x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Great Dane Michael Laudrup has one hard act to follow

Barcelona fans revered him as the finest in the fabled '92 Dream Team, but the new Swansea coach is yet to transfer success as a player into management, says Andy Mitten.

Michael Laudrup, centre, enjoyed a winning to start to life in the English Premier League as his Swansea City side thumped Queens Park Rangers 5-0 at Loftus Road. Daniel Hambury / AP Photo
Michael Laudrup, centre, enjoyed a winning to start to life in the English Premier League as his Swansea City side thumped Queens Park Rangers 5-0 at Loftus Road. Daniel Hambury / AP Photo

Barcelona's Andres Iniesta grew up idolising him, Xavi was mesmerised by him because he was "different" and Real Madrid legend Raul described him as the best player he has played with. Michael Laudrup did the impossible during his time playing for Spain's "Big Two", he became a hero to both sets of fans. Franz Beckenbauer said that if Pele was the best footballer in the 1960s, with Cruyff and Maradona the finest of the '70s and '80s, then Laudrup was the best of the '90s.

A generation of Cules still describe the Dane as the greatest player of Johan Cruyff's Dream Team - that attack-obsessed Barca side of the early 90s which serves as the reference point for all which has followed at Camp Nou.

With Laudrup as an original "false" centre-forward who often switched positions during a match, the side of Pep Guardiola, Ronald Koeman, Amor, Hristo Stoichkov et al won four consecutive league titles and a first ever European Cup in 1992. Laudrup, who had signed from Juventus after a spell at his hometown club Brondby, was famed for his subtle yet outrageous skill. He was focal point of the team and referred to as an artist for his ability to sketch outlandish patterns on the pitch. Catalans called him "Enjoy" because he always entertained, but his fizz didn't last.

In 1994, after arguments with Cruyff, he fled to bitter rivals Real Madrid, prompting 22,000 fans to write letters begging him to stay. He ignored them and said publicly that he couldn't stand Cruyff - his childhood hero - any more. Cruyff, in turn, said that while Laudrup was still the best player when he only gave 80 or 90 per cent, he needed to give 100 per cent.

Cruyff saw Laudrup as the one who came closest to his image and he would miss the player who had starred for Barca in a 5-0 win over Real. Within months, Laudrup starred for Real in a 5-0 win over Barca after linking up seamlessly with the Chilean forward Ivan Zamorano.

Football's a team game, but Laudrup made both teams and did so wherever he played. Catalans hated him, called him "Judas" and spat over their "Laudrup Die" banners towards him when he came near the side of the pitch. Laudrup couldn't function and later admitted that it was the worst day of his life, saying that he had "turned my back on the people who loved me".

Time has healed the wounds.

Barcelona invited Sampdoria, the vanquished side from the 1992 European Cup final, to be the guests at their annual Gamper game at Camp Nou on Monday. Many of the stars of that Wembley match came along, but Laudrup sent an apology. The recently appointed Swansea City manager had training sessions to take after the joy of their 5-0 opening day victory at Queens Park Rangers on Saturday.

Laudrup, 48, took over in June after Brendan Rodgers departed for Liverpool. Wales' second city doesn't compare to Spain's second city, but after spells as a player and manager at places like Kobe, Getafe, Moscow and Mallorca, Laudrup can cope with the unconventional.

He will also appreciate being at a club where he can stay free of the politics, something he struggled to do in his previous job at Mallorca, where the club president briefed against him in the local media, and his son decided which players would come and go.

Laudrup, who won 104 caps for Denmark's greatest ever sides as a player - his brother Brian was capped 82 times and both were named in Pele's 125 greatest living footballers in 2004 - deserved better.

Laudrup has struggled to match his success as a player in management, though he did well enough at Getafe to be seriously considered for the Barca job in 2008 alongside Jose Mourinho. The position went to his former teammate Guardiola, a Catalan who had not left for Madrid rather than a foreigner who had.

Laudrup knows the Spanish game best and oversaw the signing of Chico Flores from Mallorca and Michu from Rayo Vallecano. Like his boss, Michu plays best behind a leading striker and scored twice at the weekend. Laudrup has a hard act to follow after the success of Rodgers, but he has started well with his side displaying the attacking flair and defensive stability of the team Laudrup shone in 20 years ago.

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