Barcelona vs Real Madrid: Michael Laudrup, “Madrid are different from the rest: they never panic”
The Dane, who played for both Barça and Madrid, sat down with AS to analyze Sunday’s Clásico.
A gentleman on and off the pitch, Michael Laudrup is a legend in his native Denmark, where he was recently voted the best sportsman in the country’s history. In Spain and in European football, he was regarded as one of the top players of the 1990s. To mark the occasion of Sunday’s Clásico at Camp Nou, he paid AS a visit to discuss the game and the great rivalry between Barça and Real Madrid - two clubs he played for, racking up more than 300 games.
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It’s been a long time since we last from you! What are you doing these days? Where are you living?
I’m working for Danish television company TV3 (Viaplay Group), doing commentary and previews for Champions League matches. I’ve been living in Denmark, my country, since 2019, after my relationship with Al-Rayyan, where I was coaching, came to an end.
Are you still involved in the wine world (La Rioja), which began during your time as a player?
Yes, although I don’t have as much involvement anymore. That started in the early 90s, because in Denmark, wine wasn’t readily available and so we started to import it. At the start, it was with the Muriel and Muga wineries, with which today, more than 30 years later, we continue to have a special relationship.
Sunday’s Clásico at the Camp Nou could practically seal up LaLiga for Barça - or relaunch Madrid in the fight for the title. You played for Barça in the famous 5-0 win over Madrid in 1994 and a year later, with Madrid, in the 5-0 defeat of Barcelona. Do you have any memories or anecdotes about those two games?
I remember one that happened to me years later and that still amuses me today. I was at an airport, I think in Valencia, and a father came up to me with his son, who was about 10 or 11 years old, and asked me to take a photo with them. When we were going to pose, the father said to the son: “Look, this guy was a great footballer...” and before he finished the sentence, the son turned, stared at his father and replied: “5-0! 5-0!″ I was left speechless and I couldn’t stop laughing, because that young kid could not been born when those games were played... and I said to the father: “Youtube is good for something!”.
Who do you think will go into the Clásico in better shape, with so much at stake for both teams?
They are both doing very well. Barça, because they have an excellent figures in the league, plus their morale high after having beaten Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup as well as the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-finals. Madrid will be feeling strong, after having eliminated Liverpool, and they will go to the Camp Nou knowing that if they can get a result there, it will set them in full flight, and simultaneously knock Barça. A Madrid win would put them squarely back in the title race. It’s going to be an exciting match.
Predict an outcome…
Let’s continue with the latest news. How do you see the clashes in the quarter finals and semi-finals of the Champions League?
I think Chelsea will continue to have nightmares with Madrid. I think Madrid are favorites again, despite the fact that Chelsea are doing well in Europe, eliminating a great team like Dortmund. The one that is going to be a very tough match is City-Bayern - that’s going to be a great match to watch.
Do you think Madrid is the favorite to win the Champions League again?
Undoubtedly, along with Bayern, although they could meet in the semi-finals. Meanwhile this season Manchester City have Haaland and he makes a big difference, but until now they haven’t shown that they can win the Champions League, and that will weigh on them. What makes Real Madrid different from the rest is that they never panic. We saw them do it last season, pulling off three miracles, against PSG, Chelsea and, above all, City; and this year, in the first leg at Anfield, after going 2-0 down in the 15th minute... I would have gone into shock. But Madrid just continue as if nothing has happened, they keep believing. That competitiveness that it always shows is in its DNA, in its culture as a club.
Speaking of Haaland, if you were given a blank cheque, who would you sign, the Norwegian or Mbappé?
Both of them are great forwards, but, and I say this as a coach, it depends on what style of football you want to play and the players you have around them.
By the way, you seemed very upset at the second goal that Madrid conceded at Anfield…
Yes, but the same could said about with the one that Alisson gave away. I don’t understand why goalkeepers now want to be outfield players. The goalkeepers have to dedicate themselves to preventing goals. There are only a very few who are very good with their feet. They complicate their task, they get themselves into real trouble and that ends up in goals being conceded unnecessarily. Sometimes, you have to kick the ball upfield, which allows you to go from being under pressure in your area to attacking in the opponents’ half. It was Sacchi’s Milan who started doing that. They played wonderfully, but they weren’t shy about playing a long ball so they could put pressure on their rival - Van Basten, Gullit, Donadoni, Evani...
How can you explain what happened to Madrid in the Champions League last year against PSG, Chelsea and Manchester City?
There is no explanation. But if something happens three times in a row, it’s not a coincidence. The thing is that the players believe it. It reminds me of what happened with Manchester United in the Ferguson era, what they called ‘Fergie time’ - when the 90th minute approached and United were drawing or losing, it seemed that the team, encouraged by the fans at Old Trafford grew in stature. It suddenly became like a cauldron and gave the team a lift, something similar to what Madrid do.
Barça are doing well in La Liga, but they are out of Europe again...
It’s strange, and more so this year, after the team they have put together. They didn’t compete and paid the price for it.
Speaking of Madrid-Liverpool, last Wednesday, Kroos and Modric gave another recital, but there are people who insist on taking them into early retirement. What do you think?
Football has changed a lot compared to when I played. Before, you could have a bad day at 28 and nothing happened, but if you had several bad games at 31 or 32, it was already said that you could be in the final stretch of your career. Today is different, above all, because of the evolution in how players take care of themselves. There are more and more players who are still at a very high level at 34, 35 or 36 years of age. If on top of that you have as much quality as Modric and Kroos, it happens that they continue to give recitals, like on Wednesday against Liverpool at the Bernabéu. And when I talk about quality, I’m not just referring to technique, which they obviously have, but also tactics, how they view football. They almost always choose the best solution based on each moment. It’s awesome.
Can you compare the Madrid of recent seasons with Guardiola's Barça?
You can, but I don’t like to do that. Look, last year they named me the best Danish sportsman of the last 100 years, I really appreciated it, but it may even be unfair, because if it’s already difficult to choose a football player, imagine how difficult it is to select an athlete over the course of a century. I understand why it’s done - it’s like when Messi is compared with Cristiano, or Maradona, Pelé, Cruyff, Di Stéfano... everyone will have their own personal favourite but that doesn’t mean they are the best in history. It’s the same with teams: Cruyff’s Ajax, Sacchi’s Milan, Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’, Madrid from the ‘Quinta del Buitre’, the different Brazilian teams that shone in history, Barça from Guardiola, this Madrid side… Everything is very subjective.
What do you think of the scandal of the alleged payments Barça made over several years to the former vice president of the referees Enríquez Negreira?
You know what, there is a lack of information for me to be able to comment on something that could be very serious. The most important question that arises for me is in what way has Barça benefitted from all of this. I don’t understand it.
And now that you travel all over Europe as a commentator, how is this issue viewed outside of Spain?
There are journalists who give their opinions about it, but it is not as hot a topic as it is here in Spain. The feeling I have is that people are waiting to see what happens, what is the next step in the case, what is going to come out next.
All of this began in the days of Núñez and Gaspart and continued with the rest of Barça’s presidents. When you played for Barça, did you have the feeling in the dressing room that the referees favoured Madrid more?
No. I have played in big clubs and, as a coach, in more modest teams, and they usually complain that it’s easy to whistle against them, that they always favour the powerful clubs... it’s not true. What happens is that a big team generates more chances for you and the referee has more chances of being wrong against the modest one, although now with the VAR perhaps less. I have played many Clásicos and we might have complained that the referee was horrible, but we never thought that he was intentionally wrong.
What is your opinion of everything related to VAR, which is increasingly controversial?
Everything that has to do with offsides or sendings off or goal-line decisions has improved, but with handballs I think it can be improved. I understand that the regulations are what they are, but, for example, the hand of the Leipzig player in the Champions League match against City is laughable, because no one from City protested. I have seen it 17 times and I saw nothing. That cannot be a penalty, but due to a matter of common sense in football, beyond the regulations.
How do you see the Super League?
If clubs want to get out of playing in their national leagues... but I don’t see it, because Barça and Madrid are part of the football culture of Spain, as are clubs in England and Italy. Now, if it’s just about money... In America I can understand it, but in Europe...
You have been out of coaching for five years. Will we see you on a bench again?
I don’t know, I’m not closing any doors, but I have to admit that I miss it less and less. Above all, because of the life I lead, I have three children, four grandchildren... You only live once and I don’t want to lose any more time with my family.
Thank you very much.