Michu was on the scoresheet on another memorable night for Swansea
It is perhaps fitting that the latest ground-breaking victory in Swansea City’s history should come on Spanish soil, against a Spanish side.
So much of the club’s progress has been borne out of an obvious Spanish influence. Initially it was through the installation of Roberto Martinez as manager back in 2007, although Kenny Jackett's early contributions should not be dismissed.
And it has continued with the likes of Angel Rangel, Michu and Michael Laudrup who, while not technically Spanish, has played and managed most of his life in the league, so that there is a certain symmetry to the fact their first Europa League victory came against La Liga opposition.
Valencia may not be at the peak of their powers—with a new manager struggling to find a winning formula, and a red card thrust on them in the early stages of Thursday’s match—but a 3-0 win at the New Mestalla was nevertheless another emphatic reminder of Swansea’s rapid and deserved ascension.
Eight years ago, when the Liberty Stadium had just been opened, Swansea were a newly-promoted League One side who, under Jackett, had bold ambitions of reaching the Championship.
Wind on less than a decade and the club are in their third season in the Premier League, their first in European competition, and have a League Cup title to their credit.
They are an example and an inspiration to every Football League club that might think the mechanics of modern football has left the top-tier of the game permanently out of reach.
On Thursday, Swansea—who Laudrup described in the build-up as “a good Spanish side”—had 65 percent of possession, passing their opponents off the pitch in front of their own fans. As Laudrup told the BBC:
We dominated the whole game. They had nothing really and we had ... another three or four big, huge chances to score. [It was] fantastic to win a game against a big club like that in a European competition so of course I'm very pleased.
Valencia were not helped by Adil Rami’s red card after just 10 minutes, the France international compounding an initial mistake by pulling Wilfried Bony down as he moved in on goal.
And they certainly weren't helped when Bony scored just minutes after that huge blow, his first-time drive deflecting off a defender and over the unfortunate keeper.
But further fine finishes from Michu and Jonathan de Guzman (the latter a blistering free-kick) left Laudrup downplaying the significance of that dismissal.
(GIF via Footyroom.com)
"A lot could say that the red card had a huge influence and impact on the game,” Laudrup added. "It is true that it's more difficult with 10 men rather than 11, but we've seen so many times home sides coming back even with one less."
His opposite number, Miroslav Djukic, unsurprisingly played up the importance of the red but acknowledged his team had been outplayed.
"In the 10th minute we're left with a man less and when these things happen it gets difficult," he said, per Goal.com.
"The team is very weak emotionally. At the moment, you can see the team is strong neither offensively or defensively and it's a very tough time."
Miss Swansea's great win last night? Watch the highlights here: http://t.co/yo56nB4SZ9— ITV Football (@itvfootball) September 20, 2013
In 2001 Valencia were coming off their second successive Champions League final loss—right around the same time Swansea were relegated to League Two and sold to a new owner for exactly £1.
But fortunes can change quickly.
Oddly enough, the Welsh club enjoyed a similarly astronomical rise in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Under a young John Toshack, the club rose from the Fourth Division to the top of the First, eventually finishing sixth in their first campaign back in the top tier.
But a series of missteps, from poor transfer dealings to shortfalls in the company books, saw the club regress even quicker than it had arose, eventually needing to be saved from liquidation at the same time as it dropped back to where it had started, in the Fourth Division.
The current iteration look less likely to succumb to similar pitfalls, although such things can never be taken for granted.
Although the jury remains out on the £12m Bony—despite linking up for Swansea’s opening goal on Thursday, the powerful forward is clearly yet to strike up a proper rapport with the talismanic Michu—the team continue to play in an engaging style that most Premier League sides will struggle to deal with.
Building on last year's successful formula, summer signings Jose Canas and Alejandro Pozuelo seem to have ensured some general progression within the squad.
Canas is an efficient ‘water-carrier’ at the base of midfield, while 21-year-old Pozuelo—a deft, if slightly lightweight creative midfielder—looks destined to be a dangerous player for the club, albeit one initially only used sparingly by Laudrup as he adjusts to new surroundings.
Despite those improvements (last year's additions Chico Flores and Pablo Hernandez also look more comfortable), beating last season’s ninth-placed finish might not be so easy—the opportunity cost of memorable evenings like Thursday’s in Valencia.
Sunday’s Premier League opponents Crystal Palace have seen Laudrup’s side play twice (Liverpool on Monday, then Valencia) since their defeat to Manchester United last Saturday—so should enter Sunday’s meeting at Selhurst Park far more refreshed and prepared than their over-worked opponents.
A game that Swansea would otherwise have been confident of winning has suddenly become a lot more testing.
Laudrup saw the effects of such a fixture list in his only season with former club Getafe, reaching the quarterfinals of the UEFA Cup but, as a result, stumbling to 14th in the league after finishing ninth the season before.
Understandably, then, he is not so keen to get ahead of himself after one big win, noting to the BBC:
I have to turn back the clock six years ago to my experience with Getafe was similar to this.
We started the group off winning 2-1 at Spurs. And then second game we lost at home to a club from Israel.
So just to say we have to move on. In our case we have to play in less than three days against Crystal Palace, an important game in the Premier League, and then the cup next week.
So what we can do - and that's great - is to bring these two results [against Liverpool and Getafe], one better than the other, along with us for the next game.
That is Laudrup’s job—to focus on the here and now. Based on what he has achieved so far, it is an approach that should ensure the club’s continued progression.
But fans of the club, and even football in general, should take a breath, look around, and marvel at just how far the club have come in such a short space of time.
Because it really is quite remarkable.