After accumulating titles with Europe’s biggest clubs as a player, Michael Laudrup reached unexpected heights in his first year as Swansea City manager on Sunday by guiding the Welsh club to their first major trophy in their centenary season.
In the heaviest ever League Cup final victory, Swansea overwhelmed Bradford City 5-0 in front of 82,597 fans at Wembley Stadium to end the club’s hopes of becoming the first fourth-tier side to win a major title in Europe.
Beating Bradford provided a reminder of the depths Swansea have recovered from since coming close to financial meltdown and within 90 minutes of dropping out of the fourth division a decade ago.
Now ninth in their second season of the Premier League, the team’s much-admired brand of eye-catching attacking soccer has been rewarded with a trophy.
Laudrup, the former Denmark playmaker who filled the void left by Brendan Rodgers’ move to Liverpool in June, never expected success to come so soon.
“It’s one thing to win a cup with Barcelona, Madrid or Juventus, but to win it with a smaller team like Swansea is absolutely fantastic,” Laudrup said. “It’s a first major trophy ever [for Swansea] and, especially in this season, it’s up there with the best things.”
Midfielder Leon Britton knows just what the trophy means to Swansea, having been with the club when they were on the bottom rung in professional soccer. The team will now play in the Europa League next season.
“We nearly dropped out of the Football League and now here we are in the Premier League, winning our first major honor and qualifying for Europe,” Britton said.
Bradford knocked out Premier League sides Arsenal, Aston Villa and Wigan Athletic to become the first fourth-tier team to reach a major English final since 1962.
However, Swansea did not face a moment of danger, with goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel’s first save only coming in the 87th minute, following Gary Jones’ tame shot.
The toughest fight the south Wales club faced was over who should take a penalty that led to the fourth goal after Bradford were reduced to 10 men, with goalkeeper Matt Duke dismissed.
Nathan Dyer had already scored twice, either side of Michu’s strike, but was denied a hat-trick when Jonathan de Guzman insisted on taking the spot-kick on the hour. De Guzman went on to complete the thrashing in stoppage-time with his second goal.
Just reaching the final was an accomplishment for Bradford, whose slide has mirrored Swansea’s ascent. The unheralded side nicknamed the Bantams had been in free-fall since dropping out of the Premier League in 2001 and twice entered bankruptcy protection.
“This final this year will remain in the history a small part because of us and a large part because of Bradford,” Laudrup said.
Swansea will experience few matches as easy as the final, which was never a contest as the gulf in class was clear from the start.
“I would have loved to make more of a game of it, but it was a tough afternoon,” Bradford manager Phil Parkinson said. “One of the Swansea players’ wages probably covers our budget for the whole season. That is the gulf we were dealing with.”
Bradford’s team cost just ￡7,500 (US$11,430) and the players struggled to break up Swansea’s slick soccer. When they did try to venture forward, they left themselves exposed at the back.
Swansea capitalized to full effect and went in front in the 16th minute. Wayne Routledge gained possession inside his own half, strolled through the Bradford defense unchallenged and sent the ball out to Michu on the left flank. Duke parried Michu’s initial shot, but Dyer pounced on the loose ball and scored from close range.
Bradford managed to repel Swansea’s attacking threat until Michu scored in the 40th minute for his 19th goal since joining in July from Spanish club Rayo Vallecano de Madrid for ￡2 million. The Spaniard raced onto Pablo Hernandez’s through-ball and curled it beyond Duke.
Bradford fell further behind two minutes after the break. Dyer charged forward from the halfway line and played a one-two with Routledge, before sending it past Duke.
Duke was sent off in the 56th for bringing down De Guzman in the penalty area, prompting the only low point for Swansea.
Dyer was animated as he remonstrated with De Guzman about taking the penalty to try and complete a hat-trick.
However, De Guzman held onto the ball before sending it past substitute goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin. He was on target again in stoppage-time, bundling Angel Rangel’s cross into the net from close range.