Monk sees career turn full circle
20th April 2013
Today's game sees Garry Monk's career turn full circle as he comes up against the club that handed him his Premier League debut.
Monk was a fresh-faced 19-year-old when former Southampton boss Dave Jones gave him his top-flight bow in November 1998.
13 appearances followed during an eight-year spell on the south coast, before Monk opted to cross the border to south Wales.
But as he prepares to face his former club this afternoon, the Swans skipper reflected on those halcyon days at The Dell and St Mary's.
"I remember my debut well," he said. "We played Derby at home and I came up against the likes of Dean Sturridge and Paulo Wanchope, so it was a good test for me.
"But I've got some great memories of my time down at Southampton. I was fortunate enough to play and train with some fantastic players and it was where I learnt my trade.
"When I came to Swansea, that was when I became a footballer. But at Southampton I came up against some top quality strikers and I learnt about positioning and other aspects of the game after playing alongside some experienced players.
"But I never quite felt part of the first team there. I played the odd game here and there, but at Swansea I've been a part of it all and played regularly - it's where I've enjoyed my football the most, there's no doubt about that."
During his time at Southampton, Monk played under four managers and saw the Saints reach the FA Cup final in 2003.
After learning his trade in the Premier League, the defender decided that first-team football was a must and after a couple of loan moves, he opted for a switch to Swansea.
His first season in SA1 brought instant success as the club won promotion to League One - including the last league game at the Vetch Field.
And he was also fortunate enough to feature in Southampton's final league game at The Dell, as Matthew Le Tissier hit a stoppage-time winner against Arsenal.
"You couldn't have written a better script," he said. "The Dell was a unique stadium with a great atmosphere, and when that goal went in it was the best incident of atmosphere I've ever witnessed.
"The play-off semi-final against Nottingham Forest was the best I've experienced at Swansea, and I'm proud to say that I played in both clubs' final games at the old stadiums."
In the same season that Monk tasted success with the Swans in 2005, his former club suffered the ignominy of relegation from the Premier League.
The drop to the Championship hit the Saints hard and after four seasons in the second tier, a second relegation and administration followed as the club dropped into League One.
The club was subsequently saved and after back-to-back promotions, the Saints now find themselves back in the big time - and they are making quite an impression with an attractive brand of football and just one defeat in six games had propelled Mauricio Pochettino's men to within touching distance of the top ten.
"It's great to see them back in the Premier League," said Monk. "It has taken a while after relegation and all the financial problems, but the club is run in the right way.
"They are a big club with great facilities. The infrastructure there is massive now, and they have a good fan base as well so it's great for them that they are now back in the top-flight and doing well.
"I hope they can consolidate themselves and guarantee safety this season."
Similarly, the Swans have consolidated their position in the top-flight after yet another fine season.
With the Capital One Cup already in the trophy cabinet, Michael Laudrup's men have remained in the top half of the table for a number of weeks and are well placed to finish the campaign in style.
Following a run of three straight defeats, a 2-2 draw at Norwich last time out stopped the rot ahead of today's game against Southampton.
And Monk is adamant that the campaign is far from over with six games left to play.
"We go into every game thinking we can get something," he said. "We've played some tough games recently, but we'll keep working hard.
"But ultimately, we as a squad need to enjoy it. Lets work hard for each other and show the character and effort we have done up until now.
"A top ten finish would be massive, both for the club and for ourselves, so our focus is completely on that."
But for Monk, it could all have been so different.
The club stalwart revealed he was just a couple of days away from leaving for Bristol City earlier in the season after dropping out of first-team contention.
But the 34-year-old decided to stay put and has more than played his part this season with 14 appearances to his name.
However, by his own admission, it hasn't been easy.
"It's a transitional part of my career," said Monks. "It's difficult when you go from playing regularly to admitting that your maybe not first choice any more.
"But I'm in a good place in my life, I've got a great family around me and I transfer that into my football. Just because I've got an age next to my name it doesn't mean I'm just going to step aside without a fight.
"I work hard every day, I look after myself and train hard. I still feel that when I play I can do a good job and I think I've proved that in the games that I've played in this year.
"But this is the hardest bit of my career right now. Every player gets to that stage, but I've always put the club first and put my body on the line for the team - and I'll continue to do that until the day someone tells me that I can't."
The skipper was rewarded for his efforts with a contract extension back in February.
The one-year deal will take Monk up to the summer of 2015 and bring about a decade in the black and white of Swansea.
Despite a couple of low points during his time in SA1, both his and the club's progress has spiralled, culminating in next season's venture into the Europa League.
And the 34-year-old believes he still has a lot to offer, both on and off the field.
"The boys respect me and I bring some experience to the squad," he said. "But if I wasn't in the match day squads then it would be a different situation for me.
"Even though I haven't played as much I've been involved in the majority of squads and I don't see why that should change.
"I cant do any more than what I have and that's what I'll continue to do."
However, as Monk admits, there will come a time when the boots get hung up.
And despite his wish of playing for as long as physically possible, he has already started making plans for the future - and it could one day see him standing in the dugout at the Liberty Stadium.
"I've always thought about what I would do after football," he said. "But coaching and management is something that I'm very much interested in.
"You never know what's going to happen in football, but Swansea is a club that I'd love to coach at and maybe manage one day.
"It's my club and I love it here. But you have to wait and see what comes up in the future."