Let’s hope great Dane Michael Laudrup lingers in the Swansea valleys
Who knows, it might just be that Michael Laudrup is not without the odd irritating habit. Maybe he is a little grumpy over breakfast, even snaffling the last piece of toast in the rack. Perhaps he doesn’t always screw down the top of the sauce bottle.
In the meantime, however, it is extremely hard to dispute the fast-growing contention that on top of his historic League Cup he deserves some other kind of trophy for blowing so much fresh air into some of the more fetid corners of English football.
Laudrup, it has become increasingly clear, not only knows about football but also life.
At 48, he has experienced some of the best of his business. As a player, he was feted in such places as the Nou Camp and the Bernabeu. Back home in Denmark, he has long been a native son with a huge approval rating. As a manager in Spain and Russia and now Wales, he has unfailingly shown the grace of a man who understands that not every professional, whatever his potential, has the innate ability to make the game look as easy as he did so routinely.
Plainly, it also helps that from time to time Laudrup still unfurls pieces of exquisite skill on the training field, not as an intimidating statement of superiority but a remnant of his past which he is happy to otherwise leave almost miraculously understated.
The triumph of his Swansea over outgunned Bradford City on Sunday brought another deluge of positive exposure – and another perfect opportunity to grandstand amid the widespread belief that he has drawn the keen attention of no less than Real Madrid, Manchester City and Chelsea. Typically, Laudrup chose instead to speculate warmly on the prospects of competing in the Europa League next season.
He seems to see it as much as an adventure and learning curve for his players as another leg up the pole of personal ambition, and as he suggested as much you didn’t have to live in a Welsh valley to hope that for at least a year or two it might just prove true.
This is not to question the decision of Laudrup’s predecessor, Brendan Rodgers, to accept the challenge of Liverpool when his mission in Swansea, which had been filled with such promise, was still at a pivotal stage.
Rodgers, after all, didn’t jump at the Anfield invitation. He stated his own terms – and his own values in the matter of the proper running of a major football club. We do not yet know how Laudrup might handle a formal invitation to take over one of the great clubs but we can be pretty sure he would be no less demanding than Rodgers. No doubt he would also insist on his own authority in the important matter of signing players and imposing a certain style of play.
However, there is reason to believe that Laudrup might just linger a little longer at Swansea.
His players plainly adore him, tossing him into the air at Wembley as the Spaniards did the crusty old Luis Aragones when he led them to the European Championship title in Vienna in 2008 and the Barça players Pep Guardiola at such regular intervals.
Swansea have become paragons of well-ordered football management, enlightened both financially and in the priority they have placed on signing managers of impressive pedigree.
In all these circumstances, and especially when they are set against the agonies currently confronting the affairs of Chelsea and Arsenal and Manchester City, it certainly does not seem so fanciful to believe Laudrup is operating in a near perfect scenario. Maybe it doesn’t enable him to buy a title but nor does it oblige him to live under the £50m shadow of a Fernando Torres.
Laudrup has not been restricted in his pursuit of desirable talent, as we were reminded once again on Sunday when Michu’s 19th goal advanced his case as the signing of the year.
Perhaps the most engaging example of Laudrup’s style came in his effortless defusing of the disagreement between Nathan Dyer and Jonathan de Guzman.
When Dyer pursued his complaint that he should have been given the chance to complete the first League Cup final hat-trick from the penalty spot, a laughing Laudrup wrapped him in his arms, then volleyed him away as though he was a disruptive schoolboy. But he did it with affection – and then later blamed himself for not nominating a penalty taker.
More than anything, Laudrup seemed to be reminding Dyer that he was part of a team, valued, of course for excellent performance, but just one contributor. Dyer may not have been entirely mollified but, as he talked happily of a night of celebration, there was more than a glint of perspective.
It is the rarest of gifts in the football of today, shining amid all the rancour and transcending the columns of win and loss. No wonder they want to keep Michael Laudrup in the valleys for just a little longer. Winning a trophy was one admirable achievement but making a whole nation feel good about the purpose of football was quite another.
Chelsea’s theatre of the absurd suits Jose Part II
Now that the frayed string of Rafa Benitez’s benighted existence at Chelsea has surely run to breaking point, a most sobering question is beginning to dominate Stamford Bridge.
Where on earth do they turn for their latest replacement?
The old blandishment of instant lifetime wealth no doubt still has its appeal but to whom – and what category of manager?
Pep Guardiola delivered his own damning verdict when he elected himself to the sanity and finely developed values of Bayern Munich. It is hard to believe such as Jürgen Klopp of Borussia Dortmund, Frank de Boer of Ajax and David Moyes of Everton would not be inclined to follow the judgment of the most successful coach of their generation.
So who fits Chelsea, the club who fired a manager who had so recently won the Champions League title? A manager, bizarrely enough, whose season’s record at the time of his sacking has re-emerged as superior to that of a successor who from the first moments of his appointment has had to endure unprecedented levels of personal hostility from the fans.
If Chelsea seek better than some cynical timeserver who will take the pain in exchange for the money, they will probably have to bury the oligarch’s pride and go back to Jose Mourinho, if he is available.
Mourinho is tough enough, and has a sufficiently developed sense of the absurd, to give it another mad whirl.
Farrell must heed the Rooney red alert
England had every reason for satisfaction after quelling hints at Twickenham on Saturday that the French might have found at least a little of their A game.
However, any inclination to dismiss some disturbing signs that the progress of Owen Farrell might not prove as seamless as anticipated has been swept away by the World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward.
Woodward warns Farrell that his flashes of uneven temperament against the French might soon make him a target for provocation and cites the experience of Wayne Rooney. It is a chilling comparison when you remember Cristiano Ronaldo’s broad wink to his Portuguese bench as Rooney marched out of the 2006 World Cup quarter-final after a red card.
Rooney also missed the first two games of last summer’s European Championship after hacking down an opponent in a qualifying game. As red alerts go, Woodward’s to Farrell is surely high in shock value.