Cup win makes Laudrup a legend, but will it be his swan song?
Sunday was a special night all round for Michael Laudrup and Swansea City after they romped to a 5-0 victory over Bradford City in the Capital One League Cup Final, securing the first major trophy of their 100-year existence.
First-half goals from Nathan Dyer and signing-of-the-season contender Michu had given the Swans a healthy lead going into half-time, before another Dyer effort shortly afterwards had put the match beyond Bradford.
Bradford’s goalkeeper, Matt Duke, was then sent off for fouling Jonathan De Guzman, who proceeded to score with the resulting penalty, much to the consternation of an angry Dyer who had hoped to secure his hat-trick. A graceful Laudrup took the blame for the mix-up that ensued following the awarding of what was, quite amazingly, Swansea’s first penalty of the season.
By then the party had already kicked off for the thousands of Swansea fans who had made the trip to London, and while the Swans did take their foot off the throttle out of respect, De Guzman got his brace and Swansea’s fifth in stoppage time.
For Bradford, the lopsided defeat was a cruel end to one of the most sensational cup runs in English football history. The League 2 side, who play their football in England’s fourth tier, had battled their way into the hearts of many by beating Championship side Watford in the early rounds before going on to overcome Premier League outfits Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa on their way to the final.
For Laudrup, though, it was his greatest managerial triumph to date. In less than one magical season in south Wales, he has managed to bring silverware to Swansea and accolades onto himself.
“I don’t think I can compare this title today with something I have done before, for the simple reason that it’s one thing to win when you are playing for Barcelona or Juventus, but to win it with a smaller club is absolutely fantastic,” Laudrup told BBC News. “It is Swansea’s first major trophy ever, and to win it in this, the centenary season, is up there with the best things I have done because it is completely different.”
The League Cup triumph is the first time that Laudrup has won any sort of silverware outside Denmark as a manager. He won the Superliga once and the Danish Cup twice during his stint with Brøndby between 2002 and 2006. He did come close in 2008 with Getafe in Spain, but lost the Cope del Rey final to Valencia.
But more importantly, the cup glory and success he has brought the Swans in the Premier League has finally vaulted him into the upper managerial echelons that he had failed to reach thanks to dubious results at Real Mallorca and Spartak Moscow. Now, the big boys are taking notice.
According to a recent poll in Spanish sports newspaper AS, Laudrup is the Real Madrid fans’ favourite to replace Jose Mourinho at the Bernabeu. Of 40,000 voters, 78 percent wanted Laudrup ahead of other names such as Rafael Benitez and Carlo Ancelotti.
But despite the interest, Laudrup was adamant that he would remain with Swansea for the remainder of his contract, which runs through until the end of next season.
“I’ve been part of this [football world] since the beginning of the 1980s so I know it’s like that,” Laudrup told Sky Sports. “I’ll cope with it, and I’ll probably have a lot of questions about this – probably every Thursday when I have a press conference – until the end of the season. But that’s a part of it. I’ve said I’d like to stay here, but again, even if you have a 10-year deal, there will always be rumours.
The Swansea players could be forgiven for thinking ‘all good things come in threes’ before the match when looking at their 48-year-old manager’s previous big-match experiences at Wembley stadium.
As a legendary player, Laudrup took part in two important matches at Wembley – well, actually the old Wembley, but close enough – and won them both.
First he helped secure Denmark’s first participation at a major football tournament (Euro 1984) when he was in the team that beat England 1-0 at Wembley thanks to an Allan Simonsen penalty. The second match was in 1992 when he and his Barcelona teammates beat Sampdoria 1-0 in the European Cup final after a Ronald Koeman free-kick in extra time.
Legends of the game like Hristo Stoichkov, Raul, Romario, Andrés Iniesta and Franz Beckenbauer have all called Laudrup the best player of his time. The cup win with Swansea could be his first real step towards becoming a legendary manager as well. He already is in Swansea.