Michael Laudrup : The Greatest Playmaker who was underexposed
Every generation has its football darlings – the players who are showered with plaudits by their numberless admirers and even respected by the ones who pretend to dislike them. Through the 1960s Pelé ruled the roost. In the 1970s, it was Johan Cruyff. In the 1980s, Diego Maradona thrived. The 1990s saw a proliferation of stars spring up to capture our attentions in the shapes of Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Roberto Baggio and many more besides. In the noughties, yet more legends wowed us with their phenomenal skill as Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo dominated pub talk and water-cooler conversations.
There will always be names and faces that tower over a certain period of history, but where there is glorious remembrance there will always be the jilted entertainers, the guys who somehow manage to miss out on inclusion in the top three or five performers of a particular era when push comes to shove. They achieve so much in the game and yet are somehow left out of greatest list for whatever reasons. It’s a mixture of misfortune, misplaced loyalties and a little miscalculation, too.
In many ways, Michael Laudrup has been one such player. Captivating in his prime, he has arguably attracted greater praise since retiring than he ever did when he was still active. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but one doesn’t often win awards retrospectively.
The Streets of Denmark
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:
Serie A comes calling
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.”
Laudrup’s time in Italy wasn’t entirely successful. Serie A’s foreigner rule meant that he was loaned to Lazio for two seasons (without his prior knowledge), and Laudrup suffered regular injuries in his final three seasons at the Stadio delle Alpi. 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.
Professor Cryuff Welcomes him at Camp Nou
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. 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.
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.
On his Barcelona experience, he said
“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. 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. 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.”
The Switch to Real Madrid
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.
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.
Recognition Which he never got
So why did Laudrup not receive the recognition his talents warranted? Certainly not due to a lack of respect from his peers, judging by the list of those who consider him one of the game’s elite.
“I fully understand why he is considered one of the best players in Barcelona’s history and even the world,”
Andres Iniesta says
“Who is the best player in history? Laudrup,”
Johan Cryuff says
“When Michael plays it is like a dream, a magic illusion, and no one in the world comes anywhere near his level,”
Perhaps Laudrup suffered for his selflessness, his reputation as a gentleman footballer and his contentment to play the perfect supporting role for some of the world’s greatest strikers. Perhaps, Michel Platini was right when he said
“Michael had everything except for one thing: he wasn’t selfish enough,”
Or maybe, as his mentor Cruyff believed, Laudrup was simply comfortable with football as artform, as an aesthetic pursuit. A player for whom the difficult comes so incredibly easy can easily draw a reputation for laziness, however unfair that may be.
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.
Slightly surprisingly, the perfect place to end is with former Swansea defender Alan Tate. When Tate told a radio station in August 2012 that Laudrup was still the best player in Swansea training at the age of 48, the presenters laughed at his banter. Yet rather than laugh with them, Tate was unmoved; it wasn’t joke.
That was Laudrup all over – incisive, silky, effective and captivating. More evident than all those characteristics, though, was his instinct to produce luxurious manoeuvers, the way he dragged the ball from one foot to the other to evade slide tackles and boxing stances, how he danced through gaps he created for himself, his artistic touches that put others in the limelight – because while it might be fair to say that he was underrated, there’s a little more truth in the notion that he was underexposed.
Then again, the best gems are always hidden.
Quotes and facts from : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zUsCZvol-I