Published March 13, 2012
For those who fear that money is hijacking soccer, that victory on the field is becoming a preserve of the wealthy, a ray of hope came this weekend from an unlikely source — Wales.
Swansea, fielding a starting lineup that cost peanuts in soccer terms (less than $15 million), beat one of the richest sides in England, Manchester City, bankrolled by an ambitious Abu Dhabi billionaire.
Swansea's 7-year-old, 20,000-seat Liberty Stadium, which it shares with the Ospreys rugby team because neither club could afford a new home of its own, cost less to build than Manchester City spent last July on just one player, Sergio Aguero.
The Argentine is City's top goal-scorer this season. Manager Roberto Mancini hurried him on as a first-half substitute on Sunday as it quickly became apparent that City was being outplayed. But even Aguero couldn't make the crucial difference.
Michel Vorm, Swansea's Dutch goalkeeper, did make a difference with an acrobatic save that kept out a shot from City's Kolo Toure. He cost the Welsh team $2.3 million to buy from Utrecht last August. That is far less than City's bad boy Carlos Tevez has squandered in fines and lost wages this season during his disputes with the Manchester club.
Swansea was in such trouble as recently as 2001 that it was twice sold in the space of months for the nominal sum of 1 pound each time. Although in better shape now, even the $5.5 million the club spent on Danny Graham, its most expensive player and top scorer this season, would be small change for City.
So, on paper, this wasn't meant to be a match of equals. But in its first season in the Premier League, Swansea is making a habit of confounding expectations.
Because of their passing game, manager Brendan Rodgers' players together have earned the nickname "Swans-alona," a nod to Barcelona, the master of the art. Swansea midfielder Leon Britton's stats for passing accuracy have this season rivaled those of Barcelona's Xavi Hernandez.
But unlike Blackpool, another cheap and cheerful team that was the surprise package last season, Swansea can defend, too.
Its 1-0 defeat of City was the 11th time in 28 Premier League games that it prevented an opponent from scoring. Only City and Manchester United, with 13 clean sheets each, have done better this season.
At the Liberty Stadium, Swansea has been nearly unbeatable — losing only twice and letting in just 10 goals. Again, only City has done better at home this season, letting in just six goals at its Etihad Stadium.
In short, City's loss in Wales wasn't as much of a shock as headline writers suggested. It doesn't mean that City's expensive squad of stars is failing to jell into a cohesive team. It doesn't necessarily mean that Manchester United is bound to win the league title now that City, the previous league leader, has faltered.
Arsenal lost at the Liberty, too, and both Chelsea and Tottenham contented themselves with draws there. Of the league's top five, only Man United came away from Swansea with a win — 1-0, in November.
"David beats Goliath" results like this weekend's have a long history in England, too.
Remember Burnley 1, Manchester 0?
That was United, not City, on Aug. 19, 2009. Alex Ferguson's side was the defending league champion, but it managed to lose to a club that hadn't beaten United in 41 years and which was relegated at the end of that season.
Or Sheffield United 2, Manchester 1? Again, that was United, not City, on Aug. 15, 1992. That was United's first match in the new Premier League. It also managed to lose 1-0 at Oldham that season. Both Sheffield and Oldham dropped out of the top flight the following season.
In short, upsets happen.
The tweeting classes buzzed about a City supporter who looked utterly heartbroken when Luke Moore headed Swansea's winner in the 83rd minute. Television images appeared to show the grown man weeping.
But he needn't have been so blue. Not yet, at least. This title race is far from over.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester