My Perfect 10: Michael Laudrup

In the the penultimate instalment of our week of profiles on the game's greatest playmakers, journalist Jamie Bowman waxes lyrical about the Prince of Denmark... 

Esteemed football journalist Brian Glanville summed up accurately what we expect from our best playmakers: “an attacker of tremendous, fluent gifts but slightly suspect temperament”. The player he was describing? Danish genius and La Liga legend Michael Laudrup.

After a mixed period in Italy where, despite winning Serie A with Juventus in 1986 and staring in the fabulous Danish side at Mexico 86, he never showed his true potential, Laurdrup’s career took off following his 1989 move to Barcelona and a link up with the man who saw something of himself in the Dane, Johan Cruyff.

Cruyff was unique, but many feel Laudrup was the player who came closest to his image and for a while the Dane came to personify the character and aspiration of Barcelona’s ‘Dream Team’ - it came to be said in Spain that if Laudrup played well, Barcelona excelled.

Handing Laudrup the No.9 shirt, Cruyff gave him a free role where he launched countless counter attacks, providing the eye of the needle passes for Hristo Stoitchkov to score countless goals while fostering an almost telepathic understanding with Dutchman Ronald Koeman.

“I have a freedom I’ve never had before and the emphasis is always on attack,” Laudrup explained.

The team won four consecutive La Liga championships from 1991 to 1994 as well as the 1991-92 European Cup, with Laudrup twice elected Spanish football‘s Player of the Year. The arrival of Brazilian star Romario in 1994 caused problems though, with Barca having to rotate their foreign stars.

When Laudrup was left out of the humiliating 4-0 European Cup defeat to AC Milan, he packed his bags and committed the ultimate Catalan sin - moving to Real Madrid.

Ironically Romario would later describe Laudrup 'the fifth best player in the history of the game' (behind Pelé, Maradona, himself (!) and Zinedine Zidane) as he was able to 'create and score goals almost at will'.

Incredibly Laudrup would go on to even more success at the Bernabeu, where his outstanding technique, dribbling ability and range of passing prompted coach Jorge Valdano to proclaim he had “eyes everywhere”.

His team mates appreciated him too: Ivan Zamorano dubbing him “el genio” (the genius) with Raul recently describing him as “the best player I’ve ever played with” and Figo proclaiming him “the best player I ever played against.” Current Real Manager Jose Mourinho was moved to say “He was phenomenal. He was a fantastic player whom I would love to have on my team today.”

Real Madrid won the 1995 La Liga title, Laudrup becoming the first player to win the Spanish league five times in a row with two different clubs and, despite only playing two seasons at Real Madrid, Laudrup was voted the 12th best player in the club’s history in a survey by Marca.

Internationally Laudrup trod a mercurial path through Denmark’s highs and lows during the eighties and nineties. He made his debut as an 18 year old in 1982 and four years later was a central part of one the World Cup’s most memorable and eye-catching teams.

Wearing that gorgeous Hummel kit, Laurdup is best remember for his mazy dribble and goal in the incredible 6-1 defeat of Uruguay but by the time of Denmark’s greatest success  in winning the 1992 European Championship he had fallen out with coach Richard Moller Nielson and quit the national team along with his brother Brian.

Thankfully by the time of the 1998 World Cup in France the Laudrups were back, with Michael captaining Denmark’s finest team for over a decade. He was in his element and in the Danes’ second round game against Nigeria his skill and vision virtually destroyed the Africans single-handedly.

Laudrup’s trademark move – looking one way and passing the other – was employed to devastating effect as he looked to his left, then launched a magnificent lob to is right, clearing the Nigerian defence and allowing substitute Ebbe Sand to head the third in a fantastic 4-1 win.

Denmark were eventually eliminated by Brazil, in a fantastic match which ended 3-2 to the eventual finalists. It took a superb goal from Rivaldo to finally kill off the Danish resistance. Denmark more than matched the mighty South Americans and many felt they were unlucky to be going home. However, they arrived back in Copenhagen with their heads held high.

That was to be Michael's last game in action for Denmark in a career which saw him score 37 goals in a total of 104 games for his country, a figure which as Michel Platini pointed out could have been much more : “Michael had everything except one thing: he wasn’t selfish enough”

In an emotional farewell, little brother Brian also announced he would retire from international football and eventually retire from football all together due to persistent injuries.

It was a fitting swan song for a player who surely rivals Hamlet as the true Prince of Denmark.

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