Big Ben States the Case for the Defence of Swansea City Under Duff-ball

Ben Cabango has heard the accusations. He’s seen the crime sheet.

Swansea City, it’s claimed, are guilty of betrayal. The club that nurtured a passing style that made them the envy of so many, have taken the fabled “Swansea Way” and kicked it – route one style – into the long grass at their Fairwood Common training ground.

“Not true,” says Cabango, the Swans and Wales central defender.

There has been a change, a modification under new head coach Michael Duff, admits Cabango. But there has been no re-boot to boot-it-long football.

Duff himself has done little to quell mutinous voices among the fan base after describing the possession-based football of his predecessor, Russell Martin, as “extreme”.

The statistics certainly show that the Swans are having far less possession in matches, but that may have been acceptable to many supporters if the stats that really mattered – the Championship table – showed they were heading in the right direction.

Instead, the Swans had not won a game by the time they met rivals Cardiff City in mid-September and that 2-0 defeat at the hands of the Bluebirds must have stung Cardiff-born Cabango more than anyone.

“We still want to play football,” says Cabango. “And, obviously, if you look at our squad, it’s filled with really good footballing players. So, I feel like when we do play our best, we’re always going to be possession-based.

“I think it’s just more the structure at the back. The structure of the whole defensive shape is what we are really trying to improve, so we concede a lot fewer goals. There’s no hiding away from how many goals we conceded last season, which was probably our downfall.”

For Martin, possession of the ball was vital. It was a fundamental bedrock to his whole approach, and it followed the same thread established by former head coaches such as Kenny Jackett, Roberto Martinez, Brendan Rodgers, Michael Laudrup and Graham Potter.

Get the ball, keep it, pass it around, create openings, score goals, win games. Simple.

Except last season, the goals and the victories dried up in mid-season and the club finished some way short of the play-offs.

So, is Duff less concerned about possession than the previous bosses Cabango has played under – Steve Cooper and Martin?

“Yeah, I’d say so,” he concedes. “It’s more about the results at the end of the day.

“Possession is always important, but if you have 60% of the ball and lose 1-0, no-one looks at the possession stats.

“So, it’s just the balance, I think. It’s just knowing when to play at the right times and when to be willing to defend and throw your bodies on the line.

Both of them – Russell and Michael – have a clear identity of how they want to play. As soon as Michael came in, he’s been telling us what he wants us to do. So, both are really good managers.”

Cabango has become one of the very few survivors at the club from the Cooper era. It was under the current Nottingham Forest manager that the 23-year-old centre-back was given his first team break as a teenager.

Since then, he has broken into the Wales team and been to a World Cup final, although he has seen the likes of Joe Rodon, Connor Roberts and Joel Piroe all move on.

For Cabango, the litmus test for the Duff experiment will be whether the Swans are involved in the battle for the play-offs come next May.

The early signs have not been promising but he insists: “My own targets really revolve around the team. Obviously, I don’t want another nothing season like last season.

“I want to be finishing in the top six. And for that we need to start pushing on now. So, the target is literally just the top six.

“Last season we did lose a lot of the games just in the last few minutes, so it’s just making we’re always ready to go, throwing our bodies on the line, making the blocks in those crucial moments.

“Because the games always just decided on moments and we just need to be better in that.

“I just want to be playing every game and be playing well. We’ve not really started well, but we can see the positives from the last few games.  For me, I’m just trying to improve and trying to get on board with what the manager wants.”

It’s not just the one Cabango who is hoping for some form this autumn to sustain a collective challenge through the winter.

Ben’s younger brother, Theo, is seeking much the same down the road at Cardiff Rugby. The 21-year-old scored six tries in 18 games for the club last season and there are high hopes at the Arms Park that the flying wing can build on that tally.

Cabango the rugby player, has had to battle through injury setbacks, but big brother Ben reckons the best is yet to come and – appearances for Swansea permitting – hopes to be there to see it.

“Hopefully I can get to watch him a bit more. He’s obviously had two tough injuries, but he’s back now ready to play, and he’s going to hopefully have a really good season.

“To be fair, our game’s always clash. So, my mum’s always either at my game or his. Then my dad’s either at mine or his, so it is hard to go down to watch. But whenever I can, I do.

Maybe the two can then compare their respective club’s possession stats.