In my opinion (and correct me if you think I’m wrong), few players are as universally liked and respected as the legendary Henrik Larsson. And it’s easy to see why!
Now, you can say that this is me getting all ‘misty-eyed‘ and nostalgic about a player gone by – where my recollection of them might not be as clear as if they were playing now, but you’d be wrong … oh, so wrong. All you have to do is look at how a lot of his teammates spoke about him – and even some of his former managers. Among them, the likes of Ronaldinho, Frank Rijkaard, Samuel Eto’o, Sir Alex Ferguson and Ryan Giggs are chomping at the bit to wax lyrical about the magical Swede. But before he could claim such heralded status, he actually had to earn his way there.
With the greatest of respect toward the Swedish leagues, it’s not all that difficult to stand out from the crowd once you show some footballing prowess. Hence why Henrik Larsson quickly out-grew his station by moving from local club Helsingborgs IF to Feyenoord in 1993. Then, unfortunately for the Dutch side, the ‘New World Order’ change across the United Kingdom in 1992 got Henrik thinking again only four years later. He also had a love for geography (for whatever reason) and found the Scottish lands to be of particular allure. So, only one thing was ever going to happen once Wim Jansen’s Celtic showed interest in the summer of 1997.
The pair knew of each other well considering that they’d already joined forces at Feyenoord, and Jansen was happy to look beyond the odd niggling injury when Henrik Larsson came available for a pauper’s sum of £650,000. Now it was just a case of whether or not the striker could work hard to endear himself to the Glasgow faithful, and as a certain Gennaro Gattuso was starting to learn over the road for Rangers when he joined from Perugia, being passionate and consistent is the backbone to earn this reception. Oh, it also helped that Henrik Larsson was a naturally gifted goal-scorer!
One thing I’ve always noticed about Henrik Larsson was that he was an exceptionally intelligent forward player. You just always got the feeling that he was thoughtful and tactful in whatever movement he elected to do at any given point, and the fact that he was rarely caught offside or looking out of place is testament to that.
Plus, in his earlier years at Celtic, he was very, very quick – both in mind and in outright pace. He was never afraid to improvise if it meant getting the Celtic lot on their feet and giving them something to rave about when they went back to work on Monday.
He played for the fans, and that’s exactly what I respected about him. And given his slight, nimble and evasive frame, he offered Celtic something delightfully different from the rough-and-tumble nature of the Scottish Premier League. So, when Martin O’Neill came in 2000 – and decided to draft in Chris Sutton to complement Larsson – it’s clear to see that the two balanced each other out well to bring success to the green part of Glasgow. Having John Hartson in the midst of all that, was just down right greedy! As a trio, they loved giving their all for the cause and showing up when it mattered most. You gotta love ’em … unless you’re a Rangers fan!
But even with his insane goal tally and unceremonious adoration among the Celtic Park faithful, a sincere veil of humility protrudes over his legacy. He was never one to goad the opposition’s fans, or present himself to be an over-confident twit who was good at sticking the ball in the back of the net. Right down to his core, he was a genuine, honest, hard-working forward who earned his stature through doing what he did best. And because of all this, he ranks as one of those players who I regret that I didn’t get to see live in his prime … I blame my parents for that! Shouldn’t have waited!