It has been an amazing first season for the new Swansea manager Michael Laudrup, who created history by winning the League Cup, Swansea’s first major trophy. However the genius Dane has had a lot of history of his own as a player.
Let’s turn the clock back to June 15 1964, where a young Michael was born in the suburbs of Frederiksberg, Copenhagen. Michael was always destined to play football as he was born into a football family. Michael’s father was Finn Laudrup, who was an old Danish football legend. His uncle Ebbe Skovdahl played for the Danish national team; as well as his four-year younger brother, Brian Laudrup, the former Glasgow Rangers legend. Michael himself has two sons, Mads and Andreas, who both also play as professionals today.
As a young boy, Michael started playing football in his father’s childhood club “Vanløse” on the outskirts of Copenhagen. When his father then became player/coach of one of the biggest Danish teams, Brøndby, in 1973, the whole family had to move with him and both Michael and his brother Brian started playing for the club as well. During a documentary about his life, Michael revealed that despite being born into a football family, there was never any pressure from his father:
“Of course he helped us, when we started playing football, but he has never been a father who stood outside the pitch shouting ‘DO THIS’ and ‘DO THAT’”.
In 1983, the defending champions of Serie A, Juventus, bought Michael for a Danish record fee of around $1 million. Juventus were lucky to get the young Dane as he already was due to sign for Liverpool on a three-year contract. Liverpool decided to make a last minute change, making the contract to four years, something which disrupted Laudrup’s decision:
“I think Liverpool at that time were one of the top three teams in Europe. So they thought that this young Dane would call them back and say ‘Of course I will come’, but I didn’t, and two weeks later I signed for Juventus.”
Unfortunately for Michael, due to the Italian Serie A restriction of having a maximum of only two foreign players in each team and because Juventus already had two players such as Zbigniew Boniek and Michel Platini, Michael had to be transferred to newly promoted Lazio for a season loan deal — something which Laudrup had not been informed about before signing for Juventus.
After two years on loan at Lazio, Michael returned to Juventus in the summer of 1985, replacing Boniek and playing alongside the legend Michel Platini.
“In the four years in Juventus, the first one was fantastic. We won the championship and we won the World Cup (for club teams) against Argentinian Boca Juniors. At that time in the mid 80s, the top two players in the world were Platini and Maradona, and I played with one of them and against the other one. Only two foreign players in Juventus, me and Platini, it was a fantastic experience.”
In the following seasons, Michael suffered multiple injuries, Platini left, and Michael was left with huge expectations to lead the team in Platini’s place, playing alongside newly signed Welsh striker Ian Rush.
“After almost six years with Juventus, I thought it was time to move on. I had to make a new experience because otherwise I would get stuck there. Six years in Italy was enough for me.”
So in 1989, Laudrup joined FC Barcelona of Spain, as Laudrup’s childhood role model Johan Cruyff was trying to assemble a team which was going to strive for succcess.
“Cruyff was the manager, and I had heard what he had done in his first season, changing a lot of players, playing in a total different way, so I thought I would try and take the chance. Johan was a fantastic player, one of my favorite players from when I was young, so I thought if we can play just a little bit as he did, then that would be perfect for me.”
It was indeed a perfect match as immediately after he had joined, Laudrup enjoyed tremendous success under Cruyff’s leadership; citing the Dutchman’s philosophy and perception of the game as one of the main assets that helped foster his talent. He was one of the three restricted foreign players allowed in the team, alongside Hristo Stoichkov and Ronald Koeman. The three of them became the pillars of the Dream Team, which played beautiful and attractive football and were compared to the 1970s Ajax team. Alongside rising stars Pep Guardiola, Bakero and Begiristain, Laudrup and his teammates went on to win four consecutive La Liga championships in a row, from 1991 to 1994.
“The Dream Team was just a name. I think we played some very good football, but I think most of all we demonstrated that even without getting the 10 best players in the world, you can have the best team.”
Where domestic supremacy leads, European success frequently follows. Laudrup’s Barcelona team would achieve theirs in the football spiritual home of Wembley. In 1992, they traveled to England to play the European Cup Final against Sampdoria. Koeman’s free-kick goal led Barcelona to victory and to their first European trophy in the club’s history. Laudrup was twice elected the best player of the year in Spain during his Barcelona years.
When Laudrup wasn’t chosen in the 1994 European Cup final squad against AC Milan, rumors had be going that Michael and Cruyff had been in conflict and that Laudrup would leave the next season. Pep Guardiola was so devastated about the news that he cried while begging to ask Laudrup to stay, as he said Michael was the one that had taught him everything that he knew about football.
Laudrup’s time in Barca was over. That same year he completed one of the most controversial moves in La Liga history, changing the blue and red Barca stripes out with the plain white Real Madrid shirt. Fans were furious, claiming that it was a revenging act from Laudrup. However, Laudrup himself keeps saying that he did not have a hidden agenda.
“People say I wanted to go to Real Madrid just to get revenge. I say revenge from what? I’ve had a perfect time; five fantastic years there. I went to Madrid because they were so hungry to win, and they had four or five players who went to the World Cup. I said this would be perfect; new coach, new players who were hungry to win. I went there to win the championship.”
Laudrup’s impact was immediate and would he have the last laugh against all the negative media and fans who had turned against him in Spain due to his move to Madrid. Laudrup went to guide Madrid to the championship the following season, making Laudrup the only player in Spanish football to ever win the Spanish league five times in a row playing for two different clubs. Laudrup was later voted the 12th best player in Madrid’s history.
Japan and Ajax
After many years in Spanish football, Laudrup left Madrid in 1996, to play in Japan. He then later joined Danish manager Morten Olsen in Ajax in 1998, where he ended his club playing career by winning the Dutch championship.
“Dutch football was not the same level as Italy and Spain but still very good. So I went there, and we won the championship by 17 points and we won the cup final 5-0 against PSV. What else could I’ve been asking or at a club level? The end of my career was fantastic, it couldn’t have been any better.”
Laudrup’s last game in football was in the 1998 World Cup quarter-final game against Brazil, which Denmark lost 3-2. However, Laudrup believes retiring in that game with his brother next to him was the best way to end the chapter of the greatest Danish players of all time.
While playing with Barcelona, he played in the 5–0 victory over rivals Real Madrid in the 1993–94 season. The following season while playing for Real Madrid he aided in the revenge beating that Madrid gave Barça. The final score? 5–0.
Despite being the 5th most capped player in the Danish National team, Laudrup did not participate in the 1992 Euros which Denmark won due to conflict with the national team coach. Laudrup decided to quit the national team in November 1990 alongside his brother and Jan Mølby. The Danes failed to qualify originally but were given Yugoslavia’s place as they were kicked out due to the war in their country.
His teammate in Real Madrid, Raúl, has called Laudrup the best player he has ever played with. His teammate in Barcelona, Romário, has said the same and added that Laudrup in his opinion is the fifth best player in the history of the game, as he was able to create and score goals almost at will.
Laudrup was known as a gentleman on the pitch and never received a red card.