It has been a quiet transformation, but since Michael Laudrup's appointment as Swansea manager in the summer, it has now become evident that the Dane is more than just a coiffeured hairdo and a sharp suit. His own vision of Swansea under a new identity is slowly emerging, and when his side take on Chelsea in the League Cup semi-finals, he will finally have the chance of getting the recognition of his new model under the light of potential silverware.
The loss of Joe Allen will have partly enforced his transformation, but the truth is that there has been much mythologising over the club in the past few seasons. Most significantly, Swansea's commitment to possession football under Brendan Rodgers, apparently responsible for a promotion and excellent debut Premier League campaign, was in reality vastly overstated. In the context of Rodgers' struggles at Liverpool and his apparent transformation into David Brent-esque jokes as he pontificates on "myself", "our philosophy", and seven-and-a-half, inside-out reverse defensive trequartistas with regista influences, the time is right for some revisionism over the Northern Irishman's Swansea reign.
While nobody would doubt that Rodgers did a fine job at the helm of the team, Swansea's transformation to a more easy-on-the-eye style came under Roberto Martinez, and during their promotion season, the devastating pace of their wingers was the most important factor in their triumph, not their passing. In the Premier League, where raw pace was no longer enough, Swansea focused more on possession as a defensive tactic, ensuring that they were rarely overpowered by teams, but also rarely played any of the majestic, sweeping football of which they were capable. It was les about fluid football, and more about taking advantage of the abilities of Leon Britton and Joe Allen to slow down the pace of the game.
What Michael Laudrup has done, then, deserves real credit: he has evolved Swansea's style into something far more effective. The raw pace of Scott Sinclair has been replaced with the more technical, cerebral approach of Pablo Hernandez, far more effective at the top level of English football. Gylfi Sigurdsson, who became a key component of Swansea's team in the second half of last season, has had his role replicated by Michu, but Laudrup has had him play further forward to effectively become a striker, one who has a far better all-round game than Danny Graham, with the Swans' top scorer last season now a secondary option.
Laudrup's progression has basically left Swansea as a more accomplished team, far better suited to the Premier League, moving on from their obsolete components (a reliance on the pace of their wingers, a need to monopolise possession in the form of safe play) and replacing them, whilst also maintaining the elements that remained useful, using defenders and deep-lying midfielders comfortable in possession as a solid base.
The result of this has been, predictably, that Swansea have been more impressive when at their peak but far more inconsistent overall. On paper, they appear to be treading water, yet that alone would be a fine achievement for a side that had lost two of its key players and was looking at severe risk of enduring a difficult second season.
Beyond that though, Swansea's peak level has increased significantly - they may have appeared to have moved from a close-knit, well-drilled machine into a team dependent on a handful of players, but it is precisely that change that gives them a chance over Chelsea in the League Cup. The sum of their parts will always be inferior to Chelsea, but the new Swansea can hope to keep Chelsea out and hope for a decisive moment from the likes of Michu or Pablo Hernandez.
Bill Shankly famously said that a football team was like a piano - "you need eight people to carry it, and three people who can play the damn thing." Leaving aside the obvious flaws in the analogy - one wonders what kind of mega-instrument there was chez Shankly that required so many people to make use of it - it's an alternative philosophy to the Barcelona-influenced obsession on a kind of totality between all eleven players on the pitch, with each individual performing the same role in a strategy which focuses on the collective unit above all else. By granting freedom to their key players and taking the brave step to dismantle an effective gameplan, Laudrup has made genuine progress at a club that looked to have a difficult future.
When Swansea made a brief but brilliant start to the Premier League season, they looked like a proper top-half club. After some inconsistent displays, they look like they'll either make some slight progress or stall in pursuit of a higher league finish. Yet that doesn't tell the story at all - Swansea have a real chance of prevailing over Chelsea and making the League Cup final, which in itself represents a progression. Moreover, they have a more exciting team, are playing better football, and have moved on from their self-imposed banishment from high-tempo, fluid football. Should Swansea end up reaching Wembley, then Laudrup may very well get the praise his vision deserves.