It’s impossible to overstate what Henrik Larsson means to Celtic supporters.
His seven years at the club saw some of the most successful seasons in modern times, ending a decade of Rangers dominance in the Scottish Premier League. A prolific goalscorer, he quickly became a fan favourite, recognisable for his golden dreadlocks as well as his golden performances.
A late bloomer by footballing standards, he turned professional at the age of 21 in his native Sweden, before eventually signing for Celtic in 1997 for a fee of £650,000. As well as becoming a legend of the SPL, he also shone in European competitions and had a distinguished international career. Let’s look at some of the highlights Larsson provided us with during his playing career, and see what he’s been up to after Celtic.
Larsson was born in Helsingborg, southern Sweden, in September 1971, the son of a Cape Verdean father and a Swedish mother.
Experiencing racist bullying at school, he found solace in football, signing for semi-professional side Högaborgs BK at the age of six and playing with them until the age of 21, during which time he also worked as a fruit packer.
His talents were noticed by his home side Helingsborg and he signed a professional contract in 1992, relatively late for a footballer. His first season was a sign of things to come, as he netted 34 goals and helped Helingsborg reach the top flight of Swedish football.
He played in the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the USA, in which Sweden finished third, scoring in the third-place playoff against Bulgaria. Despite some success with Feyeenord, for whom he signed in 1993, he never really settled in Holland, opting to sign for Celtic after escaping his contract.
When Larsson arrived in Glasgow, Celtic hadn’t been champions for nearly a decade, last winning the SPL in 1988. After a brief hiccup with an own goal and a couple of errors, he had a major impact and set about cementing his legend, netting 18 goals as Celtic clinched the title over bitter rivals Rangers. Larsson’s second season for Celtic proved fruitful in terms of goals, with a total of 38, but that wasn’t enough to stop a resurgent Rangers win the treble.
In the 99-00 season, Larsson was scoring regularly, with 8 goals in 9 league games. But disaster struck, as he sustained a career-threatening injury in a UEFA cup tie with Lyon. With a double compound leg fracture, there was speculation whether Larsson would ever lace up a pair of boots again. And as Celtic finished a miserable 21 points off Rangers at the season’s end, things looked bleak. But Larsson had other ideas.
Martin O’Neill took over as Celtic manager from the departing Kenny Dalglish for the 2000-01 season.
With a new manager and a new striking partner in Chris Sutton, a recovered Larsson made history, with absurdly prolific goal scoring and superb all-round performances bringing Celtic a domestic treble. Larsson scored 35 league goals (in 38 matches) and a whopping 53 goals in 50 total games, taking home the European Golden Shoe for good measure. Such was his goal-scoring prowess, he became a betting favourite with the public, and a bookmaker’s nightmare.
He scored a memorable hat trick as Celtic swept aside Kilmarnock at Hampden Park to lift the Scottish League Cup. Celtic successfully defended their title the next season, with Larsson again playing a starring role. Although Rangers won the SPL in the 2002-03 season, Celtic reached the final of the UEFA Cup, narrowly losing to Porto 3-2 after extra time. Larsson scored both Celtic’s goals, but described the pain of losing as being worse than his leg break in 1999.
In his last season in a Celtic shirt, Larsson again helped the team become champions, scoring 30 league goals.
Celtic also defeated Barcelona in a memorable UEFA cup tie, before losing to Villarreal. The team won all the Old Firm derbies that year, and in a fitting swansong, Larsson scored two goals in the Scottish Cup Final at Hampden in his very last appearance for the club.
Larsson carried on playing for a few years, taking a free transfer to Barcelona. He was well received at the club, despite his two seasons being affected by injury. He moved back to Helsingborg in 2006, finishing his playing career there (apart from a brief loan spell at Manchester United). He has managed Swedish clubs Landskrom Bois and Falkenberg, as well as Helsingborg, but is currently between clubs.
Larsson is a true legend of Celtic FC. Fans look back fondly at his time at the club, and the successes he helped the team achieve.
And as he is currently a free agent, maybe we’ll see him continuing his management career in Scotland.