Swansea City fans’ long wait for some answers from our American owners is finally over this week as BBC and Wales Online journalists travelled to Washington DC to speak to both Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien over a number of different topics from the need to cut costs, our lack of transfers in the Summer, the Ryan Woods saga, Huw Jenkins’ future and why there’s more “hard medicine” to follow as they aim to recover from some very costly mistakes over the last few years.
I’ll try to be as balanced as I can and look at what they’ve said in answer to the journalists’ questions from a cynical view and a more optimistic view but I have – as many others – have big doubts over their intentions having given us a load of false promises and a few lies since the very start in 2016.
This was the quote that really frustrated me and many others. They don’t have the financial resources at all. Well, they might do, but they’re certainly not willing to invest them into improving the club – unless they get all the money back with interest on top.
— Tommy Butler. (@TommyButler95) September 4, 2018
Another huge frustration for us is about the former owners and their careless action of selling to these particular investors. No due diligence was done whatsoever. Their reputation and track record in this sort of thing was out there for all to see, you didn’t have to look far to get a picture of what was to come. All you needed to do was look at what’s happened to D.C United, another football club that they own. It’s worth mentioning here that it was 6 years ago in 2012 when Levien and Erick Thobir were named as the club’s new majority owners.
I won’t go into full detail of the entire transcript of the interview, you can read it in full on the BBC here, but I’ll focus on some of the main points that most fans have been talking about.
In my attempt to be as balanced as possible, and not simply focusing on the very worst things that came out of the interview, it’s worth mentioning early on about their Summer managerial appointment of Graham Potter. They got it badly wrong with Bob Bradley, but it looks like they’ve made a superb decision in bringing him to the club to take over from Carlos Carvalhal. Regarding that, they said:
“First, finding Graham and then working with Graham and Kyle [Macaulay, Swansea’s new head of recruitment]. We held meetings in person and spoke over the phone many times over many days and hours. We decided on a strategy of bringing in young, aspiring talent they had identified. Trying to hold on to players on the current squad we felt could grow with that talent. One of those key players was Oli McBurnie who had not had regular minutes with Swansea in the Premier League.” – Jason Levien.
One of the major talking points after the release of the full transcript was Kaplan’s comment about their hopes to speak with the Trust “without lawyers” in regards to the sale of shares. He said:
“There has been a request for mediation. I hope that the Trust, the selling shareholders and ourselves can sit in a room without lawyers and figure out how to do something in the best interests in the club. That is all I can say on that.” – Steve Kaplan.
Alarm bells instantly start ringing here when they’re talking about not wanting lawyers involved in meetings. With what’s gone on in the past, you couldn’t blame the Supporters’ Trust at all for wanting that. After all, there has been mention of legal action taking place but the members voted in the majority to sell some of their shares to the owners. Other options would have allowed them the opportunity to possibly take legal action.
“We are keen to make the necessary investment in the club to keep the club in a stable financial position. We have ownership partners, and we are mindful of that and FFP rules. We are trying to do the right thing for the long and medium term. That is our position.”
Another question asked was whether or not they’ve put their own money into the club.
“[Yes] Our own funds and put them into the club for advanced payments we would receive otherwise, but were waiting on. We have done that on multiple occasions and, where appropriate, we will continue to do that because we want the club on a more sound financial footing. So we stepped in and did that last season, and we have done it this season. We want to be thoughtful about it, but there are resources and planning behind that to make sure the club is financially secure.”
They’ve put their own money in – yes – but it has to be confirmed as well that they expect it all back again – with interest. So they’re not investing money in, it’s all expected back again, as Levien confirms:
“If we did not have that money back then it would be equity. We would be putting equity in, we have not done that. If we put equity in then there would be no requirement for it to come back to us. Up to now, we have said that they are advances to the club that banks will not give us, and we are ready to step in and do that.”
Kaplan denied claims that they are paying out dividends to their 25 investors:
“We are not paying out dividends. All the money goes back into the club.”
I suppose this comes down to a matter of trust. Are they genuine? After all, they’ve given false promises in the past so it’s up to you as to whether or not they’re being entirely honest here.
Now we move on to the Ryan Woods saga which really is baffling and confusing. I had the firm belief that we had no real intention of spending upwards of £6m for the Brentford midfielder, who later joined Stoke for £7m. I don’t think we wanted to pay that much for a single player and it looks like this is true.
“We certainly thought Ryan Woods was a talented player. He is very effective in the role he plays, but ultimately when we did our diligence we thought it was not the ideal fit for us at this time. That was a decision that took many different conversations with Kyle Macaulay, with Graham Potter, with Huw Jenkins and our whole team. It was not an easy decision as he is a player who is attractive for a lot of reasons, but we came out and said it was not the right time to make that deal happen.” – Jason Levien.
Wait, there’s more:
“I think the market at the end of the window is always hectic with a lot of comings and goings. When we assessed it on deadline day we felt it was not the right move. We certainly had a lot of appreciation for his talent level and were hopeful we could get something done.
“We sometimes have sold players on deadline day and taken a massive hit in terms of the reduction of what we receive. There was no appetite from Ryan Woods’ club to do that, with even a small reduction. I think we let the window play out as best we could and wanted to be opportunistic because we had an appreciation of what Ryan Woods would bring.“
Now, the thing that really confuses me here is how they “assessed it on deadline day”. What were they thinking? They left it that long to assess whether or not it was the “right move”? But then, they were “hopeful” they could “get something done”. Surely there’s a contradiction here? You assessed the situation and didn’t believe it was the “right fit”, and yet you were “hopeful” you could “get something done”? I mean, which is it?
They let the window play out “as best it could” is a cracking line as well.
The next one is even better. And by that, we actually mean worse, far worse.
When asked if they had considered selling, Kaplan responded:
We’re dug in. We’re not selling the club. We’re here to rebuild and we’re determined. So if anybody’s hoping we’re selling the club, they’re sorely mistaken.”
“Sorely mistaken”? That’s a way to put it.
Sorry Daniel, been busy with work.
You know my thoughts on it all, pal – it's appalling. "You're stuck with us" and "there will be more hard medicine to take"… dear me. It's so, so demoralising.
— Stuart James (@StuartJamesGNM) September 6, 2018
OK. You will have to ‘big this document up’ to read it. I have kept it to one page and I hope it helps. Please note, this is a personal view based on my experience of investment based environments as I have no actual insight into how the club is being actually run. pic.twitter.com/fbP6R6xjn7
— Andrew J Powell (@AndrewJPowell) September 4, 2018
Kaplan the came out with another cracker after being asked if they’re in it for the “long haul”:
“Yes we do. You’re going to be stuck with us for a while.”
Again, a strange way to put it and like Stuart James tweeted, very demoralising. They’re definitely aware that the fans aren’t happy with them but there appears to be little care regarding that fact, as far as I can tell anyway judging by the choice of words.
There were further concerns later in the interview. They were asked about Celina, and for argument’s sake, if they received offers for him and would he be sold. Kaplan responded:
“I don’t want to speculate as to what we’re going to do in the future because a lot can change. But what we’re trying to do is take the hard medicine now so that we can build for the future. I know that’s hard for supporters to accept. There will be more hard medicine to take, but we want to build around our young guys. If you look at what we’ve done, we’ve kept our young guys and that’s where our focus is going to be.”
“More hard medicine to take” can be interpreted in different ways – it’s a broad statement but it suggests that more decisions will be made that won’t be favourable amongst the fans. That’s my balanced view on it. A more cynical view would be that the “hard medicine” relates to further player sales to raise cash and another lack of incomings to replace them.
Kaplan also couldn’t answer the question about whether or not money would be available in January for players without talking about which players will be moved:
“I think we’ll assess what our needs are. We’ll have to assess what players are going to be moved in January and, if there’s a need, we’ll take a very hard look at adding players.”
Again, players still have to leave before others can come in. That first bit about assessing our needs. Well, we have needs now that weren’t met in the Summer transfer window so surely we’ll still need midfield cover in a few months’ time? Injuries will take their toll by then and we’ll surely need to add some players.
The last point I’ll make is about our chairman Huw Jenkins, who has received the brunt of the criticism and rightly so. After all, it was his decision to go through with the careless sale to Kaplan and Levien as well as making a list of very costly mistakes that ended in Premier League relegation.
Any other business and he’d be told to leave. You just can’t keep losing a business millions of pounds and expect to still be in such a high profile job. But Jenkins is still here helping to make key decisions.
Levien confirmed that Jenkins’ role has changed, mentioning new head of recruitment Kyle Macaulay whilst doing so which shows the involvement he once had in buying players.
“We work well with Huw, we know how much he loves the club. I think it is pretty clear Huw has changed his role this summer and we have brought someone like Kyle in to make our recruitment stronger and we have changed our strategy and personnel.”
Kaplan really was the one who was coming out with the quotes that I expect frustrated fans the most. Here’s another one:
“Huw has been a great servant of the club. He has certainly made some mistakes, but we all have. But there has to be a recognition that the man loves the football club and he helped steer it from the lowest professional division into the Premier League and then sustained the club there. We all owe him a debt of gratitude.“
Ok, I’ll leave it there. I’ve not covered it all and there’s plenty more to discuss and consider about the future of the football club. I did say I’d try to be balanced but I find it very difficult. Feel free to share your own views on the owners’ interview via the comments below.