewer commented post-match that Monk's side had “competed for 90 minutes” Monk replied, “Yes, that’s the minimum requirement.” What’s not to love about this man? 

That kind of attitude is contagious. One can see from the players’ post-match interviews - all praising the togetherness of the team, all concentrating on the positives - that they really feel they have something special this year. That spirit will not only lead to better performances in the short term, but will allow Monk to recruit more effectively in the long term. People will want to come and play with this group. They’ll want to learn from their leaders. That draw, in turn, will result in more competition for each position, and better quality overall. This feedback loop, set in motion by Monk at the end of last season, is hugely encouraging. 

And speaking of Monk, most of my delight with yesterday’s match came from his decision to play Bony and Gomis together (finally), a risk that I felt he should take given the relatively low pressure the Swans were under at the Etihad. The formation worked well, and almost rescued a point. 

But that's not the only thing Monk has done right in November - in fact, I can’t think of anything he’s done wrong. Part of that feedback loop I just mentioned also stems from rewarding performances; if players know they can earn their time under a coach, they’re more likely to put in the effort and stay with a club. Barrow and Carroll stand out as players who Monk has brought in to the team ethos - simply by giving them chances and then allotting them time proportionately. The positive vibes generated by Monk in doing this cannot be overstated (cf. Spurs). 

At the beginning of the month I wrote that the indicators of Monk’s success in November would be goals in the second half (check), taking risks tactically (check), picking up less cards (check), and cementing a confidence that Swansea could take into the remainder of the year (double check). In a month that was supposed to be so difficult, Monk has picked up four points already, while building talent from within, giving the fans a delightful come-from-behind home win, and honing his own tactical prowess. 

All of this progress should leave Swans fans encouraged. The red-card riddled, dull-play-dominated blip of a few weeks ago now seems like it was months ago. Indeed, it feels like it was rightly left behind last season. I always want the Swans to win, but this group is a team you can really root for. 

That’s a huge difference. 

Thanks to Eric as always for his ongoing contribution. You can follow him on Twitter @AustinJackArmy