When the Swansea City manager was preparing his team for Sunday’s Capital One Cup final, he undoubtedly was aware that it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for most, perhaps all, of his players. The same thing could be said about the club itself, as had never won a major trophy in its 101-year history.
Before Sunday’s contest, Laudrup told the Mail about an address he gave his team in December. He asked the players how many of them had played a game where silverware was on the line.
“I asked all the players before the quarter-final against Middlesbrough if any had ever played in a major final. None of them put his hand up and there were 20 of them in the room. That is why winning on Sunday will mean as much to me as anything in my career.”
It’s a safe bet to say that “Seize the day because you may not get another one” was an essential component of Laudrup’s message to his team ahead of Sunday’s final. It might have even been the entirety of his pregame talk. That’s exactly what Swansea did against Bradford City.
The Swans ended Bradford’s Cinderella run to the final and thrashed their opponents from League Two (English fourth division) by a score of 5-0. Laudrup’s men gave a dominant performance from top to bottom, and it was Dyer who took home “man of the match” honors.
The Swansea winger scored two goals and was a constant menace, but his second-half outburst dominated the headlines after the game. The 25-year-old had already scored two goals (and Swansea was leading 3-0) when Jonathan de Guzman earned a penalty kick for his team. Dyer was adamant about taking it and securing a memorable hat-trick, but de Guzman wanted it for himself. Dyer passionately argued his case for the better part of two minutes before giving in, and he did not do much celebrating after de Guzman dispatched the spot-kick.
Critics have taken aim at Dyer, saying it was a blemish on the game. The question of who should have taken the penalty has little significance since Laudrup shouldered the blame for the confusion after the game. The first-year Swansea boss hadn’t designated a penalty taker because he hadn’t been in that position with his current club, according to Sky Sports.
“There was no designated penalty taker, I forgot,” he said. “This was our 36th game of the season and it was our first penalty, so it is my fault because I didn’t say who was going to take it if we got one. I thought we would go through the whole season without getting one!”
Laudrup was one of the all-time greats as a player, and his reputation as a manager is growing. He came to the modest Welsh club in June, inheriting a team from Brendan Rodgers that had impressively finished 11th in last season’s Premier League. Swansea may not have the caliber of player that bigger clubs can boast, but Laudrup still took it to the top of the league (briefly in August) and delivered its first-ever major trophy in less than a year in charge. Aside from early discontent from the players and a September dip in form, it’s been mostly smooth sailing for the former Juventus, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Denmark star.
More teacher than miracle worker, Laudrup has added a European flair (and influential imports like de Guzman and Michu) to the passing and pressing style that is at the core of Swansea’s philosophy. He also drew on his playing experience to instill that winning mentality into his team that was so ruthlessly evident on Sunday.
“I still think if you’ve played at the highest level it does give you an advantage [as a manager] because there are things you know that you can’t read in a book — such as how to play in a Champions League Final,” Laudrup told the Telegraph in December. “You don’t actually know what it is to walk from the center circle down and take that penalty.
“You can read 100 books, you can see films, watch games but you don’t know how you feel inside as you walk down there and the goal is getting smaller and smaller and the goalkeeper looks bigger and bigger. In saying that you have some fantastic managers who’ve not played at the highest level but I do think it gives you some advantage. But you have to be able to communicate it to the players.”
Laudrup transmitted his message not only to his players, but also the global audience which saw the heavily favored Swans coolly sweep Bradford City aside. The Dane’s contract expires after next season, and it’s rumored that he could manage Chelsea, Manchester City, Real Madrid or even Manchester United in the near future. His work with the Swans is not complete, as the club looks to finish the season as high up the standings as possible and build on the Capital One Cup success in the coming months and years.
But with or without Laudrup, Swansea City is a team to be reckoned with because it has players like Dyer who are willing to fight their own teammates in order to live out their on-field dreams. Getting someone like Dyer — who was playing in the Championship (second division) two years ago — to that point isn’t easy nor pretty, but we get the sense that Swansea City fans won’t worry about aesthetic beauty during the victory parade.