Weekly Tribute: Henrik Larsson [Week 2]
Last week marked the beginning of my weekly tributes series, I started off by discussing my favourite ever Fulham player, Barry Hayles. As a man of Irish Catholic heritage I’ve also got a slight soft spot for Celtic. Seeing as I’m still beaming with happiness due to the Bhoys getting through a tough Champions League group and into the Champions League knockout stages for the first time since 2007-2008, I feel it is only fair to dedicate this weeks tribute to the one and only Henrik Larsson, a Parkhead hero.
I remember my first ever football shirt, it was a stinker, who can forget Celtic’s 97-98 away shirt, highlighter pen yellow and black. One man made it look cool and it wasn’t the seven-year old me or my Dad, it was the man on the back of my jersey, Larsson.
July 1997, the man who is now referred to by Celtic fans as the ‘King of Kings’ arrived at Parkhead for £650,000. After a slow start to life in Scotland, Henrik went on to net a respectable 18 goals in his debut season in Glasgow. Arguably the most important thing the Swede did in his first season was scoring the opener V Saint Johnstone on the final day of the campaign to bring the title back to Celtic Park and stop the all-conquering Rangers winning a record 9th title on the spin.
His second season in the SPL wasn’t as successful for The Bhoys, who finished runner-up in league and cup but it did mark the beginning of Henrik’s reign as a goal machine. 38 goals for the season marked the arrival of the man who was to go on and be one of Europe’s most feared strikers.
1999-2000, again started off in the right way for the dreadlocked Swede, who was well on his way to becoming a Celtic legend. Tragedy then struck for Larsson, a ginormous set back, a broken leg, broken in two places, Henrik’s career was on the line.
The way Henrik fought back from such a horrific injury within eight months is a major reason I’m writing a tribute to the Swede.
When Henrik did return, his trade mark dreadlocks were gone but his golden touch hadn’t. This was Henrik’s standout season. During this comeback season, Henrik won the European golden shoe for 35 league goals in 38 games and snatched 53 goals in all competitions.
Henrik’s fantastic season, which yielded the Golden Shoe, made Europe’s biggest clubs sit up and take notice. A combination of being loyal to his club and also the fact no one was willing to take a chance on a player who had scored goals in the prestige less SPL. These two factors meant Henrik spent his peak years in the SPL, despite it being clear to everyone in Scotland and Sweden Larsson was world-class.
During his seven years in Scotland, Henrik helped Celtic become competitive with Rangers once more, winning numerous league titles and domestic trophies. Larsson’s greatest achievement for The Hoops? Helping the Glasgow giants become a force in Europe once more, taking the Bhoys to a UEFA Cup final in Seville. Henrik Larsson will go down as Celtic’s greatest ever players due to his loyalty, personality and of course goals 242 in 315 matches.
The summer of 2004 saw Larsson finally leave Scotland. There was interest from all over Europe to obtain his signature, he chose to sign a one year deal with Catalan giants Barcelona. The first season in Spain did not go to plan for Larsson another serious injury meant his career had again stalled. Many expected his Barcelona adventure to be over when his one year contract had expired but Barca took up an option and Henrik was granted another chance at the Nou Camp.
Henrik Larsson, announced in January of his second season in Catalonia that he would be leaving the side at the end of the season. Larsson’s final game for Barcelona arguably bought Larsson’s finest hour. Larsson assisted both of Barcelona’s goals to see the side win the Champions League and also confirmed to the world how good a player Henrik Larsson has always been.
After his two seasons in Spain, Larsson made the decision to return home to Sweden. It shows the respect Larsson had earnt in football that faced with a shortage of strikers in 2007 Manchester United chose to loan the Swede for three months during the Swedish off-season. He made a huge impression at Old Trafford in his short spell and was granted a Premier League winners medal.
What makes Henrik one of my sporting heroes? Well the goals help and boy were there some! But there is more to Henrik than just goals, there is the man who persisted throughout his career getting to the very top of European football after years of hard graft over a distinguished period in the SPL. There is the man who fought back from two career threatening injures and there is the man who stayed true to his word keeping promises to his family.
A true hero and one of the best strikers of the last few decades, Henrik Larsson. As a man and as a footballer you would have to go a long way to find someone with a bad word to say about Henrik Larsson.
Aidan Fulham (@AidanFulham)