Is Michael Laudrup the perfect match for Chelsea?
Rafael Benítez’s ‘interim’ tag at Chelsea is looking pretty permanent. Well, until he hands in his name badge upon his exit from Stamford Bridge. Any other outcome seems implausible, except, perhaps, an even earlier exit.
Last season’s domestic failures were offset by European glory. It bought Roberto Di Matteo another six months in charge and a reported £5m payoff. There is no Champions League football to bail Benítez out this season. He won’t be afforded the same lenience his predecessor was.
Like a jilted lover, Roman Abramovich must now forget about Pep Guardiola – who spurned his advances for the Bavarian embrace of Bayern Munich. Luckily, there’s a handsome Dane who can help him do that.
Michael Laudrup’s philosophy at Swansea has marked him out to the European elite. The Dane might not have pioneered the attractive, passing style of play he now oversees in south Wales, but by the yardstick of results and league positions, his is the most effective brand seen at the Liberty Stadium.
His high-pressing, forward-thinking team continue to defy the dreaded ‘second-season syndrome’, with the Swans resting comfortably in the top half of the Premier League. And having taken his Swansea side to the Capital One Cup final via a semi-final win over Chelsea, Laudrup will certainly have caught Abramovich’s attention.
His dismal spell with La Liga side Getafe has faded into irrelevance, and, just as he was as a player, Laudrup has become one of the most fashionable managers in the game.
When looking at his Swansea side, parallels can be drawn between his current squad and the team to be inherited by whoever succeeds Benítez.
At Swansea, Laudrup has Nathan Dyer, Pablo Hernández and Wayne Routledge to implement a fluid front four (along with Michu), with full-backs Ben Davies and Àngel Rangel exploiting the space vacated by Laudrup’s tucked-in creators out wide.
In Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, Oscar, Ashley Cole and César Azpilicueta he would possess five exceptional players perfectly suited to his system and philosophy. Should Chelsea sign Edinson Cavani – a deal widely rumoured to be already inked in – he would have six. Chelsea appears a natural fit for Laudrup.
Of course, a switch to a club who have had nine different coaches in just seven seasons might not be the best way for Laudrup to progress his managerial career – something former Denmark team-mate and one-time Chelsea director of football Frank Arnesen seems aware of.
“He’s still young and if he does well, which he is, then big clubs will come in for him,” says Arnesen. “He just needs to do the job he has now. He could see Swansea was a club that had a philosophy that he could totally vouch for.”
Traces of that philosophy still remain from André Villas-Boas’ ill-fated tenure at Stamford Bridge, as do the players forced upon Di Matteo in an attempt to banish the defensive approach that had delivered Champions League success.
Is that enough to persuade Laudrup he could be the one to deliver the style of play Abramovich desperately craves? By attempting to appoint Laudrup, whose brother Brian played a season for Chelsea in the late 90s, Abramovich would be making a footballing decision. But it may not pan out that way.
Having riled the club’s supporters with the appointment of Benítez, it would be understandable if the Russian attempts to lure José Mourinho back to the King’s Road instead. Nothing would appease Chelsea’s hurting fanbase like the return of the Special One. Yet such a decision would be made without looking at what he has on the pitch in front of him, and Abramovich has already made too many of those.
Benítez wasn’t a bad appointment – but it was the wrong one. Mourinho might be seen as the best appointment, but Laudrup would be the right one.
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