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Apr 21, 2014

Bony's brilliance can't paper over Swansea's issues

The gift of a rare penalty in the final moments of Saturday's match against Newcastle gave Swansea a precious 2-1 victory. Now with 36 points, Swansea are a hair's breadth from safety largely due to the continuing excellence of Wilfried Bony.

Bony's brace against Newcastle extended his league tally for the season to 13. Swansea's next best goalscorers in league play (after "own goal") are Jonjo Shelvey and Nathan Dyer, with five apiece -- figures that only serve to underline the Ivorian's importance.

And yet Swans chairman Huw Jenkins initially expressed concern when he reluctantly agreed to pay Vitesse Arnhem's 12 million pound asking price last summer, suggesting that spending that sort of money on a single player was not the way Swansea City did business.

In retrospect, former manager Michael Laudrup's greatest achievement as Swans boss was probably not winning the league cup and taking the club to Europe, but convincing Jenkins to part with that kind of cash. It has been money well-spent because without Bony's goals this season, Swansea would be doomed -- especially as Michu has been missing this season.

- Highlights: Newcastle 1-2 Swansea (U.S. only)

If to Jenkins' mind Bony represents an expensive extravagance then Michu is the defining example of the opposite, the kind of player who Jenkins can lean on to justify his generally frugal stance. Famously bought for just two million pounds and worth likely ten times that, the Spaniard was the Swans' top scorer last season, and although he has struggled significantly with injuries this season, there might yet be more to the Spaniard's disappearing act than that.

With Premier League safety finally looking likely, Swans fans are excited at the prospect of seeing a fit Michu playing with Bony for a full season next time round. However, there is a risk that might not happen. Since returning from injury last month, Michu started three games in a row -- against Arsenal, Norwich and Hull -- before apparently re-injuring himself in training and missing the next two matches.

Ostensibly, there's nothing sinister about that. It is plausible that Michu has re-aggravated the ankle injury which has kept him out of action for so long. However, Michu's demeanour during those three matches, where he seemed understandably short of match fitness but equally short of his characteristic passion, suggests there might be more on his mind than injuries.

Last week, there were reports of another training ground bust-up in Swansea. For the past two matches Michu's compatriot Jose Canas, typically a first team player, hasn't even been named on the bench, with Monk choosing untested prospect Jay Fulton instead. Another Spaniard, Alejandro Pozuelo -- formerly an oft-used substitute if not quite a first team regular under Laudrup -- has disappeared from the match-day squad entirely since shortly after Monk's appointment.

It seems safe to suggest that Monk has a different idea about which players are important to this side than did Laudrup, despite the Dane's proven track record as a first-rate talent evaluator. It also seems plausible that Monk's marginalisation of certain players might have upset certain others, and with Michu cutting a surly figure in his recent appearances, I worry that he -- like one or two other Swansea players --might be looking for a way out of Swansea this summer.

If Jenkins balked at Bony's price tag, then he might need to readjust his expectations if he truly wants Swansea to remain a Premier League club or at least work hard to preserve what he's already got. Bargains like Michu just don't come around that often, while Canas came on a free transfer and Pozuelo cost less than half a million.

These are valuable first team players (even if Canas had been playing badly enough lately to deserve a benching), each brought to the team courtesy of Laudrup's knowledge of Spanish football. Replacing any of them will cost money.

If Swansea are perhaps just a point or three away from guaranteed Premier League safety, then they need to start planning for a critical summer, one in which questions surrounding Monk's tenability as long-term Swansea manager, the happiness of certain factions of the Swans camp and the importance of spending what is necessary to improve a Premier League squad, need to be answered.

If too much is allowed to slide, however, next season might not be any better than this one.

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