Brian Laudrup – The Forgotten Genius

By Ross Kilvington
 October 30, 2020

This article first featured on The Nutmeg Assist @TheNutmegAssist -

The 7th of May 1997 is a date that goes down as arguably the best night in the history of Rangers Football Club. A win against Dundee Utd at Tannadice would seal the most coveted of prizes and equal Celtic’s 9 in a row achievement from the 60s and 70s. The match is tense and with so many having waited so long to see this historic moment, it is unthinkable that Rangers won’t take all three points and the title. The moment of truth happens in the 30th minute; Charlie Miller receives the ball and makes a run down the left channel, creating space to swing a delightful cross into the box. The ball is in the air, for what feels like hours, until Brian Laudrup rushes in like a battering ram and scores with the most perfect header anyone is likely to see. It’s just another day at the office for one of the best players to ever grace the Scottish game.

Brian Laudrup

Why is it then that I am writing an article on Brian Laudrup titled the forgotten genius? It’s fairly simple. Aside from his magnificent four year spell at Rangers, in which he played his best football, the rest of his club career didn’t quite live up to his prodigious talent. Whether it was being in the shadow of his elder brother Michael (the best Danish player of all time in many people’s eyes) or simply a lack of game time at other clubs, such as AC Milan and Chelsea, Laudrup could have been one of the very best, up in the Pantheon of the most gifted of European players. In most cases however, when people talk about a Laudrup, they are usually referring to Michael.

Brian Laudrup was introduced into the world on the 22nd of February 1969 and although he would go on to represent Denmark, he was born in Vienna. His father Finn was a professional footballer and was playing for Wiener SC at the time. With football flowing through his blood, it was only a matter of time before he seized the opportunity and turned professional with Brøndby IF in 1986. 

His early years with Brøndby would prove to be fruitful, a taste of first team football that enabled him to stand out and plenty of people took notice of this teenage sensation. Of course having an older brother by the name of Michael Laudrup certainly played up to the young Brian’s talents. How good could Brian become if he had similar talent to his elder sibling and with time on his side?

The Forgotten Genius

Winning consecutive titles in 1987 and 1988 gave him a flavour of success, his contract with the team was running out however and halfway through 1989 Bayer Uerdingen came in for him. His move to the Bundesliga outfit came as a surprise, his talents surely merited being picked up by a team with more ambition than Uerdingen, but without any pressure on his young shoulders, he had the opportunity to shine.

After a successful first season outside of Denmark, scoring six goals in 34 matches and being voted Danish player of the year, these performances did not go unnoticed. Bayern Munich agreed a Bundesliga record fee of 6M Deutsche marks to snap him up for the upcoming season. The expectations are different at a club of Bayern’s stature, in which the aim is to win trophies every year, compared to Uerdingen. His stay in Munich would be short and sweet however; an underwhelming season for Bayern compared to the usual lofty heights saw them finishing second in the Bundesliga and knocked out in the semi-finals of the European Cup. Laudrup’s stock kept rising through his first season and onto the first few matches of the 1991/1992 campaign. His first real setback occurred in August 1991 when he injured his cruciate ligament in his right knee and was kept out until the following February. Bayern Munich’s suffered a dreadful campaign and finished in 10th place, even the resurgence of Laudrup who had returned from injury, couldn’t save them.

Serie A was arguably the best league in the world during the 90s, with Italian teams dominating the European competitions and many of the best players in the world plying their trade; it was the place to be. As Laudrup’s reputation was at its highest, Serie A was the most logical move, Fiorentina pulled off a massive coup signing him and with a squad dripping with talent, this was where he would surely shine?

Even after a good start, Fiorentina suffered a poor finish to the season and suffered relegation, one of Italy’s most iconic sides wouldn’t be playing in Serie A for the first time in over 50 years!

Brian was at a crossroads in his career, but was provided an escape route by AC Milan who took him on loan for the 1993/1994 season. Although he was one of the best players in Europe, Milan had a squad that hardly needed improving. They had won their second consecutive Serie A title the previous season and were defeated in the European Cup final- it was hard to see where Laudrup would slot in. This proved to be the case as Fabio Capello had a strict rotation policy; this wasn’t helped by the three foreigner rule and with Milan having seven foreigners on the books, pleasing everyone was tricky. Capello preferred to play tight defensive football; therefore it was difficult finding a place for Laudrup in the starting 11.

By the end of the season he had won a Serie A and Champions League double and at 25, Laudrup was just entering his prime years and after stating he didn’t want to return to Fiorentina after his loan, he was on the market. This is where the Laudrup story reaches its apex. Walter Smith somehow managed to convince him to sign for Rangers (as a Rangers fan I am forever in his debt!) and what would go on to be the best period of his club career, was about to begin.

Life at Rangers couldn’t have started better for Laudrup, assisting two goals on his first league appearance. Smith had given him what he had craved for so long, a free role in the team, to use his creative genius to influence games. The Scottish game was much more physical than what he was used to in Germany and Italy, having less time on the ball allowed him to get his creative juices flowing and take the game to the opposition. His regular mazy runs and general all round wizardry had Rangers fans in raptures every time the ball was at his feet. It was a debut season to remember for Laudrup, as Rangers won their 7th consecutive title and he was voted the Scottish footballer of the year. If the fans and pundits had been sceptical about his ability before the season begun, they now knew that Scottish football had a new king, and this was just the start.

More silverware followed in the 1995/1996 season for the team, another title was secured, making this the 8th league triumph in a row. Laudrup teamed up well with the newest face to grace Scottish football, a certain Paul Gascoigne. Although slightly overshadowed by the Englishman, Laudrup’s role was key to the success of Rangers Football Club, none more so than the 1996 Scottish Cup final. The final was a classic, a 5-1 victory for Rangers doesn’t indicate this, but the performance was sublime. As Stanley Matthews had made the 1953 FA Cup final his own by running riot against Bolton, helping Stan Mortensen to score a hat trick, the game was named the Matthews final. Laudrup trumped this by scoring two and assisting all three of Gordon Durie’s goals in what is now subsequently named the Laudrup final. This was Laudrup’s magnum opus at Rangers, arguably one of the greatest ever performances in a Rangers shirt. It’s staggering that his spell in Scotland would prove to be his most fruitful of his career.

As his header crashed in to the net at Tannadice in May 1997, things wouldn’t be the same after that for Laudrup. The next campaign was a disappointing one, regular injuries restricted his appearances, and Celtic won back the league title after nine agonisingly long years. Rangers turned down bids the previous summer to sell Brian and allowed him to run down his contract. This was a risk that didn’t pay off; the general consensus was that he would finish his career in Scotland having won 10 in a row. His departure seemed shallower after the substandard end to the campaign.

A move to Chelsea followed, but he barely featured in England and sought a move away. A return to his native Denmark playing for Copenhagen brought his career back full circle, but he had one last move to make. His final season of his career was at Ajax, as injuries continued to get the better of him, retirement looked imminent. A return of 15 goals in 38 appearances was a decent return, but at 31, Laudrup announced his playing days were over.

Although his club career, albeit the excellent four year spell at Rangers, could be considered underwhelming for a player of his majestic ability, at international level he was extremely successful. He was a regular feature in Denmark’s against the odds triumph at Euro 92 and also won the confederations cup title in 1995 (named the King Fahd cup at the time). Playing in a national team and winning two pieces of silverware is something not many players get the chance to achieve, never mind for a country the size of Denmark! His international swansong came at the 1998 FIFA World Cup, in which Denmark reached the quarter final stage. Even a goal from Brian Laudrup couldn’t stop the team from bowing out against Brazil, after this tournament he announced his international retirement, alongside his elder brother Michael.

A king for Rangers, a prince for Denmark, Brian Laudrup was part of European footballing royalty. It’s a pity however that his club career is often largely forgotten, aside from his stint in Scotland. Often overshadowed by Michael, understandable considering he is in many Danish eyes, one of the finest European footballers of his generation, Brian Laudrup’s talents could never be underestimated. He is perhaps the best foreign player to weave his magic in Scotland.

In the eyes of Rangers and Danish football fans all over the world, Brian Laudrup and the term forgotten should never be in the same sentence. For a few years in the mid 90s, Laudrup was unstoppable, and his header to clinch 9 in a row on that illustrious spring night in early May 1997, will never be forgotten.

Long live the king!

Written by Ross Kilvington (@Kilvington91)

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