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Sensible soccer for Sousa's Swans

Paulo Sousa tackles Germany's Markus Babbel during a 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw in 1997
Paulo Sousa was Portugal's 51-cap water-carrier

By Peter Shuttleworth

Although Paulo Sousa was the fulcrum of Portugal's first golden generation, he was their understated superstar.

The uncompromising midfielder with the male model looks was Portugal's proverbial iron fist inside a velvet glove, hunting down and dispossessing the enemy before giving the ball to the creative geniuses of Rui Costa or Luis Figo.

Now as Swansea City manager, Sousa is once again quietly going about his business trying to rebuild a Championship club that is just starting to come to terms with having its heart ripped out in the summer.

And Tuesday's unexpected 1-0 triumph at Championship leaders West Bromwich Albion could ultimately become a defining victory in transforming Swansea's season.

Paulo Sousa
Our win at West Brom reinforced the convictions and confidence we have in ourselves and in our work

Swansea City boss Paulo Sousa

It wasn't just the watershed win that would have made the division sit up and take notice, but the manner and style of success as the Swans deservedly defeated West Brom on their own patch.

Sousa, rightly or wrongly, has endured criticism already this season that perhaps has been a little naive and without substance if you scratch beneath the surface of their current 11th placed position.

Swansea boast the joint second-meanest defence in the Championship conceding just 10 goals, they have the longest unbeaten record of seven games and are just two points worse off this term compared with last season's start under Roberto Martinez.

Granted, Swansea are the division's lowest goal-scorers - hitting the net just nine times - but have started the season with an entirely new management team and minus last season's departed top-scorer Jason Scotland and free-scoring playmaker Jordi Gomez.

Add to that, Swansea have been without key midfielders Darren Pratley, Joe Allen and Ferrie Bodde for long periods as Sousa has had to rely in untested teenagers.

So being just six points off leaders Newcastle after 13 games is not bad for a club in transition and still relatively new to the second tier of English football.

And as Pratley points out: "I've been here for four years and we've never had a great start - and look what happened last season when we finished just outside the play-offs.

"But you don't win leagues in August as I've seen teams enjoying bright starts before ultimately fading away.

"Paulo has come under some unfair criticism but succeeding Roberto Martinez was always going to be tough. But everyone likes playing for him and he's a winner.

"He has won two Champions League medals so he has great pedigree and people have to listen to him - and if you don't perform, even in training, then he will tell you.

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"And I think we're a little bit more assured at defending set pieces and a bit more dangerous at attacking our own set pieces than we were last season.

"We obviously sent out a statement to the rest of the division beating the league leaders as most people would have thought we'd get beat there because most teams have."

Succeeding a managerial messiah as Martinez had become at Swansea was almost a mission impossible after the Spaniard inspired the Liberty Stadium club to their highest league finish in almost 25 years last campaign.

The Swans were a club in mourning following Martinez's defection to Premier League Wigan Athletic - where he enjoyed similar cult hero status - and Sousa had the unenviable task that proving that their was life without 'El Gaffer'.

Sousa was appointed with the intention of being a Martinez clone; they boast similar footballing philosophies, they both look the part, but Sousa's playing CV just edges it over Martinez's midfield career.

So on the surface it seemed bizarre that a two-time Champions League winner and former Juventus, Sporting Lisbon, Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan star had to prove he is worthy of emulating a man who mainly played in the lower leagues of English football.

But Martinez was - and still is - a marvellous and meticulous manager who leaves little to chance so was loved in Wales' second city.

Paulo Sousa playing for Juventus in 1995
Paulo Sousa won the Champions League during his time at Juventus

And his achievements at Swansea raised expectations so high that a team that has spent much of the last two decades languishing in the bottom divisions, is now criticised for consolidating.

Sousa, though, is gradually moulding a team in his image, intelligent in attack but with an underbelly of steel that were also going about their business quietly. Well, until they made the division take notice when they beat the Baggies at the Hawthorns.

"Our win at West Brom reinforced the convictions and confidence we have in ourselves and in our work," Sousa told BBC Sport.

"The team is starting to understand our identity more, understanding our strategy and they are making a lot of effort to understand me and follow me as I want my players to try an anticipate when things happen in a game.

"My team are starting to realise the winning mentality I want and what I expect because we don't play to not lose games but always play to win games as we will have always have chances to win."

The Portuguese water-carrier is building again, not from on the pitch these days but off it - quietly and typically without fuss but with a sharp football brain and an even sharper suit.

"Our defence have been outstanding and now we're starting to score goals as well so hopefully we've turned the corner," Pratley added.

"However, beating West Brom is only one result so we will not get too carried away but hopefully it will breed confidence."

Swansea may have had their heart broken in the summer, but Sousa has ensured they have retained their soul.



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see also
West Brom 0-1 Swansea
22 Oct 09 |  Championship
Beattie praise for Baggies fans
21 Oct 09 |  Swansea
West Brom 0-1 Swansea
20 Oct 09 |  Championship
Swans are coming together - Sousa
29 Sep 09 |  Swansea
Sousa makes glittering entrance
23 Jun 09 |  Swansea
Sousa confirmed as new Swans boss
23 Jun 09 |  Swansea
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales


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