After seven successful years the hoops hero, Henrik Larsson, bids an emotional farewell to Celtic Park and his adoring fans.
"Superb", "magnificent", "legend" are just some of the superlatives that drip off the tongue when one mentions the super Swede. And with 242 goals in 315 games, all of them are deserved.
When the young dreadlocked Larsson arrived on these shores after a disastrous spell at Feyenoord, he was an unknown. But the £650,000 Wim Jansen purchased Henrik for afterwards now seems like the bargain of the century.
In the last league game of the season, Henrik scored twice to win the game for the champions versus Dundee United. When the full time whistle blew, the ice cool striker broke down in tears. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, the enormity of the situation hitting home – not only for the fans but for Larsson as well. Where else will 60,000 fans chant his name every time he plays?
A week later and the tears had been replaced by cheers as the Henrik Larsson farewell tour reached Hampden for the Scottish Cup Final. Celtic were losing 1-0 to Dunfermline, but true to script, who should pop up with two spectacular goals? You guessed it, Henrik, the king of kings.
Stilian Petrov scored to make it 3-1, but this was the Henrik Larsson show. The perfect way to say goodbye, scoring two goals in both his last two games.
But that still wasn’t the end, as on 25 May Celtic had organised a farewell fiesta, a friendly against Seville. The game didn’t live up to the hype and ended 1-0 with Chris Sutton scoring the winning goal for Celtic. But the game didn’t matter as everyone was there to say goodbye to the player who has brought so much success to the club.
When Henrik arrived at Celtic, their city rivals Rangers had won nine league championships in a row, equalling Celtic’s record set in the 1960s and 70s. Celtic’s aim for the 1997/98 season was simple, to stop Rangers from winning 10 games in a row.
Wim Jansen’s new signing made his debut in a game against Hibernian at Easter Road. He came off the bench and made a perfect pass to Chic Charnley. The only problem was, Chic was a Hibs player and scored the winning goal from Henrik’s pass. Some would say it is the only mistake Henrik has ever made in a Celtic top.
He soon started scoring – and what better way to end the season than scoring against St Johnstone in the last game of the season, to help Celtic beat Rangers to the championship. Cheerio to 10 in a row and all that.
In the seven years Larsson has been at Celtic they have won the league four times, the Scottish Cup twice, the League Cup twice and made an appearance in the UEFA Cup Final.
He is one of the greatest if not the greatest to wear the hoops and that is why he got the benefit match against Seville and pocketed a reported £1 million from it.
The sell-out crowd wanted to say goodbye one last time. After the final whistle, the fans did not leave; they didn’t want it to end, so they waited until Henrik came out and gave them one final lap of honour before disappearing into the tunnel for the last time.
This was a man who was loyal and unselfish on the park and to the team. Off it, he is a gentleman and a family man. He could have left Celtic anytime to go to a better club. Manchester United wanted him, but he turned them down. He liked Scotland and Celtic too much.
But now he is leaving to finish his career in the sun – probably Spain – before retiring altogether and going home to Sweden.
One thing’s for sure, he will not be forgotten at Celtic, We will probably not see his like again in Scotland. He is irreplaceable.
And to those critics who said he lacked ambition because he wanted to stay in Scotland and that he only scored bucket-loads of goals because the Scottish league is so rubbish, here are some memorable statistics.
- He scored vital goals against Blackburn, Liverpool, Celta Vigo and Boavista.
- He scored two goals in the UEFA Cup Final.
- He is Celtic’s top European scorer with 35 goals in 58 games.
- And is seventh in the list of top European goal scorers of all time with 45 goals, beating the likes of Thierry Henry who is 10th.
- He won the Golden Shoe for being the best scorer in Europe in 2000/01 with 35 league goals.
And he is the leading goal scorer in Europe for a British club, overtaking Ian Rush.
No wonder Celtic are going to miss him.
But maybe, just maybe Larsson will come back to Celtic… Jordan that is, Henrik’s son.
He is also a favourite with the Celtic supporters even though he hasn’t even turned seven yet, he is a nifty little footballer.
Having come to Glasgow when he was only two weeks old, Scotland is all he knows. So maybe one day he will be back to pick up where his famous dad left off.
After all he scored a penalty in the half-time penalty shoot-out at the farewell fiesta, making him the last Larsson to score at Parkhead.