Swansea City: Top-six finish a success, but Steve Cooper eyes Premier League push

Swansea City’s promotion hopes ended as their 1-0 first-leg advantage in the Championship play-off semi-final was wiped out in a 3-1 second-leg loss at Brentford

Steve Cooper glances at his mobile phone – which is complete with Swansea City case – as another message arrives in the wake of play-off defeat to Brentford.

Like most of the others, it says something about how well his young team did in his first season at the helm.

But Cooper does not really want to hear it.

As grateful as he is for the kind words, frustration reigns following his first taste of the play-offs.

Cooper felt his side let defensive standards slip when it really mattered in Wednesday’s second leg at Griffin Park, hence the lingering disappointment.

After the longest of seasons, Swansea’s players and staff now have a break of just three weeks before they return to prepare for 2020-21.

Yet while he will enjoy some time with his family, Cooper is already counting down to his second campaign as Swansea boss.

“We had three months off with the lockdown – I just feel like we are getting going again,” he says.

“I can’t wait for three weeks’ time. Let’s get coaching again, let’s get training and get some pre-season games under our belt and get ready for next season.

“After Brentford, I have never been more determined to do well for the football club.”

Andre Ayew finished the season as Swansea’s 18-goal top scorer

A season of progress

Graham Potter left for Brighton, Daniel James for Manchester United and Oliver McBurnie joined Sheffield United.

There were other notable departures – like Leroy Fer and Jordan Ayew – last summer, when Swansea gave England Under-17 coach Cooper his first job in club management.

Almost nothing was spent on replacements for the many notable players who had gone after Swansea’s 10th-placed Championship finish in 2019, although Andre Ayew did return to the fold after his loan at Fenerbahce.

Had it been suggested at the start of the season that Cooper’s team would finish in the play-offs, all concerned at the Liberty Stadium would have been delighted.

Swansea topped the table during the early stages of 2019-20, when a win at Leeds was among a string of notable results

The new era started spectacularly, with Swansea winning seven and drawing one of their first eight games under Cooper.

A lull followed, with consistency a problem for much of the campaign, but a post-lockdown flourish – and an extraordinary turnaround on the final day – saw Swansea end up sixth.

They impressed in the first leg against a dangerous Brentford side, but lost 3-2 on aggregate after blowing it, as on-loan Chelsea midfielder Conor Gallagher put it, in the return game.

Cooper has been criticised at times by Swansea’s fans, thanks in part to the failure to maintain momentum after that remarkable start to the season. In that sense, Cooper’s men made a rod for their own back.

They have struggled at times to replicate the eye-catching football played in the latter days of Potter’s brief Liberty reign, and style is more important at Swansea than at many clubs.

Yet Swansea’s 40-year-old head coach ended the season with his stock as high as it has ever been having reached the play-offs in trying circumstances.

What will the close season bring?

There will be yet more financial challenges for Swansea as they prepare for their last year of parachute payments.

Having received around £35m in post-Premier League relegation payments last term, Swansea will get only around £15m in the next campaign.

Hence the club will have little choice but to let the high-earning Ayew go if he wishes to move on.

There will be other exits – and more cost-cutting away from the playing staff – yet Cooper is reasonably optimistic about what sort of squad he will have come 12 September, when next season begins.

Joe Rodon looks a Premier League player in the making, but Cooper is hopeful that the homegrown Wales defender will stick around for at least one more year.

The signs are positive regarding another loan deal for Rhian Brewster, who had a huge impact after arriving from Liverpool in January, as well as fresh loans for Newcastle goalkeeper Freddie Woodman and Chelsea’s Marc Guehi.

Cooper will look to add further loan recruits, while he is also targeting a couple of experienced players on permanent deals – although Swansea will only be operating in the free-transfer market.

Swansea are hoping to re-sign Rhian Brewster, who scored 11 goals after joining on loan in January

What will the target be next season?

Given their financial constraints, Swansea are unlikely to be one of the fancied clubs come the start of the new Championship campaign.

Yet Cooper has made clear since taking charge that his goal is to get Swansea back to the Premier League, where they were for seven years before relegation in 2018.

If Woodman and Brewster return and Rodon stays, Cooper’s plans will be taking shape.

Assuming Ayew departs, Swansea will need at least one more forward, while a centre-back, a central midfielder and a No. 10 also feature on the head coach’s wish list.

There is plenty of work to do, therefore, and not much time in which to do it – yet Cooper is upbeat about Swansea’s prospects.

“We know the club is resetting and rebuilding and is in a little bit of transition,” he says.

“We have to strive to get back to where we belong. I don’t know how long that will take, but we can’t rest on what we have done this season because it’s not enough.

“We want to get promoted, either automatically or (through the) play-offs, and until we get there, we won’t give up on it.”

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