I chose Rangers over Barcelona - Brian Laudrup

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland
Brian Laudrup is idolised by Rangers fans after helping them equal Celtic's record of nine titles in a row
Brian Laudrup is idolised by Rangers fans after helping them equal Celtic's record of nine titles in a row

In his mind's eye he's back in that car heading for Loch Lomond; Walter Smith in the driver's seat, telling him how good his life will be if he'd only sign for Rangers.

It was 1994 and Brian Laudrup smiles at the memory of it. A pivotal moment in his life, he says. On that journey to the Cameron House hotel, where Smith would make his pitch in full, he remembers two words above all others.

"I've been following you for years," the Rangers manager told him. "And in my team you'll have a free role."

"Free role" - the words Laudrup had longed to hear at Bayern Munich, AC Milan and Fiorentina, but never did. "I know how to use you," said Smith. Even before the car was parked in the grounds of the hotel, Laudrup was convinced that what Smith was telling him was true.

'My dad was like Platini'

We are sitting in a hotel overlooking the water in his picturesque town of Vedbaek, north of Copenhagen. The chat will turn to Rangers soon enough, but for now Laudrup is talking about where it all began, the first steps on the road that would eventually take him to Glasgow and into the pantheon of Rangers greats.

He is talking about his father, the celebrated Finn. "For any boy, your dad is something special," he says. "He was a huge influence, a fantastic player in his day in Austria and for the Danish national team. I watched him every week.

"As he grew older he developed more into a number 10. He was like [Michel] Platini, lying in midfield, not running too much, but great feet."

Michael Laudrup
Michael Laudrup played 102 games for Juventus before moving to Barcelona

A famous father had a famous son, Michael, soon the darling of Denmark because of his performances for Lazio, Juventus and the national team. In his shadow, was the younger Brian, forever being asked if he was going to live up to the family name, forever being hit with questions about his place in the family pecking order.

"Having to live up to these expectations was very tough and I have to admit at times I was flirting with the thought of giving up football and doing something else," he says.

"People always asked me: 'When are you going abroad? When are you becoming a professional? Are you as good as your brother? Are you as good as your dad?' At times, newspapers would write that he is going to be the 'best of the lot' and other times 'he's rubbish'.

"To have to deal with that when you're 11 or 12 years old is tough, but my family were great. I quit football at the age of 15 - for about 10 days. Then I came back and said, 'OK, Brian, let's see how far we can go.'"

'When I didn't play well, I was a six million flop'

He went to Germany with Bayer Uerdingen at the age of 20, excelled for a season and then signed for Bayern Munich. He had a young son of his own by then and a whole heap of pressure. He was the most expensive player in the Bundesliga.

He recalls: "In Bild Zeitung, the big newspaper, every time I didn't play well I was a six million flop and when I played well it was, 'Well, this is what you expect for that kind of money.' I couldn't win."

Brian Laudrup
Laudrup was the most expensive player in the Bundesliga when he signed for Bayern Munich

Laudrup was searching for something elusive - a freedom to express himself, just as his older brother was doing at Barcelona. He played well in his first season at Bayern but they finished second in the Bundesliga. "Second is nothing at Bayern."

How about 10th? That's where Bayern finished in his second season, much of it spoiled by a horrendous knee injury.

'It was a joke. Guys had been on the beach'

It was approaching the summer of 1992 and Laudrup was lost. Unsure about his fitness and uncertain about where he was going to be playing his football. Not at Bayern, he was sure of that.

He came home one evening to find his wife at the doorstep, telling him he needed to report to a Denmark international camp immediately. Something about Yugoslavia, she said. Something else about their dismissal from the upcoming European Championships.

Brian Laudrup
Laudrup played in Demark's 2-0 Euro 92 final win over Germany

"I was like, 'I'm not doing it, I'm not fit, I'm not ready for a tournament.' In eight days we were playing England. A joke among the players was that we were ready for 90 minutes - 30 against England, 30 against Sweden and 30 against France - our group opponents.

"That was the joke because we had players who hadn't played for a while. Guys had been on the beach."

The ambition in the Denmark squad was to win one point. One point would have been one point more than their predecessors - the so-called Danish Dynamite - had achieved at Euro '88. They got that point in a 0-0 draw with England. "We celebrated like we'd won the tournament."

A few weeks later, they did. It was a footballing Cinderella story to beat all Cinderella stories. He says: "We had no preparation, but we had no fear. It's amazing what you can do when you have no fear."

'I had to send my wife and son back to Denmark'

The Laudrup story carried on to Fiorentina. As a young man he thought of Serie A as paradise. In reality, it proved anything but.

Fiorentina began the season among the favourites for the title and ended it relegated. "The fans were very upset. I wouldn't say I feared for anybody's life but at some point we were told to send our families back home because they didn't know how the supporters would react," Laudrup says.

"I sent my wife and my son back to Denmark for the last two or three weeks of the season.

Brian Laudrup
Laudrup played seven matches in Milan's European Cup-winning campaign in 1993/94

"It was a shocking experience. Foreign players in Italy are idolised, but if things are not going well they are hated."

Laudrup moved to AC Milan on loan when Fiorentina went down. Every day in training he played down the right and up against him was Paolo Maldini, a colossus that he learned from but could never get the better of.

"We won Serie A and we won the European Cup but I never really felt that I was part of that team," he says. "I played seven games in Europe, so I did my bit. I'm proud of the medals. They're part of my history."

'I told Walter I turned down Barcelona'

After he had that chat in the front of Smith's car heading for Loch Lomond, Laudrup spoke to his father. Finn Laudrup told him that this was a critical moment in his son's career, a move that had to work.

"He said that if it didn't happen in Glasgow then maybe I was looking for something that was impossible," Laudrup admits. "But I found it. At last."

So much so that early in his time at Rangers he declined a move to Barcelona. He continues: "I'd found stability and it would have been crazy to give it up. I thought, 'Spain? Oh my God, that could be like Italy.'

"I spoke to Walter and said, 'before you read anything in the papers I've just had an offer from Barcelona and I've turned it down'. He didn't say anything for a minute and then he said, 'So you'd prefer to play Falkirk on a Tuesday night?' I said, 'Yeah, I love it' and he laughed and shook my hand. 'OK, let's get on with it,' he said."

Brian Laudrup's 10th minute header against Dundee United helped seal nine titles in a row
Brian Laudrup's 10th minute header against Dundee United helped seal nine titles in a row

He was cast into a mad world, a world where Rangers people stopped him in the street and started talking about the nine-in-a-row like it was a holy grail. He didn't get it. Not at first.

"In terms of importance, the nine-in-a-row game was up there with the final of Euro '92," he says. "I was told about Celtic's nine-in-a-row. Strangers would tell me. They said that if I could be part of that I'd be immortalised. The day we did it I remember Richard Gough crying. At that point I fully realised what it meant to people."

Four seasons and a lifetime of memories. The happiest years of his footballing life.

'I'm in what you call remission'

Laudrup is 46 now and a picture of health, which is a relief given that in 2010 he had a cancer scare. He says: "I haven't spoken about it, but I feel fine. With every cancer sufferer, you're never quite sure about yourself and you're always looking for symptoms.

"I'm what you call in remission and doing well and I go for scans and so far, so good - nothing has come up. Doctors nowadays are very good so fingers crossed."

Brian Laudrup
Laudrup intends to go to a Rangers game this season

He works for Danish TV and runs street football schools for kids, a huge passion. From time to time his son will ring him up and tell him that he's watching a Rangers of old on YouTube and that his old man is looking good.

"He loves watching those games," says Laudrup. "A while ago we shook hands and said we'll go and see Rangers in the Championship and support them on their way back to former glory."

There will be a welcome as wide as the Clyde when he does.