Michael Laudrup, the player, was all about style and flair, thrilling crowds wherever he went – from Juventus to Barcelona to Real Madrid. And so few doubted that Michael Laudrup, the manager, would ensure Swansea stayed true to the silky passing style that brought such success and plaudits last season. But even the Dane himself could scarcely have dreamt that his spell at the helm in South Wales would begin in such exhilarating fashion.
With six points from two games, eight goals for and none against, Laudrup may be wondering what the Premier League hype is all about. Thus far, though Chelsea sit top of the pile, no team has caught the eye quite like Swansea. And for their manager, the quality of their football and the refreshing attacking mindset will have been especially pleasing.
After all, Laudrup made his name as a silky playmaker who lit up the game with his dribbling, vision and ability to weave past defenders. Peter Schmeichel calls him “the best player Denmark has ever produced and probably one of the best players the world has ever seen”. Just as Laudrup helped turn several club sides and the Danish national team into contenders, he has made a bold start to his plan to put Swansea among the elite, continuing the fine work of predecessor Brendan Rodgers.
Sceptics will point to their underwhelming opposition thus far – a QPR side that needs time to gel after a frantic summer in the transfer market, and newly-promoted West Ham, who are unlikely to win a lot of points away from East London. But make no mistake, this is no fluke start.
Sure, Swansea will not be competing for the title but a top half finish is well within reach, judging by their first two displays and the continued excellence of goalkeeper Michel Vorm and midfield maestro Leon Britton. Laudrup has bought wisely since arriving at the club, compensating for the departures of midfielder Joe Allen and defender Steve Caulker, whose loan spell ended, by bringing in goalscoring midfielder Michu and powerhouse centre back Chico Flores as well as midfielder Jonathan de Guzman on loan from Villarreal. All three new signings have made an instant impact, with Michu looking the bargain of the summer with three goals already. Swansea paid Rayo Vallecano a mere £2M to secure his signature. The recent addition of £6M record signing Ki Sung-Yueng from Celtic only strengthens Laudrup’s hand.
“To start with two games and two wins is just great, and the fans always enjoy it when you are winning,” he explained. “We have a creative style here that we have continued with some small tactical changes. We want to play like Swansea did in the last four or five years.
“We know that things will not always be like this. There will be bad days, bad weeks and maybe even a bad month. But what we’ve already got, no one can take away.”
Laudrup’s track record as a manager has been up and down – and certainly a far cry from the heights of his playing days. His Getafe side caught the eye but there were premature ends to his stints at Spartak Moscow and Real Mallorca. But at Swansea he is free from the politics and frustrations he has faced in previous managerial roles, and he will be left to shape the team as he sees fit. And, while bigger tests lie ahead, the future looks extremely bright for Swans fans, particularly given that they do not face one of the likely top five until visiting Manchester City at the end of October.
When Liverpool (who are already five points behind Swansea, just for the record) swooped for Rodgers this summer to fill the managerial hotseat at Anfield, there were question marks over whether the Welsh club could survive second season syndrome and whether teams would have “worked them out”, and it seemed almost certain that their fluent passing style would be affected. However, thanks to Laudrup, that tradition lives on and may even jump another level or two as the year progresses, making this one of the season’s most intriguing subplots. If you watch one team in the coming weeks, make sure it is Swansea.