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Heart Of Football

New Swans boss will see pleasing style of Martinez

When the Swansea City captain Ashley Williams was asked what he knows about his new coach, he replied: "Everything... I Googled him!"

I'm guessing that is the truth, because Francesco Guidolin is not exactly a household name in the English Premier League. Swansea are well known for pulling managerial appointments out of left field, and over the eight years that Williams has been on the south coast of Wales he might have Googled seven times to see what credentials his latest boss held.

It's an intriguing list, starting with when Roberto Martinez was appointed player-manager almost 10 years ago. Martinez, as it happens, now manages the Swans' opponents this afternoon, Everton.

However, it was Martinez who set the style for which Swansea are well-known - the pass-and-move "Spanish" style that makes Everton at their best one of the most pleasing sides to watch in the EPL.

But after Roberto, Swansea hired in succession Paulo Sousa, Brendan Rodgers, Michael Laudrup, Garry Monk, Alan Curtis and now (the head coach Googled by Williams) Guidolin.


PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Francesco Guidolin does not tolerate slackers. He may not find an Alexis on the Swansea wings, but he will expect every player to give every ounce - starting at Goodison Park where Swansea have a wretched record.

Signor Guidolin is 60. He played until he was 30 for Verona, then began what became his forte, guiding teams of relatively modest standing to shock the big clubs of Milan and Rome and Turin with his faith in youth, his emphasis on wholeheartedness, his eye for an embryonic talent.

One name from his list of former players at Udinese leaps out. He is Alexis Sanchez, the Chilean winger who matches Guidolin's demands for passion and skill combined. Sanchez - or Alexis as he is best known - moved on to Barcelona and is now at Arsenal.

He is probably the fastest winger in English football, a tiger who greatly assisted Chile to become the Copa America champion last year.

By all accounts, Guidolin surprised some of the Swansea players at their first meeting last Wednesday with his smattering of English language. "I'd say there are shades of Michael Laudrup about him," said Alan Curtis, the Swansea first-team coach who has been there in the background, loyally assisting any and every new coach the club has hired.

"He surprised us a little bit with his English. He spoke in a very measured way, but you feel there's a little bit of fiery temper there as well."

The Swansea players better believe it. Francesco Guidolin does not tolerate slackers. He may not find an Alexis on the Swansea wings, but he will expect every player to give every ounce - starting at Goodison Park where Swansea have a wretched record.

In fact, Everton has always enjoyed playing the Swans, winning 13 and losing none of their 21 league meetings.

Once that game is over, the attention in England will be drawn south, to Arsenal v Chelsea in the capital.

There is no Jose Mourinho, so no insult towards the Gunners from the Chelsea camp. Indeed, Guus Hiddink, who is standing in for the second time in his career after Chelsea have sacked Mourinho, is an admirer - or says he is.

"There's a lot to say about management and stability, the way that Arsene Wenger has managed this club already for many, many, many years," says Hiddink.

"It says a lot about the stability of the club, in a good way. If you have seen his teams playing in the early days at Highbury, they were also beautiful teams to see."

Wise words. The Dutch do like to see beauty, and Hiddink may or may not have been making a point about stability, given that Chelsea has gone through 16 managerial changes in the 20 years that Monsieur Wenger has been at Arsenal.

Some of those changes have been temporary, some are second time around, as Hiddink is now.

What stands out is the return to Arsenal (to the Emirates and no longer Highbury Stadium) of Cesc Fabregas. Wenger plucked Cesc from the Barca youth academy, then lost him when Fabregas wanted to go back home to the Catalans. And now, having won the EPL with Chelsea, he's back trying to prevent the title passing on to the Gunners.

In the modern game, allegiance is where the next big contract is offered.

However, there is another reunion on the pitch that really might be seen at the season's end as a game changer - or a championship changer.

Petr Cech was Chelsea's Mr Reliable for 10 years and 486 games that won the club 15 major trophies. Then he was dropped in favour of Thibaut Courtois. For a whole year, Cech sat on the bench, where Mourinho wanted to keep him.

Roman Abramovich, the owner, listened to Cech's plea to be allowed to continue his career elsewhere, and sold him to Arsenal for £10 million (S$20.4 million). It was then that John Terry suggested that Cech's experience, his calmness and ability to organise the defence could be worth 15 points a season.

It is beginning to look that way. Cech, 33, is everything to Arsenal that he once was to Chelsea. And there was an amusing interlude last week when Cech popped into the Chelsea training ground south of London.

It seems someone at his sponsor, adidas, delivered a new pair of gloves for the keeper to his old club. Since he still has a house near the training ground, Cech decided to collect them himself.

"It was nice," said Hiddink, his manager once upon a time. "We had a nice chat.

"He knew the gloves were here, and we tried to hide them. We also tried to make them a little bit more slippery. But he knew it!"

Most of the Chelsea players had left after training, Hiddink and Cech reminisced about old times. And Hiddink, a much travelled man whose own career has revisited several places where he played or coached before, is sanguine about Chelsea firing shots on Cech today.

"When is the moment to say goodbye?" he asks. "It's not easy."

It never is. Whether it be Roberto Martinez trying to organise Everton's destruction of his former team Swansea, or Petr Cech putting up the shutters against Chelsea, football is about shifting loyalties, except for lifelong fans.

EVERTON V SWANSEA
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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 24, 2016, with the headline 'New Swans boss will see pleasing style of Martinez'. Print Edition | Subscribe