The King of Kings
I’ve written a few leaders on some past Celtic players and I thought long and hard before doing this one, as I don’t know if I can do it justice, I hope i have, he is (and always will be) The King of Kings.
I initially thought, where do you start with a guy like this, revered by everyone as the greatest ever foreign player signed for the club, brought to Glasgow in 1997, after Wim Jansen got him to Parkhead from Feyenord, by then he had already established himself in Sweden’s national side, and had enjoyed a successful tournament, helping Sweden to finish 3rd in the 1994 US World cup, they incidentally left the USA as the tournaments top scorers.
It’s safe to say Henrik’s first appearances for Celtic were something of a mishap, and certainly more than a few had their doubts on him. Chic Charnley still claims he can dine out on stories of how Henrik passed the ball to him by mistake allowing Hibs to win 2-1, and how can we forget Henrik’s own goal in his first Euro campaign start with Celtic, as he lobbed Jonathan Gould, we did however go on to beat the Austrian’s as eventual 6 goal winners, so his o-g mattered little.
We would very shortly see firsthand if Henrik could play a pivotal role in halting the Oldco run at ten-in-a-row, during which time he would play alongside, either Simon Donnelly, Harald Brattbakk, and Darren Jackson, Henrik had become Celtic’s top scorer with 19 goals.
The title decider to stop the ten, would be against St Johnstone and was set for Parkhead 9th of May 1998, the sun was shining it was a great day, the atmosphere strange, although noisy and good, everyone was on edge, you could actually hear people praying loudly, “Please don’t let them get the 10”.
A full house looked on, even when Henrik put us 1 up, we were still full of tension, this then set up Harald (who came to us the same year as Henrik, with the reputation of being a prolific striker, but had been disappointing in the main since his move from Rosenberg to Parkhead), to write himself into Celtic folklore by scoring the winner in 73minutes, and thus giving what most Celtic fans to this day, believe to be the most important league title win in the clubs history, for some it is their greatest sporting memory. Many were so relieved they just burst into tears.
Season 1998-99 and under a new manager Jo Venglos (appointed in July) Henrik would score a total of 38 goals, Dr Jo would also introduce a certain Lubo Moravcik to Henrik and Celtic, and this would become a pivotal point in the years to follow.
Henrik started the following season 1999-2000 in blistering form, scoring 8 goals in nine matches, up until a EUFA cup game against Lyon came, which resulted in a horrific leg break in two separate places that would have seen any footballer out for at least a year, sometimes even for good, but no, this was not for Henrik, he took only 8 months to get fit to play again. A testament to his will and desire to overcome his injuries, was spoken of by someone who heard Henrik going through his treatment and they say the screams of pain as Henrik fought his way back from this injury, were not something that should be heard by the weak of stomach.
Henrik had pushed himself on through severe pain to return to play for Celtic.
In 2000-2001 We worried that Henrik might never regain his form after his horror leg break, but we were completely taken by surprise when he started the season with 12 goals in 9 games, and was in his best form ever, and managed 53 goals in 50 matches. The King of kings was born.
You could never tire of hearing Elmer Bernstein’s Theme from The magnificent seven, whenever Henrik scored, it just suited him, being a hero in the hoops.
There were a couple of significant things that happened in my mind from 1999 to 2001, besides Henrik’s leg break, one was Lubo Moravcik as he became more involved in the team and Henrik would flourish more playing alongside Lubo, the other was the appointment of Martin O’Neill in 2000 as manager. Henrik had by now played under 4 managers at Celtic and he must have felt like starting anew once more. Martin brought in some other players that again Henrik would benefit playing beside, Sutton, Thompson, Lennon, Hartson, along with others in place Petrov, Agathe, McNamara, Bobo, Lambert etc…
The season started well and Celtic with Henrik won their first 6 games, and their next challenger was Oldco who having spent millions (or more precisely had illegally overspent millions, by what we know now) were very confident of beating Celtic as were their good friends in the media.
Things however did not go as planned and Celtic totally annihilated Oldco 6-2, needless to say that game became legendary and known as “The Demolition Derby”. This led on to Celtics first domestic treble since 1969 as Henrik teamed up well with new strike partner Chris Sutton, and just for afters a SFWA footballer of the year award for Henrik to go with the European Golden boot for the highest goal scorer in Europe award to the King of Kings.
Whether Henrik played against Livingston or Liverpool, Motherwell or Manchester, Oldco or Porto, Henrik would score goals and most of them were stunning. Henrik at this point, would never globally receive the status that other players of his calibre did, simply because he played most of his career in Scotland, and it is not regarded as one of the elite leagues, such as Serie A, or La Liga, this is without any doubt whatsoever, one instance, where 60,000 fans inside a stadium were a far better judge of someones ability, than a handful of those so called experts were, and they would very quickly learn this.
They were so wrong and it was of great benefit to us, as supporters we did not want Henrik to move outwith Scotland, we were spoiled and we loved him for it, even if that meant we were selfish and wanted to keep him for ourselves, and Henrik stayed at Celtic even though many other teams including Manchester United tried hard to get him to move, Henrik had decided he liked it at Celtic and his family were happy to be here in Glasgow too.
The record books will show that in season 2002-03 Celtic won absolutely no trophies.
What they will not show however, is, it was their most successful season in many many years, because Henrik and the team were to do something that had long been missing, since the glory days of Jock Stein and the Lisbon Lions.
Celtic would go all the way to the final of a major European competition. And the road to that final was something very very special. Time and again Celtic were written off by the so called experts, they would be drawn against the best in the competition, including a couple billed as “The Battle of Britain”, and time and time again Henrik was there to silence the doubters. Among them Celta Vigo fell, Blackburn fell, Stuttgart fell, even the mighty Liverpool fell to Henrik and Celtic. Pride was again restored to that amazing Celtic support.
Henrik had finally silenced all the doubters, and it was all the more sweeter, as a certain ex-Oldco manager was among one of them, he was taught, as were many pundits, that it’s best to keep your mouth shut until the game is over. The King of Kings did his talking on the field. in a sublime “Here endeth the lesson” fashion.
The final against Porto would be a bridge too far, and is too painful for most to watch again, and for many years I have pondered on the what-ifs, the heat, the squad injuries, the opposition antics, the ref, the sending off, it certainly hurt. Somehow though, amidst the pain, it was one of my proudest moments as a fan, that we had been on a wonderful journey not seen in many years, that once more a Celtic team could compete with the elite that Europe had to offer.
I felt gutted for Celtic, but more so for Henrik, he had carried us there, he had replied twice in the final with two of the best headers you will see anywhere, he should not have been on a losing side in that final, and my heart sunk for Henrik more than for Celtic. Fortunately Henrik would get a second chance at European cup glory, when he signed for Barcelona and helped them to win the Champions League in 2006, no one deserved it more than Henrik.
Henrik Larsson in his time at Celtic was the complete professional, he only appeared on the back pages of newspapers, never the front pages. He was loved by young and old alike and brought joy to many, he could have left for more money like others had, but he gave Celtic more than many others had before him, he is still regarded as the King of Kings by those he brought joy to on so many occasions. No matter which team you followed, Henrik Larsson is one of those extremely rare and immensely talented players you cannot help but admire. He put happiness before money, a lesson many of us can and should learn from.
If you have 15minutes you should watch this clip of all of his 242 goals for Celtic, it still amazes me the variety of goals that he scored, Henrik was predominantly right footed, but he could score with both feet and his ability to spring so high while scoring with his head was second to none. We were truly blessed to have had Henrik Larsson at Celtic for 7 years. Thank you King of Kings.
The following few words and stats on Henrik (were taken from wikipaedia)
Thierry Henry: (After losing the Champions league final to Barcelona) “People always talk about Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o, Ludovic, Giuly, but I didn’t see them today. I saw Henrik Larsson. He came on, he changed the game, you need to talk about the proper footballer who made the difference and that was Henrik Larsson.”
Ronaldinho: (Barcelona legend) I grew to admire Henrik more and more, and I consider Henrik my idol.
Oldco Manager: “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 will score 2 goals, Henrik Larsson has even more, besides being a tremendous player and goalscorer, he has a tremendous work rate.”
Sir Alex: In his last game in for us at Middlesborough 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.”
Henrik won in 7 years with Celtic, 4 Leagues, 2 League cups, 2 Scottish cups, 1 Eufa cup runners up.
Henrik won the Champions League with Barcelona, as well as La Liga, and Supercopa.
In 2004 Henrik was voted the greatest Swedish football player of the last 50 years, by the Swedish FA.
In 2006 Henrik was awarded an MBE.
Swedish Forward of the Year: 2001,2002,2003,2004
Scottish Premier League Golden Boot: 1998–99,2000–01,2001–02,2002–03,2003–04
SFWA Footballer of the Year: 1999,2001
SPFA Players’ Player of the Year: 1999, 2001
European Golden Boot: 2001, as well as honours with Feyenord and Manchester Utd
Henrik won 106 international caps with Sweden playing in 3 Euros and 3 World Cup competitions.
Henrik is currently working as the assistant manager of Barcelona.
Henrik Larsson: “You don’t want to walk in another man’s footsteps, you want to create your own.”