“Who is the best player in history? Michael Laudrup.” (Andres Iniesta)
Quite simply one of the greatest footballers to ever grace the game. Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Zidane, Messi – Laudrup sits comfortably in this elite group. No greater compliment can be played to the player than the fact that he is still lauded by BOTH Barcelona and Real Madrid fans, perhaps the only player in modern history to achieve such an accolade; even the Barcelona fans, distraught and angry that he left them for their bitter rivals, have even learnt to forgive him and now remember him only for his magical spell in Johan Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’.
His career began in his homeland with KB and Brondby in the Danish League before he was picked up by Juventus, although he admitted he was on the cusp of joining the great Liverpool team of the 80s. Laudrup spent 6 years at Juve (which included 2-years on loan at Lazio at the start of his spell with the Juventus, as the club had to loan him out to meet a foreign player quota) and was landed with the responsibility of eventually replacing the legendary Michel Platini at the club. On his return to Juventus from Lazio, Laudrup was immediately thrown into the team to mixed effect; sometimes mercurial and brilliant, while sometimes burdened by the expectation surrounding him. Juventus manager at the time, Giovanni Trappatoni, regularly bemoaned Laudrup’s unselfishness throughout his time at Juventus, especially when he would not use his quick footwork to beat players in the box, instead always looking to play in a team-mate. It must be noted though that in his first full season at Juventus he won Serie A and the Intercontinental Cup, as well as 1985 Danish Player of the Year. His final couple of years at Juventus were hindered by several injuries and inconsistent form and in 1989 he would make the switch to Barcelona where his career would sky-rocket.
At Barcelona he became an integral part of Johan Cruyff’s iconic ‘Dream Team,’ the team which would arguably inspire the Barcelona of today. Alongside stars such as Bakero, Koeman, Stoickhov, Romario and future manager Pep Guardiola, Laudrup helped Barcelona dominate the Spanish domestic game and helped the club conquer Europe in 1992, ending Barca’s history long chase for the European Cup. Cruyff claimed that Laudrup was the best player in the world, even when he wasn’t at his best and lamented the fact that Laudrup could have been even better:
“One of the most difficult players I have worked with. When he gives 80–90% he is still by far the best, but I want 100%, and he rarely does that.”
With Laudrup in the team Barcelona won four straight La Liga titles before he suddenly made the unexpected switch to Real Madrid, much to the outrage of the culés. Unsurprisingly maybe, in his first season at the club Laudrup helped lead Real to a La Liga title, the fifth La Liga title he had personally won in a row; Laudrup inspired Real Madrid to a 5-0 victory over Barcelona, only a year after he had inspired Barca to beat Real by the same scoreline. After another season at Real Madrid he left the club (he only featured 62 times for Real, but was still voted the 12th greatest player in their history) to play in the J-League for Vissel Kobe. This was followed by a return to Europe with Ajax, with Laudrup helping the side secure the 1998 Dutch Championship in his final season of his illustrious playing career. Michale Laudrup’s final act as a player was to lead his country as captain in the 1998 World Cup, playing alongside his youngerbrother Brian Laudrup. Denmark would go all the way to the quarter-finals where they were defeated in a thrilling 3-2 encounter against eventual finalists Brazil. Laudrup finished his career with 104 caps and 37 goals and in 2006 he was voted the greatest player ever to wear the red of Denmark.
If you were to tell a Swansea City fan in the mid-90s that Michael Laudrup would end up at their club, they would probably ask you what you had been smoking; 14 years after his playing career ended Swansea fans can now say that Michael Laudrup is a Jack after signing a two-year contract with the club. Unfortunately, he has not travelled from the past in a time machine to fill in the gap that is probably going to be left vacant by Gylfi “will he,won’t he sign for Liverpool?” Sigurdsson, but Swansea do have him stepping into the vacant managerial shoes left behind by Brendan Rodgers, now of Liverpool FC. Many Swansea fans have reacted extremely positive about the Laudrup appointment, with many citing the exceptional talent he possessed as a player. Swansea City’s offical website reports that one exiled Swansea fan in Bahrain even pre-ordered the new Swansea home shirt complete with ‘Laudrup 10’ emblazoned on the back within 45 minutes of his appointment.
The term “it shows how far we have come as club” has been brandished around a lot in regard to Laudrup’s appointment and many have salivated over the contacts and connections Laudrup must have with the world football elite. So, what can the Jack Army expect from Laudrup, the manager?
Swansea fans must remember that when Paulo Sousa arrived, many also pointed to his exceptional playing career (another world-class midfielder after all, but admittedly in a different mould to Laudrup) and his connections in the game – it turned out he phoned Jose Mourinho every now and then but nothing ever emerged from Paulo’s contact book (you can read about Swansea’ bizarre year under Sousa here). Obviously, the difference between Sousa and Laudrup’s appointment is that Sousa had only managed for a couple of months at QPR before being sacked as their manager for divulging ‘confidential’ information to the press about Dexter Blackstock’s loan move to Nott’m Forest; Laudrup has over 10 years of coaching and managerial experience behind him.
In 2000, Laudrup would get his first taste of the managerial game, as he became assistant manager and understudy to Denmark’s national team manager Morten Olsen (who is still manager to this day). The duo would lead an unfashionable but experienced Denmark team to the 2002 World Cup finals in Japan/South Korea, where they were eventually knocked out in the second round by England after successfully navigating their way out of a tough group including France, Senegal and Uruguay. This would be his last time in the Danish dugout as Laudrup made the step-up to Manager with Danish team Brondby, the team where he had begun to make a name for himself in his playing career two decades earlier.
The Olsen and Laudrup partnership had very much stuck to a 4-2-3-1 formation and Laudrup would take up an identical system in his first job at Danish Superliga side, Bronby. Laudrup would take the job at the start of the 2002/03 season much to the joy of Brondby fans who would be welcoming the legendary Dane back to his boyhood club. Coming in as Laudrup’s assistant manager was another favourite of the Danish national team in John Jensen, who had also had two successful spells playing for Brondby. Laudrup was entering a club that had been on a magnificent domestic run over the previous two decades; in the 18 years previous, Brondby had finished in the top two 14 times and had won the league (in the old 1st Division format and its new revamped, post-91 guise as the Danish Superliga) on 9 of these occasions.
Although Laudrup was joining a very stable club (they had won the title the season before he joined) he was also taking a large gamble for a young manager – making an error at Brondby and Laudrup could have paid by destroying his managerial credentials before they had even been properly established. However, Laudrup showed little panic and took his gamble even further. Instead of sticking with the experienced players that had overseen Brondby’s title winning season the season previous, Laudrup began a massive squad overhaul, ousting experienced players for younger counterparts. The switch in personnel came with a switch in tactics and philosophy, as Laudrup opted to play short-passing, possession-orientated football, similar to the style he had thrived under as a player under Cruyff. Laudrup also decided to bring along the 4-2-3-1 formation that was utilised under his and Olsen’s management of the Danish national team. As well as bringing in several youthful players, Laudrup also signed the experienced Danish midfielder Morten Wieghorst on a free transfer from Celtic to add experience to the team. One of the most memorable moments of Laudrup’s tenure involved a Terry Butcher-esque, bloodied Wieghorst going on to score 4 goals against FC Nordsjælland in a 7-1 drubbing.
Brondby had displayed the exciting football that Laudrup had been drilling into the team, but the beautiful football was detrimental to the team’s championship as they sunk to finishing runners-up in the league, although Brondby did win the Danish Cup. Still, Laudrup was overseeing a cultural and philosophical shift at the club and the fans and board were willing to give him time. After another runners-up place in the 2003/04 season, Laudrup won Brondby back their Danish Superliga crown in the 2004/05, reclaiming the title from their rivals FC Copenhagen, as well as winning the Danish Cup to seal a domestic Double. After finishing runners-up once again in the 2005/2006 season, Laudrup departed Brondby after failing to sign a new contract after months of talks broke down. There was no indication that Laudrup wanted to depart Brondby, but many began to speculate that Laudrup had not chased a new contract as vociferously after he was repeated link with the Real Madrid job. Following his departure Laudrup was linked with several jobs, but speculation kept coming back to ‘Laudrup to Madrid’.
Finally after a year out of management, Laudrup was off to Madrid again, although it would not be for the galatico-inspired giants of the Bernabeu but to the small metropolitan area of Madrid known as Getafe, the name synonymous with the football club that resided there. Another former Real Madrid legend Bernd Schuster had been in charge at Getafe in the presvious season, leading the team to an impressive 9th place finish before leaving the club to manage Real Madrid – Laudrup would fill Schuster’s vacant managerial position.
Laudrup would bring his attacking philosophy to the club, but would initially struggle at the club as they slowly sunk into a relegation scrap – a large step backwards from the 9th place finish under Schuster. Eventually Laudrup’s team grew more confident with his style and the team improved in the league, even famously defeating Laudrup’s two old clubs, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Despite Laudrup leading the team toi 14th place (5 positions lower than the previous season) it was still a huge achievement for a team with a lowly status in Spanish football. They were certainly much easier on the eye under Laudrup, which can be seen from the stats with their possession rate increasing dramatically as well as their average goals tally increasing from 0.87 per game under Schuster to 1.26 goals per game under Laudrup.
Laudrup’s efforts in the league would be much overshadowed by the club’s efforts in cup competitions. One of Schuster’s finest achievements was leading Getafe to the Copa del Rey final which despite losing to Sevilla meant that Getafe had the opportunity to travel Europe in the UEFA Cup. Laudrup was left to take Getafe on their Euro-voyage and his brand of football would excel on the continent. Getafe would come through their group including AaB, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Anderlecht and Tottenham, even clinching a 2-1 victory at White Hart Lane. After impressively disposing of AEK Athens and Benfica in the first two knockout rounds, Getafe were drawn to take on Bayern Munich in the quarter-final stage in what would prove to be an epic two-leg battle. Amazingly Getafe scored an equaliser through Cosmin Contra at the Allianz Arena to claim a 1-1 first leg draw. The second leg was as amazing as it was cruel to Getafe and Laudrup. Getafe (down to ten men from the 6th minute) took the lead just before half-time before being cruelly denied victory by an 89th minute equaliser from Franck Ribiery. The game went to extra time, where it looked like Getafe had the game won a second time when they accelerated into a 3-1 lead in the first half of extra time. Once again, fate seemed determined that Bayern would progress, as a tired Getafe conceded two Luca Toni goals in the final minutes to go out on away goals. Laudrup and his team got the plaudits but not the glory.
Laudrup would also take the lead from his predecessor Schuster and take Getafe to another Spanish Cup Final, although they would lose again, this time to Valencia 3-1 at the Vicente Calderon. Many expected Laudrup to stay on and help build the team further but at the end of the 2007/08 season he resigned as manager along with John Jensen. On leaving Laudrup said:
“This club is a very recent arrival to the first division but, despite that, people said to me when I took over here that I had gone to a club which had great expectations. I replied that they were right but that it was a great challenge and look how it turned out. I hope the person that replaces me will be able to do even better even though the club is going to be in the Uefa Cup again.”
Once again the Laudrup speculation went into overdrive and he found himself linked to both the Real Madrid and perhaps more prevalently the Barcelona job after Rijkaard’s departure; Barcelona would turn to their B team coach and Laudrup’s former Dream Team’ teammate, Pep Guardiola, to step up to the manager’s hot seat. Links to takeover Manchester City following Sven Goran Eriksson’s exit, West Ham, CSKA Moscow, Panathinaikos, Chelsea, Blackburn, Galatasaray – the list went on as Laudrup’s stock had risen massively. Many suggested that his preferred option was to stay in Spain, a place he saw as a second home, so many felt that it was only a matter of time before he took the vacant Valencia job, only for that job to go to Unai Emery. Laudrup’s next managerial move would be a surprise to many.
On 12th September 2008 Laudrup was unveiled as the new manager at Russian club Spartak Moscow. Spartak Moscow had been a dominant force in Russian football from 1992 to 2001 under the iconic Oleg Romantsev, winning 9 league titles. Laudrup’s goal was to restore Spartak back to its glory days. Laudrup claimed on his arrival in Moscow:
“I was in Russia several times in the eighties and nineties and if I had been approached by a Russian club 10-15 years ago I would absolutely have turned it down, but since then there have been fantastic changes. Moscow is a magnificent city. Sure, there are some social problems, but I’m not here to rescue the world. It’s axiomatic that the English Premier League and the Spanish La Liga are the best leagues in the world and they are followed by the Italian Serie A, but the Russian Premier League is fourth. Russia’s best players play at home because the clubs have enough money to retain them.”
Laudrup arrived in the midst of the Russian football season with Spartak sitting in third and nine points behind Rubin Kazan in the top slot. With a 5-1 drubbing to rivals CSKA Moscow in one of his opening games as manager, Laudrup started very slowly in his new job, but fans were willing to write off the 2008 season and hope for much better in 2009; the fans were also far more distracted by rallying against their faltering boardroom to notice what was going on the pitch. Spartak would slump to a disappointing 8th place finish at the end of the 2008 season The players admitted they like Laudrup’s philosophy but also suggested it would take time to come to fruition. Midfielder Alexandr Pavelnko explained:
“Laudrup wants us to play fast football, with just one or two touches.He wants us to move the ball from one flank to the other.”
When it really mattered in the 2009 season, Laudrup could still not deliver and in April 2009, just 7 months after his arrival, he was sacked by the club following a 3-0 loss to Dinamo Moscow in the Russian Cup. Laudrup was jobless once again, but it would be the first time he had not left a club on his own terms.
Laudrup’s next job looked to be at Atletico Madrid as they announced their signing of the Great Dane to the Spanish press in October 2009; embarrassingly for the club, the Laudrup deal would fall through as he failed to agree terms leaving Atletico with egg on their face following the press release.
A return to Spain was a long time coming but eventually Laudrup arrived back in La Liga as he took over the reins at Mallorca. Once again, Laudrup came into the club promising attractive passing football and Laudrup’s honeymoon period at the club was a good one as the club secured wins away to Valencia and Sevilla as well as draws at home to Real Madrid and away to Barcelona. Mallorca’s problems lied in finding consistency, as despite good results against the bigger clubs, Mallorca found themselves slumping to defeats against lesser opposition. In the buildup to the winter break and after it, Mallorca’s form slumped drastically. An issue had begun to arise between Laudrup and the fans, as Laudrup refused to play the Argentinian striker Fernando Cavenaghi and instead chose to play Sergio Enrich (a B team striker), much to the fans’ annoyance.
Throughout the majority of Laudrup’s tenure, there would be off field tensions with Director of Football Llorenç Serra Ferrer. It is well documented in this country how many clubs in La Liga have their transfer policy dictated by a Director of Football and not the manager or head coach. Mallorca as a club were in financial straits so any chance to strenghten the squad push on for the second half of the season looked unlikely.As the January transfer window opened, Laudrup went to Serra Ferrer seeking a new striker; with Mallorca financially stricken they decided to sell Cavenaghi and looked to sign Anthony Ujah, a Nigerian striker scoring for fun at Norwegian club Lillestrom. On the final day of the transfer window it appeared that with Cavenaghi sold, Ujah was on the verge of signing from Lilletstrom, but in the final hours Lillestrom demanded more money from Mallorca (knowing their desperate need for a striker) and Mallorca did not have the money to up their offer; the deal fell through and Mallorca’s squad had a gaping striker-shaped hole in it. Laudrup came in for a lot of criticism for marginalising several members of the squad and the fact that this led to squad uncertainty in the transfer window. The Spanish journalist Tomeu Maura said of Mallorca’s tumultuous January:
“Sole responsibility lies with Michael Laudrup. After all, everything that has happened in this winter market has come from his decisions. The absurd marginalisation of Ratinho and Cavenaghi. Both players should have held undisputed first team roles, especially in home games.”
It was all downhill for Mallorca following the transfer window as Mallorca picked up only 17 points from 19 games with Laudrup unable to restore any confidence in the team. On the final day of the season it looked like Mallorca would be relegated, but thanks to results elsewhere, Mallorca just about clung onto their La Liga status. It was widely reported that the fans wanted Laudrup out, as did the board, but the financial crisis at the club meant they could not afford to sack him. Laudrup felt that he could improve the team in his second season in charge much to the annoyance of the people who wanted him to graciously walk away from the club.
The start of Laudrup’s second season would be no better as Mallorca lost 3 of their opening 4 games and lost their star player, Jonathan de Guzman, to Villareal – another player who was once again not replaced. Laudrup’s assistant manager Erik Larsen berated the Mallorca hierarchy (he called Serra Ferrer a ‘bad man’) in relation to the de Guzman transfer and soon found himself sacked by the club for gross misconduct. The sacking of his assistant was the final straw for Laudrup and he resigned on the 27th September 2011 after beating Real Sociedad 2-1 in his final game, citing frustration with Serra Ferrer in particular. Laudrup stated: “This situation cannot continue like this. From now on, Mallorca will be whatever it is Serra Ferrer wants.”
Laudrup’s managerial credibility would be called into question further after he departed Mallorca, as new manager Joaquín Caparrós led the cash-strapped, relegation threatened team to the brink of a European place, largely brought about by a switch from Laudrup’s attacking philosophy to a ‘win at all costs’ approach.
Under a year later, Laudrup has now signed a 2-year contract at Swansea, putting him in charge of the club for their second season in the Premiership and their centenary year. Despite being a genius on the pitch, Laudrup’s managerial career has been one of peaks and troughs, so is he the right man to carry on the Swansea revolution?
There must be some concerns about Laudrup’s apparent lack of leadership and authority, as although Rodgers came across as the ultimate nice guy, he certainly knew how to stick it to the players if they were not meeting his high standards. On realmallorca.co.uk they discuss Laudrup’s credentials as next Swansea manager (in article entitled ‘Why Mallorca weren’t sad to see new Swansea manager go’) and refer to the lack of leadership that could hinder his and Swansea’s performance:
“But my concern is whether he is actually a leader. Because when Mallorca’s good start faded away, he didn’t seem to have the motivational ability to pick the players up. He never seemed to be in control. And for the final few months of the season, he just seemed to be out of ideas.”
With the grounded, level-headed and professional group of players Swansea have at the club currently and with strong characters such as Garry Monk in the dressing room, I feel this will not be a problem.
It must also be noted that similiar to Brendan Rodgers, Laudrup enters the club with a reputation as a good guy, with the word ‘gentleman’ be used a lot by people that have worked with him in the past. Spanish football expert, Graham Hunter, also alludes to teh fact that similiar to Rodgers, Laudrup is a manager who is thoughtful about his football. Hunter wrote on the BBC Sport website:
“Michael Laudrup is a stylish man and the football he wants his teams to play is as elegant as he was as a footballer. Laudrup was that false number nine that paved the way for the position Messi plays. He’s very articulate and gets his ideas across very well.”
Football writer, Andy Brassell also added on the BBC’s World Football Phone-in that he felt was a more ‘cosmopolitian’ manager than his predecessor and described how Laudrup is a big studier of the game, a trait picked up from his former mentor Johan Cruyff. Brasell claimed that
Every club Laudrup has entered he has immediately set about a rebuilding project, seeking to build a team that he could mould to fit his football philosophy; at Brondby and Getafe he did this relatively successfully – not so much at Spartak Moscow and Mallorca. Swansea fans would like to think that Laudrup will not have to change much on entering the club as the team is already setup to play the brand of football he desires and hopefully he could carry on improving the team. In an interview on guardian.co.uk the defender David Belenguer who played under Laudrup at Getafe, hailed the Great Dane and lauded his attacking philosophy:
“Michael Laudrup is the personification of attacking football. He fits the Swansea philosophy perfectly. It was all about attacking and we (the defenders at the club) should have earned danger money.”
As another former Danish legend and ex-Swansea manager Jan Molby said, Swansea and Laudrup are a ‘match made in heaven’ and it certainly feels that way a the moment. Despite some blips on his managerial record, I can not help but get excited about the appointment. The name Swansea has now become synonymous with ‘good football side’ and now with a name like Laudrup at the helm, the appeal of the club to potential signings must now be massive. Laudrup sounds genuinely excited about the task ahead and he has already promised to follow the ‘Swansea way’, a system which he feels fits with his footballing ethos:
“It is going to be a new experience for me and I am really looking forward to it. I have spoken to many people about Swansea and watched a number of their games on DVD – with many more to watch. Everyone knows the style of football Swansea play and it suits my way of thinking.”