The curse of Viasat! Laudrup can’t win with Denmark tuned in

It’s the Ugly Duckling in reverse! They began the season as Swans who could do no wrong – now they can’t even beat Reading at home

It had started so well. QPR thumped 5-0 at Loftus Road. The following week West Ham hammered 3-0 at home. Swansea City were playing attractive, free-flowing possession football, scoring goals galore and the team were brimming with confidence. The gaffer had a touch of class, a soft-spoken gentlemanly eloquence and could still do things with a ball that inspired awe from his players. Michael Laudrup had arrived. It was golden. Bona fide. The Ugly Ducklings, who just ten years earlier had escaped relegation down to non-league football on the final day of the season, were now every inch the Swans, leading the English top flight for the first time since 1981. They were walking in the clouds.

And then Viasat came along.

It all started in late August when Danish broadcaster Viasat triumphantly (and a little bit jingoistically) announced that it would be showing all the Swansea matches, much to the consternation of many of its international patrons. Since then, the Welsh side have been unable to pick up a win in the league, following a 2-2 draw with Sunderland by losing three on the trot without scoring to Aston Villa, Everton and Stoke, before salvaging a 2-2 draw at home to minnows Reading. Seven games in, and Swansea still haven’t played any of the big clubs. It could get ugly.

The curse of Viasat was further compounded a couple of weeks ago when Laudrup seemed to openly endorse the payment of other teams as an incentive to win, something that is clearly against league rules in England. Laudrup’s favourable view of the Spanish ‘suitcase’ culture, in which teams offer other teams money if they win, ruffled more than a few feathers in the more rigid and puritanical English football echelons.

After a legendary playing career that included memorable moments with clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus, Lazio and Ajax, there were few people who envisioned him turning up at Liberty Stadium in Wales to lead the Swans. But then again, it was somehow a fitting move for the Great Dane who always did the unpredictable on the pitch.

Laudrup wasted no time in bringing in some new faces to help continue Swansea’s Tiki-Taka attacking brand of football, signing Jose Manuel ‘Chico’ Flores from Genoa, Pablo Hernandez from Valencia, Jonathan De Guzman from Villarreal, Ki-Sung yeung from Celtic, Michu from Rayo Vallecano and Kyle Bartley from Arsenal, to mention a few.

The two million pound acquisition of Michu looks to be an early candidate for the Premier League signing of the season – he has already contributed five goals and an assist. But more importantly, Laudrup looks to have managed to favourably replace the losses of Joe Allen to Liverpool and Scott Sinclair to Manchester City, while adding some continental flair who cater to his style of possession football.

On top of the new signings, Laudrup’s presence at the club has helped Swansea extend the contracts of several important players such as Dutch international goalkeeper Michael Vorm and Welsh international defender Neil Taylor, who unfortunately suffered a broken ankle in early September.

And Laudrup’s exploits on and off the pitch have led to many Swansea fans quickly embracing their new coach, even though he is charged with the daunting task of filling the managerial shoes of former manager Brendan Rodgers, who guided the Swans to an impressive 11th place last year before taking over the embattled reins at Liverpool.

“I can’t speak for all Swans fans, but most of us are very happy with the way Michael Laudrup has begun his reign as Swans boss,” Chris Carra, who runs the Swansea fan blog site Forza Swansea, told The Copenhagen Post.

“His style is different from Brendan Rodgers − more attacking and fast-paced – and we are seeing more goals at both ends because of it. The first few games were amazing, though three losses in a row mean there is still work to do to the team. We’ve had some brilliant new signings because of Laudrup and I feel he can take the club further than Brendan Rodgers − eventually.”

But while September may have been a difficult period for Laudrup and Swansea, the near future may not provide much relief with Manchester City and Chelsea lurking on the immediate horizon. And particularly momentous will be their fourth round League Cup fixture against Liverpool on October 29 in a match that will see Rodgers and Allen return to their former home.

While Laudrup’s tenure in Wales is still in its infancy, he knows that failure at Swansea may signal the end of his once so promising managerial career. Because after starting as the assistant coach for Denmark in 2000, and then leading Brøndby to a league double in 2005, his managerial move to the big leagues has left a rather unremarkable impression.

It had started so promisingly. His first year at Spanish club Getafe (2006-07) included a Copa del Rey final loss to Valencia and an appearance in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals in which they lost in extra time to Bayern Munich. Laudrup looked primed to take the next step.

But his move to Spartak Moscow, his first seriously big club, ended in despair after just seven short months when he was sacked following a 0-3 loss to rivals Dynamo Moscow in the Russian Cup. The broadcasting culprit that time was TV2 Sport after it announced that it would show all the Spartak games, yet again heralding Laudrup’s demise only months later. He maintained afterwards that he would never again choose to coach a team from a country whose language he did not speak.

Just over a year later, in 2009, he was back in Spain with Real Mallorca and things looked to be back on track once again. But Mallorca was ejected from European football due to financial problems and was forced to sell many of its top players. Laudrup managed to save the club from relegation, but a poor relationship with the director of football, Lorenzo Serra Ferrer, led to his resignation in September 2011.

Joining Swansea in June, Laudrup has taken some promising first steps in England, but failing at Swansea the way he did in Russia could potentially signal Laudrup’s swan-song in international football management. Then again, he is seen by many as Morten Olsen’s natural successor for the Danish national team and he could always start over again at Brøndby. Lord knows, they could use his help, and at least he wouldn’t have to worry about always being on television.

Factfile | Sporting curses:

  • Curse of the Bambino: The Boston Red Sox went 86 years without winning a World Series in baseball after they sold Babe Ruth to their rivals, the New York Yankees, during which time the Yankees won 26 titles. The curse of the Bambino, Ruth’s nickname, fell in 2004 when the Red Sox finally won.
  • Birmingham City Curse: Birmingham City were said to be cursed from 1906-2006, after the club moved into a new stadium on land used by gypsies, who cursed them after they were forced to move. Attaching crucifixes to floodlights and painting the team’s boots red were all employed to revoke the curse, and one manager (Barry Fry) even urinated in all four corners of the pitch on the advice of a clairvoyant.
  • The Madden Curse: Since 1999, nearly every player who has appeared on the cover of the NFL Madden computer game series has experienced a dip in performance, usually due to an injury in the season following.
  • Norwegian Sami curse: In 1999, after a local derby, Hammerfest football team criticised the referee who in turn demanded an apology or he would ‘gande’ (a Sami curse) the team so that they would lose the rest of their games and be relegated. The coach did not apologise and Hammerfest ended up getting relegated.
  • The Masters Par 3 curse: The Masters Tournament, held annually at the Augusta National Golf Club in USA, begins with an informal par 3 competition. No winner of this has ever gone on to win the main tournament in the same year.
  • Australian witch doctor curse: In 1970, on a trip to play Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Australia consulted a witch doctor, who buried bones near the goal-posts before the match, cursing the opposition. Australia won 3-1, but when the players couldn’t come up with the 1,000 pounds to pay the witch doctor, he turned the curse back on Australia, who then lost to Israel and failed to qualify for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.