Swansea playing catch up after 'unexpected' rise
Shock promotion for Welsh club means their transfers and pre-season tour have all been last-minute
In 16 days' time, Swansea City will break new ground by becoming the first Welsh side to grace the Premier League, but some fans fear the new boys will be out of their depth after a close season of frustration.
After 28 long years of struggle, Brendan Rodgers' men finally returned to the top flight courtesy of the play-offs on 30 May. But despite the euphoria at Wembley when they beat Reading 4-2, there was also a sense of over-achievement for a club that almost went out of the Football League on the final day of the 2002-03 season.
Midfielder Leon Britton, who has had two spells at Swansea, said: "I didn't really expect the club to be in this position. I came back from Sheffield United with five months of last season left and there was the chance of either promotion or dropping out of the top six. We have to count our lucky stars."
It seems others in the club also had little expectation of going up. Going all the way in the play-offs meant a delayed summer break and a movement towards the back of the queue for available transfer targets. But that was only the tip of the iceberg for the newcomers. First, two key players in Dorus de Vries and Darren Pratley opted to leave the Liberty Stadium on free transfers after failing to agree new contracts. Then the club's pre-season tour to Austria was finalised at the last minute, with the opposition confirmed only on arrival at their training base.
To test the players' patience further, going into Europe took up all of last Monday with a journey which started at Llandarcy on the outskirts of Swansea and ended in the Alpine village of Obertraun, an hour and a half south-east of Salzburg, via Heathrow and Munich airports.
Britton said: "It was a very long trip – 13 hours to get to Austria seemed a long time. I think we have used every form of transport to get here. It would have been nice to fly directly to Salzburg."
There's more. Swansea will be the only Premier League team this season without their own training ground. In fact, the state of the club's long-term planning is summed up by the fact that the Swansea players have to share a shower on a daily basis with the general public after a practice session.
Inevitably, comparisons are being made with Blackpool, relegated by a single point last season having spent just £5.4m in the transfer market.
But Rodgers will not go quietly. He says: "We are entering a league which has taken us three decades to get into, so we want to fight like hell to stay in it. We have to do our very best to give ourselves a chance of staying up. We have to have a go.
"Matt Gilks of Blackpool made a good point when he said you either dip your toe in or put your foot in. We don't want to dip our toes in. Of course, we won't go two-footed either but we want to put a good foot in."
Easier said than done, perhaps, with the club unsure on whether to stick or twist in the elite division. Rodgers was quick to snap up striker Danny Graham for a club-record £3.5m from Watford, just a day after the play-off final win over Reading. Centre-back Steven Caulker arrived on loan from Tottenham last month, but then only Benfica's Jose Moreira, who has been earmarked as No 2 goalkeeper, was added to the promoted squad – until last night.
A double raid in the north-east yesterday signalled that the new boys may finally be getting their act together. Swansea agreed personal terms for the signing of Middlesbrough forward Leroy Lita and are ready to follow that up by closing in on a deal for the Newcastle winger Wayne Routledge.
Both players are expected for their medicals on Tuesday when Swansea are back from their week-long Alpine camp, and could make debuts in a home friendly against Celtic at the Liberty Stadium 24 hours later.
Rodgers said: "I have spoken to the chairman and the bottom line is that we need a good squad. The two players will help us stay in the league. They have both played in the Premier League and are both hungry to push on. They also both have pace.
"Lita is bullish, strong and he presses people. The supporters have loved him at every team he has played for. I think he will be a real hit for us and give us added depth, which is important.
"And with the style of football and environment, it could be a great place for Wayne to kick on and develop. He's in his mid-20s and he has a lot to offer." Maybe the tide is turning for the high-flying Swans.
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