Where Would Swansea be now with Paul Tisdale?
Football is full of what ifs. What if Jonathan Howard’s “goal” for Chesterfield had been given against Middlesbrough in the 1997 FA Cup final? What if Fergie had decided Cantona was too much of a risk to sign? What if Spurs’s chef had opted for a vegetarian curry instead of a lasagne before that game? And what if Paul Tisdale had taken the Swansea job…
Back in 2010, when then Championship side Swansea were looking to replace Paulo Sousa, Tisdale was top of the list. The Exeter City boss had impressed with back-to-back promotions for the Grecians before keeping the Westcountry side in League One on one of the smallest budgets in the division. What’s more, he’d done it by playing free-flowing attractive football that the Swans prided themselves on. Chairman Huw Jenkins had already approached him the year before to take over from Roberto Martinez and this time it seemed the Swans had their man.
Certainly Exeter fans were resigned to losing their bright young manager, and few would have begrudged the former Southampton midfielder’s move. After all, any manager who achieves one promotion, let alone two, will always be in demand. All that was seemingly required was to finalise the details and Tisdale would be offered the opportunity to lead the Swans’ promotion charge.
Then it all went quiet. For whatever reason, Tisdale changed his mind at the last minute, despite Jenkins apparently offering to double his wages. “I am very happy where I am,” the Exeter boss told the local paper. “One day I will move on when it is right to do so, but I am not looking to move.”
To his critics, Tisdale is reluctant to move beyond his comfort zone and would rather stay at a club where he’s unlikely to be pushed out. To his admirers, the Grecians manager shows the kind of admirable loyalty which is all too lacking in modern football. Perhaps it was the fact the Swans had gone through two managers in as many years. Perhaps Tisdale felt he could become the first manager to take Exeter up to the Championship. Either way, he was no longer going to Wales. The out-of-work Brendan Rodgers was duly appointed and the rest is Swansea folklore.
In the end, both managers had good seasons – Tisdale took the Grecians to within a point of the play-offs, while Rodgers led the Swans to the Premier League. But it’s tempting to imagine what might have been the outcome for both sides had Tisdale not pulled out of the running at the last minute.
How, for example, would Tisdale have coped at Championship level? Rodgers, despite a mixed record, had experience with Watford and Reading at that level, not to mention his years as Chelsea youth and then reserve team boss, and knew the league and had the contacts. Would Tisdale have been found wanting in the second tier? His previous record with both Team Bath and Exeter in his opening seasons suggests that he adapts well to an unknown level, albeit needing a little time to find his feet.
Managing egos and bigger name players is another question that has often hung over the Exeter manager. At Exeter, there is most definitely a Tisdale type of player – one who is tactically flexible, willing to sacrifice themselves for the team and to play in a certain style. Big names, mavericks and disruptive influences have been quietly moved on. How would Premier League stars in waiting have responded to this management method?
And if results had started to go awry, how would Tisdale have coped when the pressure was on? During his time in management, the Grecians boss has only ever had one relegation battle on his hands, which he ultimately lost. Indeed, the final months of Exeter’s doomed League One campaign were characterised by a large turnover of players – and when Rohan Ricketts is one of these, you know you’re in trouble. On one hand, this may have looked like panic measure. On the other, Tisdale knew his job was largely safe so had the luxury of keeping one eye on recruitment for the next season.
Certainly if we’re just going by his record up to now, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to suggest Paul Tisdale’s Swansea could have made a tilt at the playoffs. Had Tisdale got Swansea promoted, what sort of effect could that have had on the Premier League? Would he fail to make the step up, struggle and be sacked? Would the Swans have lasted just one season? Or would he have exceeded expectations? Would Paul Tisdale currently be in the hotseat at Liverpool? Could we even be discussing him as a potential England manager?
Perhaps, more interestingly, what would the effect have been on Exeter that season? The 2010-11 squad was one of the finest in the club’s history, as Tisdale led the Grecians to their highest ever post-war finish. Would another manager have been able to achieve this? Exeter’s recently history has largely seen them hire rookie or up-and-coming managers and, given their small budget, that probably would have been the case again, with coach Rob Edwards or former assistant manager Paul Buckle names that would have potentially been in the frame.
Of course, all this is speculation, but had Tisdale chosen to accept we could have seen a slightly different look to the Premier League – and even a different winner of this year’s League Cup – and even to the other divisions if Tisdale’s replacement had exceeded expectations, or indeed failed. Exeter City in the second tier for the first time in their history? It’s not an outlandish suggestion given they finished a point off the play-offs. Equally, had City’s board got the appointment wrong, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility to suggest this season’s League Two relegation battle could have witnessed all three Devon teams fighting to avoid the drop to non-League.
Exeter fans are now well versed in their manager being linked to jobs, with Swindon Town the latest admirers to bat their eyelashes in the direction of St James’ Park. But it’s quite clear it will take an exceptional job to tempt Paul Tisdale away from Devon. Both Swansea and Southampton have been rebuffed and with John Still’s move to Luton, Tisdale is now the longest serving boss in the Football League and looks set to hold that title for some time to come. That Swansea flirtation in the summer of 2010 seems a long time ago now.