A distinct speed of thought and movement, the sharp shift in direction at will, and the eye for both the killer pass and the perfectly timed late run. A style of football that was as scientific as it was skillful, and one which was arguably the inspiration with which Zinedine Zidane embraced his style of play, the Laudrup footballing gene is an unmistakable one.
A burst of pace startles an opposing and deep-lying midfield. Thirty yards from goal, Laudrup comes to a grinding halt, cutting the ball back to a teammate, before continuing his run into the penalty area, receiving it back in a split-second or two, without breaking stride.
Panic ensues. The goalkeeper does the only thing he can and rushes at his target, making himself as big as possible. Laudrup lobs the ball over the goalkeeper’s head, having the presence of mind to spot the desperate defender closing rapidly from the right he checks towards this latest assailant, which to the defender must be as feared as it is unstoppable. Cutting across the defender, he sits him on the floor and rolls the ball into the now empty net.
Which Laudrup though? Michael or Brian?
On another day, the other Laudrup brother eases away from his closest opponent, yet he does it without touching the ball. His marker has done his homework and expects Laudrup to execute a trademark change of direction, except this doesn’t happen.
There is no change of direction this time and the Denmark international simply walks the ball past his marker, as if he were invisible. All there has been is a shimmy of the shoulders that wouldn’t have looked out of place if performed by Jarvis Cocker. The vanquished marker throws his head back in a combination of admiration and disgust. If he has been so inclined, the marker will have dined on being the punchline to this piece of ludicrous skill ever since.
Which Laudrup though? Brian or Michael?
It is too easy and too lazy to dismiss the younger Laudrup as merely a diluted version of his older and more celebrated brother. Michael blazed a trail for Brian to follow but, unlike many other footballing dynasties, there is no argument to be made that had there been no Michael, then Brian wouldn’t have made it either. Brian possessed all the skills and natural talent of Michael.
The sons of Denmark international Finn Laudrup, Brian’s career veered in directions that Michael’s never would have, yet it also benefitted from the open doors that Michael provided for him at Brøndby, within the national team set-up, in Serie A and later at Ajax. Even Barcelona made unrequited overtures to Brian, having previously basked in the glow of Michael.
Once a club had been fortunate enough to have experienced one Laudrup, it seemed a gravitational pull was in operation, to have wanted to repeat the joy with the other.
Michael’s shadow stretched an inordinate distance and Brian worked hard to escape it upon some high-profile occasions, particularly in a Denmark shirt. While Michael’s career took an almost exclusively glossy route through Rome, Turin, Barcelona, Madrid, and Amsterdam, Brian’s meandered from the tourist traps of Munich, Florence, Milan, and Amsterdam to also take in the earthier environments of the Uerdingen and Govan districts of Krefeld and Glasgow, where he arguably played his best club football.
In this respect, Brian had much in common with that other great Danish master of the ball, Preben Elkjær, whose own talented career wasn’t always a slave to the obvious transfer, instead following his instinct over where he would feel most at home and welcome.
A personal contentedness that encouraged some of the best football of both their careers. In turn, Michael was perhaps drawn to Juventus, Barcelona, and Real Madrid out of some sense of duty to a career from which nothing, but perfection was expected. In comparison, Brian’s time at Rangers is unfairly viewed by some as a waste of his talent, just as Elkjær’s was with Lokeren.
For both Michael and Brian, the 1994 Champions League final left scars – emotional ones, rather than physical ones. Over a quarter of a century on, it is still shocking to think that these two rare yet identical talents watched this game from the stands, during an era when the two teams involved could field only three non-nationals; Johan Cruyff and Fabio Capello the coaches to have delivered the devastating news that both players had seen coming.
On the back of this shared family pain, Michael’s response was to depart the Camp Nou to gain his revenge in the all-white of Barcelona’s mortal enemy, Real Madrid. Meanwhile, with Brian’s year-long loan at AC Milan having come to an end, he accepted the contract on offer at Ibrox. Here he bewitched an adoring congregation and gained the mumbled respect of rival supporters across Glasgow, at Celtic Park.
Prior to his season at the San Siro, Brian had been part of an improbable relegation with a Fiorentina side that had also contained the talents of Dunga, Gabriel Batistuta, Marco Branco and Stefan Effenberg. This move unfolded on the back of his starring role in Denmark’s 1992 European Championship success, an unexpected glory that Michael had elected to play no part in, having just won the European Cup with Barcelona at Wembley against Sampdoria.
Their first major tournament in four years, Denmark were there only via an invitation to replace the expelled Yugoslavia and their stay in Sweden was expected to be a short-lived one. Without Michael there, Brian took on the extra responsibility with verve and élan that his brother would have been proud to call his own.
From here, it was Brian that became the more talismanic of the two in a Denmark shirt. He would outshine Michael’s performances at both the 1996 European Championship and the 1998 World Cup, with form that was found by the younger sibling in a Rangers shirt.
Never having shared a club at the same time as one another, Michael was there as the support act, to see his brother blossom on the international stage. The Laudrups were arguably the most blessed footballing brothers of the lot.
By Steven Scragg @Scraggy_74