Steve Cooper has done a truly remarkable job in getting Swansea City into back-to-back play-offs on a limited budget, but what happens next after the club’s Wembley anguish?
Saturday’s £170million Premier League showdown with Brentford was about far more than just the revenue going to the winners.
In Swansea’s case, it may mean something of a re-set required in the coming weeks as they plan for the 2021-22 campaign.
Major questions are facing the club hierarchy, with key players set to leave for differing reasons.
But the biggest battle might yet be to keep hold of their bright young manager, who has set tongues wagging in football boardrooms up and down the country with the wonders he has performed at the Liberty.
These are some of the key issues the Swans could be facing…
Cooper’s links to bigger clubs
Cooper has followed in the line of a string of left-field appointments who proved to be a roaring success with Swansea, walking into a job previously held by Brendan Rodgers, Roberto Martinez, Paolo Sousa and Garry Monk.
It was another huge gamble to choose him, but Cooper gave what was dubbed an ‘X-Factor interview’ with his football philosophy and vision for the future when meeting Trevor Birch, Alan Curtis and Leon Britton two years ago.
Swansea could easily have gone with more experienced candidates such as Michael Appleton and Gus Poyet, but Birch and his colleagues were bowled over by how Cooper conducted himself and were adamant he was the right man.
The rookie boss has fully justified that belief shown in him by taking the Swans to successive top-six finishes and coming within 90 minutes of the Premier League.
There were more talented and certainly deeper squads than Swansea’s in the Championship this season, but those teams didn’t finish fourth and reach Wembley. That the Swans punched above their weight was down to the shrewdness and capability of their manager.
However, success always creates interest from others.
As former Swans chairman Huw Jenkins put it the other day, “when you’re successful, sometimes you just have to deal with decisions”.
He was talking specifically about when Liverpool came in for Rodgers and Wigan prised Martinez away.
Crystal Palace and West Brom have been among the clubs heavily linked with moves for Cooper and some Swans fans will watch on anxiously to see if that materialises into the form of a genuine approach for him in the next few weeks.
Cooper has achieved success on a limited budget, has played stylish football, gives youngsters a chance. No-one knows the cream of England’s finest young talent, and what makes them tick, better than Cooper, who brought through so many of them in that Three Lions World Cup winning age-grade team.
What’s not to like there for a Premier League chairman, or a club who’ve just come down and expect to go straight back up with parachute money helping?
Immediately after the Wembley loss, the Sky Sports pundits were saying they felt Cooper will be a Premier League manager soon anyway.
They also claimed the financial shackles need to be released if he is to achieve that with Swansea who, according to ex-Preston boss Alex Neil, are ‘miles away from where Brentford were’ when losing to Fulham in the play-off final a year ago.
Brentford were ready to have another crack at it, Swansea are likely to have a rebuilding job on their hands in the summer.
Cooper isn’t accustomed to failure. He was clearly hurting after the game and said the right things about regrouping and the players being ready to go again.
When he analyses everything, how will Cooper view it? With Swansea failing to go up, will he feel he has taken the team as far as he can, or is he confident of another play-off push and making it third time lucky next season?
The biggest hurdle to that, he will probably know, is the issue of potentially losing so many key players.
After Cooper, he is the headline act, on his day arguably the best player in the Championship.
But the Ghana captain, reported to be on a bumper £80,000 a week, is out of contract this summer.
If Swansea had achieved promotion, it would have been a lot easier to strike a new deal with Ayew.
However, will he commit to another season in the Championship? Will he prefer a new challenge abroad? Can the Swans afford that sort of money any more anyway?
Decisions, decisions, decisions.
It was interesting that Cardiff City’s Sean Morrison was named in the Championship team of the year ahead of Guehi, even though it wasn’t the greatest year for the Bluebirds skipper.
Gheui, on the other hand, has been outstanding pretty much the whole season, a wise head on young shoulders and looks destined for Premier League football next year.
Whether that comes with Chelsea, or he is loaned out to another top-flight club, remains to be seen.
Again, had the Swans gone up they could have put in a phone call to Thomas Tuchel asking to borrow the England Under-20 defender for another term.
What next for Steve Cooper and Swansea? Join the debate in the comments section below
That seems less likely after Saturday. Guehi will know he is better than Championship level and perhaps the time has come to test himself against the best.
Could Guehi even end up on loan at Chelsea’s near neighbours Brentford, where his pace and composure at the back would suit the Bees’ stylish play?
Another kingpin whose future is on the line.
His arrival on loan from Aston Villa in January gave Swansea a real shot in the arm and fresh impetus with his goals and assists. For a stage it looked like his signing could even push the Swans into the automatic spots.
However, Hourihane was unable to maintain those levels and was taken off during an ineffective Wembley display.
He will return to Villa Park this summer and could be sold, with his pathway to the first team congested under Dean Smith.
On the other hand, if Jack Grealish goes could it free up a spot somewhere in the pecking order?
Not that he’s remotely as good as Grealish, of course.
Yet another loan man whose career has developed under Cooper in Swansea, the early Wembley penalty moment part of his learning curve.
Again, had Swansea gone up, they would almost certainly have asked the Newcastle United man to spend a third year in south Wales.
At 24, he needs to keep getting regular game-time.
Could that be with the Swans again next year, or will Woodman end up elsewhere?
Much will hinge on how Newcastle see it and whether they wish to sell.
Also on whether Cooper himself stays or goes.
He has been among the best right-backs in the division and his stock could rise further with Wales at the Euros.
If he shines against Europe’s finest in the hurly-burly of a tournament, it might convince Premier League clubs to come in for Roberts this summer. If that happens, will the Swans be able to turn down the money on offer?
We understand Wolves were interested in a summer swoop, but with Nuno Espirito Santo having left that might go on the backburner.
Roberts is the kind of swashbuckling player who will attract interest. Will he follow the likes of Oli McBurnie, Dan James and Joe Rodon out of the Liberty exit door, or can the Swans keep their right-back kingpin?
Swansea City have missed out on a place in the Premier League after defeat to Brentford. But we’ll still have all the reaction from Wembley for you.
Swansea’s skipper did his best to drive the team forward against Brentford, but was always a little inhibited by that reckless early challenge that brought him a yellow card.
Neat and tidy on the ball, with good energy, he is another likely to attract interest from bigger clubs.
On his day many feel Grimes has the ability to be a top-flight player. Don’t discount Premier League clubs sniffing round the captain.
If it happens, again Swansea’s hierarchy will have a decision to make.