MICHAEL Laudrup has paid tribute to Leon Britton ahead of the midfielder’s 400th Swansea City appearance, declaring: “He’s our Raul or Maldini.”
Britton is set to reach the landmark when Swansea host Reading in a key Premier League clash tomorrow.
And though Laudrup has only been around for a handful of the games, the Dane is already aware of the contribution Britton has made in almost a decade since he arrived in Wales on loan from West Ham.
“It’s not very often that you see a player play 400 games for the same club nowadays,” said the Swansea manager.
“It happened more often 15 or 20 years ago, when there were rules about foreigners coming in and players tended to stay at clubs longer.
“But now there are only a few like that — like Raul (at Real Madrid) and (Paolo) Maldini (with AC Milan) — and we have Leon, as well as a couple of others in Alan Tate and Garry Monk.
“Leon has been here for ten years — he is an institution at this club.
“It says a lot about him that he has reached 400 games in the same shirt.
“Let’s hope we can give him a day to remember tomorrow.”
Laudrup is Britton’s sixth Swansea manager and, despite being cast aside by West Ham as a teenager, the little midfielder has played a central role for all his bosses in SA1.
A firm fans’ favourite, the 30-year-old was described by Brendan Rodgers last season as an example for all of English football.
“He is maybe a little more like a Spanish midfielder than an English one,” Laudrup added.
“When I went to Spain in the late 1980s, the holding midfielder in all of the teams was an extra centre-back who just played a little further forward. He was a defender in midfield.
“But then (Johan) Cruyff changed that at Barcelona. He brought in smaller players in that position who were midfielders, not defenders.
“A lot of other Spanish teams followed that and now the holding midfielder is someone who can play the ball and who can push forward sometimes as well.
“It’s a very important position. If that player loses his position, there can be a gap between the defence and the midfield and that is the area where, as a manager, you don’t want the opposition to find space.
“I remember when I was a player — I liked getting in there because I could have a run or make a pass to the forwards. It seems an easy position to play sometimes, but it isn’t.
“Leon is important for us because he knows exactly what we are about and he fits in with our way of playing.”
Britton seems set to start in midfield tomorrow alongside Ki Sung-Yueng and Michu, meaning Jonathan de Guzman will only make the bench once again. Laudrup must choose between Nathan Dyer, Pablo Hernandez and Wayne Routledge out wide, while fingers are crossed over the fitness of Ashley Williams.
The centre-back trained yesterday having struggled with sickness earlier in the week, but he is still nursing an ankle problem.
If he is given the all-clear, Laudrup could stick with the same XI which began last Saturday’s defeat at Stoke.
When it was suggested Britton could be Swansea’s most important player, Laudrup insisted his whole team must deliver if they are to end a run of three straight league defeats this weekend.
“I cannot pick out one player because we don’t have a team with one superstar,” Laudrup said.
“We have a good team when our players fit together. We have shown that already this season and we have to do the same against Reading.”