Ahead of the 2015 Champions League final between Juventus and Barcelona, Michael Laudrup recounts how he starred for both sides with varying levels of success.
After his undoubted magical midfield gifts and a determination to do things his way – both on and off the pitch – Michael Laudrup will perhaps always be best remembered as the player who crossed the Clásico divide but remained adored by those in both Catalonia and Madrid, earning the nickname ‘King of Spain’ by none other than the country’s ruling monarch at the time, King Juan Carlos I.
Before finding true fame in Spain however, Laudrup wore the famous Bianconeri shirt in Italy – a period in his career when he endured a mixture of failure and success.
Arriving at the reigning Serie A champions in 1983, Juventus had actually been lucky to sign the Danish prodigy after his move to Liverpool FC collapsed. Laudrup had accepted a 3-year contract with the Reds but at the last minute the Merseyside club changed terms to a 4-year deal – something which unsettled the Dane:
I think Liverpool at that time were one of the top three teams in Europe. So they thought that this young Dane would call them back and say ‘Of course I will come’, but I didn’t, and two weeks later I signed for Juventus.
Juventus swooped and paid a Danish record $1m for his services. Whilst his stance could be viewed as admirable, particularly for a youngster demonstrating he would not be pushed into anything, it was a choice that wasn’t without immediate consequence.
Serie A restrictions at the time meant that only two foreign players could be registered on a team, and those slots were taken by Juve’s creator-in-chief Michel Platini, and Polish attacking sensation Zbigniew Boniek.
Having arrived, Laudrup was immediately loaned out to newly promoted Lazio on a one-season deal. However, at the end of the campaign and Boniek and Platini remaining in place, his loan was extended for another season – a season which saw Lazio relegated and Laudrup muster a single goal.
Boniek moved on to Roma, essentially paving the way for Laudrup’s ‘return’ in the summer of 1985, taking his place alongside Platini. These were fantastic times for the young Dane, who not only gained in silverware but also in unquantifiable experiences by sharing the pitch with some of the best Number 10s who ever played:
In the four years with Juventus, the first one was fantastic. We won the championship and we won the Intercontinental Cup against Boca Juniors.
At that time in the mid 80s, the top two players in the world were Platini and Maradona, and I played with one of them and against the other one. It was a fantastic experience.
After Platini vacated his Turin throne Laudrup was then expected to step up and claim the abdicated crown and form a new attacking partnership with the arrival of Ian Rush, who, ironically, would have been the Dane’s striker at Liverpool if he’d have accepted the contract change in 1983. However things turned sour.
Laudrup suffered multiple injuries and the domestic challenges of Napoli and both Milan clubs proved too much for the once-dominant Juventus. In attempting to help star striker Rush settle, Juve actively began looking to bring in another British player which meant their foreign quota would be exceeded unless they sold first.
A deal was done between Juventus and PSV but, as proven before, Laudrup would do things on his terms – rejecting the transfer but the seeds of change had been sowed. The mercurial midfielder now wanted to move on.
After almost six years with Juventus, I thought it was time to move on. I had to make a new experience because otherwise I would get stuck there. Six years in Italy was enough for me.
In 1989 Laudrup jumped at the chance to join his childhood idol’s new project in Spain. Johan Cruyff had become Barcelona manager and an exciting new era was beginning to take place.
Cruyff was the manager, and I had heard what he had done in his first season, changing a lot of players, playing in a total different way, so I thought I would try and take the chance,” recounts Laudrup.
Johan was a fantastic player, one of my favourite players from when I was young, so I thought if we can play just a little bit as he did, then that would be perfect for me.
The perfect match ensued as Barcelona went on to establish the most successful period in their history under Cruyff’s leadership and Laudrup’s artistry aligning with Hristo Stoichkov’s “mala leche” (bad milk) and Koeman’s defensive finesse.
Four La Liga title in a row were gilded with the club’s ultimate obsession in 1992: their first European Cup.
Between 1991 and 1994 The Dream Team was born, and entered, into folklore, playing a brand of football not seen since the heady days of Cruyff’s own Ajax team of the 1970s.
Laudrup is in no doubt that Cruyff was the architect and the man who both harnessed and utilised his own talents the best, twice winning Spain’s Player of the Year award under his charge, but was left a little embarrassed by the team’s legendary nickname.
‘The Dream Team’ was just a name. I think we played some very good football, but I think most of all we demonstrated that even without getting the 10 best players in the world, you can have the best team.
The dream eventually turned into a nightmare in 1994 when the kingdom came crumbling down courtesy of a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of AC Milan in their second European Cup final, whilst personally for Laudrup, the old ‘foreigners’ rule came back to haunt him.
Brazilian goalscoring sensation Romario had been signed at the start of that campaign and under rules, only three foreigners could take to the field. Cruyff elected to leave out his Number 10 for that ill-fated final much to the dismay of both player and Culés alike, leaving Laudrup to once again leave on his own terms and cause shockwaves – signing for bitter rivals Real Madrid.
Still, whilst delighting the Camp Nou faithful during his 5-year period with his customary ‘no-look’ passing and dribbling wizardry, Laudrup inspired a number of youngsters who would go on to become future stars at the Catalan club – including a certain Andres Iniesta, who has shown more than a passing resemblance to one of the club’s finest ever Number 10s on many occasion.
All hail the playmaking King of Spain.