Speaking for the first time about his consortium’s takeover of Swansea City, Jason Levien gave a telling answer when he was asked about the Americans’ investment plans.
Midway through a polished, assured address to the media, Levien gestured towards Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins and said: “The biggest signing we’ve made so far is making sure the guy to my right [stays].”
Swansea are embarking on a new era after a group of American investors, led by Levien and his business partner Steve Kaplan, bought a controlling stake of 68% in the club.
Although this is a step into the unknown for the Swans, they will at least have the familiar guiding force of Jenkins, who will remain in the role of chairman he has held since 2002.
This is also uncharted territory for the Americans. While Levien, managing general partner of Major League Soccer side DC United, and Kaplan, vice-chairman of NBA franchise Memphis Grizzlies, are experienced in American sport, this is their first foray into British football.
Levien first visited Swansea in September 2015 and, since news of his consortium’s takeover emerged in April, the nature of the investment has been the subject of much scrutiny.
Swansea’s fans and Supporters Trust wanted to know how – and, crucially, how much – the Americans would spend, many wondered why they wanted to invest, while others asked how they could bring more success to the Liberty Stadium. This was Levien’s first step towards answering all those questions.
The Trust issued a statement after Levien’s briefing indicating they are expecting fresh talks with the investors this week.
Writing an open letter to fans to announce the completion of their takeover, Levien and Kaplan stressed that their priority would be Swansea’s performances on the pitch.
To replicate or improve on last season’s 12th-place finish in the Premier League, the Swans will need to invest in their squad.
While strikers Alberto Paloschi and Eder have left – and a third, Bafetimbi Gomis, seems set to follow them through the door – the only signings so far have been midfielder Leroy Fer, defender Mike van der Hoorn and goalkeeper Mark Birighitti, none of whom are expected to be first-team fixtures.
Swansea are weighing up a move for their former midfielder Joe Allen as well as a couple of forwards, and Jenkins has said the American investment will accelerate the club’s transfer activity.
Levien and Kaplan are understood to be eager to expand Swansea’s scouting network, though they will leave player recruitment as the domain of the experienced Jenkins.
And when he was asked just how much head coach Francesco Guidolin will have to spend, Levien was sensibly coy.
“I think it would be a mistake to put a specific number on that because part of our competitiveness is not alerting our competitors and other folks in the industry about what exactly our plans are,” he said.
“We’re going to be careful about that but we certainly want to make strategic investments in the club and see how it grows from that.”
Winning over the fans
Having seen mixed results under American ownership for the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and Aston Villa, it was perhaps understandable there was a degree of scepticism from Swansea’s fans about their new investors.
The vast majority will reserve judgement, though there has been an undercurrent of discontent with the Supporters’ Trust expressing its “disappointment” about an alleged lack of communication from the Americans during negotiations.
Levien responded to those claims by emphasising the Trust’s “huge” importance and how impressed he had been during “more than half a dozen,” meetings with its members.
Swansea are the only Premier League club with a fans’ representative on the board, and the Americans recognise how significant that unique quality is to the club’s soul and its standing in the local community.
Levien recalled his first visit to Swansea last year: “Huw picked me up from the train station and we went to the training ground, he gave me a tour of the Liberty, which I think is an impressive stadium.
“When he dropped me off at the station, I walked the city, walked to the university and towards the Gower. I just thought it was a special place.
“The last 15 years, what this club has accomplished, and the passion this community has for its football club – there’s a lot of passion all around the UK for their football clubs but I think Swansea is top of that list.”
How to measure success?
Measuring success for Swansea can be a tricky task. Jenkins often mentions how staying in the Premier League is the initial aim at the start of any season and, for a club of the Swans’ stature in a division so wealthy and competitive, it is a sensible approach.
However, as Swansea prepare for a sixth successive campaign in the top flight, dare they dream of more?
After all, they won the League Cup in 2013 and impressed in the Europa League the following season, while Leicester’s remarkable title win last term confounded all expectations and shattered long-held perceptions of the Premier League’s upper echelons as an impenetrably exclusive members’ club.
With Leicester’s unlikely triumph – and how it may irrevocably alter how other Premier League clubs quantify success – in mind, Levien was perhaps wise not to set a target for Swansea.
“On the pitch, we’d like to see the club continue to flourish and challenge every season for success. How we measure that success, we’re going to figure out over time,” he said.
“I think we want to take a measured and thoughtful approach, and think about sustainability and competitiveness. I think the club has done that over the last decade with great success.
“We’re looking to add value but we’re not looking for a massive change in what they’ve done. In fact, we’ve really bought into their philosophy and Huw’s vision for the club.
“We’d like to see the club in a better place in five years in terms of improving things on the commercial side, where we think we can add some value.”
It was another subject which Levien dealt with in accomplished fashion, answering articulately and thoroughly but without revealing sensitive detail.
Yet this elegant veneer should not disguise Levien’s fierce, clear-eyed determination – and his ambition for Swansea.
“We’re in it to win and we certainly hate to lose,” he added.
“But we want to be careful to let strategy and mindfulness trump our emotion in making decisions.”
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