Laudrup: I'm more than satisfied

One of the most elegant players to grace the beautiful game, Michael Laudrup's trademark eye-of-the-needle reverse passes have inspired many an imitator. Beloved by the fans of heated Spanish rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid, the Danish maestro's spectacular spell in the Primera Liga was perhaps the sweetest of his glittering career.

And the legendary former Denmark midfielder is back on Spanish soil at the helm of the country's team of the moment, Getafe. Having started his coaching career as assistant to Danish national coach Morten Olsen, Laudrup subsequently struck out on his own with Brondby, leading them to one league title and two cup wins in four years. In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, he recalls some of the highlights of his footballing career and gives his view on Denmark's current team.

FIFA.com:Mr Laudrup, your Getafe team play like you once did, with the emphasis on attack and short, crisp passing. Which coaches have inspired you?
Michael Laudrup:
In general terms, I've been inspired by the coaches I've played under. It's no secret that I've been heavily influenced by Johan Cryuff, my coach at Barcelona, and former Denmark national coach Sepp Piontek. But there have also been others such as Jorge Valdano, Morten Olsen or even [Giovanni] Trapattoni who, though he favoured a different style of play, also taught me things. I've been fortunate to work under some great coaches.

Would you like to follow in the footsteps of your predecessor Bernd Schuster and use Getafe as a stepping stone towards a bigger club?
That was one of the first things I was asked just after arriving here. Quique [Sanchez Flores] had gone to Valencia, Schuster went to Madrid, so where did I plan on going? One thing that my footballing career taught me is that you have to focus on the present. If you start thinking about what could happen tomorrow you lose sight of what's important. You have to think about what you have in the here and now, because if you get distracted you might never achieve your goals. I don't dream about the future, my dream is what's happening now with Getafe.

Aside from your own team, which current side impresses you most?
Rather than one side in particular, I enjoy certain matches. A Barcelona-Real Madrid game, for example, which is often not the best in tactical terms but has a great atmosphere and level of intensity. I really like Spanish football but I also like watching Manchester United-Liverpool clashes, because the teams have a lot of quality and a fierce rivalry.

And who do you root for in Barcelona-Madrid games?
I'm always asked that! It's been over ten years [since I played in Spain] and people still ask me that. I don't have to choose because I'm Danish. I've been lucky enough and good enough to play for Spain's two biggest clubs, two of Europe's finest, and that makes me very proud.

First you joined Barcelona, and were part of Cryuff's 'Dream Team',possibly the greatestBarçateam in history. What do you remember about that period?
I remember the four league titles, and especially those three that we won on the last day of the season. But the nicest memory I have is of my team-mates. I'd always heard that jealousy and cliques abounded at big clubs, but that squad of players got on incredibly well, and you could see that out on the pitch. Of course those who weren't in the team battled to get into the side but there were no falling-outs or arguments.

It has been said that by signing for Real Madrid in 1994 you were taking revenge against Barcelona after a difficult final year at the club.
That wasn't the case, it wasn't about revenge. My cycle at Barcelona had come to an end, just as the Dream Team era was drawing to a close. I went to Madrid because I wanted to join a team where I had a chance of winning the title again and also to stay in Spain. And now I can look back on something quite unique. I was lucky enough to play in the Barcelona-Madrid clash and record 5-0 wins with both sides.

Your first destination after leaving Danish football was Serie A. What did you learn in the Italian game?
I arrived in Italy not long after my 19th birthday and at a time when each team could only play two foreign players, which made things very tough. It was a huge leap from the Danish league to the Italian league - the best in Europe at the time. My early years with Lazio were difficult. Then I enjoyed a good year with Juve when we won the Scudetto and the Intercontinental Cup, and there were also bad times and a lot of injuries. There was a bit of everything. After six years there I felt like I needed to try a different country. I'd always liked Spain, so when I got the opportunity to go there I took it.

Despite a lengthy national team career, you missed out on Denmark's win at the 1992 UEFA European Championship. How did it feel to experience that from afar?
I'd made the decision to retire from the national team in 1990. All the guys from the '84 and '86 squads had retired and they were building a new team. I should have provided a link for the new generation, but that was a really big period for Barça. Besides, we had virtually no chance of qualifying for the EURO so I decided to take a temporary break from the national team to focus on my club. But then Yugoslavia were ruled out because of the war, Denmark replaced them, played the competition and won. My brother was part of that team and as it was my own decision I wasn't at all sad, just really happy for them. Once I felt strong enough again I returned the national team.

But then you missed out on a place at the 1994 FIFA World Cup USAat the hands of Spain.
Yes, thanks to a goal in Seville. And they also knocked us out at the semi-final stage of EURO '84, and at the World Cup in Mexico '86 Butragueno knocked us out in the last 16. I've always said half-seriously that the Spanish national team cancelled out everything Spain gave me at club level. They've always been very tough opponents for Denmark for the simple reason that they are a very good footballing side.

Denmark had a wonderful team in the 1980s. What was it that stopped you winning a major trophy?
In '84 we were lacking a bit of accuracy because we lost on penalties against Spain. Mexico was different though. We stormed through the first phase after beating Scotland, Uruguay and Germany. We'd been together at the training camp for over a month and a half by the time we came up against Spain, and suddenly we were being talked about as favourites to win the World Cup. We were winning 1-0 and then in the 43rd minute we gifted Butragueno a goal. They then scored two more in quick succession and we ended up losing 5-1. We were lacking a bit of composure and experience.

Your last FIFA World Cup appearance came at France 1998. How did it feel?
It was very strange, because I'd planned to retire after that World Cup. When you know you're retiring you are much more relaxed out on the field because you don't have to worry about next year. I enjoyed every game. We really struggled in the group phase but we managed to get through to face Nigeria, who'd caused an upset by knocking out Spain. But we beat them and then faced Brazil. I even imagined beating them. I didn't feel under any pressure at all, if it was going to be the last game of my career then what better opponents than Brazil.

Are you satisfied with what you achieved as a player?
I finished up by winning the double with Ajax. I think you'd be hard pushed to plan a better finale, especially for a Danish player. I'm more than satisfied, I don't think I could have asked for more.

How do you rate the current Denmark side?
They are going through a very difficult period. The fans had got used to appearing at major competitions and they've now failed to qualify for the last two big events. It's a blow but I think that you have to be realistic. Denmark is a small country which produces generations of both very good and not so good players. We've got a talented squad but they need time and patience while they develop. Anxiety could cause problems.

Your two sons are starting to catch the eye as footballers. What does the future hold for them?
The oldest, Mads Thuno, is playing for Copenhagen and Andreas Retz is with the Madrid youth side. But all I want is for them to enjoy what they're doing and develop at their own pace, without any pressure.