By the time Michael Laudrup strolled out with his customary panache onto the Wembley turf to congratulate his players and receive a collective embrace from the jubilant Swansea fans packed behind one of the goals, even the usually humble Dane must have realised what he and his team had just achieved.
Not only did Laudrup’s troops lift Swansea’s first major trophy in the year that marks the club’s centenary, it was exactly a decade on from the club staring into the abyss of non-league football-this is a club that has come a very long way. The achievement also confirmed that in the gargantuan, ruthless world that is modern football, there is still a relatively pure corner where teams with solid foundations and defined footballing philosophies can taste glory of their own.
The whole final was a neutral’s wet dream. Not only from the David and Goliath matchup, where the gulf in quality between the two teams underlined Bradford’s monumental effort en route to Wembley, but in terms of both sets of fans truly enjoying their afternoon of a lifetime, this was a match that marked everything that the tradition and romance of the game stands for.
As signing of the season Michu slotted his 19th goal of the season past Matt Duke, Bradford fans knew their odds-defying run was to be denied a fantastic ending, while the dream Swansea fans hadn’t dared talking about was well on its way to become reality. For Swansea fans getting in to the Premier League was dreamland, but this was fairy tale stuff.
Few in South Wales would have envisaged such glory when Michael Laudrup took over from Brendan Rodgers in the summer, he had big boots to fill.
Rodgers had left his mark at the club after he masterminded Swansea’s return to the top flight for the first time in 24 years and steered them to an excellent 11th-place finish. Laudrup’s task was not only to match his predecessor’s success, but also to do it the Swansea way, and it is credit to him that he has continued Swansea’s Barcelona-esq footballing philosophy.
Swansea place enormous faith in their passing game and have earned plaudits for their style of play, a philosophy developed by Roberto Martinez and Paulo Sousa, polished by Rodgers and now perfected by Laudrup.
After an excellent start to season, Swansea’s form was brusquely halted as they picked up only two points in five games, but despite the words “second season syndrome” beginning to be prematurely associated with the team from the Liberty Stadium, Laudrup’s position was never in doubt as chairman Huw Jenkins backed the man and the project unconditionally, trusting the Dane to be the right man to move Swansea forward.
Laudrup and Swansea haven’t looked back since, producing some swashbuckling football and delivering results that became increasingly less surprising as the season wore on. Players such as Michu, Jonathan de Guzman and Chico have emerged from the relative obscurity that had greeted their arrivals in the Premier League.
Michu and de Guzman, one purchased for £2.2m from Rayo Vallecano, the other on loan from Villareal, exemplify Swansea’s success and footballing style this season and it is fitting that they were both on the scoresheet at Wembley, in what was arguably the biggest game of their careers so far.
Laudrup knows success very well, having tasted glory with different clubs, but he was adamant Sunday’s final was the pinnacle of his career:
“I don’t think I can compare this title, what we have achieved this season in this competition, with something I have done before for the simple reason that it’s one thing to win a cup with Barcelona, Madrid or Juventus but to win it with a smaller team, like Swansea, is absolutely fantastic. It’s the first major trophy ever and it’s up there with the best things because it’s completely different.”
If there’s one thing that could spoil Swansea fans mood is the realisation that bigger clubs will come calling for manager and players but, as he admitted before the season began, Laudrup’s ambitions are rather peculiar:
“It’s not that I would not like to [join a big club]. But I’m very happy to be in clubs where I probably won’t win titles, because what is important for me is that I can see players and teams improve.”
As the final whistle went, those words must have sounded strange even to Laudrup himself. It looks like at Swansea Laudrup has found a home, maybe he should look at the plight of his predecessor and realise that the grass isn’t always greener and if the big boys do come knocking, he will benefit by staying at Swansea a while longer.
Swansea fans, have you died and gone to heaven or do you think your side can achieve more this season after the cup win? Will Laudrup, Michu and de Guzman stay? We want to know your opinion, so leave it below. Remember you can follow Football Rascal on Twitter and Facebook, so get involved!