With wages and egos going through the roof across the game, the Swansea-Bradford City League Cup final was a refreshing change from the regular script. While Swansea minds must now return to chasing Premier League points, their 5-0 win is well worth celebrating, marking the high point of a remarkable journey from football obscurity to a Wembley final and onwards with the promise of European action next season. For two members of manager Michael Laudrup’s squad, this triumph was especially sweet – Swansea veterans Leon Britton and Garry Monk.
Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are rightly celebrated for their longevity at Manchester United, but it is tough to find too many other players that have put in such service at the same club. It is even rarer to find loyal servants at clubs that are not competing for trophies year in, year out. There is restlessness and the "Disease of More" – more playing time, more money, more attention. Swansea’s surge up the football pyramid has been gripping to watch because they have done it the right way, playing good football and showing faith in the players that got them there. There can be no greater satisfaction as a footballer than to look back on the type of run that Swansea have produced and have contributed to every step.
Britton joined the Welsh club on loan during the 2002/03 season when the Swans were fighting for their lives in a fourth division relegation battle. He signed on a permanent basis that summer and has blossomed into one of the unsung heroes of the past two Premier League seasons. No player better understands the comparative perks of life in the top flight better than Britton. Though he did leave the Welsh outfit briefly in 2010 for move to Sheffield United, he returned just six months later to help drive the club’s promotion bid.
Former Swansea boss Brendan Rodgers played a key role in Britton’s emergence, giving him the freedom to dictate the tempo of games from a deep-lying playmaker role. It maximised the little midfielder’s range of passing and composure in possession. Even in the Championship, renowned for its physicality, Britton was able to prosper in this position, controlling the tempo and helping Swansea earn plaudits for the quality of their football. Laudrup has kept Britton as a midfield cog and the 30-year-old was everywhere at Wembley yet never looked rushed, notching a 95% pass completion rate.
"It’s unbelievable to see how far the club has come", Britton explained. "We’re talking about a major cup final here with a chance to reach Europe – I’ve seen a lot of progression in the club for the past 10 years. I know we hark back, but 10 years ago who would have thought we could qualify for Europe by winning a major honour?"
Monk, meanwhile, started life at Southampton, enjoying the bright lights of Premier League action. Despite showing promise as a raw youngster, his search for first team action took him away from the South Coast club and landed him in Swansea, via a string of loan spells at Torquay United and Sheffield Wednesday among others. When he arrived, Swansea were a League Two side but he helped them secure promotion in his first year and make the playoffs in his second. Named captain in 2006, Monk became an even more central figure as the Swans set their sights on completing the journey from League Two to the Premier League in the space of just seven seasons.
There may have been no prouder player than Monk at Wembley as he came on as a second half substitute and basked in the glory. This has not been the easiest campaign for him, with Laudrup unable to give the defender the playing time he desired. Swansea have had a fine season, but Monk has watched much of it from the bench. None of that mattered in the final though – it was all about seeing the job through to completion and bringing silverware to a club that has become like family to him.
“When we were in the fourth division I thought the only way I’d get into Europe would be playing FIFA. I’d have probably laughed at you", Monk admitted. “Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, it does – and long may that continue. I’ve said it every season, I don’t think you can top the season before. But if I say it again, then hopefully we will."
As the Champions League heats up and the closing months of the season present intrigue at both ends of the Premier League table, it will be all too easy for the Swans’ success to be overlooked. But the journey that Britton, Monk and Swansea have undertaken deserves better than that. In today’s game, it is a rare accomplishment worth cherishing.
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