Steve Cooper will start a rebuilding job at Swansea City over the next few days after uncertainty over the club’s status next season was given brutal clarity by rampant Brentford.
The Swans’ hopes of promotion back to the Premier League were ended with a 3-1 defeat in the second leg of their play-off semi-final – providing a 3-2 aggregate victory for the London club that sounds more anxious for the hosts than it really was.
The defeat means Swansea will start a third season in the Championship since their relegation in 2018 and will receive the final and lowest instalment of their parachute payments.
Head coach Cooper admitted after the defeat – during which his team were unable to repeat the form of their late surge into the top six – that a clear-out is about to begin.
Asked if a number of players had played their final game for the club, he replied: “I think so – most probably. We need to have discussions with some players over the next couple of days.”
At least a dozen players could leave the club – half of whom have come to the end of their contracts, while the rest are on loan from other clubs.
Cooper’s task in trying to construct a team capable of challenging for promotion again will be brought into sharp focus by the fact that his three best players since the season re-started – Rhian Brewster, Conor Gallagher and Mark Guehi don’t belong to him.
Of those, Guehi appears the only player likely to remain for a second season on loan from Chelsea with the centre-back considered not yet ready for the Premier League.
But Brewster and Gallagher – on loan from Liverpool and Chelsea respectively – are likely to either be wanted by their parent clubs or considered in need of Premier League experience on loan somewhere else, rather than a repeat experience of the past six months.
Cooper may yet be able to convince both clubs otherwise, but he also faces a difficult task in hanging onto his other loanees – Newcastle goalkeeper Freddie Woodman and Watford defender Ben Wilmot.
Then, there is the uncertainty over centre-back Joe Rodon, the squad’s most prized asset. The Wales defender has been the subject of reported interest from Premier League clubs and since he is rated at around £20m the idea of selling him is likely to appeal to the club’s American owners.
Erwin Mulder, Kyle Naughton, Mike van der Hoorn, Wayne Routledge and Nathan Dyer are all out of contract and will be those involved in talks with Cooper and chairman Trevor Birch over the next few days.
Andre Ayew and Bersant Celina both still have time left on their existing deals, but Ayew is the club’s highest wage-earner and Celina was an increasingly peripheral figure for the second half of the season.
A clearly devastated Cooper conceded his team were second best for most of last night, rallying only in the late stages after they had fallen 3-0 behind.
The Bees overturned Swansea’s one-goal lead from the first leg within the first 15 minutes through goals from Ollie Watkins and Emiliano Marcondes.
Bryan Mbeumo added the third just after half-time and, despite Brewster pulling one back the Bees, who last week blew their chance of going up automatically, took a big step towards redemption.
“We gave ourselves too much to do, we did not play well enough in the first half and were not aggressive enough in our play, with and without the ball,” said Cooper.
“We ended up being too deep, and we left too much space and allowed them opportunities to attack.
“The goals are really disappointing. The first is from our free-kick, and the second and third ones – they are good finishes – but you cannot leave people unmarked in the box like that.
“We did not give up. We went right to the end, but we gave ourselves too much to do.
“We changed some of the personnel at half-time to try and get some impetus, but then we go and concede and you cannot do that. It was the killer blow.
“I did think we would score and create chances, and we did. We got into good areas and got a lifeline through Rhian. But we conceded poor goals and it cost us.
“It is painful at the moment, when you are in a semi-final with everything to play for you can only be disappointed.
“It’s difficult to see past the defeat because we really believed we could do it, and we just fell short on some of the stuff we ask for every single game.”
“It’s painful at the moment, we’re not going to lose sight of the fact we’re building for the future, but when you get so close, you’re just disappointed.”