One of the finest players to ever play, and often forgotten in the debates about the best in the game, retired less than two decades ago and is a largely unassuming Dane. Michael Laudrup frequently remembered as much for the team he didn't play for as the incredible skill and genius with which he did play.
Real Madrid (1994–1996)
Vissel Kobe (1996–1997)
Club football: 479 matches, 121 goals
National team: 104 matches, 37 goals
Michael Laudrup was born in Copenhagen in 1964 to a footballing family. His father Finn was well-known within Danish soccer circles, and his younger brother Brian would become a world famous talent in his own right.
International career begins
After starting his career in Denmark, Michael moved to Italy in 1982, initially (on loan) with Lazio and then Juventus. From the start, his play was transcendent. However, due to roster restrictions on that limited the number of non-Italian players (two) that could be fielded at one time, he was nonetheless not an automatic selection.
After achieving considerable success with "the Old Lady", he moved to Barcelona in 1989 where Dutch legend Johann Cruyff was attempting to (re)establish Barca's reputation using the "total football" approach of the Dutch and Ajax teams of the 1970s.
Collectively known as the "Dream Team", Barca under Cruyff achieved considerable success, both in Spain and Europe. Laudrup was instrumental in Barca's four consecutive La Liga titles, but once again not an automatic selection due to foreign player roster restrictions. With several foreign players competing for roster spots and after clashing with Cruyff, Laudrup moved to Barca's arch rival, Real Madrid after Cruyff pointedly left Laudrup out of his lineup in a 4-0 1994 European Cup Final loss to AC Milan.
Laudrup typically played as a pacy attacking midfielder, and was usually placed near the front line. Numerous strikers, including such talents as Hristo Stoichov, Romario, Raul, declared him to be amongst the most talented players they ever played with. As well as technique, he also offered rare dribbling ability (he had a remarkable solo goal against Uruguay in the 1986 World Cup) and despite not being a great goal scorer himself (his goal percentage over 583 matches was 27%), he frequently brought out the best in others through his ability to collect and distribute the ball in small spaces. But he also demonstrated considerable versatility, playing as a second striker, defensive midfielder, and winger throughout his career. Throughout his career, his ability to elegantly play effective, cutting through balls earned him immense praise from teammates and opponents.
Quitting the national team
At the time, Laudrup's move to Madrid was interpreted as an effort to "get back" at Cruyff for the European Cup slight, though Laudrup stated that he had no hidden motives. Success again followed, as Madrid won La Liga the following year. It was not the first time Laudrup courted controversy; in the leadup to the 1992 European Championships, Laudrup had decided to quie the Danish national team. Famously, Denmark defeated the heavily favoured Germans in the final in one of the biggest upsets in Euro Cup history, and though he later returned to the national team, he was absent from Denmark's most famous triumph.
Retirement and coaching
Following his retirement after the 1998 World Cup (where he was named to the tournament's All-Star team, along with brother Brian), he immediately on a coaching career and was associated with positions at some of Europe's top clubs, including Real Madrid.
During his career, some criticised his demeanor and perceived inconsistency, though many also appreciated his cerebral approach to the game. During his career - which also included time in Japan and the Netherlands (with Ajax, where he retired) - he never accumulated a red card, while Michel Platini (a teammate with Juventus) declared Laudrup as "the finest player in the world, in training". While managing Swansea City, Alan Tate similarly described him as the best player at training - when Laudrup was 48 years old!
Laudrup's playing career will always be associated with his visionary passing, control of the midfield, and the technical mastery he displayed in various roles. That teammates hold him in such high esteem speaks volumes about his ability to make others better, whatever his position. Somewhat in spite of his public demeanor, Laudrup will justifiably ranks as one of the greatest players of his generation, and indeed all-time.