Our time with Michael Laudrup, Swansea’s Don Draper

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It was easy to believe in Michael Laudrup. Between a legendary playing career, Jon Hamm’s looks, and a philosophy that melts the heart of any ‘play the right way’ aestheticist, it’s no wonder the man was being linked with so many big job openings last summer. It didn’t hurt that his latest team, Swansea City, had just won silverware in England, but even if the Swans hadn’t claimed the League Cup, Laudrup’s mystique would have still created links to Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid. After all, who doesn’t want to hire Don Draper?

As we’ve found out over Mad Men’s last eight years, perfect hair, a bone-cutting jaw, and the charisma to captivate beyond explanations leads to false belief. Now, with Swans chairman Huw Jenkins forced to call time on his Don, Swansea fans are left wondering what will become of their team now that their Draper has been shown the door.

Perhaps that’s too dramatic. Swansea of all teams is used to changing coaches. But as Jenkins pointed out in his announcement, this is the first time in a decade Swans have had to dismiss a boss. Before Laudrup, Brendan Rodgers had brought the Welsh team into the Premier League, using the club as a springboard to Anfield. Prior to him, Paolo Sousa guided the Swans before taking off for Leicester City, and before that, Roberto Martínez made his managerial name by taking Swansea into the second tier. All the while, Swansea maintained an approach that played progressive in addition to winning soccer. All the while, Swansea kept moving up the English ladder.

Laudrup seemed like a perfect fit – somebody whose reputation could match the ambition of a club that had established itself in the first division. Denmark’s greatest player ever — somebody who starred for all of Juventus, Barcelona, and Real Madrid — Laudrup would add a level of panache that could elevate Swans beyond Rodgers’ and Martínez’s success. For a club that had never won a major title, drawing a man of Laudrup’s mystique to the Liberty Stadium was a relative coup.

That coup produced immediate results. He was able to leverage his experience in La Liga, bring in Michu, and win silverware in his first year. If Laudrup was Swansea’s Don Draper, then 2012-13 was his carousel:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MoKtk8L77-U width=440 align=center]

Silverware makes you believe, so in the same way we didn’t worry about the empty bottles coming out of Don’s office, it was easy to overlook Laudrup’s problems. A murky past that didn’t add up to his present plagued Don as much as Michael, only where Draper never talked about Dick Whitman or Korea, nobody mentioned Laudrup’s one-season stints at Getafe, Spartak Moscow, or Mallorca. Where Don Draper disappeared to Southern California to hit on Anna’s niece, Laudrup let Swansea regress after claiming the League Cup. Distracted, intoxicated by his Draper-ness, Don lost his edge, just as winning a trophy make Laudrup forget.

Swansea are supposed to be the underdogs. They’re supposed to be Welsh upstarts. They’re supposed to be the feel good story that appeals to the neutral’s hearts. They’re not supposed to be resting on laurels, deserting Pete Campbell to lounge in the California desert. They’re supposed to be chasing Dow Chemical.

On Tuesday, our perceptions finally caught up to reality. Laudrup ceased being the hero. Unable to find new solutions, and with rumors from behind the scenes describing tensions that forced Jenkins’ hand, Swansea could no longer ignore the obvious. The club is two points from relegation. They’ve gone from playing beautiful, flowing soccer to holding the ball with little product. The man they were paying to help them build beyond the mire was guiding them back into it. It was time to move on.

For some, today’s move was a surprise. Had Laudrup been a little less Draper, it wouldn’t have been. It’s been over a season since Swansea played to the standard Laudrup inherited. He pushed the club to its greatest glory, but he was also on the brink of leading them to a debilitating failure. Sterling Cooper  had to move on from their Jaguar high, just as Swansea had to move on from the League Cup. At some point, the lesson’s so clear it’s painful: Not even Don Draper can avoid getting results.

The same year Mad Men debuted (2007), we started to see the cracks in Laudrup. Until then, the then-43-year-old was perfect, building on near rarefied playing success with four successful seasons at Brønbry. But he saw himself as too big for Getafe, never adapted to Moscow, and resigned rather than be troubled at Mallorca. Even before Swansea, he’d become a drifter, his new career an ill fit for an icon.

Swansea were given no choice but to move on. In the process, we’ve come to see a new Michael Laudrup. This wasn’t a coach building toward a place at a bigger club. This was somebody holding on in the face of failure, and as much as we want him to succeed, we’re forced to see him as flawed.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8i5SpIxx_A4]

Opportunistic Brighton nips sleepy Newcastle

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  • Moribund Magpies hit bottom
  • Brighton scores with only shot on target
  • Newcastle out attempts Seagulls 27-7

Newcastle United controlled the game but failed to manufacture much danger, as the woeful Magpies lost again, this time 1-0 to Brighton and Hove Albion at St. James’ Park on Saturday.

Beram Kayal scored for Brighton, who moves 12th with 11 points. Newcastle has two points, and sits dead last.

Glenn Murray was injured early after a scary head-to-head clash with Federico Fernandez and was stretchered off the pitch.

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Shelvey darted in to take the ball from Gaetan Bong, and Ayoze Perez’s low effort could’ve been a bit better but still forced a fine save out of Mathew Ryan.

Ryan was hurt trying to get around Perez for a loose ball moments later, favoring his shoulder.

There was a much scarier incident moments later, which caused a 10-minute delay in the match. Glenn Murray won an aerial challenge with Federico Fernandez, but they clashed heads and both hit the turf.

Murray appeared to be knocked cold, and players rushed to steady his neck and clear his pathway as trainers rushed to treat him. He was stretchered off the pitch.

Brighton went ahead in the 29th minute off a corner kick which should not have been given, as Jose Izquierdo’s long shot through traffic took a turn off Kayal and into the goal.

Newcastle reclaimed the driver’s seat, and Matt Ritchie headed wide in the 39th minute.

Shane Duffy then blocked a dangerous low drive from Jonjo Shelvey, and moments later Yoshinori Muto nodded a bouncing, rising Shelvey rebound over the bar.

Kenedy then came close with a laser from 25 yards, skimming the top of the bar.

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Ryan made a fine save on Shelvey just after halftime as Newcastle went right back on the front foot.

He’d later push a deflected Shelvey free kick over the bar before saving from Kenedy off the ensuing corner.

But Newcastle had no ideas and not enough desperation, handing a result to the Seagulls.

Cardiff City thrashes sorry Fulham to move out of drop zone

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  • Cardiff out of the drop zone
  • Paterson nabs winner
  • Fulham slide into 18th

Four different players scored as Cardiff City finally collected a win, moving out of the drop zone at the expense of woeful Fulham after a 4-2 win at Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday.

Bobby Reid, Josh Murphy, Callum Paterson, and Kadeem Harris scored for the Bluebirds, who move 17th with five points.

Ryan Sessegnon and Andre Schurrle scored for Fulham, who dip into the drop zone on five points and an almost absurd 25 goals allowed through nine matches.

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If you had this one as the “four goals in about 20 minutes” match of the 10 a.m. ET kickoffs, well you’ve got a sick imagination (even with Fulham’s propensity for allowing goals).

But that’s how it went down in Wales, with Andre Schurrle’s remarkable 30 yards laser opening the scoring in the 11th minute.

Cardiff claimed the leader with goals in the 15th and 20th minutes. Josh Murphy equalized with a fine solo goal, and American defender Tim Ream‘s poor touch for Fulham then allowed Bobby Reid in on goal for 2-1.

Sessegnon then became the first player born in the 2000s to score a Premier League goal when he took a flick from Aleksandar Mitrovic and beat Neil Etheridge. 2-2.

But wait: Fulham had more poor defending on offer. A Bruno Ecuele Manga missed every clearing attempt in the fray, and Paterson made it 3-2 with 25 minutes to play.

Etheridge made a strong stop on Alfie Mawson in the 84th minute. And Real Betis loanee Victor Camarasa spotted Harris at the back post for 4-2 with minutes to play.

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South Coast stalemate: Bournemouth, Southampton draw

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  • King misses big chance
  • No goal in four games for Saints
  • Bournemouth unbeaten in three

Bournemouth and Southampton drew 0-0 at the Vitality Stadium on Saturday, with the South Coast derby a tight, tense affair.

Charlie Austin spurned a good chance in the first half, while Bournemouth did plenty of probing but failed to break through.

With the point Bournemouth now have 17 for the season, while Saints have six.

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Bournemouth showed some promising moments early on but both Adam Smith and David Brooks got their efforts wrong.

At the other end Charlie Austin was the danger man for Saints, but his heavy touch took the ball out of his reach despite beating Nathan Ake and Asmir Begovic to it.

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The first half ended with no goals in a tight encounter in a South Coast derby.

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In the second half King missed a glorious chance after being picked out by Wilson as the Norwegian striker scuffed his shot.

At the other end Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg‘s dipping volley was tipped over by Begovic in a rare chance for Saints.

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In the end, both teams settled for a point in the sun and Saints will be the happier team.

Watch Live: Huddersfield Town vs. Liverpool

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Mohamed Salah and Virgil Van Dijk have passed fitness tests and will start for Huddersfield Town at Liverpool on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

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Roberto Firmino is on the bench, while both Naby Keita and Sadio Mane miss out. Adam Lallana gets a rare start for the Reds.

LINEUPS

Huddersfield Town: Lossl, Hogg, Schindler, Hadergjonaj, Durm, Lowe, Zanka, Billing, Mooy, Pritchard, Depoitre. Subs: Hamer, Bacuna, Diakhaby, Van La Parra, Mbenza, Mounie, Stankovic.

Liverpool: Alisson, Gomez, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson, Milner, Henderson, Lallana, Shaqiri, Salah, Sturridge. Subs: Mignolet, Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Firmino, Origi, Matip, Alexander-Arnold.