Michael Laudrup: Denmark's Greatest Ever Footballer Who Deserved More Recognition

Michael Laudrup is revered as one of the best players of his generation
Michael Laudrup is revered as one of the best players of his generation / Tal Gilad/Minute Media

Michael Laudrup's Barcelona departure in 1994 was undoubtedly controversial, but necessary.

The great Dane's relationship with manager Johan Cruyff had soured beyond belief. The Dutchman, who described Laudrup as "one of the most difficult players" he's coached, had attempted to deploy Rinus Michels' 'conflict approach' to man-management in a bid to maximise the genius creator's talent.

But Cruyff's model merely served as an irritant to Laudrup who, described as a "nervous, reserved footballer" by Michael Cox in his book Zonal Marking, required more "delicate treatment".

Thus, by the time the 1994 Champions League Final rolled around, any connection between player and manager was anonymous. Laudrup was omitted from the European epilogue in Athens, as Fabio Capello's Milan trounced over a lifeless 'Dream Team' in a 4-0 victory.

""Laudrup was the guy I feared but Cruyff left him out, and that was his mistake." "

Milan coach Fabio Capello

With his contract up in Catalonia, the Dane opted in the summer to imitate Cruyff's controversial departure to Ajax's fierce rivals Feyenoord 11 years prior by joining a Real Madrid side looking to re-establish themselves among the continent's elite on a free transfer.

Laudrup riding a challenge during the 1992 European Cup Final against Sampdoria
Laudrup riding a challenge during the 1992 European Cup Final against Sampdoria / VI-Images/Getty Images

As it proved, losing his services to one of their main rivals swiftly morphed an untouchable side into a vulnerable one. Suddenly, the dream had become a sobering reality for Barcelona.

But how about that dream, eh?

"“Michael had everything except for one thing: he wasn’t selfish enough.”"

Michel Platini

After underwhelming at Juventus, having been expected to evolve into the Bianconeri's leading protagonist following Michel Platini's retirement in 1987, Laudrup teamed up with childhood idol Cruyff in Catalonia where he'd emerge as one of the Dutchman's great innovations.

Upon his arrival in 1988, Cruyff inherited a traditional centre forward in the shape of Gary Lineker. But the Total Football pioneer soon convinced himself that for his principles and ideals to come to fruition, he required a talent boasting an alternate skill set; someone more athletic and technically proficient who could contribute in the build-up phase.

Now, La Blaugrana would later have success with penalty box specialists Romario and Julio Salinas - with Hristo Stoichkov also used as part of front two on occasions - but there's little questioning that the most spellbinding of Dream Team sequences came when Laudrup was utilised as a false nine, akin to how Pep Guardiola deployed Lionel Messi to devastating effect in the same role two decades later.

An outstanding performer in 'Danish Dynamite' side which drew comparisons to the Dutch Total Football of the 70s at the 1986 World Cup, Laudrup's equally electric and elegant style was certainly resemblant of his coach.

"“Pele was the best in the 60s, Cruyff in the 70s, Maradona in the 80s and Laudrup in the 90s.”"

Franz Beckenbauer

Boasting an uncanny knack of picking holes in the opposition's structure and the capacity to drop into midfield before delivering the incisive final ball with either foot, often without needing to look, the false nine function was ideal for the languid Dane.

Laudrup made over 100 appearances for Denmark
Laudrup made over 100 appearances for Denmark / FRANK PERRY/Getty Images

It was when Laudrup was utilised in this unique role where Cruyff's principles were illuminated to their most aesthetic, with Barcelona securing four consecutive La Liga titles and a European Cup during the Dane's five-year spell in Catalonia.

However, Cruyff's faith in the wrong individuals ensured that Barcelona's reign of domestic supremacy wasn't maintained post-'94 and it was in the January 1995 Clasico in which the Dream Team's demise - foreshadowed by Laudrup, by the way - was laid bare.

While the hot-headed Stoichkov was dismissed before the break and an anonymous Romario played out his final 45 minutes in Blaugrana colours, Laudrup, merely months after crossing the Clasico divide, produced a display which drew these words from Cruyff post-match: "When Michael plays like a dream, a magic illusion, determined to show his new team his extreme abilities, no one in the world comes anywhere near his level."

"“The best I have ever played with.”"

Raul Gonzalez

Despite Ivan Zamorano's hat-trick in an unforgettable 5-0 Los Blancos triumph, it was the captivating Dane who stole the show; embarking on 90 minutes of pure mastery which often had Pep Guardiola exasperating over his overwhelming genius.

His former teammate was a particular sucker for Laudrup's trademark ploy. Like a matador with a bull, the Dane frequently lured Guardiola into a false sense of hope that he could predict his intentions before a combination of variation and pure technique left the Spaniard bemused.

It was undoubtedly the defining bout during Laudrup's Real venture - and perhaps his career - as the Dane spearheaded Los Blancos' title charge in 1994/95 - his fifth La Liga crown on the bounce - before departing in 1996 and finishing his career with short spells at Vissel Kobe and Ajax.

"“The best player in history.”"

Andres Iniesta

Nevertheless, it was his exploits over the Clasico Iron Curtain during seven years in Spain which saw Laudrup establish himself as one of his generation's finest.

As the quotes littered throughout this piece from some of the game's greats highlight, the Dane was an extraordinary footballer. A Picasso of a creator, the Dane's artistry often thrust others into the limelight at the expense of his own recognition.

The greatest talent Denmark has ever produced was appreciated by his peers but perhaps unjustly overlooked in a greater context, as shown by his persistent Ballon d'Or snubs.