Knowledge is power for Monk
16th May 2015
As club captain and a key figure in Swansea City's rapid rise to the top flight, Garry Monk's knowledge of the beautiful game has always been one of his strengths.
His ability to read the game, his understanding of the role he played within the team and his appetite and desire to always improve were key reasons for the success he enjoyed with the club during his playing days, and they are key ingredients to the recipe for success he has served up during his first full season in management.
"When I was a player I always tried to think about the game and understand what the manager wanted from the team and from myself," Monk reflects as he discusses his first full season as Swans manager.
"I wanted to give the players knowledge because the more knowledgeable about what is being asked of you and the reason why it is being asked of you, the better the player you will be.
"We've just tried to make the players think more about what goes into it, rather than for them just to play the games, train and go home.
"We've done that in various ways - meetings, out on the pitch with different scenarios - and they've all took it on board.
"I think all the players understand their positions and roles in the team much clearer now to what they did before, which is really important.
"That knowledge gives you power - a much more powerful squad, a much cleverer and more street-wise squad - and we will promote that even more next season with greater intensity.
"If you have a clever player with ability, you have a real chance of playing good football, which is how I look at it."
Having re-written the club's record books on numerous occasions this season, it's fair to say that the Swans have received a top class education from Monk and his coaching staff this campaign.
While the Swans have already surpassed their record points total in the Premier League, delivered the most wins and are in pole position to achieve the club's highest ever Premier League finish, Monk has also stamped his own style on Swansea's possession-based attacking brand of football.
"Well we could have won every game and taken three points from every game," Monk jokingly responds when asked the question: 'could his first full season in charge have gone any better?'
"It's been great though. It has been a great achievement for the players, the staff, the fans and everyone at the club. It's a good building block, a good start for us to put in place.
"We've played some unbelievable football this season. The most pleasing bit for me is that we've tried to be more adaptable to help us win games because you can't always win one way.
"You can become predictable, which is something we've suffered from a little bit in the past.
"I've experienced that myself when I was on the pitch, so I wanted us to become a little more adaptable while keeping the same principles and philosophy of possession and attacking football.
"But we have to be able to win in different ways, and we've shown that this season, which has perhaps been the most pleasing part for me."
There have been some outstanding moments during Swansea's history-making 2014-15 campaign. Becoming only the third side to complete league doubles over English giants Manchester United and Arsenal in a single season is a most notable mention, while surpassing the record points total at Newcastle was another key juncture during this season's remarkable journey.
But as Monk quite rightly admits: "It would be unfair to pinpoint one single highlight.
"The pleasing thing for me is that everyone has contributed to our success this season. Everyone has played their special part.
"We've won in different ways, we've won in different arenas and achieved so many different things. They've all meant something to me at different points in the season.
"But the most pleasing thing for me is that, overall, we've done it together and worked really hard to put that building block in place."
Throughout the insightful conversation that takes place inside the manager's office at Swansea's Fairwood Training Ground, a regular theme emerges. Despite the success the Swans have enjoyed this season, Monk and his men will not rest on their laurels.
There is a keen appetite to improve and continue to move onwards and upwards from the foundation - or "building block" as Monk refers to it - set in place.
"The players want more and are looking to improve, so we will look to do even better next season," insists the 36-year-old - the Premier League's youngest manager.
"We will reassess in the summer, but the whole point is to do better and want more.
"Like we did at the start of this season, we will sit down with the group and go through targets.
"They'll have their influence on that, while I'll have mine. It will be interesting to see what they say, considering where we are now this season."
As the Swans line-up against Manchester City this afternoon, in which they will be aiming to inflict another defeat upon one of the top-flight's power-house clubs, it is 15 months since Monk was first handed the managerial reigns on an interim basis following the departure of Michael Laudrup in February 2014.
The situation the Swans currently find themselves is in stark contrast to the situation Monk inherited over a year ago. But the Premier League Manager of the Year candidate is thankful for those testing first few months in charge.
"I was really happy for that period I had at the end of last season because it prepared me for this season," he adds.
"Obviously we were in a different situation; we weren't in a relegation dogfight but we were very close to it, so we felt the pressure of relegation upon us.
"It was a good experience to go through and come through the other side successfully. It set me up for how I wanted to approach this season and to feel more comfortable in the role."
Although he has made the transition from player to manager appear seamless, Monk describes this season as a "constant learning curve".
"You learn all the time," he insists. "It could be things you've worked on in the week - did they work? If they did, then great, but could you improve them and make them work even better? What did we implement that we should maybe change?
"On match days, what tweaks did you make during the game which helped the team? You learn from everything.
"Then you're managing the players and your staff, as well as managing your relationship with the people above.
"It is a constant learning curve and this season I've learnt an incredible amount.
"As a manager you celebrate a win for maybe 10 or 20 minutes after the game, then bang, you're looking ahead to the next thing and what you plan to do for the following week.
"As a manager you don't enjoy the wins like a player would."
Monk - the player - would have no doubt celebrated last Monday night's stunning 1-0 victory at Arsenal for longer than 20 minutes.
But the change from the pitch to the dugout has inevitably led to a change in approach.
"It changes your relationship with the players too, of course it does. But that has to happen," he goes on to explain.
"It was very similar to when Roberto (Martinez) took over. A lot of us were good mates with him, but that relationship does change because it has to.
"But it's been no problem. The players have been very respectful. They understand that there is a job to be done.
"There are tough decisions to make with some players you might have played with or know very well, but that's the job. I love them all, but this is what the job demands."
And with two games left to play, there is still plenty more to fight for this season as the Swans went within a point of seventh-placed Southampton and two points of sixth-placed Tottenham Hotspur on the back of that 1-0 win at the Emirates Stadium.
But despite the prospect of Europa League football next season now within reach, Monk insists the focus is solely on the next three points.
"What will be, will be," he says. "We will push every single game like we have done all season and see where it takes us.
"We are just focusing on the next three points."
Not looking too far ahead is the smart thing to do and an approach the Swans have committed to all season.
As another intelligent man Winston Churchill once said: "It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time."
Monk would no doubt agree with that statement. But after all, intelligence has always been one of his strengths.