14 Sept 2011

What Might Have Been: No 6 - Michael Laudrup: The greatest player never to play for Liverpool FC?

Liverpool FC has lost out on many great players over the years, but the most regrettable missed opportunity is arguably Danish maestro Michael Laudrup. The club had two chances to sign this footballing magician (1983 and 1989) but failed on both occasions. Why did the club miss out and what impact would Laudrup (theoretically) have had?

Outstanding technique, elegance, passing ability and dribbling skills were Laudrup's trademarks, and Jorge Valdano, who coached Laudrup at Real Madrid, raved about his footballing intelligence and vision, proclaiming that on the football field, he had “eyes everywhere”.

Over the years, Laudrup’s illustrious team-mates have queued up to lavish praise on him: Raul, a team-mate at Real Madrid, said of Laudrup: 'He is the best player I've had ever played with”.

Brazilian legend Romário believed that Laudrup was ‘the fifth best player in the history of the game’ (behind Pelé, Maradona, himself and Zinedine Zidane) as he was able to ‘create and score goals almost at will’.

Michel Platini, who played with Laudrup at Juventus, was equally complimentary, but bemoaned his selflessness: “He had everything, except for one thing: he wasn't selfish enough".

Laudrup’s Manager at Juventus, Giovanni Trapattoni, agreed with Platini’s assessment: "If he had got into the box and scored more goals instead of serving his team-mates, he would have been an all-time great."

Former Liverpool player Luis Garcia was also a huge fan of Laudrup, citing him as one his inspirations: “I tried to mirror everything he did. He was the player I admired, I used to go watch him. His movement, his assists – maybe others finished better, took better free-kicks, but I wanted to be him. He had such a wonderful eye for a pass – he used to give the ball while looking the other way, something Ronaldinho does now”.

So – it’s clear that Laudrup was a ‘Liverpool-type player’ – someone whose awesome ability would have lit up Anfield and added another dimension to Liverpool’s 80s domination.

1983: What went wrong?

In 1983, Liverpool lost out to Juventus, who also beat off rival bids from the likes of Real Madrid CF and Ajax to secure the services of the mercurial Dane. Laudrup explained what happened last year:

"In 1983 I had the opportunity to sign for Liverpool. We actually agreed a deal and I came over with my father to talk to Liverpool's representatives. We agreed a three-year contract and went away thinking it was all done.

"But two weeks later they came back saying they wanted to offer me the same package, but for four years because I was still young and needed time to develop. I was disappointed because although nothing had been signed, we had an agreement.

"I decided not to join them and people thought I was crazy. This 19-year-old was turning down the great Liverpool. It wasn't really like that though. I just felt an agreement is an agreement and people should stick to what they decide. After that, I had other offers and went on to join Juventus. That's football for you."

At Juventus, Laudrup fell foul of the two-foreign player rule in force at the time, which led to him going out on loan to Lazio, where he stayed for two years, before returning to play alongside the likes of Michel Platini, Zbigniew Boniek and Liverpool’s very own Ian Rush.

Alongside Rush and Dalglish?

So - where would Luadrup have played if the 1983 deal had gone through? At that time, the club was in the throes of domestic domination, with Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish laying waste to every team that had the misfortune of crossing their path.

At the tender age of 19, it’s unlikely that Laudrup would have been a first team regular, but he would have been slowly blooded into the team, producing the mouth watering possibility of the following line-up:

-------------------- Bruce Grobbelaar

Phil Neal --- Alan Hansen --- Mark Lawrenson --- Steve Nicol

------------- Sammy Lee --- Graeme Souness

---Michael Laudrup ----- Kenny Dalglish ---- Alan Kennedy

-----------------------Ian Rush

A three-pronged attack of Dalglish, Rush and Laudrup? Surely the stuff of dreams!

This tantalizing strike force sadly never materialized in England, but when Ian Rush moved to Juventus in 1987, the Rush-Laudrup strike partnership became a reality. The partnership was, however, a resounding failure. With the shadow of the recently retired Michel Platini looming large over Juventus, 23-year old Laudrup failed to live up to Platini's standards, and did not score any goals, despite playing all 30 games of the 1987-88 season.

Ian Rush on the other hand, scored 13 goals for Juve that season, which makes a mockery of some peoples’ contention that he failed in Italy.

1989: What went wrong?

At the beginning of 1987 – in the middle of a season in which Liverpool’s awe-inspiring team (spearheaded by John Barnes and Peter Beardsley) were making headlines across Europe – speculation surfaced again about the possibility of Laudrup coming to Liverpool, with the player himself declaring, "I will stay with Juventus until 1989, and then I think I'll join Liverpool”.

Obviously inspired by the superb football weaved by the late 80s Liverpool team, Laudrup was again close to signing for the club, but for whatever reason, the deal somehow fell through again.

Laudrup ended up at Barcelona, under the stewardship of Dutch master Johann Cruyff, who described watching Laudrup play football as “pure pleasure", adding: "In terms of movement, ball skills and understanding of the game, I have never seen anybody so similar to myself."

At Barcelona, Laudrup showed his true world-class ability, giving Liverpool fans a glimpse of what they had missed out as he pulled the creative strings at the Nou Camp, winning four consecutive La Liga titles and the European Cup.

Given Liverpool’s European football ban, Laudrup’s move to Spain was an obvious move. However, when Laudrup made his comment in 1987 about moving to Liverpool in 1989, he must have been aware then that the ban was in place, yet he still expressed a desire to sign for the club.

Enhancing the dream team?

What about 1989? How would Laudrup have fitted into Dalglish’s awe-inspiring Liverpool team – arguably the most exciting Liverpool team in the club’s history?

In January 1989, the club was 17 points off top spot, but through sheer skill, determination and an unshakeable winning mentality, the team pulled it out of the fire and went into the final week of the season with the league and cup double all but in the bag.

Every Liverpool fan knows how that season ended, so I don’t even need to bring it up, but if Laudrup had been in the team, perhaps it’s possible that Liverpool would not have undergone such a mid-season slump, and would have sewn up the title long before it all came down to *that* game on a fateful night in May.

Given Liverpool’s domestic dominance at the time, did the team even need Laudrup? In John Barnes, Liverpool had a player who was (in my view) superior in ability to Laudrup, and in Peter Beardsley, a player who was at least on a par with the Great Dane. Where would Laudrup have slotted-in? The team could have looked like this:

---------------------- Bruce Grobbelaar

Gary Ablett --- Alan Hansen --- Steve Staunton -- Steve Nicol

---------------------- Steve McMahon

Michael Laudrup ----- Ronnie Whelan ----- John Barnes

---------------Peter Beardsley

--------------------- John Aldridge

It’s tough to fit Laudrup into this team, and it would probably have been Ray Houghton who made way, perhaps undeservedly so as he brought such a lot to the late 80s team. It would also have been tough to accommodate Rush, Aldridge, Beardsley and Laudrup in the same team. Aldo was sold to Real Sociedad in 1990 (A mistake in my view) as a result of Rush’s return, so Laudrup’s presence would put even more pressure on him.

What a team this would have been though! John Barnes, Peter Beardsley and Michael Laudrup running riot together?! Add fellow Dane Jan Molby into the mix and the creative possibilities are endless, and arguably more exciting that 1983 strike force of Dalglish, Laudrup and Rush I proposed earlier.

Post 1990: More titles?

If Laudrup had come to Liverpool in 1989, then there’s also the possibility that the club's title winning run would not have come to an end in 1990. The Dane was in his prime between 1990 and 1994, winning everything under the sun with Barcelona; with Barnes, Beardsley and Rush alongside him, perhaps that dominance could have been transferred to Liverpool...?

Having said that, if Laudrup *had* come to Liverpool in 1989, and events off the pitch remained the same, then Graeme Souness would still have become Liverpool Manager, and would probably have sidelined/misused/mismanaged Laudrup, just like he did with Peter Beardsley. So, in retrospect, Laudrup probably made the right decision going to Barcelona!

We’ll never know though. As fans, we’ll just have to be content with imagining what might have been, but for me, of all the players Liverpool have lost out on over the years, Laudrup remains the proverbial ‘one that got away’.

Jaimie Kanwar


  1. what might have been eh?
    i guess we suffered a lot when we did not sign cantona when we had the chance to do so..he is the ‘one that got away’ and helped our enemy to win titles..

  2. What a fantastic article

  3. Saw a documentary about this a while back

    Such a pity Liverpool thought they could mess him about

  4. What a wonderfull player.