Three months is a long time in football.
It was, after all, only back at the start of September that the Swansea City manager Garry Monk was widely being tipped to succeed Roy Hodgson as England’s coach after the European Championships in France next summer.
The 36-year-old had just led the Swans to a third consecutive league victory over Manchester United, and the South Wales club were sitting pritty with eight points from a possible 12 at the start of the new season.
Swansea had opened their Premier League campaign with an impressive 2-2 draw away at champions Chelsea, and the shrewd signings of players of the calibre of Andre Ayew and Franck Tabanou from Ligue 1 seemed set to ensure that the side would build on the record-breaking eighth-place finish that they achieved during Monk’s first full season in charge in 2014/15.
The Guardian’s chief football writer Daniel Taylor, for instance, argued that, despite his tender years, Monk’s voracious work-ethic and clear tactical vision made him an attractive candidate to manage England.
“Monk actually deserves an awful lot more praise than has come his way”, Taylor wrote. “It is time to recognise the Swansea manager deserves to be among those who feature uppermost in the FA’s thinking. How can he possibly not be given the shrewdness of his work and the growing feeling within the sport that he ticks all the relevant boxes to go to the top of his profession?”
Thirteen weeks on, however, Monk appears to on the brink of losing his job.
Swansea have won one match in 12 in all competitions since beating United at the Liberty Stadium, and Saturday afternoon’s comprehensive 3-0 defeat at home against Leicester leaves Monk’s side sitting just a point outside of the drop-zone, 15 games into the season.
The fact that virtually all of the major English newspapers, from the Mail to the Telegraph, are reporting that Monk is set to be relieved of his duties by Wednesday suggests that they have been briefed directly by the club. Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins is reportedly targeting one of former Everton and United coach David Moyes, Rangers boss Mark Warburton, or the recently departed Liverpool and ex-Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers to replace Monk in the Liberty Stadium dugout.
The dramatic nature of Monk’s slump from “England manager elect” to being yet another out of work young coach leaves a sour taste. The manager’s sacking brings to an end an 11-year association with Swansea, which he joined as a player in the summer of 2004 when the club languished towards the bottom of the fourth-division.
The Bedford native was captain for most of the Swans’ phoenix-like rise back to the first-division in 2011, and he featured in club’s 2013 League Cup final victory over Bradford City before succeeding Michael Laudrup as manager in February last year.
The fact that Monk was so successful in revising his relationship with the Swansea dressing-room upon being appointed coach reflects extremely positively on his ability as a man-manager, and there was plenty of praise for the Swans boss’ tactical nous after he outwitted Louis van Gaal at the start of September.
“Sometimes tactical brilliance is about a manager devising an intelligent pre‑match plan, and sometimes it takes mid-game improvisation”, the tactics columnist Michael Cox commented in the Guardian. “This was a perfect example of the latter, with Garry Monk switching from his initial 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-3-1-2 early in the second half, and Swansea turning a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 victory.”
In this sense Monk’s sacking seems extremely harsh, and the Telegraph’s chief football writer Sam Wallace has passionately argued that the club will benefit from retaining their coach in the longer-term, paralleling Swansea’s present predicament to the trouble Mainz found themselves in after promoting Jurgen Klopp from player to manager in February 2001. After a slow start, Klopp enjoyed a very successful seven-year tenure in the Rhineland, gaining the club’s first ever promotion to the Bundesliga in 2004, before leaving to take over at Borussia Dortmund in 2008.
Still the deterioration in Swansea’s form has been such that it is difficult to envisage Monk reviving his side’s fortunes in time to avoid relegation.
Many commentators remarked that it looked as though the Swansea players gave up as soon as they went behind to Leicester last weekend and a drop down to the Championship would be extremely damaging for the South Wales club given that a new £5 billion television rights deal set to come into place in the Premier League at the start of next season.
Monk performed a minor miracle in leading the club with the fourteenth-highest wage bill in the Premier League to an eighth-place finish last season, and his standing as an up-and-coming manager exploded as a consequence. But it is a symptom of that same climate of hyperbole so characteristic of English football since 1992 that, as soon as results turn against a manager, their reputation can be left in tatters.
Monk has now experienced both sides of the Premier League sword, and because he failed to gain a promotion away from Swansea when his reputation peaked at the end of last season (as Paolo Sousa [Fiorentina], Roberto Martinez [Everton] and Rodgers did before him), he faces an arduous task to rebuild his reputation as a top-flight manager.
When Mr. Monk resurfaces, it is likely to be in a Championship level dugout.
[Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images]