It’s a tale of two cities but who is top dog when it comes to Norwich and Swansea?
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Norwich City’s players and fans have had their say over the popular appeal of Swansea City’s style of play. Norwich City writer Paddy Davitt offers his take on the apparent cultural divide.
Football fashionistas have fallen in love with Swansea City’s pure passing style this season. Norwich City have been painted in more functional brush strokes.
The debate is as redundant as it is theoretical. Substance over style should be the only guiding principle to assess their relative success. Some less than flattering comparisons between the Canaries and the Swans appear to have irked those inside and outside the City camp. John Ruddy had to duck and dive as if he was facing another missile from Roysten Drenthe recently when he used social media to point out the enduring fascination with ‘Swanselona’.
The problem here is largely one of perception. On a practical level, both have amassed 43 points with three games left of a stellar Premier League campaign. Yet Swansea and their Spanish-speaking manager, Brendan Rodgers, are feted because many view them as a leading exponent on these islands of the dominant mood music within the world game.
Call it the ‘Spanish way’, which has carried that country’s national side to World and European domination whilst Barcelona’s pervasive shadow dominates the global club scene. At its best, the Catalan calypso is high-tempo, possession football performed with almost balletic grace; a pure form of footballing art.
In the clash of cultures, Spain’s Latin-influenced southern European style currently holds sway over the more athletic, more power-based northern European model.
Categorising Norwich and Swansea along such lines is lazy and inaccurate. Both have spent the last ten months defying convention and the odds to stay up. The Canaries’ play over recent weeks has shown a marked maturity in their ability to retain possession and dictate the tempo in order to harness the creative midfield talents of not only Wes Hoolahan, but Jonny Howson, David Fox and Andrew Surman. Lambert’s squad is far from functional; or one-dimensional as they were portrayed earlier this season with the obsession on aerial goals scored.
The Swans, for their part, have just emerged from a run of four consecutive Premier League defeats which saw the plaudits dry up along with the league points. The Welsh club’s slavish adherence to the continental influence was no longer a strength, more a sign of a lack of ambition. Such is the fickle nature of the national media where beauty was no longer in the eye of the beholder. The reality is Rodgers, like Lambert, has merely strived to maximise the available resources at his disposal to not only survive, but flourish.
Rather than highlight the differences, the upward rise of both clubs should underline the similarities. Lambert and Rodgers are excellent man-managers – you do not need to be part of the inner circle to recognise that. Just look at the league table. To fight against the prevailing tides so successfully despite the inherent financial disparities suggests both managers possess a degree of flexibility far beyond devotion to rigid philosophies.
Lambert’s playing career was framed by his experiences in Germany, but the City boss recently took the opportunity during Norwich’s Spanish break to spend time in the company of Pep Guardiola. Try and unpick that contradiction.
Rodgers has sought to equip Swansea with all the finest traits of the ‘Spanish way’ – but not at the expense of a core British mentality.
“The joy for me is seeing players playing our style of football because British players have been accused of not being technically or tactically good as European players,” the Northern Irishman said over the weekend. “In my coaching life I have set out to show British players are equally as good, but you have to have the ability to ask them to play that way and the nerve to ask someone like Leon Britton to take the ball under pressure between your two centre halves. That is showing courage for me in front of thousands of people. He came out of Swansea, went to Sheffield United, and he didn’t fit in. He was non-existent but he came back, fitted into a certain system where he was given a defined role and all of a sudden he is talked about in the same breath as Xavi and (Andres) Iniesta.”
Norwich beat Swansea home and away this season in the Premier League. If that is seen as a victory for one ideology over another then so be it, but these promoted cousins are not polar opposites.
Both in their own way should be feted for their diversity, their bravery and their refusal to conform to the stereotype that dictates most clubs exiting the Championship can expect a season of turmoil in the lower reaches.
Norwich’s goal is to be a self-sufficient top flight entity in the longer term. Rodgers shares a similar dream.
“People talk to us about the second season syndrome,” he said. “For me it is the third, fourth, fifth season syndrome in terms of the club and the budget. My vision when I came in was very simple - to make Swansea a sustainable side in the Premier League. Whether that is eighth, 13th or 17th, being in there is the most important thing.”
Both clubs are on the right track.