Thursday 30 August 2012
The Barclays Premier League has always been popular in Denmark, but the arrival of Michael Laudrup as manager of Swansea City in the summer has sent viewing figures through the roof. Indeed, such has been the effect in his homeland that Danish broadcaster Viasat has now promised to show the Welsh side every weekend.
It was the Spanish football journalist Graham Hunter who regaled the story of how the King of Spain chanced upon Laudrup in a restaurant during his Real Madrid heyday.
"I hear you are leaving us," Juan Carlos told the Dane.
"I'm sorry, but it's true," admitted Laudrup.
"Don't be sorry," replied Juan Carlos. "Now we can revert to having just one King of Spain again."
"Michael Laudrup is the nearest thing to Danish royalty"
If Laudrup was popular in Spain, some 16 years on the 48-year-old continues to enjoy iconic status back home in Denmark, where his fortunes as a manager with a burgeoning reputation are being followed with increasing fascination.
"Michael Laudrup is the nearest thing to Danish royalty," explains Peter Norrelund, head of sports at Viasat. "He is an icon of the highest order. Every step he takes is followed with huge interest and that has been the case since the 1980s when he turned pro. He is by far the most popular sports personality in Denmark."
Laudrup was a player of the highest order, a dazzling playmaker of outstanding technique, dribbling ability and eye for the pass who won seven league titles in Italy, Spain and the Netherlands in a glittering playing career that took in a European Cup win during his time at Barcelona.
"The presence of Laudrup on the manager's bench means a lot more to the Danes than the presence of any Danish player in the Premier League. There was a huge interest in Laudrup when he was a player at Barcelona and Real Madrid but the intriguing thing is that the interest is even greater now that he is a coach in the Premier League."
Now Laudrup intends to take his managerial career on an upward trajectory after stints in the Danish top flight, Russia and the Spanish Liga, where his achievements on limited resources at Mallorca and Getafe perhaps warrant greater recognition.
"To do what he did at Mallorca was nothing short of miraculous"
"His coaching abilities are undervalued," says Hunter. "When he was at Getafe they played a brand of football which was like Swansea last year but better again. But at Mallorca with minimal resources after they were asset-stripped to do what he did and keep them up was nothing short of miraculous."
It may be early to judge two wins in two matches with eight goals scored and none conceded, Laudrup’s start to his Barclays Premier League campaign has been similarly eye-opening. Swansea lie second in the table – and his efforts have not gone unnoticed by his fellow countrymen.
"Every Saturday, Danes tune in to watch Swansea," says Norrelund. "They want them to win and for Laudrup to be a success. Apart from anything else he's a great ambassador for the country because he is a true gentleman. Everyone likes him – I've not met one person who doesn't like him."
That assertion has been backed by the viewing figures for last Saturday's 3-0 victory against West Ham, which, at 85,000 was double the take-up usually viewed for an early-afternoon Saturday kick-off. It also matched the viewers for Denmark's foremost club FC Copenhagen win 3-2 over Randers during the prime-time slot of 5pm.
Viasat has responded to the demand by televising the first two Swansea matches of the campaign and taking the unusual step of vowing to continue doing so throughout the campaign.
"We have told our customers that we will always broadcast Swansea, regardless of who else is playing"
"We have to choose one Barclays Premier League match to broadcast every Saturday on our satellite platform and we have told our customers that the match we will broadcast will always be Swansea, regardless of who else is playing, be they Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal or Chelsea," Norrelund says.
It isn't just the TV viewers who are buying into what Norrelund describes as "the Laudrup effect" either. Supporters are beginning to travel to the UK to take in a Swansea match for themselves.
"The popularity of Swansea is being reflected by supporters going to watch them," he says. "Travel agencies are already starting to offer cheap flights to Swansea."
The Danish press is also stirring the interest.
"There is a media frenzy," says Norrelund. "The newspapers are devoting several pages to Swansea's matches. It may have only been a Capital One Cup victory against Barnsley, but Laudrup managed his third victory out of three [against and the newspapers have gone to town on that, too."
Even the programmes that are supposed to focus on the Danish Super Liga have turned their attentions to the Premier League. "We have a Sunday night football programme called 'Onside', which is focused on Danish football, but this Sunday they devoted 15 minutes to Swansea's victory against West Ham," says Norrelund."There were pundits using analysing equipment to scrutinise how Laudrup's team is playing differently to the way Brendan Rodgers’s team did last season.
"There is no doubt about it, the Laudrup effect is in full swing, the Premier League is more popular than ever and we are loving every minute of it."