Celtic’s Henrik Larsson Enriched The Whole Of Scottish Football

Twenty years ago today Celtic signed one Henrik Larsson from Feyenoord for just £650,000.

I had remembered the dreadlocked forward from the 1994 World Cup and he had impressed in what was a very talented Swedish side. But by 1996 he had kind of fallen off my radar until Celtic’s new gaffer Wim Jansen had arrived at Parkhead and earmarked Larsson as a priority purchase.

Things hadn’t gone swimmingly in Rotterdam for the Swede, but Jansen had worked with him and knew the talent he possessed. Larsson was clearly eager to move to Glasgow and prove himself in a Hoops jersey.

He did far more than just prove himself in Scotland, he turned our game upside down and the whole country inevitably benefited from his presence. I say that even though I was Rangers fan at the time!

His tale of being nearly forgotten about and written off before coming to Scotland and rediscovering himself is almost identical to that of Brain Laudrup, who had a similar impact in Glasgow but with the blue half of the city instead of the green half.

Larsson would eventually prove himself to be a world-class striker but alas his first real worthy contribution for Celtic was to pass the ball to a Hibs player (Chic Charnley) who would then go on and score the winner in Larsson’s debut. He would follow that up with an own goal in his European debut of the club.

Opposition supporters started to get the feeling that Celtic had signed yet another dud!

Larsson would soon drive that thought out of everyone’s mind as he’d lethally downed any and every Scottish team that he came up against.

His first season ended with sixteen league strikes to his name. More importantly he help his side to the league championship and halted Rangers march to a record breaking tenth title in a row!

Larsson would then smash in thirty-eight in forty-eight games for the Hoops in the 1998-99 campaign. He was devastating in and around the box. So smart, quick and had a terrific leap on him that was priceless when the ball was crossed into the penalty area.

Then in 1999, Larsson would suffer a horrific leg break in a European tie against Lyon. His leg was literally left dangling and it looked like a career defining injury.

In a lot of ways it probably was a career defining moment for the hitman but not in the negative way many had initially feared. The break was clean and that helped a lot. Larsson being the man he is, didn’t let the injury get him down. He made sure he rehabilitated properly and when he came back he seemed stronger, faster, fitter and better than before.

It seemed as if he used his enforced down-time to reinforce his skills and predatory instincts. He was now a player that wouldn’t let anything get in his way or stop him from achieving his goals.

Goals being the perfect word.

He was a goal machine, not since Ally McCoist had Scotland seen such as predator inside the box. It didn’t seem to matter where he was or on what foot, he’d always stick the ball away. In the air he was still phenomenal, probably one of the best I’ve ever seen in world football.

He scored hatfuls of goals, yet he wasn’t an overly selfish player. Henrik would form fantastic partnerships with the likes of Chris Sutton and John Hartson and they too would reach double figures and Larsson would often have a hand in their strikes too.

As a striker he didn’t just score in the smaller games, Henrik would terrorise teams in Europe (he’s still Celtic’s all-time leading scorer in European competition) and he would often shine in cup finals too. In the 2003 he almost helped the Hoops clinch a historic UEFA Cup triumph, scoring twice in the final.

The Swedish international also had the knack of scoring and doing well in Old Firm clashes.

In thirty Old Firm fixtures, Celtic’s legendary number seven scored fifteen times. No foreigner has a better record in the biggest of Glasgow derbies. But Larsson never boasted about his feats or rub it into Gers fans faces. He loved scoring and winning, he clearly adored playing for Celtic but you didn’t hear much in the way of criticism from Rangers supporters. In truth, they could see his talent and begrudgingly they appreciated it.

Larsson, again like Laudrup, forged a deep and meaningful relationship with the supporters that cherished him. That would see him staying at Celtic longer than he needed to and he wouldn’t be tempted by offers from superior leagues.

In total he was at Parkhead for seven seasons.

He would leave scoring a whopping 242 times in 313 games. In his seven years at Parkhead, he would finish Scotland’s leading goalscorer in five seasons. In 2001, Henrik would be crowned Europe’s top scorer. He won four league titles, two Scottish Cups and two League Cups during his stay in Glasgow’s east-end.

His talent and achievements made him one of Celtic’s greatest ever heroes. Outside of the Lisbon Lions, it’s hard to think of a better Celt.

As I said previously, no one (even opposition fans) could really fault the man. His time at Celtic helped our whole game in Scotland and we could all see he was a fantastic player playing at the height of his powers. We rarely see that in this country, so when we do, we need to embrace it and remember it. Even if it means remembering him embarrassing some of your own players.

His coolness in front of goal, his intelligence and his ability in the air were second to none up here. He also had that modestly that made it impossible to dislike the guy!

I was delighted that at thirty-four, Henrik was able to join the mega stars of FC Barcelona and show that he deserved to play alongside the likes of Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o. He didn’t look out of place as he helped them to two La Liga’s and a Champions League final victory.

Henrik Larrson was a true professional and an absolute beast inside the box. His talent will always be remembered, not just at Celtic Park but throughout Scotland!

“I had the privilege to work with Henrik Larsson and he was sublime, absolutely sublime.”

Martin O’Neill (Former Celtic manager)

“In his last game in our colours at Middlesbrough, we were winning 2-1 and Henrik went back to play in midfield and ran his balls off. On his return to the dressing-room, all the players stood up and applauded him, and the staff joined in. It takes some player to make that kind of impact in two months..”

Sir Alex Ferguson (Former Manchester United manager)

“When he came to Barcelona, Henrik said nice things about me but by the time he left he was my idol.”

Ronaldinho (Former world player of the year and Barcelona maestro)

‘Henrik was good enough to play for any team in Europe. But after playing at Celtic Park it is easy to understand why he chose to stay there for so long.’

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Larsson’s former strike partner for Sweden)

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