LONDON, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Magic was the one thing Carlos Carvalhal said could not be delivered on becoming Swansea City manager. Yet one month into his reign, it is hard not to spot a strange alchemy being worked in south Wales.
Strikers who could not score are suddenly finding the net, midfielders once booed by the crowd as ineffectual are cheered off the pitch and defenders accustomed to seeing balls fly past them are standing tall.
Most impressively of all, back-to-back victories over Liverpool and Arsenal have sprung Swansea from the relegation zone for the first time in more than 12 weeks.
On Saturday the cheerful Portuguese, who likes to quote philosophers and once trained for his coaching badges with Jose Mourinho, takes his revitalised side to Leicester City for a match that must stand as a powerful advertisement for the wisdom of sacking managers.
Like Swansea, Leicester have also been transformed since Claude Puel took over and both teams are unbeaten in six games. Something may give on Saturday but, on current form, you would not bet on it being at the Swansea end.
Under Carvalhal, the club risen off the bottom by winning as many Premier League matches, three, as they did in the five months before his arrival.
“The players believe in what we are doing and this is very important,” he said after Tuesday’s 3-1 win over Arsenal.
“In all the clubs, the most important thing is the players. If the players don’t play and don’t follow, you can have the best plans in the world but it will not work for sure.”
Even though personnel remains the same, the team bears little resemblance to that under predecessor Paul Clement.
Jordan Ayew has found a rich vein of scoring form, with five goals in 10 games, while Sam Clucas, who became a target for under-achieving since his 15 million-pound ($21.3 million) move from Hull City, has been equally impressive and grabbed a double against Arsenal.
The key to much of Swansea’s revival has been effort, with Carvalhal’s team showing immense concentration to absorb pressure and harrying the opposition on the break.
“We changed the formation, the new dynamic helped the players, and some of them after one or two or three games started winning more confidence and jumping to a new level. We have two or three players who I think are playing the best level of their careers at this moment,” said Carvalhal.
Supporters clearly agree, with many on social media remarking on how energy levels have risen, pointing to how one Ayew run into the Arsenal box was swiftly accompanied by four white shirts, an almost unparalleled show of industry this season.
One spin-off of the January revival is that the club is suddenly more attractive in the transfer window with Ayew’s brother, Andre, reportedly considering an 18 million-pound move to return to Wales from West Ham United. Other moves were also being negotiated on Wednesday night ahead of the window closing.
Not the least amazing aspect of all this is that Carvalhal’s appointment seems to owe much to chance, given that the Portuguese parted company with Sheffield Wednesday three days after Clement’s sacking.
With Swansea having failed to secure a replacement in one of the busiest periods of the year, an approach was made and five days later Carvalhal was back in work in a higher division, although only on a contract that expires at the end of the season.
Initial reaction to his appointment was mixed, with some wondering if the club were already preparing for life in the Championship by turning to man who knows the division well. Yet the outlook has now changed and supporters who had long called for Clement’s sacking believing that relegation is no longer the certainty it appeared.
In fact, with his cheery demeanour and colourful language, there are obvious parallels with Claudio Ranieri, that other magician who once delivered the impossible, as Leicester fans may see for themselves on Saturday.
$1 = 0.7047 pounds Reporting by Neil Robinson, editing by Ed Osmond