Few managers have had as much of an instant impact in their first Premier League season as Michael Laudrup. The Danish coach came to Swansea in the summer of 2012 with the difficult task of following Brendan Rodgers, who was largely responsible for fine-tuning the Swans' passing style and masterminding their promotion to the Premier League. Yet is is now patently clear that Laudrup's Swansea are an upgrade on his predecessor's version.
The league table certainly supports that logic. This time last year, Swansea were in 14th place, a comfortable but not insurmountable nine points above the relegation zone. These days, they sit in seventh, twice as successful, if you will. It hasn't been easy, with the Dane having to cope with the loss of Joe Allen and Scott Sinclair in the summer. The former made 36 appearances for the Welsh side in last year's Premier League, the latter, 38. Yet his signings have been so exceptional that Swansea haven't missed the pair to any degree.
Pablo Hernandez, a player once expected to step up into the category of David Silva and Juan Mata at Valencia, but who instead proved infuriatingly disappointing in Spain, has looked a man reborn under Laudrup. The pair had already worked together when the Dane was in charge at Getafe, and while the reassuring presence of a familiar coach helped convince the Spaniard to come from a club of Valencia's pedigree to Swansea, Laudrup was on equally shaky ground when he made the winger the club's record £5.5m signing. It was a gamble worth taking, with Pablo now a key player in Swansea's more direct style under their new coach.
Defensive stalwart Chico Flores was an equally risky recruit, his seven different clubs in six years enough to be considered a journeyman despite only being 25. Again, Laudrup drew on his past experience, having coincided with the Andalucian briefly at Mallorca in the early days of the 2011/12 season. Their short time together was enough to convince the Swansea coach that Flores was a man worth pursuing, despite his turbulent career trajectory. With 19 starts in the league and 10 of those resulting in clean sheets, Laudrup's eye proved true once more. Then there's Michu.
Though spoken of as some kind of revelation on these shores, those familiar with Spanish football will be less surprised that the Asturian has been such a success, following 17 goals from midfield for Rayo Vallecano. Laudrup has previously been involved in the Spanish game as both a coach and a pundit, so his familiarity with La Liga is unquestionable, and he must have been somewhat surprised that a bigger team didn't come in for the attacker before Swansea's bid arrived. In any case, it was the Dane's boldness in launching a ridiculously under-priced yet successful £2.2m offer for him that paid off. Laudrup knew of Rayo Vallecano's financial plight, and was merciless in taking advantage of it, much to the benefit of his current team. “You can get a lot of quality for a reasonable amount in Spain right now”, Laudrup commented following Michu's signing. It was the understatement of the century, and he knew it.
Quite simply, Laudrup has proven excellent in the transfer window, adapted effortlessly to the Premier League and shown an ability to build upon the work of those who have come before him, so it's surely only a matter of time before he's a coach in demand. According to some reports, he already is. Though Swansea are currently working on a new deal for the coach to take him beyond 2014, so long as nothing is signed, the right offer would be difficult for the humble side to turn down. That must be tempting for any club looking to revolutionise their own fortunes. A club like Chelsea, for example.
Every passing week suggests the chances of Rafa Benitez continuing at Stamford Bridge beyond the end of the season are getting slimmer, yet with big names like Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola out of the equation, Roman Abramovich finds his options getting smaller. Yes, the spectre of Jose Mourinho looms near, but the Portuguese is a far cry from the kind of attacking revolutionary the Russian seems to crave so much for his side. Laudrup however, fits that bill perfectly.
As one of the finest players in the world in his day, the Dane commands a respect many of his peers cannot. As Andre Villas-Boas found out, Chelsea's star-studded locker room is notoriously hard to tame, but even John Terry, Ashley Cole and co must harbour some admiration for a man who won domestic titles with Juventus, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Ajax. Laudrup knows and understands the pressures of being a top level footballer. Those of Terry and Cole's generation may even have grown up idolising him.
The style the Dane has brought to Swansea is in many ways that which Chelsea have tried and failed to achieve consistently in recent seasons. Technically accomplished yet direct. High-scoring yet still defensively sound. Given Chelsea's resources, he could perfect it even further. If players struggle to understand what he wants from them then he has the simplest of solutions: show them first hand on the training field. Swansea defender Alan Tate admitted earlier this season that the best player in practise sessions is Laudrup himself. He wasn't joking. At 48, Laudrup looks as fit as the day he stopped playing.
On a more cynical yet still relevant note, the Swansea coach would also provide Chelsea with the kind of PR boost they desperately need. An honest, articulate and knowledgeable coach of the Guardiola ilk, his command of Italian, Danish, Spanish and English means he can effortlessly deal with both the international press and the increasingly multi-cultural make-up of a Premier League squad, comfortable in communicating his ideas across a range of tongues. The kind of gaffes Chelsea have become synonymous with in recent seasons are not Laudrup's modus operandi.
It's worth remembering that Laudrup has expressed a desire to stay at Swansea beyond this season, but as long as his team continues to perform at their current level, the chances of a bigger club making a move for him will also grow. In his former stomping ground, Spanish giants Real Madrid have been linked with him, and it's easy to see the attraction of bringing in a successful, former player to pick up the pieces from Jose Mourinho. Allow that to happen and Chelsea may yet live to regret it. As it stands, his stock is only likely to grow. The Blues would do well to look to the future, not the past, when considering their next appointment.
Chelsea fans, would you be happy with Michael Laudrup as your next coach? Let us know below...