Since Simon Pegg was allowed to make a three flavored Cornetto trilogy, I thought I’d start a milk carton series on managers who have been away from the public eye for a time but may be on a few clubs’ radar as the off-season approaches. Thus far, five familiar names have been featured. The sixth, Michael Laudrup, is a different case.
Unlike his predecessors in this series, Laudrup is not currently looking for a way back into management. He’s bossing Al Rayyan in the Qatar Stars League. For him, that may be a good thing. At the moment, it’s unlikely any European club is interested in hiring him.
When he embarked on his managerial career, the Dane blazed a trail through UEFA like a comet in the night sky. He coached in the manner he played. That is to say, with a positive, attractive style. He impressed in his first job, with Danish club Brondby, staying four seasons. After a season each at Getafe and Spartak Moscow, his work with Mallorca caught Huw Jenkins’ eye at Swansea City. Laudrup came to the Premier League.
Swans faithful may label American Bob Bradley as the worst boss in club history. Jenkins and Swansea’s board from the Dane’s time in Wales probably disagree.
On the pitch, all appeared as near perfect as could be hoped. The squad’s play pleased the eye. Early results promised the club would be firmly entrenched in the top flight for several years. The Dane was proving the ideal man to continue the good work Roberto Martinez had begun and Brendan Rodgers had rescued from Paulo Sousa.
Laudrup enchanted media and fans with his demeanor, as he had done during a playing career that took him from his native Denmark to Italy, Spain, Japan, and the Netherlands. Everywhere he had gone, he was labeled a class act for his outspoken adherence to attacking football.
Laudrup’s charm obscured the fact he had not lasted as manager for more than one season at a major club, just as it had that accepting a playing contract with Vissel Kobe in the J.League meant artistry wasn’t Laudrup’s primary motivation for playing. Instead, with his style, courtesy, and travels in mind, his pleasantness moved people to anoint him the Ambassador.
Naturally, there is nothing wrong with chasing one last paycheque. Top footballers have done so since the 1970s, when Pele inspired a top-talent immigration wave to the cash-rich North American Soccer League that included countryman Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff, George Best, Giorgio Chinaglia, Vladislav Bogicevic, and, if you can believe it, Sam Allardyce. None pretended it wasn’t about the money, however.
Laudrup was 32 during his lone season in Japan. On the downside, yes, but not yet past it. Still, he contributed only six goals in just 15 appearances. He then returned to Europe, where he took a more active role with Ajax, tallying 11 goals in 21 matches. LA Galaxy fans who read those stat lines will tell you the Dane’s ambassadorship was similar to David Beckham’s, which, despite Golden Ball’s final MLS campaign, is hardly complimentary.
Matters began to unravel for Laudrup at Swansea in his second season. Having won the League Cup and qualified for the Europa League in his debut campaign, he next engineered a famous three-goal victory over Valencia in the latter competition. Not Barcelona or Real Madrid, mind, but a La Liga powerhouse nevertheless. Then, a decent season fell apart when six losses in eight Premier League matches left Swans within one result of the drop.
Chairman Jenkins took action.
It is a decision we have taken reluctantly. But it’s a decision made in the best interests of Swansea City football club and our supporters. It is the first time in nearly 10 years that the club has parted with a manager in this way (mid-season), but we had to remove the constant uncertainty surrounding the club and Michael’s long-term future with us.
This time it was results disguising the truth. Jenkins was not really talking about the Swans place in the table when referencing “best interests” and “constant uncertainty.” In truth, he was being cryptic regarding a potentially corrupted transfer policy.
While playing for Barcelona, Laudrup met Turkish businessman Bayram Tutumlu. The pair entered a professional partnership that included Tutumlu becoming an agent. Tutumlu’s questionable tactics were first exposed by an investigation into Laudrup’s transfer from Vissel Kobe to Ajax. Using a small Czech club as an intermediary in the transaction allowed player, club, and agent to avoid paying millions in taxes until caught by Dutch authorities.
Dubious transactions were again discovered, this time by the Welsh club’s board, when Laudrup managed Swansea. While not initially revealing its suspicions when the Dane was sacked, a letter from the club to the League Manager’s Association was subsequently leaked to Danish paper Politiken. The communique included the following revelation:
The club is still investigating player transfers in order to determine whether they were concluded at the club’s expense, while Bayram Tutumlu was affiliated with the club, and to what extent (if any) Michael Laudrup was involved in it.
His reputation damaged, Laudrup accepted a job managing Qatari side Al-Duhail. Falling back on his diplomatic skills, he soon gave an interview to a local media outlet which promoted the country’s World Cup preparations while completely ignoring issues regarding work-place safety and indentured servitude. When confronted by Politiken regarding the disingenuous interview, Laudrup doubled down on his remarks by saying he would be attending the World Cup then dismissing the controversies as merely a clash between two sets of legitimate societal values.
“It is their culture, an old culture, and it is not something I can change, but something I have to respect.”
Danes are said to be the world’s happiest people. If you ask Mads Mikkelson, the actor and Bond villain who is apparently a nice guy, not to mention a very capable cyclist, it’s probably down to beer. If actions speak louder than words, however, money, not the beautiful game, is key to Michael Laudrup’s happiness. To everyone else’s regret, including his fellow Danes, Laudrup has chosen to be an ambassador for the highest bidder.
Other milk carton managers you might like to catch up with…