Have you ever heard of Swansea?
I promise, I didn’t pose that question just so I could patronize you. A few weeks ago, I didn’t know much of anything about the city of Swansea. In all honesty, if someone would’ve asked me to point at Swansea on a map of Britain, I surely would have directed my finger at the wrong country altogether.
One thing I did know, however, was that the city of Swansea had a beloved soccer team. Located on the southern coast of Wales, it is home to the Swansea City A.F.C. Swans, the team that became the first Welsh club to earn promotion into the Barclays Premier League in 2011.
Many young soccer fans know Swansea as the team they feverishly skipped over in a FIFA video game while debating between playing as Manchester United or Tottenham. The Swans are not dynamic like Chelsea or Manchester City. They’re not flashy like Liverpool, distinguished like Arsenal, and they will never steal newspaper headlines like United.
But what have they done so far in their 2014-15 Premier League campaign?
They marched into Old Trafford on the opening weekend of BPL action and defeated the Red Devils by a score of 2-1, shocking both United fans and soccer enthusiasts alike. In the next two weeks, Swansea defeated Burnley and West Bromwich Albion in convincing fashion, led by the impressive efforts of 26-year-old English winger Nathan Dyer and 24-year-old Icelandic midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson. With their undefeated start, the Swans currently sit tied with Chelsea atop the Premier League table.
Let’s pause for a second.
Am I suggesting that Swansea will contend for a Premier League title this season? No. It will be a long time before the Swans can think about challenging for a league title. One of the most popular online bet-placing websites, bet365.com, has Chelsea as 4/5 favorites to win the 2014-15 BPL. Even after Swansea City’s impressive start, the team is listed at 2000/1 to win the league. Only three weeks into the season, it would be almost inconceivable to predict that Swansea will mount a serious title campaign or even qualify for a UEFA Champions League spot this year.
With that said, Swansea City have played with a perfect balance of intensity and finesse so far this season; they have demonstrated the mental vigor and tenacious physicality that are distinctive in champions. Their possession and offensive fluidity has led to ample goal-scoring opportunities while stifling opponents’ offensive attacks. Nobody expects Swansea to win the league, but right now, nobody wants to have to play against them either.
Young midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson has been a key piece in Swansea’s early season success, as his long-range passing ability has helped him accumulate four assists so far this season. In his first BPL appearance this year, Sigurdsson’s sealed the Swans’ victory in Manchester with strike past goalkeeper David de Gea in the 72nd minute of the contest. At 6’1”, Sigurdsson has bolstered the Swans’ inside midfield, allowing speedy attackers to focus on exploiting opposing defenses.
Following England’s uninspiring 1-0 victory over Norway last week, England skipper Roy Hodgson was pressured by several British media outlets to consider adding some of Swansea’s young talent to the English national team. Outside midfielder Dyer has been one of the most prevalent names in this discussion, as he has shined as one of the Premier League’s brightest young stars this season. Dyer’s technical savvy and prowess down the right wing have helped him score three goals in as many games so far this season. Though he is just 5’4” and weighs 126 pounds, he has told many reporters that he dreams of one day helping Swansea climb the ranks of the BPL while simultaneously making a name for himself within England’s Football Association.
Each transfer season, stars from around the world are exchanged for lucrative transfer deals. In European club soccer, money is everything. When Manchester City was purchased by the wealthy investment group Abu Dhabi United in 2008, the team went from a lowly 10th place finisher to a Premier League champion within just three years. The willingness of big clubs like Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Paris Saint Germain F.C. and F.C. Barcelona to spend money to buy players on the transfer market has left smaller first-division clubs with little hope of challenging for soccer’s most coveted league trophies.
Swansea City may never have £100 million to spend upgrading their roster or building a stadium with a capacity of 50,000 people. The Swans may never have international stars who will receive distinguished honors and accolades for the performances for either club or country. The Swans are a group whose names printed on the back of each jersey are less significant than the team emblem embedded on the front: a symbol that represents the fervor and passion of a city that is ready to ascend the ranks of British soccer.
Though there will be many tough tests ahead for Swansea City, their early success has not been a fluke. The Swans have the potential to become a true anomaly in European soccer- a team whose sum is greater than its parts.
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