Swansea City: Wayne Routledge emerging from former flyer's shadow
SWANSEA City will be reunited with their ex-star winger this weekend feeling well pleased with their progress out wide without Scott Sinclair.
Swansea said goodbye to one of the more influential performers of the Brendan Rodgers era when Sinclair joined Manchester City in an initial £6.2 million deal back in August.
Sinclair may not have stormed the Premier League last season, for there were times when the former Chelsea man drifted in and out of games.
But the fact is that Swansea lost a player who scored no fewer than 36 goals in 91 appearances — 80 of them starts — when Sinclair departed for the Etihad Stadium.
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These are still early days, but Sinclair's time at City to date has gone the way many felt it would, with the 23-year-old playing only a marginal role in Roberto Mancini's team.
At Swansea, meantime, the wide players who remain are enjoying life under Michael Laudrup.
Nathan Dyer continues to produce the kind of menacing performances that have prompted talk of a possible England call-up.
Pablo Hernandez is settling into life at his new club, the former Valencia man having made his first big mark on the Premier League by scoring against Wigan Athletic.
And then there is Wayne Routledge, who has been one of the major success stories of Laudrup's tenure to date.
Routledge was very much in the shadow of Sinclair last season, only getting intermittent chances to impress under Brendan Rodgers.
But right from the moment he was picked ahead of Sinclair on the opening day at Queens Park Rangers, this campaign has been a different story.
Routledge shone at Loftus Road, and he has continued to impress through until now.
"We are giving him confidence," Laudrup says, "and that's important for every player.
"Wayne knows that even on a day when maybe he is not playing that well, he will not lose his position.
"He will still be one of the three really good wide players along with Nathan and Pablo.
"We have a lot of confidence in all three of them."
Remarkably, Routledge had chalked up 100 Premier League appearances before he scored his first top-flight goal, in Swansea's win at Aston Villa back in January.
This season he has two strikes to his name in Swansea's eight league games so far.
Routledge has started seven of those fixtures and came off the bench in the other one.
His solitary goal last term came in 28 league appearances, 17 of which were starts.
"He has not been a regular starter for a long time and that's important," Laudrup adds.
"I heard when I arrived here that he only scored one goal in 100 games, and he has already scored double that this season.
"I think maybe he has been a big surprise for you (watching on), but he has a lot of quality.
"And with confidence, everything comes out."
A glance at Routledge's career shows that while he has starred in the Championship, he has too often struggled to make a mark in the top tier.
He had spells at the highest level with Crystal Palace, Tottenham, Portsmouth, Fulham, Aston Villa and Newcastle before joining Swansea in the summer of 2011 in a deal worth around £1.75 million.
And after all those stints at all those clubs, there are plenty who feel his current form is the best he has ever produced.
"Wayne is a wide player, but he is not a winger for me," Laudrup says.
"He is someone who wants to come inside more and looks for the pass. He has good vision, he is very fast."
If Swansea are to thrive this season, Routledge, Dyer and Hernandez will all have big roles to play.
Ideally, Laudrup wanted four widemen to choose from, and it could be that Swansea dip into the transfer market for another in January after a late bid for Dutchman Jerson Cabral failed before the summer window closed.
As it is, the Dane will hope the trio in place at the moment in SA1 can continue driving one another on.
"We have three really good wide players and it's great to have two starting with another one to come on," he says.
"They are different types of players and that's good for us, but all three of them are very quick and all three of them can change direction very quickly."
Routledge was the star of the show against Wigan last weekend, but Hernandez's maiden goal was a key moment.
The hope now is that the four-cap Spanish international will really begin to stamp his authority on games.
"When you come to a new club, a new league and a new culture, you want to make a good impression," Laudrup continues.
"Sometimes when you're trying to do that, you want to do too many things at the same time.
"There's a difference playing here compared to Spain.
"This league is much more physical than Pablo is used to.
"That's why sometimes we have started him on the bench and sometimes he has started and come off, but he is adapting.
"I think he is getting better and better."
As was the case against Wigan, it will be interesting to see which two of the three Swansea widemen get the nod to start at City this weekend.
But then whoever makes the first XI, the third winger will almost certainly see some action in Manchester on Saturday evening.
Sadly for Sinclair, the same cannot be said of him.