Ahead of our game this weekend, Kevin Elphick from Vital Swansea City has taken time to answer a few questions for us.
Stretty News: Everybody connected with Swansea City FC must be very proud for the club to be back in the top flight of the biggest league in the world.
Swansea’s journey has been steady and sensational. Only ten years ago almost going out of business and rising from the ashes to riding the crest of a wave again. Exciting times for the Swan’s to be back in the Premier League, the first Welsh club to achieve this feat. The second season in the Premier League has started off very successfully also. Swansea last featured in the top-tier some 30 years ago. Your view?
Kevin Elphick: Proud is definitely the word. How far the club has come in such a short time is just incredible, as not long ago we were at our Old Vetch Field ground needing a win against Hull City to stay in the Football League. Not only that, but we were severely struggling financially, unable to pay bills and players’ wages and the club was being bought and sold for a £1. Now, we’ve won a play-off final game thought to be worth £90m and playing in front of sell-out 20,000 crowds at our new stadium in one of the best Leagues in the world. A lot of credit should go to the chairman Huw Jenkins and the rest of the board. Their all local Swansea City fans and have the club’s best interests at heart. Excellent managerial appointments and learning from past mistakes financially have been key to our success.
SN: The clubs footballing philosophy has an Iberian influence running through it with recent links Roberto Martinez, Paulo Sousa and Brendan Rodgers and the current manager Michael Laudrup. Where is this theme stemming from and the Barcelona-esque style of play?
KE: Roberto Martinez brought it to the club when he was appointed manager in 2007, and we loved it so much it’s stuck ever since. We’ve always looked to get managers who would play the same style of attractive passing football. Huw Jenkins has to have credit though for taking the risk of choosing Roberto Martinez as the man to succeed Kenny Jackett. He was still playing football at the time and we gave him an excellent start to his managerial career.
SN: Brendan Rodgers described his time while at Chelsea as the youth and reserve team manager, under the tenure of the Jose Mourinho, as “like being at Harvard University.” Your thoughts on the Irishman at Swansea and his legacy?
KE: While some fans still hold a grudge against Brendan Rodgers, you have to give him a lot of credit for getting us promoted to the Premier League in his first season. Having said that, Roberto Martinez and Paulo Sousa certainly helped lay the foundations for what was already a good Championship side. Rodgers blended Martinez’s attacking qualities of the side with Sousa’s defensive steel to help bring a better balance to the team. He then had an excellent debut season in the Premier League but towards the end of that year we started to become predictable, struggled to create chances and he seemed happy if we played well despite a poor result. Laudrup has come in and made us less conservative, more attacking now as we make more risks, though that has sacrificed our passing accuracy somewhat but it’s goals that count not passing rate and possession, which Rodgers always loves to talk about.
SN: Scott Sinclair scored a memorable hatrick against Reading in your 4-2 play-off final to win promotion to the Premier League. Yet he left for Manchester City in the summer past to effectively sit on the sidelines at the Etihad. Sinclair had previously said that he will be staying at Swansea. “I’m not going to another Premier League club and sit on the bench.” Why did Scott Sinclair not choose to sign a new contract at Swansea, and is he missed, was the profit on his sale of £7.5 million too good to turn down?
KE: A lot of people say that a move to Manchester was the perfect move for him, as his girlfriend clearly wanted to return home. He’s on far more money but at the age he is a move to a club like City wasn’t best timed as he’s hardly playing. He’s not really been missed as Pablo Hernandez has come in and done brilliantly, Routledge has also impressed after struggling to get a game ahead of the winger last year.
SN: Does Michael Laudrup have money to spend to strengthen the team after selling Joe Allen and Scott Sinclair for £23 million, with a net spend of minus £6.45 million in the summer transfer window. If he spends money in the January, where does the team need beefed up?
KE: I’m sure he has £10-15m to spend in January and he’s already stated that he’d like a few signings, one in each outfield position as he believes the squad needs strengthening for a tough second half to the season.
SN: Swansea last season had the least amount of yellow cards in the Premier League (40). Throw some light on this fact?
KE: Discipline, and the fact that we most often work together to win possession, with the players working together to pressure the opposition to win the ball back quickly or force teams into making mistakes. We also don’t have any bad tacklers in the team like your Paul Scholes!
SN: Michael Laudrup does not appear to stay at the clubs the Dane manages for too long, your view?
KE: That’s why I can only see him being here for two seasons, three at an absolute maximum and that would be a shame. He has even said how surprised he is with the likes of Moyes and Ferguson for spending so long at their respective clubs. Loyalty seems to be even rarer in the European countries he’s managed in. Laudrup hasn’t had many great or memorable spells with any of the clubs he’s managed previously but hopefully it’ll be different with us!
SN: Where do you think Manchester United will finish in the league table?
K E : Champions definitely.
SN: Fantasy time Kevin, you have a choice of three of United’s players who would you want to see playing for Swansea City and why?
KE: I’d like to have a player in each position, Vidic in defence, Fletcher in midfield and Robin van Persie up front.
SN: Your opinion of Sir Alex Ferguson?
KE: The best club manager in the League’s history for sure. He has transformed Manchester United and hasn’t had to rely on money to do it. Not only did he bring world class players through the youth academy, sign excellent players and show great tactical ability, but also how he is able to bring in such a strong winning mentaility into his squad of players. You could say that is what puts him apart from any other manager.
SN: Who are the most hated team to visit the Liberty Stadium (exclude Cardiff City) and why?
K E : We don’t like Norwich really, they’ve had two wins in the two home games in the Premier League and we don’t like Grant Holt much either. We don’t really hate anyone in the League though, it’ll be different if Cardiff can finally manage to join us.
SN: Your away kit this season is coloured red is this to install fire and passion, or simply winding up Cardiff City. Please explain the choice?
KE: It’s our centenary year so the colour scheme is based on our country’s colours.
SN: The Championship is reputed to be the most difficult to be promoted from, true or false?
KE: Definitely, it’s the most competitive League out there. There are so many former Premier League teams which makes it difficult, some with a lot of money who have bigger crowds than us and probably pay bigger wages even though we’re in a League higher.
SN: Which three teams do you believe will be relegated from the Premiership this season?
KE: Wigan will just survive again probably, so Southampton, Reading and QPR. QPR will improve under Redknapp but it won’t be enough to save them after an awful start to the season.
SN: Who do you think will be coming up from the Championship to the Premier League this season, including Cardiff City in your thoughts?
KE: If Cardiff City don’t then it’ll be an embarrassment for them after being top. Middlesbrough looked a good outfit against us in the Capital One Cup and Crystal Palace too are a good bet under Ian Holloway, who has done it before with Blackpool.
SN: Is the atmosphere better or worse at your smart new stadium than it was at the rundown Vetch Field?
KE: Not at first it wasn’t. It’s taken a bit of time but it’s not referred to as the Library Stadium any longer. A drum has helped and with 20,000 crowds, it’s much, much better than we had no more than 7,000 at the Vetch.
SN: Who are Swansea City’s bogey team out of all the clubs in the four divisions?
KE: Right now, it’s Norwich City. As stated above, they’ve won the two home games in the Premier League and did the double over us last year.
SN: Strict fiscal control is the watchword at the Liberty Stadium. Is it good business sense to encourage a vibrant youth academy system, when you can develop from a child, a player of the caliber of Joe Allen through the ranks. Eventually unfortunately having to sell him on for £15 million to Liverpool. Your view on Swansea’s youth academy and the progress In this aspect at your club?
KE: It has to be said that the Swans don’t currently produce many good players from the Youth Academy, and most of which you’ll see playing in the League of Wales. Joe Allen and Ben Davies are the only exceptions while we’ve seen dozens not make it at Football League level. A good Youth Academy is such a bonus and the likes of Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers in particular wanted to vastly improve it, along with our training facilities.
SN: Do Swansea have any plans to increase the seating capacity at the Liberty Stadium to allow the club to compete with bigger football clubs in achieving maximum match-day revenue?
KE: Plans are in place to increase it by a further 12,000 and I think the demand is there for extra tickets providing we stay in the Premier League. If we don’t, then the stadium could be half empty in the Championship, but we have the potential to develop into an established Premier League side.
SN: Swansea City are currently sitting in the 10th spot with 23 points in the Premier League table, last season you finished a fantastic 11th in the league, expectation for this campaign?
KE: Avoiding relegation is the main target and will be for a good few years to come. 11th place last season was unbelievable and if we could beat that this year then it would be even more impressive, given the tough challenge Michael Laudrup faced when he arrived in the Summer. Laudrup keeps stressing that relegation is the target and we can’t get too carried away but we’ve shown we’re capable of finishing 9th or 10th in May.
SN: What would your nightmare of a season be?
KE: Relegation, and Cardiff City swapping with us.
SN: Through to the Capital One Cup semi-final a brilliant performance so far, who would you like to meet in the next round. Aston Villa, Bradford or Leeds United*/Chelsea* (will be amended after Wednesday evenings game)?
KE: We’ve drawn Chelsea. The toughest out of the lot but if we can keep to within 2 goals in the away leg, we have a chance as fortunately for us we’re at home for the second leg.
SN: Swansea meet Arsenal in the 3rd round of the FA Cup in early January 2013, having already beaten the Gunners at the Emirates in the league 2-0, are you feeling confident of equaling your last seasons performance and progressing to the fourth round and further in the competition?
KE: Arsenal seem to have improved recently and are up to third now in the table, so it’ll be a tough game, but they’ll be very disappointed not to have joined us in the Capital One Cup Semi-Final after a big upset against Bradford. It would be enjoyable to go on another Cup run but the League will always be our main priority and we don’t have the biggest of squads or excellent strength in depth to cope with a long Cup run through a vital period of the season.
SN: Miguel Michu presently joint top goal scorer in the league with Robin van Persie, 12 goals each, matching your last seasons top goal scorer Danny Graham after only 17 games. Is the Spaniard the bargain of the season at a transfer cost of £2.0 million?
KE: He’s got to be, I can’t think of another player that comes close to his ability in the 15 years I’ve been watching the Swans. With Gylfi Sigurdsson leaving, we were without a central attacking midfielder but we have to be glad he decided to join Spurs otherwise we wouldn’t have signed the Spaniard and the Premier league’s joint top goalscorer.
SN: United beat Swansea by the finest of margins last season 1-0 at the Liberty Stadium thanks to an early Javier Hernandez goal and two first half goals from Paul Scholes and Ashley Young at Old Trafford. Your prediction Kevin for the match tomorrow in South Wales?
KE: Hopefully it’ll be a similar game, but this time we can get a point against the in-form League leaders! If we’re at our best and don’t lose the ball in our own half which we’re vulnerable of doing, then we have a chance, but I believe Manchester United are full of confidence and will have that extra quality to win 2-0.