What next for Russell Martin and Swansea City as promising coach reaches the end of his tether?
Swansea City’s winless run in the Championship is now over, but it still feels like Russell Martin’s time in charge is coming to an end…
The 2022/23 promotion race in the second tier was expected to be wide open, with few envisaging Vincent Kompany’s Burnley p*ssing the league as they have.
I was among those that saw enough potential in Swansea to peg them as a potential Championship promotion candidate, but this campaign has gradually drifted into bleak territory for Russell Martin’s side.
The Swans flirted around the play-off picture – as pretty much every other team in the league did – during the opening few months of the campaign. But a dismal stretch of just three league wins in 20 games saw them plummet towards the wrong end of the table.
Heading into last weekend’s home game against Bristol City, Martin’s team had picked up just one point in six games. They were also not yet safe as just seven points separated them and the relegation zone.
So Martin and his players can be forgiven for their rapturous celebrations after a much-improved performance saw them cruise to a 2-0 victory.
It was clearly Swansea’s most important result of the season and it placed them within touching distance of Championship safety with eight games to go.
It’s a timely boost for Martin, who will be hoping to use this morale-enhancing win to help Swansea kick on until the summer. But you do get the feeling that he will remain on the tightrope even if the Swans end this campaign brightly.
The 37-year-old has rightly been lauded at times during the early stages of his managerial career. And like many other wet-behind-the-ears coaches, he has grand expectations.
That is evident through his modern coaching style as he places plenty of emphasis on possession-based football. These tactics do not always work in the lower divisions, as the players need to have the confidence and ability to put the manager’s methods into practice.
But Martin should at least be commended for establishing a preferred style of play from the offset. He knows what he wants and he has made it abundantly clear this season that he is unwilling to waver away from his chosen style.
This has led to some criticism, which is understandable given the wretched run of form the Swans were on.
When Swansea have clicked under Martin, they have been a delight to watch. But it has happened far too many times when their passing moves have lacked substance and they have failed to threaten in attacking areas.
Martin’s inexperience and stubbornness has shone through and this season has been a challenge he will learn from, but he has shown more than enough to suggest that he is a manager with huge potential.
The Swansea-Martin relationship could flourish if it is given enough time to blossom. But football management – especially in the Championship – is an increasingly cut-throat business and you cannot trust that the club’s American owners will stick with their head coach long enough to reap the rewards.
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And the cracks in the relationship between Martin and Swansea’s hierarchy are showing.
This has largely come via a lack of backing in the transfer market. Despite their struggles on the pitch, Swansea did not sign anyone in January, but star forward Michael Obafemi left to join Burnley on loan.
This is while it has been heavily hinted that another key player – Ryan Manning – will leave on a free transfer when his contract expires in the summer.
Martin has joined the club’s supporters in voicing his frustration at Swansea’s lack of spending in the transfer market. Before this season, he revealed Swansea’s owners told him that no more players will be signed “unless we sell”.
Ex-Swans player Ian Walsh was rightly concerned by this admission: “If Martin is not supported by bringing in the players that he needs to play that way and in a successful way, then it’s down to the owners.”
When you look at Swansea’s recent transfer business, it’s easy to see why the manager has become increasingly infuriated.
According to transfermarkt, since the club’s relegation from the Premier League in 2017/18, £108m (€122.5m) has been made through player sales while just £15.8m (€17.8m) has been invested back into the squad.
There comes a point where you have to question the ambition of the club’s owners and whether it matches a manager who has long-term plans to guide Swansea back to the top flight.
On the evidence of this season, Swansea are still a long way from that and some investment is required to enable Martin to see out the project.
But when a manager challenges the board, it is often those in the posh seats that come out on top.
A win over arch-rivals Cardiff City after the international break could do the manager’s negotiating power the world of good ahead of what will likely be a defining summer which determines the direction Swansea City are heading.
Martin’s end goal is to manage in the Premier League and he may conclude – due to the owners – that Swansea are not the best club to realise that ambition.