Watching Swansea City play is like reading Proust. There are more than a few forgettable moments, scattered throughout longer moments of wandering beauty, sudden whimsy, and fluttering brilliance, seemingly going nowhere and seemingly without end. Everything builds and builds and builds without any obvious narrative structure. As the tension breaks their game becomes more sprawling, and more strange. It’s easy to get lost. Once lost, it’s easy to lose sense of time, and place. No team in the Premier League is as watchable and as unwatchable as Swansea. And no team inspires the depth of praise and breadth of indifference.
Earlier this season Swansea played Liverpool to a scoreless draw. The game was brilliant. Andy Carroll was comically feckless. So too was Liverpool’s midfield. Michel Vorm essentially attacked Liverpool’s forwards from his goal, which is an odd phrase and even odder thought, but there really isn’t another way to put it. The overwhelming presence of the ball in the midfield looked, from a distance, the way the game being played in the imagination of someone who’d never seen a game before, and only heard it described charitably, if not also a little wistfully.
Two months later Swansea played Arsenal in Wales in the closest a football match gets to a gordian knot. Swansea had lost 1-0 to Arsenal at the Emirates earlier in the season when a tragicomic deflection ended up at the feet of Andrei Arshavin at the edge of the box: Vorm rolled the ball out to Angel Rangel, who was looking the other way. The ball skipped off his heels and landed within a step of Arshavin.Vorm, by then, was well off his line and had no chance to save Arshavin’s sudden chip shot from sailing over and around him and into the back of the net. But instead of breaking the game open, the goal sank the game into itself. Nothing else memorable happened, at all, and nothing could be expected from the second game. But as soon as the game in Wales started the midfield opened wide, and then widened. Swansea became a lighter version of Arsenal, and Arsenal became a heavier version of Swansea, and the two sides traded goals until Swansea went up 3-2 with twenty minutes left. Twenty faster and more nervy and more open and more wrenching minutes than any Swansea had played all season.
Two months later still, and the win over Arsenal seems stranger and more like a false cadence. It wouldn’t be essential to Swansea staying in the Premier League; they would win enough, quietly and infrequently, that there wouldn’t be many games that didn’t seem like false cadences. Even the name they have come to be called, “Swanselona,” sounds more and more like a false cadence. Surely they possess the ball, and pass back, and are very short, but they’re really nothing at all like Barcelona in the way they stretch the field, in their patience without ball, in their presence up and down the flanks, in their style, in the musical images they conjure up. Barcelona recall jazz players, not only because of the rhythm they play in, but because of how intimate, how personal they make the game. Swansea recall something more aloof, more austere, more like a frock coat, a white glove, and a slow strain of violins.
— Maxwell Kuhl
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