Watching Michael Laudrup navigate through the shining floors of a sports club lobby is reminiscent of the poise and purpose of his movements as a player with Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid. The legendary Danish midfielder has adopted his switch to the managerial bench with the same ease with which he drifted past opponents on the pitch, with successful spells at Danish club Brondby, La Liga side Getafe, and Premier League outfit Swansea City. Laudrup’s most recent success came when he guided Lekhwiya to the Qatar Stars League (QSL) championship in his first season in charge of the club. For the quick-footed and sharp-minded midfielder who inspired Denmark in an outstanding run to the quarter-finals of the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France, there is already a new generation of talented Qatari youngsters who have come out as a result of the country hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Talking to www.sc.qa after lifting the QSL shield, Laudrup explained how his coaching philosophy developed in order to deliver the latest installment of silverware in his career and also tipped former club Barcelona as slight favourites in the Spanish title race. Excerpts:
Michael, congratulations on winning the Qatar Stars League title in your first season in charge of Lekhwiya. What did you feel after wrapping up the title?
I am very pleased. It was nice to win the trophy. There have been a lot of challenges, like the amount of players we had away on international tournaments such as the Gulf Cup which Qatar won, the Asian Cup and also the Cup of Nations. So I think the fact that we have won the league, and with the number of points difference that we have, is amazing. If you compare it to last season, Lekhwiya won with 53 points, and the second and third placed teams had 48 and 47 respectively. This year we have 59 points before the last game, and Al Sadd have 54. So we had to get more points this year to win the league. We are also in the Asian Champions League and we want to move on from the group stages. The club has never won two trophies in one season, so we can make history this season if we win one more title, either the Qatar Cup or the Emir Cup.
Will you add another season to your successful first one in Qatar?
It is not the moment to make a decision, as we are still playing in three competitions. When the season is over I will sit down and think it through. I will also listen to what the club has to say, what they will do for the future, as you always have to improve the team. And I also want to listen to the other interested clubs and then make up my mind.
Is your coaching philosophy directly linked to your style as a player, and how have you adapted it in the different leagues in which you have coached?
I think so; you see it in the way we are training. The big leagues in Europe are another level but a lot of the things I train here are the same as I did in Swansea or Getafe. As a coach you have to adapt to the players, the culture, the level of club and players, but there are things wherever it is, there are basic things you can learn. Here we have a lot of national team players, players with good individual skills. So we are training the position of the ball, keeping it. We are doing quite well.
Have you seen from close quarters the development of young Qatari players such as those heading for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand next month?
Of course, that is the next generation of players who have been brought up when Qatar knew that they are going to have the World Cup in 2022. It is a new generation of young players, trained in a different way, playing a lot of games against European teams and those of other continents with a very good level. Of course this is useful, and it is needed if you want to compete with the top level, always looking forward to the World Cup.
When you think about 2022 in Qatar, do you think you will be back in a coaching capacity – perhaps with Denmark, or as a fan?
In 2022 I will be old! I promise I will see some games but I think it will be as a spectator. It is positive that the fans will have to travel less and can stay in the same place. It will also be less expensive for fans.
Looking back, how would you assess your previous managerial post at Swansea?
It was a historic moment, the first time the club went to the top ten in the league and the first trophy in a hundred years for the club. That is history. In ten years’ time they will still look at that trophy and look at our team from that year. I hope I can do the same here. As a coach, player and club you need to always want to improve and to know what it takes to improve. You also need the means to have that possibility.
Do you think you left a legacy behind at Swansea which is still visible today?
They have changed a little, a lot of the players I brought are not there anymore and their style has changed a little. They have had a very good season in the Premier League this season, I have to say. I am happy for that. When we won the Cup I told the players to enjoy the moment, because you never know when it will be back. It could be in one year, in five or in 20. But that trophy is there and it is there forever.
Before that you had a successful spell at La Liga side Getafe. How do you compare the technical level of the Premier League and La Liga?
I think it is complicated to compare. They are two fantastic leagues with so many great players. What is the typical English team? There are so many different styles of play, from the old style of kick and rush to the passing games of teams like Arsenal and Manchester City. Maybe there are more differences in style in the Premier League than in La Liga, where everyone wants to play with the ball. The intensity in the Premier League is higher than La Liga, but it is a difficult moment in Europe for the English teams; two years in a row without a team in the last eight. I think that is a tough one to accept for people there, for the Premier League, the most branded league in the world, where the most money is. In the years before they had also been dominating in Europe, but everyone now is discussing what is happening. OK, there are Barcelona and Real Madrid, but also Juventus, PSG, Monaco, Porto, so teams from lower leagues are competing better than us!
Talking about tough competition – your two former teams Barcelona and Real Madrid are locked in an extremely tight race in La Liga. Who is your favourite to win it?
It is very difficult. They both have some tough games remaining. Four points was a good margin, now it’s down to two so it is tough. Also what happens in the Champions League will have an impact, because if one goes out and the other goes through that means two more games to play. They both want to win everything, they are prepared and capable so it will be nice to watch. As a spectator this part of the season is great to watch. I still consider Barcelona to be favourites because they are in front, but one bad game and you are behind. Of course it is always better to be in front, as with us here when Al Sadd were behind us. They had to win and hope that the top team loses.
When it comes to choosing between your two former teams, are you sometimes torn in terms of loyalty as you watch matches?
No, I am not. I am proud of playing for both. The five years in Barcelona were the best in my life as a player. And I was so well received as a person in Madrid. But I wasn’t born there, I am a foreign player, and just happy that I have played in these fantastic big clubs.