By Jan Kapcia
It's not every day you would see someone who has not won a trophy since 2005 tipped to become the next manager of Real Madrid.
But the evolution of Swansea City under the guidance of Michael Laudrup this season is weighing more on the Dane's resume than silverware at this moment in time.
It's not just hearsay speculation linking the 48-year-old with a managerial switch to the Bernabeu, either. Madrid-based sports newspaper AS conducted a poll which more than 40,000 people took part in, asking fans who they would like to see replace Jose Mourinho this summer. Laudrup stormed proceedings with 73 per cent of the vote.
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"Winning a trophy would do a lot [for the club]," believes Laudrup.
"It would mean to go into Europe and that would be fantastic, what it gives to the club and to the fans and maybe to the outside as well, as players might want to play in the competition."
Progression was Laudrup's aim upon his arrival at the Liberty Stadium and the Dane is on course to build on the club's impressive Premier League debut last term.
Under Laudrup, Swansea are four points better off than they were at the same stage last season and have a chance to secure a place in Europe, either with Capital One Cup success on Sunday afternoon, or through their Premier League campaign where they sit seven points behind fifth-placed Arsenal.
And this achievement hasn't come at a detriment to the club's possession-based style, which was an integral part of their survival last season. Laudrup has maintained all the core principles of Swansea's play, as well as utilising Michu in a way which has produced an improved fire rate in front of goal.
A transition between managers isn't always seamless at a club but Swansea's players are now learning from one of the best to have played the game, and the club's easy-on-the-eye style is being showcased on the training ground by Laudrup.
“He’s just unbelievable, he joins in training every day, he still plays and sometimes I look at him sort of in disgust for how good he is,” Kyle Bartley revealed.
“He embarrasses me sometimes, but he’s a fantastic player and he’s proving he’s a fantastic manager as well.”
Nathan Dyer offered similar praise for the Swansea boss who won four La Liga titles, a Copa del Rey, a European Cup and a Uefa Super Cup with Barcelona as a player, as well as winning another Spanish league with Real Madrid, Serie A with Juventus and the Eredivisie with Ajax.
The wealth of titles was befitting of a forward who had an incredible touch and balance on the ball, skills which Dyer and his team-mates are constantly being subjected to.
“Yeah, we don’t like it because he shows off," Dyer admitted.
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A player who is still held in high regard by both Barcelona and Madrid is a rarity, but Laudrup's managerial career appears to be mimicking his time on the pitch.
“He’s won everything, so he can tell us how to approach things, how to start. Make us see that we deserve to be here," Dyer continued.
“That’s the key thing is to make sure that the player knows he’s got the backing from the manager and the confidence to go into that game shines out."
Sunday's final at Wembley offers a chance for Laudrup to build on his own achievements as a manager - something which has been hampered after winning the league and cup double with Brondby in 2005.
Following his time in Denmark, Laudrup spent a season with Getafe where he guided the club to the Copa del Rey final before losing out to Valencia. After that, an ill-fated year with Spartak Moscow led the Dane to a return to La Liga with Mallorca but tensions with the Spanish club's directors resulted in his resignation 14 months into his reign.
Swansea offers a stability to Laudrup which he's been denied since leaving his home nation in June 2006. Laudrup has been able to enhance his squad at the Liberty Stadium through his own coaching skills, as well as a shrewdness in the transfer market which has seen the positive arrivals of Michu, Ki Sung-Yueng, Jonathan de Guzman and Pablo Hernandez.
Will Laudrup stay at Swansea beyond the end of the season with Real Madrid and Chelsea reportedly waiting in the wings?
"It's not the moment to talk about the future," Laudrup said on Friday.
"We're days away from one of the biggest games in the history of this club, so to speak about other things would be a little ruthless.
"We don't have to let anything come between us now. We have to focus on this game. Anything else, it's secondary right now."
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