Henrik Larsson: The most underrated striker of a generation

Harry Burford

Let’s face it – whilst football isn’t all about scoring great goals and reeling away in suspended adrenaline-fuelled elation, with thousands of adoring fans screaming your name and embracing your newfound presence like some kind of modern day messiah, the beautiful game, as we know it, would arguably have never been the same if it wasn’t for all those great strikers who wowed their respective audiences with their enduring talents in front of goal.

From traditional centre-forwards with all the drive and determination to put their bodies on the line and deservedly claim their just rewards, to the silky quick-footed mercurial types, who each served to develop our overall understanding of the game with their new-wave styles and freeform techniques – everybody loves a good striker, especially one with all the oft-forgotten reliability and dependency to match their obvious skill inside the final third.

In line with such a notion, it may arrive as somewhat of a surprise that former Sweden international and legendary Celtic Park frontman – Henrik Larsson – never quite hit the big time in terms of world renowned notoriety or unequivocal admiration from the many onlookers who saw him play.

The Swede was always considered a reliable striker by most accounts, but his proposed greatest is still largely debated in modern footballing circles.

To some, Larsson’s lack of worldwide pedigree comes as something of an insult, considering the level of style and finesse he was able to regularly showcase whenever played through in one-on-one situations.

The widely admired Celtic favourite witnessed his early playing career thrust out wide among the Dutch Eredivisie with Feyenoord, before representing his nation at the 1994 World Cup with Sweden and subsequently turning a few curious heads in the process.

It was only once he introduced himself among Celtic Park however, within a league many deemed largely monotonous and uneventful before the Scandinavian’s arrival, that the dreadlocked assassin really came to the forefront as one of the best attackers on the continent. The Hoops won their first league title in ten years with a newfound Henrik Larsson among their ranks, seemingly signalling the start of a truly fruitful and deadly relationship down in Glasgow.

Despite suffering a nasty leg-break within his early Celtic career, Larsson eventually struck up a wonderful strike partnership with former Chelsea and Blackburn Rovers frontman Chris Sutton whilst operating in Scotland. He also thrived particularly well under Martin O’Neill, scoring over 50 goals in as many games for the famous green & white.

‘But so what? Anyone could score goals in Scotland!” well, whilst such an analysis doesn’t exactly ring true in every specific instance, such a harsh indictment sadly influences Larsson’s overall standing within world football to this very day. Whilst he scored a truckload of definitively well-taken and widely varied goals throughout his entire time in Scotland, some people remain rather hard to please out there…

Larsson attempted to prove all his early doubters wrong when he sought to make a name for himself with none other than Barcelona at the Camp Nou – and whilst the experienced Sweden international hardly arrived as much of a first-team starter among the Spanish top-flight – the passionate Catalonians certainly grew to love their in-form frontman.

He may not have proven entirely prolific at Barcelona, but given the amount of game time offered to him by the notoriously vehement Frank Rijkaard on the side-lines, with the likes of Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o also looking to make things happen within his star-studded attacking line-up – Larsson performed remarkably well at the Camp Nou, arguably playing the most pivotal role in Barcelona’s 2006 Champions League final success against the Gunners.

“People always talk about Ronaldinho and everything, but I didn’t see him today – I saw Henrik Larsson. Two times he came on – he changed the game, that is what killed the game.”

Theirry Henry

After impressing the Camp Nou faithful, becoming a mainstay favourite within the Swedish national setup and taking the Scottish top-flight apart with his show-stopping performances in front of goal – Larsson went on to have a brief, yet mildly productive spell at Old Trafford before returning to the Swedish Allsvenskan and hanging up his well-worn strikers boots shortly afterwards. A career worthy of even the very best.

If Henrik Larsson hadn’t announced himself throughout the 1990’s and the early 2000’s, perhaps we would be talking about the Swedish international as one of the greatest centre-forwards of all time. Perhaps if he hadn’t been forced to ply his trade alongside a whole host of equally exciting frontmen – such as Thierry Henry, Raul, Alan Shearer, Gabriel Batistuta, Andriy Shevchenko and the great Ronaldo himself to name but a few – maybe Larsson’s goal-scoring attributes would have been seen in a far more prestigious and commendable light.

Up until November 2016, Larsson could be found patrolling the managerial dug-out of his former club Helsingborg, where the trials and tribulations of top-flight management have proven far more testing for the once great striker.

But if Larsson’s coaching qualities eventually blossom and rise to the forefront much like his overwhelming ability with the ball at his feet, then make no mistake about it – the Swedish game could well be on the verge of promoting one of the most exciting and successful young managers it has seen in quite some time.

Could Henrik Larsson bounce back and prove his determined doubters wrong all over again? Perhaps it’s already on the cards…

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