The Fearful Symmetry of Michael Laudrup

MADRID SPAIN - JANUARY 23: Head coach Michael Laudrup of Mallorca during the La Liga match between Real Madrid and Mallorca at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on January 23 2011 in Madrid Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

The Premier League isn't ready for Swansea's new manager.

One day to go. The Premier League lumbers closer, with all the terrifying inertia and unthinking disregard of a drunken hippopotamus. It's coming, it's unstoppable, and nothing but nothing will be allowed to stand in its way.

What's going to happen? When the present's good for nothing but waiting, the futures business thrives. Previews, predictions and prognostications cloud the air like flies; chicken guts litter the internet; tea leaves spill from the pages of the newspapers and mix with the crushed yarrow stalks that litter the floor. But despite all this hopeless, hapless scrying, nobody has yet turned their attention to the really important question, the elephant in the parlour. That question is this one:

How is everybody going to cope with Michael Laudrup?

Not: how is everyone going to cope with his football? Laudrup's record is promising, if a trifle patchy, but there's nothing to suggest that his Swansea team are about to batter through the Premier League like a rhinoceros late for a really important train. No, this is a larger, scarier question. How is English football going to cope with him. Because there's a very good chance that Laudrup -- jawline by Michelangelo, eyes by Turner -- is the most beautiful man in the world.

The touchlines of English football were traditionally prowled by angry, lumpy men with angry, lumpy faces that perfectly reflected the angry, lumpy football. Long coats and side partings, deep carved wrinkles and coal-dark eyes. Noses renegotiated at elbow-point. Take any year from the formation of the Football League until 1996 or so, sit all the managers in a dusty pub, add a slightly-bonkers looking lady with a piano, and you've got a Dennis Potter crowd scene.

This tradition has slackened somewhat since the Premier League started remoulding English football for global consumption. Shortly after Arsene Wenger invented broccoli, Jose Mourinho, Roberto Martinez, Ruud Gullit, and various others introduced the English to the notion that you don't have to look like the weather just because you're standing in it. But even so, they were simple mortals; averagely attractive men with a bit of charisma and some decent continental tailoring. They weren't blessed with divine aspect. They didn't glow.

Then, of course, there's the memory of Laudrup's football. Not since George Best has there been such a synergy of beauty in person and play. Close analysis of the statistics reveals that his disappointing time in charge of Spartak Moscow can be entirely blamed on his own players' complete inability to stop passing to him. It didn't matter that he was standing off the pitch in his civvies; it didn't matter that the opposition were racking up record numbers of throw-ins. They just wanted to see him control the ball. Punting the ball at your manager is a terrible way to keep possession, but you can't really blame them. Some things are more important than percentages.

To return to the vexed business of predictions, there's a very good chance that Laudrup could destroy the Premier League. His unprecedented perfection will send an unprepared world hurtling back into a stumbling state of teenage inadequacy. Veteran midfielders will trip over their own heels; teenage prospects will forget which way round their boots go. Flustered opposing managers will introduce the mascot as a late substitute; distracted officials will wave said mascot on to the field without even remembering to check his studs. Entire games will be played out in a hushed silence, as forty thousand paying fans shuffle awkwardly from side to side, staring at their shoes and blushing like a sunset. That poor, futile hippo. He doesn't stand a chance.

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