Swansea City: What went wrong for Michael Duff?

It’s safe to say that the sacking season is firmly underway in the EFL Championship this week as the growing pressures to deliver success in the Football League have intensified with ever-increasing demands to reach the promised land of the Premier League and its financial rewards. 

On a day when England’s top division announced a record-breaking new multi-billion pound television rights contract with Sky and TNT Sports to show its enhanced coverage for the next four years, the Championship lost two of its managers in Swansea’s Michael Duff and Sunderland’s Tony Mowbray. 

45-year-old Northern Irishman Duff arrived in South Wales on a three-year contract in June, full of promises with talk of bringing an exciting and clear brand of football with talk of a promotion challenge. 

The former Barnsley and Cheltenham Town manager leaves SA1 after just 21 competitive games in charge though, after a run of one win in eight matches leaves the Swans sitting in 18th place in the table – just five points clear of the relegation zone with Saturday’s trip to the New York Stadium to face second-bottom Rotherham, also managerless, now a huge six-pointer for both sides. 

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Initial bookmaking odds from Bet Victor (subject to change) suggest that former Luton head coach Nathan Jones is the early favourite to take over in SA1 priced at 5/4, whilst Tottenham assistant Chris Davies, heavily linked to the role in the summer is the other leading contender at 6/4. Recently dismissed ex-Birmingham City number one John Eustace makes up the top three at 11/4. 

Current interim boss Alan Sheehan, himself among the names in the running, was also assistant to Jones at both Southampton and Luton Town, which may add further weight to Jones’ status as an early favourite. 

Known Cardiff supporter Jones’ antics over recent seasons inciting the Swans faithful after gaining victories with both Stoke City and Luton is likely to make the Welshman’s task of winning the Jack Army over a challenging task if successful – or even interested – in the post. 

A lack of connection

The managerial merry-go-round is a fraught business at the best of times and right from the beginning, Duff told the press on his arrival his time in SA1 would be judged by his results on the pitch. 

What the Northern Irishman failed to grasp was that not only would his sides seven game winless streak in the league set his tenure off to a rocky start, but a failing to understand and connect to the home faithful would be his downfall. 

After four wins in a row over the Bluebirds, the task of following in former head coach Russell Martin’s shoes in the South Wales derby would not be easy.  His pre-match comments would set the tone for the matchup, as his side produced an equally dismal performance on the pitch as their leader’s motivation impact on the match. It was a far cry from the togetherness that was seen from the kit man and chef’s morale-boosting antics to the players desire to win at all costs for the supporters and the local community – something which now seems a lifetime ago. 

Whilst Duff got off the mark in what many were calling a must-win match against rock-bottom and newly promoted Sheffield Wednesday back at the end of September, there would be no clear identity in brand of the football. It certainly would not follow in the coined phrase ‘Swansea Way’ with at times a confused mix of what the players were most comfortable with and what Duff was trying to implement. 

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A glimmer of hope occurred with a four-match winning streak from games against Wednesday, Millwall, Norwich City and Plymouth Argyle. It would though be short-lived, as the Swans would since take just six points from a possible 24 as the loyal support would be starved particularly of results on their own patch. In SA1, the Swans have mustered just two wins from 10 all season, with the final straw coming in the failure to beat a struggling Huddersfield Town side at the Swansea.com Stadium on the weekend. 

Duff will reflect on his time and look at the mistakes made, but will count himself unlucky with the number of injuries to key players through his short tenure, whilst he will point to the fact that the Swans’ recent run of poor form has been against many of the top six sides in the league. 

It is, however, a results business and the Northern-Irishman’s time will be looked back on as one of the worst by a Swans boss in recent times – with only American Bob Bradley having a worse win ratio than Duff’s 26%, culminating in the former Burnley defender to be the first manager since Paul Clement in December 2017 to be dismissed by the club.  

The odds

Nathan Jones 5/4 

Chris Davies 6/4 

John Eustace 11/4 

Luke Williams 10/1 

Steve Cotterill 10/1 

Steven Schumacher 16/1 

Alan Sheehan 20/1 

Tony Mowbray 20/1