Swansea & Norwich Dodge A Common Illness

The afflication of Second Season Syndrome has taken down many a side in its time, so will Swansea and Norwich avoid it this time? Daniel Story has a look...

Last Updated: 25/07/12 at 09:44 Post Comment

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There is a footballing illness, an affliction that debilitates top division clubs. It cannot affect every club, and indeed cannot disturb the same club more than once in every three to four years. Past victims have included Reading and Hull, and Norwich and Swansea are the only potential sufferers this season. Fans, players and owners will promise to do all they can to immunise against the condition, but casualties are inevitable. It is referred to as 'Second Season Syndrome (SSS)'.

The clich├ęd phrase was established around 2007 (possibly by Jeff Stelling or Steve Coppell, a brief Twitter survey informs me) at a time at when Reading were struggling following an impressive maiden Premier League campaign, and has become a staple of modern footballing parlance (if having its own designated Wikipedia page indicates such fame). It is reserved for those occasions when a team gains promotion to the top tier and then survives, often performing above expectation, then due to a multitude of factors, the club's performance (and most importantly final league position) deteriorates sharply.

Firstly, SSS has its example cases. In 1995/6 Middlesbrough finished 12th in the Premier League after winning the Division One title the season, but despite heavy investment in Ravanelli, Emerson et al, Boro were relegated in 1998 in 19th place. In addition, just over a year ago Birmingham were relegated on the final day after defeat to Spurs. The previous season, their first after promotion, the club had finished in 9th with 50 points, and had gone fifteen games unbeaten in the league during that campaign. Reading (19 points fewer in their second season), West Ham (14), Ipswich Town (30), Hull City (5) and Wigan (13) have all famously struggled in their second campaign after promotion, with Ipswich, Reading and Hull being relegated, such was the downturn in fortunes.

Despite the extra experience gained and the increase in television revenue allowing for squad investment, of thirty promoted teams to survive into a second season in the Premier League between 1992 and 2011, 24 finished in a lower position at the second attempt. These teams accrued, on average, four points fewer second time round.

In the forthcoming season therefore, both Norwich and Swansea will almost be trying to swim against a tide of inevitability, desperate not to become just another statistic, another victim of the illness, another club at best stunted from improvement and at worst relegated back to the intense challenge of the Championship promotion race.

Crucially, both clubs have suffered for their successes of last season. Neither South Wales nor East Anglia would have Premier League representation but for the almost superhuman efforts of Messrs Rodgers and Lambert, but both have taken understandable moves to larger clubs. Lambert's move to Aston Villa may initially seem a sideways step, but Villa are merely sufferers of an alternative footballing illness, sleepinggiantitis. Both Norwich and Swansea were able to find replacements within an efficient time period, but also managers that can realistically continue the footballing ethos initiated by their predecessors, which may prove crucial. In the battle against the disease, continuity is vital.

Norwich would logically seem in the most danger of a decline in the forthcoming season. Chris Hughton will have to be wary of a slide that saw the club win just one of their last thirteen league games last season, and Norwich kept only three clean sheets in 42 games. Six home victories is also a figure that would ideally be improved, and Grant Holt scored 17 league goals last season. Surely he will be unable to repeat that feat, and pessimists will say that with eight of their twelve wins achieved by a single goal, a slip from 47 points is eminently possible. That said, the striker's U-turn on a transfer request was followed by Andrew Surman, Russell Martin and John Ruddy also signing new deals, providing a measure of much-needed, and often craved, stability.

For Swansea too, difficulties may be ahead. Although the club were widely lauded for their appointment of Michael Laudrup (and he may be a factor in attracting impressive names), the Dane largely failed in his last two appointments at Spartak Moscow and Mallorca. He was impressive at Getafe, but stayed for just one season before offering his resignation. Losing the inspiration of Rodgers may hit Swansea's young squad psychologically (although Roberto Martinez's input should not be underestimated) and there is now the supplementary danger of the Welsh club losing talent such as Joe Allen to pastures Scouse. At times Swansea's side were a thing of beauty last season, but removing Allen and Steven Caulker will cause disturbance. As with Norwich, there is the question of whether Scott Sinclair and Danny Graham can again provide 20 league goals between them.

Consistency of personnel is one of the more effective antidotes to SSS (and see Middlesbrough's transfers in 1996/7 for the 'how not to' example). The temptation to add glittering foreign names to a squad in an attempt to push for further achievement often backfires, simply creating a lack of coherence and understanding between individuals, and resentment within phased-out players.

Thankfully, both clubs have completed sensible business thus far. Norwich have signed young Barnsley midfielder Jacob Butterfield and will complete a mightily impressive deal for Rangers' Steven Whittaker upon receiving international clearance to do so. Swansea meanwhile, have signed Spanish centre back Chico and midfielders Jonathan de Guzman and Michu. Laudrup knows two of these from his time at Mallorca, whilst Michu gained plaudits as the top scoring midfielder in La Liga last season (as many as Fabregas, Iniesta and Ozil combined).

The principal danger for both clubs is that the Premier League promises to be increasingly competitive this season. The three promoted clubs have already bought nine internationals between them with over a month of the transfer window remaining, and will be confident of consolidation. Perhaps more importantly, all three sides have Premier League experience, and Reading and West Ham are previous sufferers of the affliction at hand; experience is always key. Of the five sides to finish below Swansea and Norwich and survive, you could viably foresee Stoke, Sunderland and Villa improving, leaving just QPR and Wigan. QPR have signed six internationals (Diakite, Johnson, Park, Nelsen, Fabio and Green) whilst Wigan won seven of their last nine games at the end of last season. Things certainly do not get any easier.

So, despite the notable achievements of last season, a campaign after which both clubs received deserved and significant praise, Norwich and Swansea are now third and fifth favourites for relegation respectively. With their masterminds now departed for higher-profile destinations, it would (for the neutral at least) be a real shame if either club slumped dramatically. Unfortunately, one of Second Season Syndrome's most prevalent side effects is a bite on the arse when you least expect it.

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