Colorful Carvalhal giving energy to revitalized Swansea
With his humor, colorful analogies and infectious enthusiasm, Swansea manager Carlos Carvalhal is fast becoming a new darling of British soccer.
He might yet bring Premier League survival and a piece of silverware to the Welsh club before the season is out, too.
The 52-year-old Portuguese coach has been a revelation since taking over a Swansea team that was bottom of the table in December and seemingly short of quality and confidence.
He was the club’s fifth manager in barely two years, an apparent gamble by its American owners owing to his lack of top-flight experience in England.
Seven weeks later, the Swans are out of the relegation zone and could be in the quarterfinals of the FA Cup by Saturday evening. Under Carvalhal, there have been back-to-back league wins over Liverpool and Arsenal, a record 8-1 victory in the FA Cup and an improbable streak of one loss in 11 games.
There have been some memorable news conferences as well.
After masterminding a 1-0 win that ended Liverpool’s 18-match unbeaten run, Carvalhal compared stifling Juergen Klopp’s team to slowing down an F1 car.
“If you put a Formula One car in London in traffic,” he said, “the Formula One car will not run very fast.”
On Swansea’s business in the January transfer market, Carvalhal said: “The boat is on the sea and the bait is on the hook. I am not on the boat, I am on the beach, watching.”
Carvalhal loaded his team with attacking players toward the end of the 1-0 victory over Burnley on Saturday, and saw Ki Sung-yeung grab the late winner.
“We put all the meat in the barbecue,” Carvalhal said, “all the meat inside the grill.”
With Swansea out of the relegation zone, Carvalhal says his team is “still in the hospital but now we are able to take visitors.”
There is laughter at most of his press gatherings. Journalists even enjoyed Portuguese custard tarts handed out personally by him ahead of a pre-match news conference last week.
No doubt, he’s flavor of the month.
“He is a great gentleman and very witty,” Ki, the South Korea midfielder, says. “When you feel some tension, he will tell one of his stories that makes us laugh. But when we have to get down to business, he becomes very serious.
“He says he has an A face and a B face, so when we have a laugh it’s great. But when we have to work, we also concentrate.”
Priority No. 1 is keeping Swansea up. With 11 games left, the club is one point and two places above the bottom three.
The team is also just three wins away from an FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium. Its next opponent: Sheffield Wednesday, the second-tier club that released Carvalhal on Dec. 24. Four days later he was hired by Swansea.
“I feel that I will be back home,” Carvalhal said after Swansea booked the last-16 match at Wednesday — where he worked for 2 1/2 years — with that 8-1 win over Notts County.
“I am an Owl forever,” he added, referring to Wednesday’s nickname.
He just has to remember to sit in the correct dugout for the match.
“I remember when I left Besiktas (in Turkey) and my first game at Basaksehir was against Besiktas,” Carvalhal said Thursday. “I made a mistake and sat on the wrong bench but I don’t think I will do that this time.”
Following a managerial career in which he drifted between jobs in Portugal, Greece and Turkey, Carvalhal joined Wednesday in June 2015 and nearly got the team promoted to the Premier League the following year, only for it to lose to Hull in the Championship playoff final.
Under Carvalhal, Wednesday was hard-working and had an attacking mentality, characteristics he has transferred to Swansea. The Welsh side is playing with more pace and intensity than it had been under previous manager Paul Clement, getting the ball forward quicker.
Jordan Ayew has led the line impressively for Swansea, scoring three goals in his last seven games, and has been joined at the Liberty Stadium by his older brother, Andre, who has returned to his former club after 18 months at West Ham.
Perhaps as importantly, Carvalhal’s positivity and jovial nature appears to have brought a new energy to Swansea, on and off the field.
As he so eloquently puts it, Swansea is “smelling the fresh air, swimming a little, and know the direction to the coast.”
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80