Swansea City sacked Michael Laudrup after losing faith with the Dane's ability to galvanise an increasingly disillusioned group of players and avoid relegation from the Premier League. Garry Monk, the club captain, has been placed in charge for "the foreseeable future" and will get his first taste of management in the south Wales derby at the Liberty Stadium against Cardiff City on Saturday.
Laudrup's departure was announced after Huw Jenkins, the Swansea chairman, held crisis talks with the man who had led the club to the first major trophy in their history only 12 months ago, when they beat Bradford City 5-0 to win the League Cup at Wembley. Swansea have won only one of their last 10 Premier League matches, although the reasons for Laudrup's abrupt dismissal, which is expected to cost the club in excess of £3m in compensation, run much deeper than the results.
Relations between Laudrup and the club have never been the same since ties were severed with the manager's agent in the summer, after Swansea became frustrated with Bayram Tutumlu's growing influence on outgoing as well as incoming transfers.
Although Laudrup and Jenkins vowed to put that episode behind them, it was clear that the two men were no longer singing from the same hymn sheet. In an interview with the Observer in November Jenkins outlined how unhappy he was with the mentality among some staff and players, whom he accused of adopting a defeatist approach against the better teams in the league. Laudrup was never mentioned by name but it was clear, from the language Jenkins used, that he was referring in part to the manager.
"We have to make sure that whoever comes in to manage, coach and play for us in the future, they can't be talking about different levels of leagues within a league. To me that is complete failure," Jenkins said. "I find that the hardest thing to take, that we have actually got staff and players that struggle at this point in time to see where we can compete.
"And that's the biggest challenge I've got, to make sure that turns around and that everybody working with the club believes that, if we keep doing things differently, we can compete, irrespective of the size of the club or budgets."
There was an increasing acceptance that, one way or another, Laudrup was almost certain to move on at the end of this season, a year before his contract was due to expire. Yet it is a measure of how concerned the Swansea board became with the team's performances in recent months, together with the doubts they harboured about Laudrup's laid-back approach and his ability to motivate the players to engineer a turnaround, that they felt compelled to intervene.
Some of the issues with Laudrup have been longstanding but they have started to resonate more on the back of the team's travails this season. Questions have long been asked about how hard the players were working on the training ground under Laudrup and whether his regime was too relaxed –a point several members of the squad privately raised with the manager not long after he had taken over. This season fractures have started to appear on and off the pitch – last month Monk and Chico Flores clashed on the training ground.
Ultimately, though, the 2-0 defeat against West Ham United on Saturday, which leaves Swansea 12th but only two points above the relegation zone, proved to be a tipping point. The listless performance at Upton Park reinforced the sense that the players had lost faith with Laudrup's methods – Ashley Williams described the West Ham display as "embarrassing" and admitted the plans Laudrup devised to deal with Andy Carroll "didn't work".
Having gone to Paris to visit his daughter after losing at West Ham and having given the players a couple of days off – a decision that went down badly with members of the board – Laudrup returned to Swansea on Tuesday and was summoned to make-or-break talks.
Jenkins discussed possible changes to the backroom staff with Laudrup, including involving Monk. But in the end the chairman came to the conclusion that Swansea needed to have a new manager in the dugout to give themselves the best possible chance of staying in the Premier League.
"It is a decision we have taken reluctantly," Jenkins said in a statement on the club's website. "But it's a decision made in the best interests of Swansea City Football Club and our supporters. It is the first time in nearly 10 years that the club has parted with a manager in this way but we had to remove the constant uncertainty surrounding the club and Michael's long-term future with us.
"I had a meeting with Michael today in a final attempt to support him and establish a way to improve the work of the backroom team to secure the results we need over the final 14 Premier League games. However, after thinking long and hard about the best way forward, I felt it was unlikely we would achieve a stable environment at the club to allow us to get back to basics and produce the performance levels that have served Swansea City so well over the last few years.
"Now we need to put that uncertainty behind us and move forward as a united football club on all fronts, while placing on record our gratitude to Michael for the work he has done over the last 18 months and wishing him well for the future. I hope all our supporters can fully understand how difficult this period has been for us and I would urge everyone connected to the football club to get behind Garry Monk, the staff and players."
The decision to give the job temporarily to Monk, who will be assisted by Alan Curtis, the first-team coach, represents a huge gamble on Swansea's part, although there is little doubt that the supporters will be behind a man who has represented the club in all four divisions and is highly regarded at the Liberty Stadium. Monk, who turns 35 next month, has long harboured ambitions of a career in management and is currently completing his Uefa A Licence.
For Laudrup it is a sad way to bow out. His first season in charge delivered that League Cup success and a ninth-placed finish in the Premier League. There have been memorable away wins at Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and, only last month, Manchester United, as well as a 3-0 Europa League victory in Valencia – Swansea face Napoli in the knockout stage of that competition later this month. Laudrup also made some excellent signings in his first season, in particular Michu, who weighed in with 18 Premier League goals but has missed a large chunk of this campaign through injury.
The reality, though, is that Swansea's slump has been prolonged and can be traced back to the famous victory over Bradford at Wembley. Since then Swansea have won eight, drawn nine and lost 18 of 35 Premier League matches, picking up only 33 points. It has, in other words, been relegation form for the best part of 12 months. Eventually Jenkins decided he had seen enough.