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Swansea tried to stand still but went backwards to Premier League relegation

Swansea's hopes for an unlikely escape from relegation were extinguished with a 1-2 loss to Championship-bound Stoke.

In some ways it's a blessing that Swansea City have been relegated this season. Had they stayed up, you suspect the same pattern would have repeated next term: a poor start, the manager who saved them the previous year sacked around November, a firefighter brought in, then more struggles until the end of the season in which they would either scrape survival or go down anyway.

While League One's newest side Sunderland will be the first to tell you the regenerative possibilities of demotion can be a myth, it might give Swansea a chance to reassess their approach.

This relegation is the inevitable fate of a club that has lost its way. Swansea used to be a byword for how to run a mid-sized football club. They won promotion from League Two to the Premier League in six years, all while playing attractive, but more importantly exciting, football.

There was a succession plan: Kenny Jackett won the first promotion; Roberto Martinez the second; Brendan Rodgers the third. All were appointed with a particular style in mind: the "Swansea way" is an ephemeral notion, but it's one that stuck all the way from the fourth tier to the top.

Their transfer business was a lesson to all, too. In signing the virtually unknown Michu for £2.5 million from Rayo Vallecano in 2012 they not only bought a bargain who scored 22 goals in his first season, but almost created a new way of assessing value in the market. Other buys were judged in how many Michus they cost, the implication being that if Swansea were in charge of the other club's purchases, everyone would save an awful lot of money.

None of that is the case now. Since Garry Monk left in December 2015, Swansea have ploughed through four permanent managers -- Francesco Guidolin, Bob Bradley, Paul Clement and Carlos Carvalhal (with Alan Curtis and Leon Britton caretakers in between) -- some achieving initial results but none reaching the long-term success that their predecessors did. And they'll be looking for another in the summer.

That transfer nous has disappeared too: club record Borja Baston cost around six Michus (£15.5m) in 2016, but scored once before being ushered out on loan. Last summer, Roque Mesa -- exactly the sort of passing midfielder who would have excelled in previous years and under better conditions -- cost £11m but was gone inside six months. Renato Sanches' wages set them back around £8m for his shock loan from Bayern Munich but he'll be broadly remembered for passing to an advertising hoarding against Chelsea and his emoji experience shortly after the defeat to Southampton. Meanwhile, Wilfried Bony's return was a £12m defeat of hope over sense.

Swansea fans hold up a sign reading 'No Ambition No Investment Sold Out!'
Carvalhal started well but couldn't sustain the run.

The list goes on. Perhaps this is a natural consequence of the way the Premier League is structured. You can game the system for a while, overachieving despite operating on a different financial level to the elite, but it will only last so long.

You can be either lucky or good in spotting a few bargains, but sooner or later either you'll find there's a reason why the latest player you bought is so cheap, or you'll try to compete with everyone else by spending big.

But the decision-making at the top level has been confused. Chairman Huw Jenkins, an admirable man who was the architect of their previous success, has barely made a good decision in the last two years. Though in fairness to him, perhaps it's not a coincidence that it's two years since Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien, owners of assorted American sports teams, purchased a majority stake in the club.

Kaplan said in a recent interview with the Financial Times that he and Levien bought Swansea essentially to milk the proceeds of the Premier League's TV rights deals.

"If we did nothing but stay in the Premier League," Kaplan said, "the value of Swansea City would go up because the worldwide rights to Premier League football... is going to grow at a very substantial compound growth rate over the next 20 years."

And perhaps therein lies the problem. If you aim to stay still, there's as a good chance you'll go backwards as forwards.

On the most basic level, Swansea simply haven't been good enough this season. While there is a tranche of mediocrity in the lower half of the Premier League, they don't deserve to stay in the division. Of a squad simply inadequate to survive, you'd imagine that only Lukasz Fabianski, Alfie Mawson and possibly Sam Clucas will attract much interest in the summer transfer market.

Carvalhal initially brought what looked like a revival, his bright personality and eccentric analogies making him a popular figure in the media, at least. They won five of his first nine games, including beating Liverpool and Arsenal, lifting them to 13th at the start of March.

But they haven't won another game since. A caution -- negativity, even -- that's at odds with his garrulous personality has overwhelmed their game; an adherence to a three-man defence, which is often actually a five-man defence, has proved extremely frustrating, particularly when players are shoehorned into a system they're not suited to.

Goals have been almost entirely absent. Their total of 28 was pathetically anaemic and only sustainable when combined with a watertight defence, which they didn't have.

Swansea have lost their way. Perhaps it will be a good thing that they will now have to find it again in the Championship. But unless they do, they may find themselves down there again for a while.

Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.

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