LONDON — Very rarely does a brilliant footballer develop into a brilliant coach. Michael Laudrup may well prove to be one of the exceptions.
Swansea has begrudgingly accepted that a top club will one day snap up Laudrup, whose seamless adaptation to life in the Premier League has enhanced his reputation as one of Europe’s brightest young managers.
So for now, the Welsh club is treasuring every moment with the Denmark great who, in his first season in charge, has guided Swansea into Sunday’s League Cup final and to the brink of a first major trophy in its history.
"It’s not the moment to talk about the future. We’re days away from one of the biggest games in the history of this club," Laudrup said.
That won’t stop mounting speculation about his next destination.
Chelsea has been linked with a move for Laudrup this summer, as has former club Real Madrid. In an online poll taken by Madrid-based sports daily AS, 73 per cent of more than 40,000 people who participated chose Laudrup as their preferred replacement for Jose Mourinho, if the Portuguese coach leaves.
It’s a glowing endorsement for a man who is as classy off the pitch as he was on it, commanding respect from everyone in his presence.
British journalists swoon over his every word, delivered in perfect English at pre- and post-match news conferences. Swansea’s players look on in awe at his control and technique in training sessions.
"I don’t think he’s ever lost the ball in the whole time he’s been here," Swansea left back Ben Davies told the Daily Telegraph newspaper on Friday. "I stay away from him, he’ll just knock it past me.
"He understands the players are never going to get as good as he was but he’s willing to help everybody. He has so much knowledge."
A silky deep-lying forward with poise and a great eye for a pass, Laudrup was of the world’s best players in the late 1980s. One of the few players to play for both Barcelona and Madrid — and still be held in admiration by both — his career was also punctuated by spells at Juventus, Lazio and Ajax.
There are signs that his life as a coach may be just as successful.
After winning the league and cup in Denmark with Brondby, he guided Getafe to the final of the Copa del Rey — where they lost to Sevilla — in his one season with the unheralded Spanish club. Next came a troubled year in Russia with Spartak Moscow before returning to Spain with Mallorca, where he soon fell out with the owners.
It’s at Swansea where his profile has soared, building on the work of predecessor Brendan Rodgers and establishing the team as a fixture in the Premier League’s top 10 with its attractive passing game. His signings have been astute, too. For 2 million pounds ($3.2 million), Michu has arguably been the signing of the season. And Laudrup is also managing to revive the stalled career of Spanish winger Pablo Hernandez.
Beating Bradford at Wembley Stadium on Sunday will qualify Swansea for next season’s Europa League.
"That would be fantastic (in terms of) what it gives to the club and to the fans and maybe to the outside as well, as players might want to play in the competition," Laudrup said.
But will he still be at Liberty Stadium by then?
Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins is already planning for life without Laudrup, saying the club is "aware of certain managers who could come here in the future."
"When Man United lose (Cristiano) Ronaldo or Arsenal lose (Robin) van Persie, for us to question whether we’ll lose people would be a little unlikely," Jenkins said. "We just need to be ready."
Laudrup still has another year and a half left on his contract at Swansea but don’t be surprised to see him in the dugout at Stamford Bridge or the Bernabeu next season.