Friday, 24 November 2017

Just because you're paranoid...

On a recent edition of Swans podcast The Jack Cast, one of the presenters described Swansea City as 'Circling the plughole' which for me is a pretty good metaphor for where we are right now.

It seems wherever you look there is discontent, conspiracy theories and a whole lot of mess, from on the pitch to behind the scenes and also with the Swans Trust.

I've been wanting to write a 'state of things' piece for a while now as a follow up to the ones I did last season, I've been waiting for things to calm down but that doesn't look like happening any time soon and chances are this will be out of date as soon as it's done but here it is anyway.

The Trust
To lose two Chairman in a week makes the managerial situation over recent years seem like the height of stability.  Whatever the full reasons for this, there's no doubt that we have gone from the Trust looking (at least from the outside) united on the plan to accept the deal to sell 5 of their 21% stake to a situation where rumour and paranoia is rife.

Although people will have their own opinion on the merits of selling vs. legal action, I've no doubt that the vote was influenced by the strong recommendation to sell from the Trust board.

By influenced, I'm not suggesting anything underhand, just that they will have been the one's privy to legal advice and knowledge of all other factors and when making a decision, you'd have to respect their thoughts on the situation.

Personally at the time I agreed that the thought of taking and losing legal action and spending a fair chunk of the £800k the Trust currently has felt too much of a risk vs having a guaranteed £5m plus rights to be included in future sales etc.,

Even if legal advice was that you were (for example) 80% likely to win, would you take the risk? The share payment after tax etc., would be a good amount although it'd take the side going down to league 1 or worse before it'd be anywhere near a meaningful amount to be able to take control of the club.

If the relationship/negotiations got to a stage where Phil the previous Chairman felt it necessary to resign due to him feeling that he could no longer recommend the deal, no matter what final deal gets agreed, the concept of a 'good working relationship' with the new owners seems difficult if not impossible and that for me tips the balance between taking the offer and legal action.

Valuing a club is obviously a difficult task but when the offer was made the thought of spending c£5m for 5% probably didn't seem as big of an issue to the new owners as it does now when according to the bookies we've got around a 60% chance of going down.

The New Owners

There's plenty of good talk from the new owners about the fans being the real stakeholders but when push comes to shove they are here to make money and while the aim will be to have a win-win of a successful (and valuable team), if it comes to a stage where a decision needs to be made that is right for them financially but bad for the club, I'm sure it'll be tough shit.

When I registered in the Summer after the playoffs, I noticed it had been previously registered (and left to lapse) by a Charlton fan which for me is a warning from the past.  Even if Kaplan/Levien turn out to be relatively reasonable guys, who knows who they'll end up selling to.

I'm a bit surprised around the general happy tone around the news that the Swans are looking to take on the lease for the Liberty.  As said before, the current situation at the club is fertile ground for paranoia but for me it doesn't seem something that's a particularly pressing issue.

As things stand there's no doubt out of the Council, the Swans and the Ospreys, it's the Swans that are bringing in the revenue, but if the Stadium naming rights for example are to be sold, I don't see why the three parties can't agree how much each should get without having to mess about with the lease.

The main argument that may be brought up is it enabling Stadium expansion to go ahead.  Personally I think that ship has long sailed, you may get 30k turning up for a game against Man Utd, but even if staying in the Premier League I think crowds above 24-25k would be a rarity without the playing style and results changing drastically.

If you could click your fingers and increase capacity by 2-3k that'd be great to enable a bit of movement to help friends/family sit together and attract more younger fans but I don't see the demand to justify the cost of expansion when for this and the previous 2 seasons there's been a real threat of relegation.

I don't think everything they have done is bad - the new App is good and changing the website so it's no longer white text on a black background which looked terrible are good if relatively minor things but things such as ticket pricing for friendlies/league cup games and the potential moving of the Vice Presidents Club members do leave a bad taste (update here includes some quotes from the club which don't do them any favours PR wise).

This is where we are now, they're not some malevolent dictatorship out to wreak misery, but if upsetting a few people is needed to help the finances then so be it.

I don't think any owners that buy Sam Clucas when already overloaded with midfielders can be seen as asset strippers, but there's no doubt they will have a number of exit plans based on where we are next season.

If we go down there's no logical reason for making us anywhere near favourites to come back up, maybe they'll have one shot at it to get back when the next TV deal starts.  Much was made of them being able to improve the club by 'working smarter', you could argue that getting £45m for Gylfi was incredible business (EDIT - since writing that it's come out that fee was a fair bit less after Spurs' sell on fee and what Everton actually paid so probably closer to £35m.) but in terms of purchases things have been less impressive.

The Team

Whether it's Clement not wanting Mesa in the first place and not picking him out of spite, or if Mesa has been unprofessional in training or off the field, there's no doubt that Clement has little time for him. Seeing as Clement could be out the door well before the January transfer window comes round (or even by the time you read this), there's always the chance of a new manager and a clean slate for Mesa.

The situation with Leon being drafted in to the coaching set-up is a weird one, at the moment he's in this limbo between being fit enough to train as a player but not being part of the 18 man matchday squad.

Having a player manager is a rarity these days but at least in that situation you know who the boss is, for Britton he'll be involved in coaching players he'll feel he should be playing ahead of and you've also got the fact that any playing contract for next years depends on number of appearances he'll make, coming back to the theme of conspiracy theories, the appointment could be a way of softening the blow of telling Leon they don't want to play him enough this season to trigger next season's contract and save themselves £2-3m.

I have no doubt Leon will make a great coach, and quite possibly an excellent manager but right here, right now it's a bit of an odd one and feels more like the club using the love for Leon to create some positive news.

Obviously as a stats guy I'm interested in what influence Dan Altman has on the side, it's always difficult to judge who was or wasn't a numbers signing but the only one that feels stats based was Mesa although this post on Planet Swans mentions a couple of names it was rumoured he recommended.

As Dan is high profile within the football analytics world it's always funny to see people trying to pin Swans transfer activity (good and bad) on him e.g., Martin Olsson when we'd be interested in him for ages.  In reality though I'd imagine the old guard are (or at least were) far more influential, over the last couple of months the odd negative story around transfer policy has come out which could signal a change of approach come January.

Transfer wise you consider Bony and Clucas to be two £30m signings or the signing of someone who was worth nearly £30m 3 years ago and has hardly played since and a kid who may well be wondering how the hell he ended up in Swansea.  There's still time for both to have a big impact on the season but the clock is ticking.

Jack to a King
For me, the production of Jack to a King was the beginning of the downward spiral, the thing about it that bothers me most is that its production was paid for out of club money but it was presented as a great story that had to be made.

If you're being generous, you could argue that keeping the fact quiet that it was essentially a club funded advert (or sales brochure) gives it a level of buzz you wouldn't get if you knew who was picking up the bill for the production.

As of accounts released last year, there's still £891k due back to the club in the form of repaying an interest free loan, the latest accounts will be due in the next few days but I'd be surprised if the amounts change too much as I can't imagine DVD sales have been that hot over the last 18 months.

There's been a fair amount of sniping (and subtweeting - I'm assuming comments about chickens coming home to roost were about the troubles at the Trust rather than any impending return for chicken lover Joe Allen) between those involved with the old regime and those in the Trust and other fans.  What was the truth of how the share sale was arranged, who knew what and when, only a handful of people truly know.

I don't blame the old owners for selling or even keeping it quiet as it's a life changing amount of money for most of them.  The statement from their legal team mentions being 'discreet' and depending on your thoughts on the situation you can consider that any way you want.

I'd rather though not hear the 'next level' guff that came as a result of the sale and I think Judge Judy put it best.

Where do we go from here

To avoid being to doom and gloom about things, it may be a mess but not all is lost.  On the field while the squad is heavy in central midfield and thin on the flanks, there's just about a half-decent first team still available as seen in this tweet:

Clement's not totally finished but it'll take a big improvement for him to see January (sorry the positivity didn't last long).  A lot of the situation isn't his fault, but I don't think he's the right man for now.  A lot of it is a question of intangibles, I'd imagine if you moved Clement to West Ham, Bilic to Everton and Koeman to the Swans then all would improve over their clubs early season form.  Sometimes it's a case of someone different rather than someone better (at least in the short term).

Ultimately though, more important than on-field is what happens with the Trust as what happens over the next few months will help shape where the club is in 5 years time.  The Trust needs to get to a position where it is the first point of contact for all fans and positioned as the true heart of the club.

Possible areas where this could be done include:

  • Communications manager - Current trust rules suggest no board members to be paid, personally I feel employing someone for 2-3 days a week (on a proper salary, not just for the love of it) to drive contact with fans, drive membership etc., could easily pay for itself.  I'd imagine working on the Trust can be an almighty ball-ache at times (especially times like these) and expecting people to do this work on top of day job/family etc., is pretty tough. Someone whose sole job it is to spread the word can help to drive things forward
  • Build the brand - this is probably the wanky kind of stuff the club itself will come up with, but it's true.  'Not Just Another Football Club' is dead and buried now we're ultimately owned by Swansea Football LLC registered in Delaware but the Trust can still claim to be run by fans for fans

  • Be a bit more militant - It's not a case of demanding fan protests every match, but part of the problem of being a large (but not large enough) shareholder is that rocking the boat is awkward.  If the new owners look to change something and they get the odd grumble here and there then that's not going to stop them, a block of several thousand Trust members acting together however could keep them more 'honest'