Scotland’s dangerous Scandinavian who felt most at home in an 18-yard box. Draped in green and white, those who flocked to see his lethal brilliance were often spoilt with sounds of a rustling Glaswegian net. Henrik Larsson, the dreadlocked Swede drew crowds to Celtic Park like few before him.
A £650,000 fee was enough to tempt Feyenoord to hand over Henrik Larsson who proved an absolute bargain. Four Scottish domestic cups and four top-flight titles signify his seven-year stay in Glasgow.
Celtic’s owner, Dermot Desmond, proved the main driving force in ensuring Larsson remained at Celtic Park amidst interest from Old Trafford years before the eventual loan move.
Sir Alex Ferguson explained in his autobiography; “I could have signed him earlier. I was ready to make the bid when he was at Celtic but Dermot Desmond, Celtic’s majority shareholder, rang me and said, ‘You’ve let me down, Alex, you’ve got tons of players, we need him.’”
Desmond couldn’t repeat similar when football’s Spanish Mecca beckoned for the thirty-two-year-old willing pilgrim. Celtic’s prized asset would leave at the end of his current contract. The prolific marksman amounted 174 goals in 221 games during a glittering love-affair with the devoting Scots.
Aside from troubles with an anterior cruciate ligament injury in his debut term, Catalonia’s most prestigious club remembers Henrik Larsson’s two year stay fondly.
“WHEN HE CAME TO BARCELONA, HENRIK SAID NICE THINGS ABOUT ME, BUT BY THE TIME HE LEFT, HE WAS MY IDOL”Ronaldinho
His most important contribution for Barcelona arrived in the final of the Champions League against Arsenal. Larsson switched from his usual goalscoring role in France as he came off the bench to turn provider with both assists. The first, laid on for Samuel Eto’o, cancelling Sol Campbell’s opener. The second, a reverse ball for Juliano Belletti’s winner which sneaked in between the legs of Manuel Almunia.
The 2-1 victory in the Stade De France, Paris, ensured the trophy made a welcome addition to Larsson’s two La Liga winners medals.
Old Trafford Goal-Getter
The red of Manchester, via Helsingborg, signalled Larsson’s last quest away from his homeland. At thirty-five-years old, a three-month loan spell was adequate time in Larsson’s book to win hearts and capture the imagination of Old Trafford. Advancing in years and now winding down in Swedish football, could Larsson still cut it in the big-time?
Three goals in 13 games during the 06/07 season all it took to etch himself into United’s history books as a cameo showing which will struggle to be beaten.
Larsson’s FA Cup and United debut fell against Aaron Villa. Larsson, after neat work from his teammates, receives a Wayne Rooney pass just inside the box. Sir Alex Ferguson watched as the goal-getter positioned himself in an instant, enabling himself to caress the ball with his right foot towards the top right corner of the net.
Old Trafford erupts as they see their new man get off to a flying start. Ole Gunnar Solskjær, as he so often did, pounced in stoppage time with the winner.
Old Trafford’s sub bench would be Larsson’s base for his next goalscoring escapade. Four minutes after leaving the bench, Larsson gets his first and last Premier League goal.
Rooney and Larsson link up again as they play a one-two, before Rooney becomes the architect for the Swede who bears down on goal and calmly puts it to the ‘keepers left. The former Barcelona man had put Watford to the sword.
A Champions League night at Old Trafford against Lille acted as Larsson’s final fruitful platform. United fans watched as Cristiano Ronaldo eases past two men before servicing the striker with a delectable cross.
Henrik Larsson, standing to the left of the penalty-spot, leaves the ground and headers the ball over Lille’s goalkeeper’s head, across the line and into the side-netting. Larsson kills the Champions League tie as United progress to the quarter-finals.
The impact Larsson made during his stint in the north of England made a lasting impression on the United hierarchy and players alike. Sir Alex Ferguson called for his Nordic fox in the box to remain in the country and secure the Premier League title.
This Manchester United team was a youthful one. Departures in recent years saw Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Roy Keane, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Phil Neville leave Manchester. Although United were left in capable hands with the impressiveness of the next generation, Larsson was now the legend of the game which they yearned to be alongside on the training pitches.
Unfortunately for Rooney and company, Henrik Larsson’s promise to return to Helsingborg remained unbroken, and with that, Larsson vacated Manchester.
“IN HIS LAST GAME IN OUR COLOURS, ON HIS RETURN TO THE DRESSING-ROOM, ALL THE PLAYERS STOOD UP AND APPLAUDED HIM. THE STAFF JOINED IN TOO. IT TAKES SOME PLAYER TO MAKE THAT KIND OF IMPACT IN TWO MONTHS”Sir Alex Ferguson
Manchester United would eventually wrap up the title with pressure from second-placed Chelsea providing stern competition. The Red Devil’s extra four wins ultimately making the difference.
The spoils were shared this year, unlike in previous seasons where United often possess runaway top-goalscorers. 17-goal Ronaldo finished three ahead of Rooney on 14, and Saha with 8.
A collective attacking presence that effectively replaced the missing Henrik Larsson-shaped piece of the United juggernaut in the hunt for the Premier League title.
Graphics and words by @SamIngram_ /credit:Getty Images