Michael Laudrup: The king who's about to become a Jack
LUIS Figo calls him the best player he ever faced, Andres Iniesta goes as far as to suggest he is the finest footballer there has ever been.
If Michael Laudrup can enjoy anything like the success in the Liberty Stadium’s home dugout that he tasted during his playing career, Swansea City’s owners may just have made their shrewdest appointment yet.
Franz Beckenbauer, the great West German defender, was once asked to pick out stars of the decades.
He went for Pele in the 1960s, Johann Cruyff in the 1970s and Diego Maradona in the 1980s.
His man of the 1990s? Laudrup.
Swansea’s new manager is footballing royalty, a king who is about to come a Jack.
As yet, Laudrup’s achievements as a coach have not matched up to the successes he had as a player.
Having said that, of course, it would be difficult to repeat the feats of his glittering years as a midfield playmaker.
When he transports his possessions to South Wales this summer, after all, Laudrup will need an extra removal van to deliver the medal collection.
This is a man who has become used to good times, a sparkling talent who has triumphed almost everywhere he has been during three decades in the professional game.
Laudrup is Denmark’s greatest sporting star of all, a supremely gifted footballer who is worshipped to this day in his homeland.
Each of the clubs he has represented down the years have suddenly gained major Danish followings, and Swansea can expect a raft of new Scandinavian supporters on the back of his latest career move.
He is regarded as a clever man, a shrewd operator off the field just as he was on it.
And he is also viewed as a gentleman, an A-list celebrity whose every move is followed by the Danes.
He is also a hugely popular figure in Spain, where he crossed the divide between Barcelona and Real Madrid but still has admirers on either side of that squabble.
Perhaps the finest moments of his playing days came with Barca, although Laudrup would probably need a while to pick out his highlights.
The son of a Denmark international — and brother to Brian, another major star — he took his first steps in the senior game with KB, a top-flight Danish club, and then Brondby.
He very quickly established himself as one of the stars of his native league and, within a couple of years, was on his way to Juventus.
He spent his early days in Italy on loan at Lazio, as Serie A rules restricted the number of foreign players who could play for each club.
In 1985-86 Laudrup got his chance with Juve, and the Turin giants duly won the league.
In 1989 he switched to Barca and became a key figure in Cruyff’s dream team alongside the likes of Pep Guardiola, Hristo Stoichkov and Romario.
“Laudrup is the best player I have ever played with and the fifth best in the history of the game,” Romario, the brilliant Brazilian striker, once said.
Stoichkov, Bulgaria’s finest, found “common football language” with Laudrup.
“Few people understand football like the Danish player,” Stoichkov said of his old team-mate.
“He can only be compared with Maradona, (Bernd) Schuster or Roberto Baggio.
“They make things easy and they find the right solutions.
“For them it is simple, for the opponent unthinkable.”
Barcelona won four successive La Liga titles in the early 1990s, with Laudrup landing the Spanish player of the year prize on two occasions.
Surprisingly, his time at the Camp Nou ended unhappily.
Laudrup did not see eye to eye with Cruyff by the end and, when the Dutchman left him out of the 1994 European Cup final, he moved to Real Madrid.
A year later, Real were celebrating ending Barca’s title stranglehold, and Laudrup was clutching a La Liga winner’s medal for the fifth season in a row.
He who laughs last and all that.
Laudrup the player looked to be winding down when he spent the 1996-97 campaign playing in Japan, but he moved to Ajax the following season and added the Dutch double to his long list of achievements before the boots began gathering dust.
He played more than 100 times for Denmark, appearing at three European Championships — 1984, 1988 and 1996 — and the World Cups of 1986 and 1998.
Yet he missed out on Denmark’s finest hour, the unlikely triumph at Euro ‘92, having temporarily quit the national team because of differences with the coach.
It was with his country — and under a different manager — that Laudrup took his first steps in coaching at the age of 36.
Laudrup, working alongside Morten Olsen, helped Denmark to the knockout stages of the 2002 World Cup before he returned to old club Brondby for his first manager’s job.
He very quickly built a reputation for producing teams who achieved positive results by playing progressive football, with wide players to the fore and youngsters given a chance wherever possible.
No wonder Huw Jenkins was interested.
Silverware was landed in Denmark before Laudrup moved on to Getafe in 2007, and helped the also-rans from Madrid reach the Copa Del Rey final and the last eight of the Uefa Cup.
The unlikely success Getafe enjoyed during Laudrup’s one season at the helm was built on eye-catching, attacking football.
A rare unhappy spell came next, Laudrup lasting only seven months at Spartak Moscow, before he re-emerged at Real Mallorca in the summer of 2010.
If it was possible, Laudrup’s reputation in Spain was enhanced by his time with the island club, but he left last September after a disagreement with the club’s decision-makers over player transfers and the axing of his assistant.
And so to Swansea, and the chance to work in the English game for the first time.
“Looks like Michael Laudrup will be the next Swansea manager. Win win all around,” tweeted another of Denmark’s finest, Peter Schmeichel, yesterday.
All of Swansea will hope the former Manchester United star’s judgement is sound.