Football: Laudrup: Moral is in the morale

The plight of Brian is not one to gloat over. By Steve Tongue
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The Independent Online
ONE OF the glossy advertisements in FC Copenhagen's 56-page match programme, for Umbro Sportswear, became obsolete early on Friday afternoon. Next to a photograph of a Chelsea shirt - yours for only pounds 49 (adults) or pounds 44 (boys) - was the caption "Brian's Klub". Not any longer.

Following the biggest transfer in the brief but eventful history of Denmark's most ambitious club, Brian is coming home to the Danish capital to play for the team he knocked out of the European Cup-Winners' Cup on Thursday night with a swooping header.

Local supporters, who applauded him even after that goal, bear no grudge. Some Chelsea followers, on the other hand, appear to have adopted Alan Sugar's attitude to Jurgen Klinsmann and would not wash their car with a shirt bearing the name Laudrup.

The sense of betrayal by a player walking out on the club after only five months and 11 games is not shared, however, by a Chelsea chairman who would normally be expected to agree fully with their insistence that blue is the only colour. It is a complex saga, this one, perhaps more morality tale than Danish fairy story; the moral being that if there are greater considerations than contracts for the modern footballer, there can still be more to his life than money.

Furthermore, as players - and managers - come and go for increasingly short periods, even chairmen as devoted to their cause as Ken Bates (not a one-club man either, don't forget) are prepared to adapt to the new realities.

Flemming Ostergaard, the president of FC Copenhagen, played on all those factors in completing the coup for the club he took over 15 months ago. As a long-standing friend of the Laudrup family, he also knew that Brian's heart, and that of his wife, Mette, were in the Danish capital rather than England when he joined Chelsea from Rangers last summer.

"We had a chance to sign him then - we were very near," Ostergaard said in his plush office at the splendid Parken Stadium, where the four steeply banked stands offer a British-style ambience even for matches with the Danish Super League's modest attendance figures: Copenhagen average 8,000 but had 26,000 for their derby with co-tenants Brondby recently.

Strong family ties meant that there was always a chance of Laudrup finishing his career back home. Both he and his older brother Michael, probably the most gifted players ever produced in Denmark, began with Brondby, a club that another Laudrup helped transform.

Brian related recently: "As a player, my father, Finn, got them from the Second Division to the Premier Division. Then my brother's transfer to Lazio gave Brondby a lot to build on, pounds 400,000 or pounds 500,000, which was a lot in those days."

Brian eventually followed Michael to Italy. By the time he returned to Copenhagen with Milan for a European Cup-tie in 1993, there was a new footballing force there. Two of the old-established clubs, KB and B 93, had merged, to such good effect that the new FC Copenhagen, known locally as FCK, won the championship in their first season. Milan drubbed them 6-0 in front of 34,000 but with one exception they have played in Europe every season since and become seriously ambitious.

Ostergaard, originally associated with one of the club's sponsors, became president in July last year, overseeing the conversion into a public company a year ago. Ask him if Brondby, trounced twice in the Champions' League by Manchester United, are still Denmark's biggest club and he answers with one word: "Was."

Originally valued at 82m Danish crowns (approximately pounds 8.2m) FCK attracted 7,000 new shareholders, selling out within six hours. The latest valuation - which will soar again with Laudrup's arrival - was 400m crowns.

The luck of the draw in the Cup-Winners' Cup then brought together Chelsea and FCK, and kindred spirits in Ostergaard and the Stamford Bridge hierarchy. "We talked about many things regarding the two matches, and it was natural as they had a top-class Danish player that the subject of Brian came up," he said.

"Ken Bates and Colin Hutchinson, and the human qualities they showed to Brian, were fantastic. If he was playing for an Italian club, the management wouldn't have looked at it in the human way Ken and Colin have. Brian and his family appreciate that." Although Finn Laudrup recently took up a position in the club's commercial department, Ostergaard denies any suggestion that there will automatically be jobs for the boys one day. "Brian has signed for two and a half years as a player," he said. "I don't think you can decide you want to be X or Y before you finish playing.

"What we're really happy about is that we now have a player who only five months ago was selected in the World XI and is still at the top. Now our ambition is to be Danish champions and play a major role in Europe."

Amending an advert in the programme seems a small price to pay.

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