Why Swansea City sacked Duff and what next?

Published on: 05 December 2023

Under Michael Duff's tenure Swansea gained 21 points, their lowest number from their opening 19 games since dropping from the Premier League in 2018

Arriving at Swansea City, Michael Duff talked of the quiet determination behind the successes in his career.

In the end, it was a deafening rejection of his management by supporters - and even some players - that determined his fate.

And a rejection that was heard loud and clear by the club's chairman, Andy Coleman, and led to Duff's dismissal less than six months into the job.

Described as a "leader and a winner" on his appointment, Duff did not win enough games and led an overwhelming majority to the conclusion he was the wrong fit for the Championship club in west Wales.

So where did it go wrong for Duff - if it was ever right to begin with?

'Writing on the wall'

Headhunted from Barnsley having taken the Tykes to the League One play-offs the previous season, Duff joined on a three-year deal to replace Russell Martin at Swansea.Com Stadium.

The decision to end that contract after just five months and 12 days was made by Coleman, with the support of sporting director Paul Watson - the same two figures who had excitedly backed his appointment in the first place.

They waited for emotions to ease after Saturday's draw with Huddersfield, though it appears the dye was already cast after the result that left the side five points above the relegation places.

With a relative loosening of the purse strings to bring in 14 new signings over the summer, there had been stated - and repeated - aims of challenging for the play-offs.

Instead, Duff's Swansea had initially suffered the longest winless start to a league campaign in 32 years.

It could have seen him lose his job in September before four victories in a row calmed the pressure, yet only one win in eight followed.

It is 40 years since Swansea endured a poorer start to a second-tier season, while Duff's win ratio was the worst since the oft-mocked Premier League tenure of Bob Bradley.

"The writing was on the wall," former winger Andy Robinson told BBC Radio Wales. "It's about winning football games and the consistency hasn't been there."

Ultimately, with little signs of improvement, there was a loss of patience in Duff being able to alter such damning statistics.

Swansea way off course

Duff - as he so often did - may point to previous Swansea managers going through similarly poor spells.

But the performances and the way his side played offered no straw to clutch to.

"The identity of the football club is ingrained in it," added Robinson, who played under Roberto Martinez, the manager who coined the 'Swansea Way' term to describe the club's ethos on style of play.

"You have to adhere to it, to possession-based football - and (Duff) never gathered that."

Nor did it appear that he wanted to.

On his arrival in South Wales, Duff praised predecessor Martin, but admitted he saw the game "slightly" differently and spoke of adding physicality and pace to evolve it, to be more progressive.

"I still want to play good football, still want to entertain the fans, I just want to be a bit more high octane," he said at the time.

Seasoned Swansea watchers not only struggled to see that, they struggled to see what the game plan was from week to week. The consensus was there was no discernible feature of the team, nothing to make the side stand-out or encourage hope.

Players were said to be equally unconvinced. When Swansea's stranglehold of the south Wales derby was broken by Cardiff in September, it is understood a senior group of players made it clear they disagreed with their manager's approach.

Duff after the game talked of "whispering in the corridors" and players doing their own thing. It is thought there was a compromise reached - coincidentally or not, just before Swansea's best run of the season - although it still appeared an unsustainable situation.

A drop off from previous season was expected; there was a 12% drop in possession compared to last term's stats and around 100 fewer passes a game.

But it wasn't replaced with anything tangible so suggest it was worth the sacrifice or seeing through. Defensive records were poorer, the number of shots on goal were down.

And while Steve Cooper's time in charge - mostly behind Covid's closed doors - brought its grumbles about a more pragmatic approach compared to Graham Potter and those before him, his successive play-off finishes forced most to park their discontent. Duff could offer neither performances nor points, with the personal jeers that accompanied the last-minute draw with Huddersfield reaching the director's box.

Failing to connect

Such supporter disconnect has been more significant at Swansea than in recent years. Although part of the club's US ownership group, Coleman's presence in the city meant he was aware of the growing frustration and dropping attendances.

And if it is too much to say Duff did not try to build relationships with fans or encourage them to buy-in to his methods, he certainly failed to say the right thing.

He appeared irritated with comparisons to Martin who, ultimately, did not lead the club to a sustained promotion challenge, but certainly had a majority of fans on board. Nevertheless, Duff at one stage called his style "extreme".

    How do you rate Swansea's bosses?Listen: Rob Phillips - Why Swansea sacked Duff

He downplayed the significance of the derby, a parochial matter maybe but one that mattered to fans.

"His relationship with the fans was terrible from the start," insisted Robinson. "The comments around the Cardiff game hit the nail on the head; he didn't understand what Swansea was about."

A few days later, Duff talked of football changing, that "the Swansea Way was 20 years ago", comments deemed so inflammatory by some fans that any valid point he was trying to make was well and truly lost.

Yet he added: "My job's not to win the fans over. My job's to win games. If they've made their mind up, they've made their mind up."

In modern management, it is about managing the message as much as the team. Duff failed to do so and boards will always find it easier to part with a manager whose name the supporters do not sing.

Where next?

Whose name will be sung is still to be decided, with the club not thought to have made the move to sack Duff based on the availability of others.

Watson, despite the criticism he has faced for his role in Duff's arrival, will be involved in the process, with supporters eager for him to show he can be in keeping with the club's identity.

A former employee at Luton, the Hatters' promotion to the Premier League on a budget was a factor in his appointment, but fans have been concerned the two clubs are not alike.

Former Luton player Alan Sheehan, brought in as an assistant coach under Duff, will take temporary charge, though ex-Luton manager Nathan Jones is not thought to be in the running. The chances of former Birmingham manager John Eustace, twice in the running for the Swans job in the past, are also being downplayed.

Manchester United's young coach Eric Ramsay, a former academy team boss at Swansea, is not being ruled out, though the circumstances for a first senior role may suit neither the Swans nor the Welshman who was recently part of Robert Page's national set-up.

Another former Swansea staff member, Luke Williams, has seen his name mentioned given his work with Notts County.

It is clear, though, Swansea are aware of a greater need to find a fit this time with Coleman having the final say.

"My appreciation for how critical the Swansea identity is to this club has grown since the summer and it will be high in my mind as I make the decision on our new head coach," Coleman said in his statement on Monday.

There will be more than a quiet determination to get it right this time.

Source: bbc.com

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