It is a semi-truth universally acknowledged that people called Jack are ace. If your dog accidentally unearthed an unexploded Nazi mega-bomb, a man named Jack would defuse it with nothing more than a small pencil and the string from a child’s yo-yo. If some ruffians laughed at your cardigan, a man named Jack would karate chop them in the windpipe and afterwards let you touch his extraordinary beard. Jacks, indisputably, are fantastic.
So when a football team finds itself gulping down hot vomit from the toilet bowl of bad form, how they must long for the option to call on a Jack.
Which is perhaps what’s so strange about Swansea City’s recent reluctance to unsheathe their own Jack, as they slide towards the foot of the table like a wet tea bag down a tiled wall.
A Trump Card
Jack Cork displays that most underappreciated of qualities: tidiness. He stands in the right places, he runs in the right direction, he chooses the right times to tackle and he makes the right passes. If there is something that needs doing right on a football pitch, from calmly shielding the defence to swiftly triggering an attack, to jabbing a sly thumb into Diego Costa’s pancreas, Jack Cork is the right man.
Against Manchester City last weekend, Cork was at the heart of an encouraging Swansea performance. Denied a confidence-boosting point by a filthy last-minute deflection, the Swans at least looked like a team with restored belief and purpose.
— Swansea City AFC (@SwansOfficial) December 13, 2015
Jack Cork, alongside tiny man-squirrel Leon Britton, dropped a hefty collective nutsack in the middle of the pitch and dared Man City to tickle it. Not surprisingly, they didn’t particularly fancy the task.
And yet that was Jack Cork’s first start since October and his first completed 90 minutes since September. For whatever reasons, as Garry Monk’s Swansea dissolved like an ice-lolly trapped beneath Donald Trump’s clammy under-boob, it never occurred to anyone that Jack Cork could be the answer.
But if Cork isn’t the obvious solution it’s not entirely clear who is. On every part of the pitch Swansea have been underachieving, gazing back listlessly at last season’s record-best finish while wiping the drool and disappointment from their chins.
Star signing André Ayew is either brilliant or anonymous. Bafétimbi Gomis fooled us all into forgetting how dozy he can be in front of goal. Gylfi Sigurdsson has been playing with all the conviction of a man who expects to be taken by an owl at any moment.
We could go on. In fact let’s. Jonjo Shelvey is up and down, Ashley Williams is oddly hesitant and Jefferson Montero apparently used up all three wishes in his first two games of the season.
And yet Jack Cork rarely looks anything less than an intelligent, effective, purposeful footballer. Yes, positional awareness and neat distribution probably feature less heavily in young boys’ ambitions than sports cars and tonguing Dairylea triangles off the thighs of a Hollyoaks babe. But, for a club so bereft of steadiness, a little bit of certainty in midfield doesn’t seem like such a terrible idea.
The Loss Of Wil’ Power
This weekend the Swans face West Ham, still wheezing from a metaphorical groin thump that has left the Welsh side in 17th place with just a single win in their last 10 games. And while it’s hard to legislate for quite so many dips in form, the fact that only Aston Villa have scored less than the Swans probably suggests that the absence of Wilfried Bony, rather than Cork, is a better explanation for their slump. (It’s not a new problem – last season Swansea had the lowest goals tally for any side in the top ten.)
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 11, 2015
But the unforgiving nature of mid-table football is very much a case of pressing your face against some hard and greasy realities. Swansea haven’t come close to replacing Bony – and even if creative forwards like Sigurdsson and Ayew could find some consistency, any chances they create for Gomis or his goalless back-up Éder, are more likely to hit a passing griffin than the back of the net in substantial numbers.
All the more reason to leverage the resources you can depend upon. With Cork in the midfield the Swans feel like a Premier League creature more capable of breaking a grown man’s arm, rather than one that’s content to gobble dozily at an old baguette.
West Ham, with 4 draws in their last 5, could be a good place for Swansea to start rescuing their season – and the perfect moment to call on a Jack. Because, if nothing else, who ever heard of a hero called Jonjo?