Preparations begin for Swansea City's Europa League adventure
SWANSEA City will keep fingers crossed that one of the big guns wins the FA Cup as they wait to discover when their European adventure will begin.
Swansea have qualified for Europe via the English system for the first time in their 101-year history after winning the Capital One Cup.
But Michael Laudrup's men must now stay patient before finding out how their Europa League campaign might unfold.
It is a step unknown for Swansea, whose last European foray — in the Cup Winners' Cup back in 1991 — ended at the first hurdle.
Frank Burrows's Third Division team were beaten 10-1 over two legs by a Monaco side then managed by Arsene Wenger.
More than two decades on, Swansea will expect to have a better crack at Europe in 2013-14 — but it will be a first taste of European football for almost everyone involved at the club.
"The only continental I've had before was for my breakfast," club skipper Garry Monk concedes through a smile.
Swansea are thirsty for information on the Europa League right now, and the first big question they want answered is when their campaign will start.
The early rounds of the competition take place in early July, when British clubs are normally saying their hellos at the start of pre-season.
Happily for Swansea, they will not be in action at that stage, for the earliest they will enter the Europa League is in the third qualifying round — and it may be later than that.
As things stand, Swansea will go in to the third qualifying round, which means they will play a two-legged tie on August 1 and 8.
Should they get through, Swansea would then go into the play-offs, which would mean another two-legged knockout tie on August 22 and 29.
Another success there would send them into the Europa League group stages, which would mean three games at home and three on their travels.
However, the task of getting as far as the group phase could be made easier should one of the Premier League's top sides win the FA Cup.
If a club who are already in Europe via their league placing wins the cup, the European place from that competition will be handed to the runners-up.
And if that scenario unfolds, the FA Cup runners-up would enter the Europa League in the third qualifying round and Swansea would be promoted to the play-off stage.
Swansea also believe they would be pushed into the play-offs if two clubs who are already in Europe end up in the cup final, which is a possibility with Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs all still involved.
The prospect of the Europa League will have an impact on Swansea's pre-season plans, with friendlies and an overseas tour likely to be affected.
And it will also have a bearing on how Laudrup reshapes his squad at the end of this campaign.
The Swansea boss has spoken of a desire to trim down the playing staff at the Liberty next term because he does not want to have any players who are not in contention even to make the bench on a matchday.
But Laudrup may now be forced into a rethink given that Swansea's season could feature many more games — as well as plenty of additional travelling.
If Swansea were to start out in the third qualifying round and end up going all the way to the final, which takes place in Turin in May next year, they would play 19 Europa League games.
That is the equivalent of half of a Premier League season, so the fresh demands on a squad of players not used to such a hectic schedule would be huge.
Though players usually prefer games to training, sports science proves that they cannot maintain standards when playing three games a week on a regular basis.
And in recent years there have been a number of examples of clubs qualifying for Europe and then seeing their domestic form suffer as a result.
Swansea's opponents this weekend, Newcastle United, have found that to be the case this season.
Alan Pardew's men came close to finishing in the Premier League's top four last season, yet they have spent much of this campaign looking down nervously at the relegation zone.
"This competition (the Europa League) is not great for a Premier League team," Pardew said in December.
"It's too many games in addition to a tough, competitive league. It takes a toll.
"We've made mistakes.
"The squad was probably too small, we broke the team up in those Europa League games, which probably took momentum away."
Even a club of Liverpool's stature have not found it easy to cope with the Europa League this season, with Brendan Rodgers struggling to juggle his resources between four different competitions in all.
As last season's League Cup winners, the Reds started out in the Europa League at the beginning of August, playing Belarusian side Gomel and Heart of Midlothian just to reach the group stage.
They ended up playing 12 games in all before bowing out to Zenit St Petersburg in the round of 32 last week.
Nevertheless Swansea are optimistic they can compete, with Huw Jenkins pointing out that they have succeeded where others have failed on many occasions in recent years.
Swansea's chairman says the club will relish their chance to go into Europe, that they will savour what is another opportunity to progress.
And just like the boardroom, there will be no lack of enthusiasm in the dressing room as Swansea embark on what should be an intriguing campaign.
"It's unbelievable to see how far we have come," Leon Britton says.
"It's going to be a great adventure for all of us."