IN THE SPOTLIGHT . . . Paul Clement

24th January 2017
In The Spotlight

It was surely the most dramatic climax to a relegation fight the Premier League has ever seen.


And for new Swansea City boss Paul Clement, it came to the right conclusion.
His little brother Neil, after all, was part of the West Bromwich Albion side who pulled off a great escape.
It was 2004-05, a season which started with Gary Megson in charge at The Hawthorns and ended, after a brief spell where Frank Burrows was in caretaker control, with Bryan Robson at the helm.
At Christmas, the Baggies were bottom of the table, and no fewer than eight points adrift of safety.
At that point, their survival chances looked close to non-existent.
History was against Albion - never before had the club who were last in the Premier League when roast turkeys were dished up managed to drag themselves out of the bottom three come the end of the season.
But as Clement vividly recalls, Robson's West Brom bucked the trend in extraordinary fashion.
Before kick-off on the final day of the season, not one club was sure to go down.
West Brom were 20th on the morning of May 15, 2005, with Southampton and Crystal Palace a point better off but both in the drop zone. Norwich City, in 17th, had one more point than the two sides immediately below.
Norwich's fate was in their own hands, but their 6-0 thrashing at Fulham meant they went down with a whimper.
Southampton lost 2-1 to Manchester United - in a game which they had led 1-0 - while Palace ended up drawing 2-2 at Charlton despite being in front with just eight minutes of the match remaining.
Those results meant that Albion's 2-0 win over Portsmouth, which came courtesy of second-half goals from Geoff Horsfield and Kieran Richardson, was enough to start a survival party in the Black Country.
"I was working (in the academy) at Fulham at the time, and of course I followed that relegation battle closely because of my brother," Clement says.
"I went to some of the games he was involved in. The very last game, Portsmouth at home, I was following on television.
"Even during the game, the way things were to-ing and fro-ing, at one point West Brom were going down and then they were staying up.
"I remember watching the live table and it was changing constantly. It was a remarkable end to the season and the fact that they stayed up was incredible.
"Since they achieved what they did after being bottom at Christmas, it is talked about every season."
Inevitably, given Clement's new job, comparisons will be drawn between Albion's class of 2005 and Swansea City in 2017.
Of course, the Swans were not quite bottom at Christmas. They had 12 points - two more than West Brom 12 years ago - and were ahead of 20th-place Hull City on goal difference.
Come the final reckoning, West Brom's tally of 34 points saw them survive by the skin of their teeth.
Right now there are plenty of pundits suggesting that once again, clubs will not need to reach the traditional 40-point safety mark this spring in order to stay up.
The theory is that the top clubs have opened up a gap on the rest in this season's Premier League, and that the elite's successes will see the rest of the division pick up fewer points overall.
All those involved in the scrap at the bottom end of the table will hope the experts are proved right.
For the moment, however, Clement is not concerning himself - not publicly anyway - with how many results may be required to ensure the Swans end the season in 17th place or above.
Clement argues that it is too early to set targets for the end of the campaign.
Instead, he stresses, all at the Liberty Stadium must focus their attention on improving performance levels.
If that happens, the points which are required should come.
"It's good that what West Brom did 12 years ago means that everybody here knows it can be done," Clement says.
"But our concentration and focus is on the short term. It's about what we are doing on the training field each day. It's about the next game.
"What is important is that we concentrate on our day-to-day training and on our game-by-game approach. I think if we get those details right, we will have a better chance of performing well and winning games."
West Brom in 2005 is not the only example of what can be achieved by a team who improve during a season.
Since the Midlands club broke new ground, Sunderland (2013-14) and Leicester City (2014-15) have matched their feat of staying up having been bottom of the pile over Christmas.
And those two clubs even did it with something to spare, meaning no nerves come the final day of the season.
How Clement would love to be leading the Swans into their final-day meeting with - coincidentally - West Brom on May 21 with no pressure on the game.
If that is going to happen, he must continue to rejuvenate a squad of players who struggled through the first half of this campaign, but gave a glimpse of what they are capable of by winning at Liverpool last weekend.
Clement's plan to inspire a revival revolves around playing the sort of progressive passing game which has been a Swans trademark ever since Roberto Martinez took over as manager almost 10 years ago.
"A lot of talk around the club and the team is going to be about Premier League survival and being in this division next year," Clement concedes.
"But, as I say, I think what's important for us is to look on a smaller level at the moment. We have to start delivering some match performances.
"I want to get back to playing the style of football Swansea City have been known for going back 10 years to when Roberto Martinez was in charge and also under people like Paulo Sousa and Brendan Rodgers."
A glance at Clement's CV tells you he knows all about trying to produce teams who play eye-catching football.
Nothing else will do, after all, at clubs like Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain.
Clement started the career which has led him to the Liberty as a coach in Chelsea's academy two decades ago. And right from the start, his beliefs have centred around looking after the ball.
"All through my years in coaching, I have always tried to produce teams who play good football," he says.
"When I have worked at high-level teams, all of them played really good football. When I was at Derby, we tried to play good football as well.
"It will be the same here. That's the way I like to work. Hopefully I am a good fit for the club and I do feel the club are a good fit for me as well.
"I think it's the right way to do things based on the players that we have and on the philosophy of the club.
"But it's not just about entertaining, it's about winning games. That's the way I believe football should be played in order to win."
Of course, the challenge facing Clement in SA1 is as much about what his players do off the ball as it is what they do when in possession.
With 51 league goals conceded this far, it is clear the Swans must make themselves harder to break down.
Clement has quickly got to work in the transfer market, signing Martin Olsson, Tom Carroll and Luciano Narsingh in a bid to strengthen his squad, and there could be further additions before the window closes next week.
The Swans' hope is that the fresh faces can provide a shot in the arm for a squad which already features its share of talent.
What happened at Anfield suggests they will do just that.
It has been a tough season so far for a group of players who are now getting used to life under a third boss of 2016-17, but Clement's first steps on the Fairwood training ground have been well received.
"I think the squad are looking for some direction and some guidance," he suggests.  "They have been very open to the training methods and my ideas so far. They are a good set of players.
"We also have staff who are enthusiastic and passionate and want the best for this club.
"And when I arrived here, I found this amazing training facility. We have good pitches and a new building to work in which has only been open for a couple of weeks.
"We also have a good stadium which is packed out for every home game and the atmosphere is really good.
"This is all set up for the Premier League, absolutely."
Now to make sure the Swans stay there.