It’s the international break so, with an absence of domestic games to write about I thought it was about time we put another player into the player profile XI. Peter Schmeichel became the first Scandinavian to be written about with the last profile and I thought we might as well stay in that region. So here we have Celtic’s best player of the modern era; Henrik Larsson.
Name: Henrik Edward Larsson
Date of Birth: 20th September 1971
International Caps/Goals: 106/37
The son of Francisco Rocha (from Cape Verde) and Eva Larsson, Henrik Larsson started his footballing career aged 6 at local side Hogaborg, making his professional debut for the club 11 years later. He played for 4 years at the club, averaging roughly a goal every 3 games, before a move to Helsingborg that saw his career take off. In 2 years at the club Larsson played 56 games scoring 50 times and attracting the attention of Wim Jansen, manager of Feyenoord, who brought him to Holland. Larsson had a tough time in Holland but still managed to score 26 goals in 101 games for Feyenoord and was part of a side that won the Dutch cup 2 years running. Wim Jansen was now manager of Celtic and brought Larsson to Glasgow. This was a big move for Celtic, as Larsson was already an established Swedish international, having been a key member of the 1994 World Cup squad that finished third in the United States.
Larsson arrived at a time when Celtic’s Old Firm rivals, Rangers, were dominating Scottish football. The Ibrox club had won 9 league titles in a row and were going for a record 10th title. Celtic won the league title, stopping Rangers from achieving the record, and Larsson was instrumental. His 18 league goals made him Celtic’s top scorer. Larsson was also key in the League cup success in his first season, made all the sweeter for Celtic fans by the fact that the final was played at Ibrox. Larsson’s 2nd season at Parkhead saw him form a successful partnership with Ľubomír Moravčík as he scored an incredible 38 goals in all competitions as he established himself as one of the most prolific scorers in world football. But, just as his star was shining brightest, Larsson’s career was nearly ended. In a game with Olympique Lyon Larsson was involved in a seemingly innocuous challenge with defender Serge Blanc, but his leg broke in 2 places. This horrific injury threatened the Swede’s career and saw him miss the rest of the 1999-2000 season. John Barnes claimed Larsson’s injury to be one the reason behind his sacking, because it was nothing to do with the fact that Rangers won the league by 21 points obviously.
Incredibly, despite the injury threatening to stop Larsson’s playing career in its tracks he was able to come back in time for the start of the 2000-2001 and one season; and what a return he made. Celtic won the treble and Larsson scored 53 times in 50 games; a record that, frankly, wouldn’t look out of place in a video game. This goal in an Old firm derby that Celtic won 6-2 announced that he was well and truly back:
After the season Rangers manager Dick Advocaat summed up Larsson by saying:
“Larsson is one of the best strikers in Europe, maybe the world. If you watch Batistuta, he is sometimes not seen for 90 minutes but he scores two goals. Larsson has even more, because, besides being a good player and goalscorer, he has a tremendous work rate.”
It was that work rate that underlined Larsson as a player. He was not just a one dimensional player; he could do a lot more than just score goals. But it is for his goal scoring prowess that he is best remembered for in Scotland. His 158 goals in the SPL meant Larsson was the all-time top goal scorer in the league when he left for Barcelona in 2004. The record has since been overtaken by Kris Boyd, but it has to be said that Boyd played 75 more games in the league to score his 164 goals. Larsson was also incredibly successful in the Old Firm derby, scoring 15 goals against Rangers
Larsson’s Barcelona career was only 2 seasons long but in that time he won La Liga twice and also put in a scintillating cameo performance in the 2005 Champions league final against Arsenal that saw Thierry Henry say that it was Larsson who changed the game and won it for Barcelona. That game was also his last in Spain before he returned to Helsingborg and helping the team win the Swedish cup. His time at Helsingborg was interrupted by a short loan spell at Manchester United during the Swedish off season. A masterful move by Sir Alex Ferguson, brought the experienced striker to the club for 13 total games. United won the league that season and despite not playing the required 10 league games he was awarded a league winners medal for his contribution to the campaign.
Not just a great goal scorer but also a scorer of great goals. Henrik Larsson will take up a starting role in the Player Profile 11. With Dennis Bergkamp and Zinedine Zidane dropping in behind him I reckon he might score a few goals.