Swansea City's Wayne Routledge: We don't view ourselves a small club
WAYNE Routledge stops for a chat after Swansea City training as £12 million worth of goalscorer wanders past.
A few yards to Routledge's left, Swansea's new England international midfielder is also speaking to the media.
Not so long ago, it would have been impossible to imagine such a scene on Swansea's training ground.
A £12 million player at the Liberty? Only in the away dressing room, those who knew the club would have pointed out in an instant.
And an England player wearing the white jersey of Swansea as well? Not likely, given that it has never previously happened in the history of the club.
But things have changed dramatically — and rapidly — in SA1.
It was a big deal when Swansea stumped up £5.5 million on Ki Sung-Yueng and then £5.55 million on Pablo Hernandez last summer.
And even as recently as the January transfer window, there was considerable doubt about whether Swansea would be prepared to pay something like £8 million for long-time Michael Laudrup target Iago Aspas.
Yet Swansea's willingness to spend has increased greatly as the club prepare for a third season in the Premier League.
The shift in policy is thanks in part to the fact that the television money coming their way has increased spectacularly this term, while there was money in the bank anyway following the sales of players like Joe Allen and Danny Graham.
And there was an acceptance within the Swansea boardroom — not to mention the manager's office — of the need to invest in the squad this summer, particularly with a maiden Europa League campaign ahead in 2013-14.
The result is that Swansea now have a group of players which looks stronger than ever, with fierce competition for game-time across most departments in the squad.
Yet Routledge rejects the suggestion that Swansea could now be viewed as a lesser Premier League club with players fit for sides higher up the food chain.
"People on the outside may view us as a small club, but we don't have that mentality," the winger says.
"We don't believe we're a small club — the squad don't see it like that.
"We look around at the players here and what we did last season, and I think that whoever we are playing against, teams know we can give anyone a game. They give us respect now."
The arrival of Wilfried Bony should only add to that, for the Ivory Coast international will expect to score goals next season even though he must make the step up from the Eredivisie to the English game.
Jonjo Shelvey has also looked the part in his early days as a Swan, while the Spanish trio of Jose Canas, Jordi Amat and Alejandro Pozuelo will hope to follow in the footsteps of so many countrymen by shining in South West Wales.
With Jonathan de Guzman back on board for another season, Laudrup has declared himself well pleased with the way his squad is shaping up.
And Routledge believes Swansea's new-look line-up can look forward to another big year.
"Since I've come in we've kept making strides," he points out.
"We built last year and it was magnificent for everyone involved. This year, hopefully, we can continue where we left off last season."
Europe means a fresh challenge for Swansea this term, and it is one clubs like Newcastle United and Stoke City have battled to cope with in recent times.
Yet chairman Huw Jenkins is typically bullish about the prospect of competing on the Continent, insisting nobody at Swansea will be moaning about extra European games.
Laudrup has also played down the idea that Europa League involvement could hinder Swansea domestically — and has backed up his claims by refusing to stockpile players.
The prospect of cross-border competition has been a talking point for Swansea's fans ever since Bradford were beaten at Wembley back in February, and it seems the same goes for the players.
The club may not have been in Europe for a couple of decades, but there are members of the playing staff who know through experience what it is like.
One of them is Routledge, who turned out in the Uefa Cup for Aston Villa back in 2008-09.
He played in both legs of a 5-2 aggregate win over Icelandic side Hafnarfjordur, then again as a Villa team featuring the likes of Ashley Young, James Milner and Gareth Barry saw off Litex Lovech, of Bulgaria.
"I played a couple of games in Europe with Villa and it's a great experience," Routledge says.
"The squad is excited about the challenge this year.
"It's an early start, but we can't wait for it and we're going to make sure we enjoy it."
Swansea will know more about what they hope will be stage one of a long European adventure when the third qualifying round draw is made on Friday.
And once the two European legs are out of the way, Swansea's focus will switch to Manchester United on the opening day of the league season.
"We all know there's no easy games but Manchester United, the champions, on the first day will be a massive occasion," Routledge says.
Certainly, there is plenty for Laudrup's players to look forward to as they plough on with pre-season training.