Jim Holden1 Comment


Jim Holden1 Comment

It was the end of an era, the day the old Idraetsparken died.

The bulldozers moved in before Christmas to the stadium in the centre of Copenhagen, which will be replaced by the new all-seater Baltica Parken in 1992. The Danish national side had already torn itself apart.

The last international in the ground was the European Championship qualifier against Yugoslavia in November. Two goals for the visitors in the last 12 minutes realistically ended Denmark's hopes of being involved in the 1992 finals in Sweden.

That hurts enough, but the match also finished in bitter recriminations.

Michael Laudrup, his younger brother Brian, and Jan Bartram all announced they would not play for the national side again. There were calls for the sacking of manager Richard Moller Nielsen, but these were rejected.

Bartram, 28, was not a vital member of the side and his absence can be covered. But nobody pretends that Denmark can lose the extravagant skill and goalscoring genius of the Laudrup brothers and remain a potent force in world football.

Michael is still only 26, yet has 64 caps and scored 27 goals. He was the last member of the "dynamite" side of the mid-1980s.

Nobody who was a witness will doubt that his finest international, and the most emotional and thrilling match ever staged in the Idraetsparken, was the 4-2 defeat of the Soviet Union in a World Cup qualifier in June1985. A book has been written about the event. It was the afternoon the roligans became a phenomenon, on the Hockeybanen terraces. Laudrup scored two brilliant goals that sunny afternoon and a world star was born. Now, having joined Barcelona from Juventus at the peak of his powers, he tries to claim he is too disenchanted with international football, even too old, to continue. Many Danish fans and commentators rightly see it is a rejection of responsibility. He should be the player on whom a fine future is built. 

But most venom has been reserved for the younger Laudrup. Brian is still only 21, yet already has been the subject of two big-money moves in German football. He now plays for Bayern Munich. His decision to quit the international side came with a caveat.

He said: "I cannot play while Moller Nielsen is in charge. I respect him as a person, but I have no respect for him as a coach. If he leaves I would be happy to return."

It was not a statement to earn respect. Laudrup already has had a run-in with the DBU over his transfer to Bayer Uerdingen from Brondby and was banned from the national side until the mess was sorted out. But this rebellious move is altogether more scandalous. The Danish press have been quick to point to the parallel of the Bernd Schuster case in Germany, and it was easy to see the highly-talented young Laudrup suffering a similar maverick's fate unless wisely counselled

But, although not justifying the public defiance, it is possible to understand the frustrations of the players. After years of disciplined success under the superb coaching of Sepp Piontek, the change of leadership was inevitably difficult. Moller Nielsen's reign was seriously prejudiced even before he took office. He was not first choice for the post, and was only appointed at the end of a farcical week in which German trainer Horst Wohlers accepted the job and was then not released from his contract by Bayer Uerdingen. That is still Bartram's club, and of course the former home of the younger Laudrup. Curiouser and curiouser, if nothing else.

Moller Nielsen also is hampered by his links to the old regime. Following Piontek was bad enough but as an insider he does not even have the benefit of a honeymoon period, and moving up from No. 2 to 1 is already fraught with problems in soccer management. His lame duck leadership is perhaps illustrated by his reaction to the Laudrup rebellion: "I have told them they will be welcome back in the international squad if they change their minds but they will have to come and ask. I won't be chasing them.

"Brian Laudrup has said I held a team meeting before the Yugoslavia game without him, but that isn't true." The coach was entitled to a little more anger. Nevertheless, there is much public sympathy for Moller Nielsen and his job seems safe at present. The obvious contender to take over is former national team skipper Morten Olsen, who has had such success in his first season of management at Brondby. Olsen believes it is far too early for him to think about such a step.

"At international level there are only a few matches a season and it is very difficult to keep up team spirit and tactics. You need a lot of experience for this. Of course, if it happened in the future I would be very proud."

One of Moller Nielsen's biggest problems is that he has no natural international leader on the pitch in the way that Morten Olsen was Piontek's right-hand man out on the park. Lars Olsen is a fine player, but lacks authority. Goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel is one candidate to succeed as national team captain, but the obvious player they all respect for achievement is... Michael Laudrup.

The talent certainly still exists for Denmark to have a fine national outfit again. Schmeichel is world-class, while Jan Heintze, Flemming Povlsen, Kent Nielsen and John Jensen are good international players. But the Laudrup brothers provide the explosive spark, and can change a match in an instant of magic. 

Striker Lars Elstrup, having a fine season with Luton in England, would benefit from the absence of the younger Laudrup. But Elstrup said: "The success of the national team is more important than individuals.

"If I get the chance to have a regular place in the side that would be my privilege. But I would rather do that by winning my place in competition with all our best players. It cannot be good for Danish football to lose both Michael and Brian. Their talent is unquestioned.

"I'm not sure what is really behind their actions and their conflict with Richard Moller Nielsen. I hope it could be sorted out for the benefit of everybody."

That is the honest view of every Danish fan, And how ironic it is that while the once-devastating national side have fallen into disarray, there is finally a Danish club side, Brondby, among the best in Europe. The Brondby managed by Morten Olsen. The Brondby who gave Michael and Brian Laudrup their first successes in soccer.

This article originally appeared in the January 1991 edition of World Soccer. Subscribe here for a limited time offer.