Swansea football success hints at leadership secrets

Michael LaudrupSwansea City’s victory in the Capital One Cup Final over Bradford City was hailed as a heart-warming story of sporting triumph. We examine its leadership themes

As Swansea City was winning its first major trophy in its hundred year history [February 24th, 2013], I was returning from the arctic city of Tromso, after a visit that deserves a future blog post of its own.

I arrived home early evening to hear the BBC football commentator Alan Green on a radio phone-in describe Swansea as ‘coming from the Welsh valleys’. Sorry Alan, that’s like describing Londonderry as ‘somewhere in Ireland’. Swansea is on the Gower Peninsula, to be found forty miles to the west of the Welsh valleys.

The story was creating itself

The match had recently finished. As I listened, the callers to the programme were creating an instant myth. Their story told of a glorious encounter between two teams of heroes. The arena was the great battle-ground of Wembley Stadium. This was not a battle of good and evil. Although Premier side Swansea was the clear prematch favourite, Bradford, three divisions below them, had reached the final through defeating among others the mighty Arsenal and Liverpool teams.

The battle of everyday heroes

In mythology, the ordinary becomes heroic in battle. In this myth, both Bradford and Swansea had become heroic. The central heroes were the players who fought out the battle. There were also the battalions of supporters, not fighting against each other but witnesses to the performance. At the end of the match, rival fans embraced in respect. There was a tragic hero in the figure of the Bradford goal-keeper who fate decreed had unwittingly broken the rules, and was dismissed from the field, not in disgrace but in an act of atonement.

The glorious battle

The battle was fought not for the annihilation of an enemy but for the celebration of the encounter. Swansea ‘gave an exhibition’ which means a celebration of beauty in the performance. They won 5-0, a record score for the competition.

The apotheosis of Laudrup

The phone-in also revealed the elevation to the heights of the Swansea manager Michael Laudrup. The former Danish international player had helped create the team and its a free-flowing style. His gracious post-Match interview, speech acknowledging the achievements of Bradford was recognized as one showing authentic leadership.

His managerial acumen was shown by his skills at early identification of the talents of the Spanish player, Michu, ahead of the scouting teams of the wealthy European giants.

Laudrup’s destiny?

Already we can see ahead the inevitable outcome of mythic success. Laudrup, through the glorious victory of his team, will leave the little club of Swansea City. There is already talk that he is destined to replace another great football manager, Arsene Wenger, at Arsenal.

A Cast of Heroes

Classical Drama requires an entire cast of heroes. Before and beyond the battle can be found the wise chief. The Swansea City chairman could claim credit for seeking out managers with the spirit to lead the club to greatness. His earlier choices were Roberto Martinez and then Brendon Rodgers . Their success at Swansea meant that they were fated to accept a move away for an offer they could not refuse.

Next year

Next year, as winners of the League Cup, Swansea will play in European competition. The myth will continue its fated path. Victories will bring glory. Glories will fade into memory. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

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