Will the rise of Swansea City continue in 2013-14?

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In their first season in the Premier League Swansea City opened eyes with fluid passing and positional interchanges reminiscent of a baby Barcelona. In their second season the stylish play continued to impress and led to the club hoisting the League Cup, its first major piece of silverware in the Swans’ 101 year history.

So with the news that the Welsh side could swoop for up to six players in the summer transfer window, is the 2013-14 Premier League season set to be yet another chapter in the rise of the Swans?

The biggest concern in South Wales is not who the club will bring in so much as who they will transfer out. The list of possibilities is quite long and topping it is manager Michael Laudrup. In his first year at the Swansea helm the Dane has earned praise across the league not only for his team’s stunning performances but also for the players who he’s brought into the squad.

The $3/£2 million signing of Michu (pictured) from Rayo Vallecano gets the most attention but bringing in Chico from Genoa, Jonathan de Guzman (on loan) from Villareal, Ki-Sung Yueng from Celtic and Pablo Hernández from Valencia have all paid huge dividends for Swansea. It’s not often that a manager signs five players who in the first year of being at a club all assimilate so seamlessly. Such is the masterstroke of Laudrup.

Following the Swans 5-0 destruction of Bradford City in the Capital One Cup, chairman Huw Jenkins signed Laudrup to a contract extension through to June 2015. The signing came amid speculation that Laudrup could be tempted to depart the Liberty Stadium for greener pastures. And while those concerns abated slightly by the manager’s decision to re-up many still feel that if that right situation presented itself, the former Denmark captain would be out that door just like his predecessor Brendan Rodgers.

Player wise, there are numerous concerns as well.

Michu has been marvelous in his first season for the Swans, scoring 16 goals in 29 matches. The beanstalk forward makes his living between the opposition’s midfield and defense and is equally adept at poaching as he is striking from outside the box. Although few hard and fast transfer rumors have emerged, Sir Alex Ferguson has noted his awe at the player on a number of occasions. Don’t be surprised if come this summer the United gaffer throws a low-ball offer Jenkins’ way.

Ashley Williams is the heart and soul of the club, leading the back four since his arrival in 2008. A powerful player and wonderful organizer, Williams has traveled a long road from association football to the Premier League. Now, an elder statesman at the age of 28, Williams is finally being recognized as one of the best center-backs in English football. With Liverpool, Arsenal and United all rumored to be plotting bids for the Welsh international, Swansea will need to take a hard look at bringing in new blood at center-back.

Michel Vorm has been a revelation since arriving at the Liberty Stadium from FC Utrecht in 2011. The 29 year old was one of the best keepers in the league last season and despite suffering a rash of injuries this year (including a nasty partial adductor rupture), the Dutch international has still impressed. With rumors that Barcelona and Arsenal are both interested in Vorm’s services, Swansea may need to reload between the pipes if they aren’t convinced that backup Gerhard Tremmel can get the job done.

While Michu, Williams and Vorm are the three most likely to be plucked from South Wales, other Swansea men could go just as easily. De Guzman has expressed his desire to extend his loan but the center midfielder has shown such immense quality that it’s hard to think Villareal won’t be interested in bringing him back to Spain. Nathan Dyer’s tremendous speed and slippery nature makes him a menace on the wing even if the 25 year old has yet to prove his consistency. And even one-time journeyman, Wayne Routledge, is likely to have a number of potential suitors this summer after proving that he can pull the strings with the best of them.

When it comes to the future of Swansea City Football Club, anything is possible. But if they manage to hang on to Laudrup one feels the majority of the players will be convinced to stay put. Then, factor in the possibility of six new faces arriving at the Liberty this summer and 2013-14 could prove to be a very entertaining season for the Swans.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.