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Laudrup stardust rubs off on Swansea

Sunday, 23 December 2012 - 10:02am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Football legend is making his name in management with quiet revolution in Wales.

As Michael Laudrup holds court at the Liberty Stadium there is a huge photograph behind him of one of Swansea's most famous sons: Ivor Allchurch. On it is written: "He could thread short passes through the eye of a needle." The same, Swansea City goalkeeper Michel Vorm later affirms, can still be said of Laudrup, even now when he is "50 years old" (48 to be precise).

"When he plays the possession games in training it's unbelievable," the Dutch goalkeeper, fit again to face Manchester United today (Sunday) after an eight-week lay-off, says. "You can see the quality he had as a player."

There was another example of that, if any reminder was needed, on Swansea's pre-season tour to the United States, soon after Laudrup was appointed as successor to Brendan Rodgers.

"We were on a flight and you could choose a video - you could choose action movies or sport - and I tapped on sport and there was a documentary on the best players in the world," Vorm recalls. "And the first player who came on the screen was Michael Laudrup and he was sitting there next to us. If you love football, you love to see a player like that. And now he's our manager."

Allchurch was the golden boy of Welsh football; Laudrup the golden boy of Danish football, voted his country's best sportsman. But his legend is far greater than even that honour.

The plaudits that surround his career at Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid are astonishing. From Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff, to Romario and Raul, the eulogies pour in. Pep Guardiola said he learned everything from him.

Now Guardiola is regarded as the most coveted coach in world football and Laudrup acknowledges that sometimes the transition from great player to great manager is not always a smooth one. But he thinks there are advantages to being able to say that his first tussle with Sir Alex Ferguson, his opponent today, may have ended in defeat in Rotterdam back in 1991 - when United beat Barcelona in the Cup Winners' Cup final - only for the Catalans and Laudrup to then go and win the European Cup the following year. It took Ferguson another seven seasons to do that.

"I still think if you've played at the highest level it does give you an advantage because there are things you know that you can't read in a book - such as how to play in a Champions League final," Laudrup explains. "You don't actually know what it is to walk from the centre circle and take that penalty.

"You can read 100 books, you can see films, watch games but you don't know how you feel inside as you walk down there and the goal is getting smaller and smaller and the goalkeeper looks bigger and bigger.

"In saying that you have some fantastic managers who've not played at the highest level but I do think it gives you some advantage. But you have to be able to communicate it to the players."

And yet Laudrup's managerial career, despite success at lowly Spanish club Getafe, has never quite taken off. Swansea, with the club's "philosophy" and with their infrastructure and organisation, feel like the right fit as Laudrup's old friend, the former United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel told me. Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins readily agrees: "We were not bringing in someone to run our football club because we run our football club very well.

"We were bringing in someone as a coach and a leader to the players and that's what we wanted when Brendan came in and it was the same when Michael came in."

Rodgers's departure for Liverpool also represented an opportunity for Swansea to change and develop. "We wanted to be slightly more European this season," Jenkins says. "That would partly be the policy when it came to purchasing players as well which has been quite successful. Michael could give us a more European slant and we also took into account his profile and how it would raise the club's profile."

Swansea have, indeed, changed - in personnel and a subtly adapted approach and it is to Laudrup's credit that he has conducted a quiet revolution. The possession football remains but there is a far greater cutting edge. "His name is huge but with the style we play and the style he wants to play - that was the most important thing," Vorm says.

Swansea have three points more on the board already than last season but, also, having scored just 44 league goals in the last campaign, the sixth lowest, they already have 26, the eighth highest.

Seven players arrived, four on permanent deals, for 16.5 million pounds with 2 million pounds Michu - with 12 league goals, the same as Robin van Persie - the most spectacular success as Laudrup plundered the Spanish market. With Joe Allen sold for 15 million pounds and Scott Sinclair for pounds 8 million Swansea made a healthy transfer profit - while also impressively coping with the loss of first-team regulars Gylfi Sigurdsson and Steven Caulker whose loan spells ended. Of the team that started the last game of last season, only three where in the XI that faced Tottenham Hotspur last weekend.

"It's for others to decide how I've done but if we were to get three points from our next two games [United at home, Reading away] that would give us 26 points at the halfway stage and that would be really outstanding," Laudrup says. Beyond that there is a League Cup semi-final against Chelsea and an FA Cup draw at home to Arsenal.

"We have three competitions in a month for a club that's not used to playing in three competitions," Laudrup says, relishing his tilt at the Premier League. "Personally I think the best two leagues are the Premier League and La Liga and I spent seven years as a player in La Liga and a couple of years as a manager. So I wanted to come here and try everything that surrounds this competition."

Laudrup admits that Rodgers was a difficult act to follow. "But that's the norm in this club. They [Swansea managers] all do well! Obviously it's much easier if the one you take over from has had poor results! Things are going well but we can't stop."

There has even been speculation that his presence might attract Barcelona's David Villa once the January transfer window opens. "He's a fantastic player," Laudrup says with a smile. "But unfortunately I think the only Villa who will come here is Aston Villa on January 1."
 




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