“Pele was the best in the 60’s, Cruyff in the 70’s, Maradona in the 80’s and Laudrup in the 90’s.”
That is some accolade indeed, especially coming from someone as illustrious and respected as Franz Beckenbauer. Especially considering the likes of Ronaldo and Zidane. It’s one of the many injustices of the game that Michael Laudrup was never afforded the sort of universal celebration he so thoroughly deserved. Why he never did remains a mystery, as the mercurial Dane was surely one of the most brilliantly gifted players ever to lace up a pair of boots. Laudrup was the son of Finn, a former Denmark international, and began attracting interest from around Europe aged just 13, when Ajax offered him a place in their much fabled academy. His parents put the anchors on that move saying he was too young to up sticks to Amsterdam, but a transfer was soon on the cards after he prospered with boyhood heroes Brondby. Juventus moved for the 18-year-old and immediately packed him off to Lazio for two years. Upon returning to Turin, he never fully emerged from the shadow of the legendary Michel Platini and it was only when his stylish attacking play was coupled with the same principles of Barcelona that Laudrup shone as one of the finest players of his generation.
Standing 6ft tall, and lean, Laudrup was a natural and graceful athlete. His poise and balance allowed him to skip past and accelerate away from his hapless markers. His signature move was to quickly switch the ball between feet to evade challenges, a move coined the ‘Laudrup dribble’. He was in every sense of the term, a playmaker. In Johan Cruyff’s ‘dream team’ of the early 90’s, Laudrup was the focal point of a side including Ronald Koeman, Pep Guardiola, Hristo Stoichkov and many more. Allowed the freedom to roam where he pleased, ‘Miki’ read the game with such foresight and understanding that he was able to take up positions where he could receive the ball to harm the opposition to maximum effect. Laudrup was endowed with all the necessary skills to excel in this role. He had pace, he could beat men, he could conduct, create and shoot, but the trait which set him apart from almost any other player was his ability to deliver a killer pass, the weight and timing of which were nearly super-natural. If certain players are blessed with a football brain, then Laudrup must have possessed artificial intelligence.
When in possession, he had an almost psychic intuition, not only as to the location of team-mates, but seemingly their intentions and movements. Grateful colleagues were the beneficiaries of a deluge of high class through balls, delivered from an assortment of areas and distances. Such was the brilliance, the recipient often barely had to break stride to execute a finish or a cross. Few players have ever been able to demonstrate an innate ability to so consistently place dangerous through-balls with such incredible accuracy. Given his advanced position, Laudrup was never particularly prolific himself but more than made up for that with the sheer volume of goals and chances he created. In 1994/95 following his switch to Real Madrid, Ivan Zamorano rattled home 28 league goals, over 20 of which were directly assisted by Laudrup passes.
Technically, Laudrup was peerless. It was impossible to tell which footed he was as he passed, dribbled and shot with impeccable precision and purity with either boot. His sublime control and footwork gave him the priceless ability to appear to have as much time on the ball as he wanted, allowing him to survey the scene and choose the correct option. In full flow he was the most watchable footballer imaginable, combining a supreme talent with a princely elegance which made the game look so easy. A gentleman on and off the pitch, Laudrup received few bookings and was never dismissed despite being the subject of some agricultural defending. His on-field exploits were rewarded with a string of notable team and individual honours. He won a Scudetto with Juventus in 1985/86, and four consecutive La Liga titles at the Camp Nou between 1991 and 1994, this dominance was broken by Real Madrid in 1995…after Laudrup had been transferred to Los Meringues. In 1994 Laudrup was part of the Barca side which dismantled Real 5-0, a year to the day, with the Dane in white, Real exacted a 5-0 drubbing on their great rivals. Coincidence?
He was named the best foreign player in La Liga in 1992, and subsequently voted the best foreign player in Spain between 1974 and 1999. Perhaps the greatest indication of his class comes from the testaments of some of his former team-mates. Both Raul and Romario have both stated he is the best player they have ever played with and many more would echo that sentiment. However, the final word should go to Johann Cruyff, his coach at Barca, and not a bad player himself. In summarising Laudrup’s unique gifts, the Dutchman declared, “When Michael plays like a dream, a magic illusion; no one in the world comes close to his level.” Too true.
Name Michael Laudrup
Age 45 (15/6/1964)
Position Attacking Midfielder
Clubs KB, Brondby, Juventus, Lazio (Loan), Barcelona, Real Madrid, Vissel Kobe, Ajax Amsterdam
Club level honours Serie A Title 1985/6, La Liga Title 1990/91, 1991/92, 1992/93, 1993/94, 1994/95, Eredivisie Title 1997/98, European Cup 1992, Intercontinental Cup 1985, European Super Cup 1992 Copa Del Rey 1990, KNVB Cup 1998, Danish Player of the Year 1982, 1985, Denmark’s Best Ever Player, Don Balon Award 1992, Best Foreign Player in Spanish Football the last 25 years (1974–1999)
National honours FIFA Confederations Cup 1995