Swansea City: More than just a club — the pride of Wales
THE words ‘Més Que Un Club’ shimmer with an ethereal glow from the seats of the Camp Nou, the footballing colosseum which Barcelona call home.
The maxim means ‘more than a club’ and, for a team who represent Catalonia every time they step on to the field, the phrase reverberates with significance.
The stands of the Liberty Stadium may not be emblazoned with a saying of similar gravity, but there is certainly a sense that Swansea City are more than a club.
As the Premier League’s only Welsh club, the Swans’ every league game is an international clash of sorts, a chance to represent Wales against a club from the neighbouring behemoth over the Bridge.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
Tomorrow will be one such occasion, when Wales’s top-flight trail-blazers take on Chelsea who, fittingly, have formed a terse rivalry with Barcelona in recent years.
Swansea’s playing style earned them the nickname ‘Swansealona’ last season, a somewhat fanciful allusion to the way they play with the sort of crisp simplicity expected from Barcelona.
The comparison is not entirely tongue in cheek, though, and there is one man with a particularly intimate knowledge of Barcelona who argues the correlation is a strong one.
Graham Hunter is a journalist, author and television pundit who has reported on Barça since the mid-1990s. For the last 12 years, he has lived in the Catalan capital and gained almost unrivalled access to what has been heralded as one of the greatest club sides of all time.
Hunter will be at the Liberty to watch Swansea take on Chelsea tomorrow and in the evening will be at the Dylan Thomas Centre to give a talk entitled ‘Swansea City and FC Barcelona’.
Much of the discussion will revolve around their kindred footballing philosophies and beliefs but, for Hunter, the connection with Swansea was formed generations before Brendan Rodgers’s class of 2011 reached the Premier League.
“When I was growing up in Aberdeen in the 1970s, I watched John Toshack taking Swansea up the divisions with great interest,” he says.
“When I see a relatively small community with a club which is well-structured and hungry for success, it has my sympathy because of my past.
“I was particularly taken by Swansea because of players such as Alan Curtis and Tommy Craig, who was one of my favourite players at Aberdeen.
“I was really enamoured with what Swansea did in the old First Division.”
Since working in Spain, Hunter has also become acquainted with key figures in Swansea’s recent past on numerous occasions.
“I worked on Spanish football TV programmes with Roberto Martinez,” he adds.
“I used to chat to him about his work at Swansea, which really was the bedrock to what they’re doing now.
“Brendan Rodgers also got in touch with me to talk about training methods at Barcelona, and he struck me as a very articulate, intelligent manager.
“He watched Barcelona intently, really eager to learn from their methods, and he did a brilliant job.”
Swansea rose from League One to the top flight playing with the sort of devout ball retention and short passing game which had purists purring.
Martinez laid the foundations in the third tier, while Rodgers hauled them to new highs and, despite the doubters’ warnings that such a style would prove fatal in the Premier League, the Swans adhered to those ideals and thrived.
Rodgers has since left to take charge at Liverpool and in his place has come former Barcelona player Michael Laudrup, who is revered as a legend at the Camp Nou.
“Michael is a giant of the game,” says Hunter.
“He had everything as a player. He was fast, intelligent and so elegant. He is still regarded as a great at Barcelona.
“I think his managerial CV reads well too, and I think he will be a success at Swansea.”
Laudrup was on Barcelona’s shortlist of candidates to succeed Frank Rijkaard as manager in 2008, though he eventually missed out to Pep Guardiola.
Following spells at Spartak Moscow and Mallorca, Laudrup was appointed at Swansea to continue in the same vein as his predecessors, to oversee an evolution rather than a revolution.
There are differences between the Dane and Rodgers — Laudrup favours a more direct, attacking approach — but the emphasis on keeping possession remains as firm as ever.
Whether it is Swansea or Barcelona, though, Hunter suggests teams do not play this way to gain moral superiority but simply to win.
“There are no styles of football which are right or wrong,” he says.
“Guardiola made it clear the only reason Barcelona play the way they do is to win. Entertainment is just a by-product.
“It would be great if more teams came up from the Championship and played the way Swansea do, but teams only play with the style which suits their players.
“Teams have to be efficient and win games. It’s great to have that concept of playing a certain way, to have that belief, but you can’t be evangelical about different styles.”
Guardiola won three La Liga titles, two Champions Leagues and nine other trophies when in charge of Barcelona between 2008 and 2012.
He won a further six league championships, one European Cup and another nine competitions as a Barça player, and there are few Catalans held in higher regard than the 41-year-old.
In Hunter’s book, Barça: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World, there are passages where Guardiola speaks with the eloquence of a seasoned orator when he discusses his Catalan identity.
Catalonia is currently engaged in an intensely emotive debate about independence, with more than a million demonstrators taking to the streets recently in their fight for autonomy from Spain.
Welsh campaigns for self-governance are not at their most fervent at the moment, though the Scottish National Party’s forthcoming referendum on independence is a reminder of the issue’s prevalence in Britain — and Hunter believes sport has a role to play in the discussion.
“You could make a comparison between the Celts and the Catalans,” Hunter says.
“As a fellow Celt, there are similarities between my Scottish background and the importance of being Welsh at Swansea.
“Excelling at sport can give a community a stronger identity, a powerful mirror for a society.
“This is a time where more than one million people have taken to the streets in Catalonia. I think it would be fair to say that a small part of that has been the success of Barcelona from around 2003 to the present day.
“The world has fallen in love with the football team, which has given Catalonia much more confidence.
“Pep Guardiola and so many of the players are Catalan. Even Andres Iniesta, who comes from the deepest heartland of Spain, thinks of himself as a Catalan.
“For those of us who feel a bit more distant from the machine, we can take consolation from people who share the same view.”
For Swansea and Barcelona, there certainly is a shared view — these are more than mere clubs.