Blast From The Past – The Laudrup Love Affair

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By Alistair Aird.

Rangers face FC Copenhagen at Ibrox on Tuesday in a friendly match. Mention of the two sides conjures up images of Mikel Arteta scoring from the penalty spot and Shota Arveladze hooking in the winning goal when the sides met back in season 2003/04. Those goals shot Rangers into the Champions League group stages, but this year it was the Danes that rubbed shoulders with the elite of European football, finishing as runners-up behind Bayern Munich in Group A. They were the only team to take points of the German giants – the sides drew 0-0 in Munich – and they also secured a 4-3 win over Manchester United. This will therefore be a stern test for Philippe Clement’s side.

The Champions League qualifiers were not the only occasions the clubs have met. A goal from Christian Nerlinger earned a 1-1 draw in a friendly in July 2001, and in 1996, the Danes edged another friendly match in Denmark by a goal to nil. Wearing the number 11 for Rangers in the latter match was a player that has played for both clubs, and he will be the feature of this Blast from The Past article. His name is Brian Laudrup.

Part of a footballing dynasty that included his father Finn and older brother Michael, Laudrup is arguably the finest overseas player ever to pull a Rangers jersey over his head.

Born in Vienna on 22 January 1969, Laudrup had served Brondby, Bayer Uerdingen, Bayern Munich, Fiorentina, and AC Milan before he joined Rangers in July 1994. He had also played a key role in the Denmark team that had won the European Championships in 1992.

Laudrup was paraded at the same press conference as Rangers’ other close season recruit, Basile Boli. Ironically, Boli, who had scored the winning goal for Marseille in the 1993 Champions League Final, was perceived to be the blue-chip signing, but both players would enjoy distinctly different spells in Glasgow, with Boli failing to impress, while Laudrup prospered under the guidance of Walter Smith.

When Laudrup arrived in Glasgow, his career needed resuscitation after a torrid time in Italy when his talents had been stifled by the defensive formations that most Serie A sides preferred to employ. Barcelona were rumoured to be interested in taking him to Spain, but Walter Smith persuaded him to rebuff that approach – and the advice of his older brother, Michael – and come to Glasgow. It was another masterstroke from the wily old fox. Smith gave the Dane a ‘free’ role within his team, allowing him to roam around the pitch and showcase all of the skills that he possessed in his repertoire. The result was instant and devastating.

Laudrup made his debut in his homeland on 27 July 1994 – Mark Hateley scored in a 1-1 draw against Aalborg – and sporting the new lilac third kit, he made his first appearance at Ibrox against Sampdoria in the Ibrox International Challenge Trophy. Rangers lost 4-2, but when he next played at Ibrox, against Motherwell in the opening league fixture of the season, Laudrup had the fans hailing a new hero.

The scores were tied at 1-1 as the contest entered its dying moments. Motherwell won a corner kick, but the ball was cleared to the edge of the Rangers penalty area and picked up by Laudrup. From there he embarked on a thrusting diagonal run from the right that carried him through the heart of the Motherwell defence and to the edge of their 18-yard box. He then slipped a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Duncan Ferguson who shot home the winning goal. It was a breathtaking introduction and proved to be the first of many flashes of individual brilliance during the Dane’s four-year stay in Glasgow.

Laudrup’s game was marked out by his excellent technical ability. A wonderful dribbler, he also possessed a frightening turn of pace. Electrifying over the first few yards, he would often leave a series of defenders trailing in his wake. His size and stature – he stood 6ft tall and tipped the scales at 13 stone – made it difficult for opposing players to knock him off the ball, and he used his body strength to great effect. Laudrup was also an excellent crosser of the ball and his accurate delivery into the penalty area added a new dimension to the Rangers attack.

It was perhaps his eye for the killer pass that saw him viewed as being more of an architect rather than an executioner, but in his first season in Scotland, Brian netted 13 goals in 38 appearances for Rangers. With the likes of McCoist, Hateley and Durie absent through injury at various junctures of the season, Laudrup took the responsibility to score goals. And his goalscoring exploits and innumerable match-winning displays earned Laudrup a League Championship medal and both the Scottish Football Writers’ and Scottish PFA Player of the Year awards for season 1994/95.

Yet early in the season, the knives were out. Rangers fell at the first hurdle in their quest to make it to the lucrative group stages of the Champions League. Smith’s side were beaten home and away by AEK Athens, and the home defeat was one of three Rangers suffered at Ibrox inside a week. They also lost to Celtic in the league and Falkirk in the League Cup. One shudders to think what the reaction to that series of events would be on social media nowadays! Smith and Laudrup bore the brunt of the ire, but both of them proved that patience can indeed be a virtue.

Some of Laudrup’s goals that season were stunning. On 1 October, he picked the ball up on the halfway line and glided through the Dundee United defence before thumping a right foot shot into the top corner. And a couple of months later, he bamboozled the United defence again before opening the scoring in a 3-0 win at Tannadice. He also netted his first Old Firm goal when he ran half the length of the park in a league match at Hampden, rounded the goalkeeper and coolly rolled the ball into the net with his left foot,

A troublesome ankle injury dogged Laudrup for much of season 1995/96 season, but he still managed to make 40 appearances and score six goals. And it was in the last of those matches, the Scottish Cup Final against Hearts, that Laudrup turned in arguably his finest performance in a Light Blue jersey.

Over the course of a devastating ninety minutes, Brian teased and tormented Hearts and their young defender Alan McManus in particular, as Rangers romped to a 5-1 victory. Laudrup was at his dazzling best and he was involved in all five of Rangers’ goals, scoring the first two and then teeing up a hat-trick for Gordon Durie.

Laudrup’s third season at Ibrox was one of the most historic campaigns in the club’s 151-year history. Rangers won the league championship for a ninth successive season, equalling the feat of their Old Firm rivals Celtic, who completed nine-in-a-row under the management of Jock Stein between 1966 and 1974. Laudrup was at the peak of his powers over the course of the season, missing just three league matches and scoring 17 goals. He was Rangers’ sharpest shooter in the league too; Paul Gascoigne scored 13 times, while Jorg Albertz and Ally McCoist each scored 10 league goals.

Some of Laudrup’s strikes were important too, none more so than his two winning goals in the two league matches against Celtic at Parkhead and the one that eventually sealed the title at Tannadice on May 7.

Having failed to clinch the title when they lost 2-0 at home to Motherwell, Rangers travelled to face Dundee United in their penultimate league fixture in the knowledge that a victory would secure the coveted ninth title. Laudrup proved to be the hero of the hour.

Charlie Miller took advantage of a quick throw-in and arrowed a left foot cross into the penalty area from the left wing. Rising to meet the ball on the penalty spot was Laudrup, and the Dane powered a rare header into the roof of the net. The goal was a fitting end to yet another vintage season for the Prince of Denmark, and his contribution was recognised when he became one of only a handful of players who have been named Scottish Footballer of the Year twice.

His momentous contribution at Tannadice appeared to be Laudrup’s parting gift to the Rangers supporters, with a £5,000,000 move to Ajax mooted in the summer of 1997. But appointed captain following the departure of Richard Gough, he was persuaded to stay at Ibrox and spearhead the push for a tenth successive title.

Laudrup’s Rangers started promisingly and were unbeaten in their first eight league matches. However, the campaign began to unravel after early exits from the Champions League, UEFA Cup and the Scottish League Cup, and Rangers eventually finished as runners-up behind Celtic. In what turned out to be Brian’s last outing in a Rangers jersey, Hearts ensured that the season would end without a trophy when they won the Scottish Cup Final at Parkhead.

In truth, Laudrup’s last season in Glasgow was disappointing. He scored just six times in 36 appearances – one of the goals he netted saw him lift the ball over Jim Leighton from the bye-line in a 3-3 draw against Aberdeen at Ibrox – but that did not spoil the memories of the three wonderful campaigns that preceded it.

Brian Laudrup played a total of 167 games for Rangers – 164 starts, three as sub – and scored 46 goals. He won three league titles, one Scottish League Cup and one Scottish Cup.

His season-by-season stats are as follows:

Out of contract in the summer of 1998, Laudrup joined Chelsea on a free transfer. He made

his debut against Real Madrid in the Final of the European Super Cup – he replaced Gianfranco Zola with seven minutes to play – but his stay in London was shorter than expected. Laudrup made only nine league appearances and played three times in Europe. The last of those European ties came against FC Copenhagen on 5 November 1998. Laudrup scored the only goal of the game.

It was reported that the Laudrup family had not settled in London, so negotiations with FC Copenhagen began. A two-and-a-half-year deal was agreed, with the Danish side reportedly paying Chelsea three instalments of £400,000.

With the Danish Superliga due to go into a winter shutdown at the end of November, it would be March 1999 before Laudrup made his league debut for FC Copenhagen. But prior to the league action recommencing, The Lions played a series of friendly matches. The first of them – a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Herfolge on 28 January – marked Laudrup’s first appearance in an FC Copenhagen jersey.

Laudrup would play in a further seven friendlies – among them were matches against CSKA Moscow and Crvena Zvezda in Italy and Herning Fremad and Halmstads BK in Torremolinos – before he faced his old club, Brondby IF, in the Superliga on 14 March. FC Copenhagen lost 3-2.

Just under a month later, Laudrup scored the first of the two league goals he netted for FC Copenhagen. Trailing 2-0 at the Silkeborg Stadion against Silkeborg IF, Laudrup scored after 71 minutes, and Martin Bill Larsen ensured the points were shared when he levelled the scores at 2-2 eight minutes later. Ironically, Laudrup’s second goal for the Lions also came against Silkeborg IF in a 2-2 draw, his penalty kick after 77 minutes levelling the match at the Parken Stadium on 9 May.

Laudrup made a total of 12 Superliga appearances for FC Copenhagen. The last of them came against Brondby on 28 May 1999. FC Copenhagen won 1-0, but that was a rare victory in an inconsistent season that saw the team finish in seventh place in the league table.

Although he still had a couple of years to run on his contract, Laudrup elected to leave FC Copenhagen in the summer of 1999, and in June, he signed a two-year deal with Ajax. And he hit the ground running too, scoring twice and being credited with three assists in his first two league appearances, wins over Heerenveen (3-2) and MVV Maastricht (6-2).

Laudrup also added a couple of goals in the UEFA Cup – one against Banska Bystrica and another against Hapoel Haifa – and later in the season, he opened the scoring in De Klassieker (The Classic) against Feyenoord. That was his 13th league goal of the season, but it would prove to be his last as a professional footballer. After making 38 appearances for Ajax, he announced in May 2000 that a chronic Achillies tendon injury had forced him to retire from playing at the age of 31. Surgery had been an option, but specialists in both Holland and Denmark could not guarantee that that would rectify the issue.

Rangers have announced that Laudrup will be back at Ibrox for the game on Tuesday. He will be guaranteed a warm and rapturous reception from the Ibrox crowd. Inducted into the Rangers Hall of Fame in 2000, his place in the pantheon of great Rangers is secure.

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