Friday, February 3, 2023

Keep Or Chuck? What Should Swansea Do With Francesco Guidolin?

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Max Hicks
Swansea correspondent for The 4th Official. Also writes freelance for ESPN.

Swansea’s season is barely five games old and yet it has already stalled. A 1-0 opening weekend victory over Burnley was the first and last time the Welsh side tasted victory in league play this season. Since then, the Swans have suffered defeats to Hull, Leicester and Southampton, and were lucky to draw against Chelsea. Manager Francesco Guidolin is under pressure, but would Swansea really be better off without him? Here’s a look at both sides of the argument.

The case for sacking Guidolin

Swansea’s season needs saving, and at this point, it is unclear that Guidolin is the man to do it. He has already endured public spats with Neil Taylor and Ki Sung-Yeung, with both men refusing to shake their manager’s hand after recent substitutions. Guidolin has lost the support of at least two of his players, but the discontent could run deeper, and a divided locker room isn’t going to help.

The former Udinese manager is different from the type of manager Swansea usually target; he is not young, with something to prove and a special interest in possession football. Rather, Guidolin is a pragmatic coach who favours a 3-5-2 ill-suited to the squad, and therefore has had to work with different systems to lesser effect. Although his record of over-achievement in Serie A with Udinese should have augured well for the Swans, his lack of involvement with transfers has perhaps limited his ability to work his magic in Wales. His only input into shaping his squad is that he is allowed to suggest players by type rather than by name, and hope that someone useful shows up on the training field. It’s hardly ideal.

Guidolin is clearly struggling to get performances out of the players he does have. In an effort to shake his squad into action, he has used three different starting formations over the last three league games -including a first look in Wales at his favoured 3-5-2 – and at this point it feels like he is simply throwing mud at the tactics board to see what sticks.

When he first came to Swansea, he instructed his side to press high up the pitch, to work hard off the ball, to move quickly with it. None of those things are happening now. Have the players given up, or has Guidolin himself forgotten the basics? Perhaps a new start is needed, a new manager with a fresh take on what this under-performing Swansea side can achieve.

The case for keeping Guidolin

Football people have short memories. It’s easy to forget that Guidolin saved Swansea last season when the club was in a very real relegation fight. He didn’t just narrowly avoid the drop either. In 15 games he pulled a slumping Swansea side out of 17th place to finish in 12th, and based on his 1.6 points-per-game average during that stretch, he would have led Swansea to their highest ever Premier League points total (61) had he been in charge a full season.

Part of the reason for this success is Guidolin’s experience. At 60, he is the oldest of Swansea’s recent managers by some margin (Roberto Martinez, Paolo Sousa, Brendan Rodgers, Michael Laudrup and Garry Monk were all in their late thirties or early forties when they were appointed). He has spent 28 years in management, and has undoubtedly endured stretches of rotten form like this many times in the past, and survived. In contrast to Monk, who was a rookie manager when he was given the Swansea job and couldn’t overcome the first serious storm he suffered. Will the same thing happen to untested Ryan Giggs, should the Welsh legend shortly become Guidolin’s successor as the rumour mill suggests?

guidolin getty

And if not Giggs, then who? Swansea’s reputation for shrewd appointments has taken some damage over the past few years. The fallout from the Laudrup saga was unpleasant, and the Dane later resurfaced briefly in Lekhwiya. Monk’s appointment as Laudrup’s successor was ill-advised, and he now struggles in the Championship with Leeds. If Guidolin is sacked without even a full season on the job, then Swansea will start to look like potential career suicide for other managers, a far cry from the one-time production line of bright young talent that saw Rodgers and Martinez poached by bigger clubs.

Swansea are already constrained by financial resources when it comes to appointing new managers. A deal for Marcelo Bielsa fell apart last January when the two sides couldn’t agree on the money, so they don’t need to create more reasons to scare off potential targets as they don’t seem to be like a prospective club at present. The board made their decision to back Guidolin in the summer. They should trust that decision now and let their manager work without the pressure of job security hanging over each result. Five games is too soon to pull the trigger, and the club need to nurse their reputation off the field as much as on it at this point. A show of faith in Guidolin would help on both fronts.

What do you think? Should Swansea sack Francesco Guidolin?

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