Michael Laudrup hopes Swansea City will enjoy smooth Wembley ride
MICHAEL Laudrup coped impressively, almost seamlessly, as the biggest press conference in Swansea City history took place yesterday.
Swansea's Danish manager switched effortlessly between English, Spanish and his mother tongue as questions came from representatives of media outlets across Europe.
Laudrup only stumbled on a couple of occasions.
First there was a question in German.
This, Laudrup pointed out with an apology, was a language too far.
Then there was an interruption when a mobile phone's piercing ring tone came mid-answer.
"That's a £100 fine, pay on your way out," smiled Laudrup.
A huge game awaits this weekend, but tension does not reign at the Liberty.
Laudrup dealt with queries from far and wide yesterday, with one about whether he is interested in managing Real Madrid and another on whether he fancies a job in the Bundesliga.
He was also asked about the possibility of signing a new contract at Swansea but, although a 12-month extension is looking increasingly likely, he did not want to discuss that either.
"This is not the moment to talk about the future," Laudrup pointed out.
"We are days away from maybe the biggest game in the history of this club.
"We should not be talking about anything else."
The cameras lined up in the Liberty's Gower suite yesterday like a blanket defence on a Six Nations field.
They were trained on Laudrup, the former Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid star who says winning the Capital One Cup with Swansea would be the most satisfying triumph of his career.
While the lenses pointed at him, Laudrup was keen to ensure the focus was Wembley on Sunday afternoon.
"I hope it is not the case, but for some of my players, this game may be a once in a lifetime chance," he added.
"Playing in a final is a huge experience for a player. Normally you play at home in front of your fans or away from home when there are not many of your fans there.
"But in a final you walk out and the ground is split 50-50.
"It's like playing at home and away at the same time, and that can be very difficult when you haven't experienced it much."
Unlike most of his players, Laudrup has been here before.
Pablo Hernandez came on as a substitute in the Copa Del Rey final of 2008, Jonathan de Guzman has featured in Dutch football's showpiece and Ki Sung-Yueng won the Scottish Cup with Celtic a couple of years back.
Laudrup, by contrast, may struggle to recall every final he has featured in given that there have been so many down the years.
"The game on Sunday — I have been there as a player," he pointed out.
"There are things I can tell my players because I have experienced it. There are some great managers who did not do much as players, but you can't get that experience no matter how many coaching manuals you read." Laudrup's experience tells him that he will not have to bother trying to fire his players up before they walk out to face Bradford City.
In fact, the former Getafe coach says, it is his job to ensure Ashley Williams and Co are not too hyped up come 4pm on Sunday afternoon.
"If I want, the tactical meeting before this game will only take two or three minutes," Laudrup said.
"We don't have to talk about motivation.
"We don't have to talk about what it means to the club, to the fans, maybe even to the country.
"Al I have to is give the line-up — that takes about 15 seconds — then I will talk about what we have to do to move this team around and what we have to avoid."
Laudrup admits he had only ever seen Swansea play once before he became aware of their interest in him last summer.
It is safe to assume, therefore, that he would have struggled to tell you anything about Bradford City at the start of this season.
Now he has done his research on the Bantams, studying the remarkable run which has seen a mid-table League Two side overcome Notts County (League One), Watford (Championship), Burton (League Two) and Premier League trio Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa en route to the League Cup final.
"We have to accept that as the Premier League club, we will start this game as the favourites," Laudrup said.
"But I can show the players DVDs from Bradford's games against Wigan. Arsenal and Aston Villa if I need to.
"They know it is very special for Swansea to be in a final, but they know it is even more special for Bradford.
"You can be sure that my players will not underestimate Bradford on Sunday."
So how will the game go?
The consensus seems to be that Swansea are likely to enjoy the lion's share of possession on the smooth Wembley surface, that the onus will be on them to attack a Bradford side who will set out to smother the opposition.
Phil Parkinson's team may then look to expose Swansea on the break, with Bermudan forward Nehki Wells — the scorer of 18 goals this season — likely to be a key figure if the plan is to work.
Bradford's other big weapon will be set-pieces, with 6ft 4in James Hanson and Co hoping to make hay in the Swansea box.
"We will have to take the initiative in the game," Laudrup conceded.
"They will play on the counter-attack, and they will also be strong at set-pieces."
Swansea will hope that there are not many dead balls to deal with, that their possession game will put them in charge of the game.
If Swansea have the ball, after all, they will not be worrying about the Bantams' menace
And if his team are in possession for the most part, Laudrup is confident that Michu and the rest will cause Bradford problems.
"It will be a very proud moment for me when I lead this team out at Wembley, because I know how huge this is for the club and for the people of this city," Laudrup added.
"Let's just hope that the day ends as well as it starts."