Carlos Carvalhal a strange appointment for beleaguered Swansea
Football management is very often a profoundly curious line of work. If you'd told someone that this week Swansea and Middlesbrough had appointed Carlos Carvalhal and Tony Pulis as their respective managers, it would have sounded entirely plausible. Not quite so predictable was which manager went to which club.
Pulis, the specialist in Premier League survival, has gone to the club looking for promotion from the Championship, while Carvalhal, the man who took a team to the Championship playoff final two years ago, has gone to the side struggling in the Premier League.
Not that Swansea should necessarily have looked to Pulis, but the logic of bringing in Carvalhal is questionable, at best. Carvalhal left Sheffield Wednesday on Christmas Eve, after a run of games which saw them drop to 15th in the second tier and closer to relegation than the playoffs. The last time that sort of thing happened was when Brian Laws was sacked by Wednesday in 2009 then appeared at Burnley a month later: they lost 15 of their remaining 18 matches and were relegated.
That is not to say Carvalhal is bound to be a similar disaster. Virtually everyone who has dealt with him speaks of his warm personality, and his charisma is clear even though his interviews can slant towards the eccentric. He also has a ruthless streak which saw a number of players at Wednesday that he did not deem of the required standard frozen out of the team, which might be encouraging for a Swansea squad groaning with the weight of dead wood.
He also oversaw a pretty rapid turnaround at Wednesday: the season before his arrival they had finished a relatively distant 13th place, but under him they started brilliantly and reached the playoffs in his two full campaigns, losing the 2016 final to Hull City. Throw in beating Arsenal in the League Cup, and you can understand why, for much of his time in Yorkshire, Carvalhal was pretty popular.
Carvalhal, who did his coaching badges on the same course as Jose Mourinho and also studied alongside Rui Faria, has some interesting ideas too. In 2014 he wrote a book called "Soccer: Developing A Know-How," in which he espoused a theory called "tactical periodisation," which sounds like it could be full of needlessly complicated management speak, but which he insists is actually all pretty simple.
"All the time, we used to say that physical training is very important," he told the Daily Telegraph in 2015. "But physical training comes together with organisation. It's called tactical periodisation because you push the physical and the psychological part together, but with organisation. So you run, but you run all the time with the ball. Always with the ball.
"[The] ideas are very simple. The theory can be complicated. But the practice, very simple. Just play football. If you are a writer, you must write. It's the best way to practise. If I'm a pianist, I don't need to run in the forest for one hour or two hours to be a good pianist. I must play piano. So this is what we are doing all the time. Play football. Simple ideas."
Somewhere along the way though, the simplicity got lost. By this season it was clear his judgement had gone badly awry: results in general have been bad, but the Sheffield derby at Hillsborough in September was when it really started to go south. In the run-up to the game against Sheffield United, the first in five years, he gave the impression that it was just another game, while his opposite number Chris Wilder whipped up the parochial fervour that had been building up over the years. United won 4-2.
During a press conference a few days later he took a £20 note from his pocket, scrunched it up and hammered it into the table, proclaiming it had "the same value" as before the derby defeat. There was a point in there somewhere -- life goes on and all that -- but there was something in his wide eyes and the force with which he punched the currency simply suggested he was losing the plot. It wasn't an isolated incident, either.
In a broader sense, you could argue that he underachieved with Wednesday too. Even though he turned their fortunes around, he was given plenty of money to spend: Jordan Rhodes arrived last season in a deal that could reportedly cost around £10 million, Fernando Forestieri, Alman Abdi and Daniel Pudil all came in from Watford, Gary Hooper from Norwich, Adam Reach from Middlesbrough.
All told, around £35m worth of players arrived in Carvalhal's two-and-a-half years at Hillsborough: even now a fairly hefty total in the Championship. There had been reports that Carvalhal did not have much input into the club's transfer business, with the Owls having links to the Doyen Global player agency, but chairman Dejphon Chansiri insisted that the coach had "the final say on any player's suitability."
Top-six finishes were probably the minimum expected, and their non-performance in the 2016 playoff final defeat now looks like part of a pattern: when the pressure was really on, Carvalhal's side crumbled.
"In this moment, maybe if you ask 100 people who follow football, they will say Swansea are going to get relegated," Carvalhal roared after his appointment at the Liberty Stadium. He isn't kidding: this is a team who sold their two most potent attackers in the summer and didn't adequately replace them, who are bottom of the Premier League, five points away from safety and little to suggest their players are capable of much better.
To turn around this situation Swansea have appointed a man who before Wednesday had 14 jobs in 15 years, has never managed in the Premier League and left Wednesday "by mutual consent" for underachievement in the Championship. Carvalhal might surprise us all, but this is not an appointment which makes much logical sense.
There was a time when Swansea was a byword for the sensible running of things, but they have done their best to dash that reputation: Carvalhal is their fourth permanent manager in the last two years. As a side note, that Paul Clement was dismissed while Carvalhal was technically unavailable also either suggests that Swansea either didn't have a firm succession plan or their final choice was not their first choice.
Carvalhal walks into a mess, and absolutely needs a win in his first game against Watford on Saturday, considering they are at home to Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal in January. In that respect he has little to lose: the same can't be said of Swansea.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.