Friday, December 01, 2006

Larsson Gets Chance For Happy Ending

It seemed such a shame at the time that Henrik Larsson’s last contribution on a major footballing stage would be that missed penalty in Sweden’s World Cup finals second round match against Germany. He was never much of a penalty taker even in his Celtic pomp, one of the few aspects of the striker’s art that he did not master; but it was a poor kick, a limp conclusion to a career at the top level that deserved rather to have as its final flourish his match-turning contribution from the bench for Barcelona in the Champions League final a few weeks earlier.

With due respect to Helsingborgs, the club in his homeland with whom he has spent the last few months, and to whom he will return in March for the beginning of the new Swedish season, it seems that Larsson will now add another unlikely chapter to the glorious twilight of his career when he signs, on loan, for Manchester United in January.

One can only presume that many clubs – including his last, Barcelona – wished to secure Larsson’s services at the end of last season. The sapping of pace from his legs through the advancement of years seemed to be progressing in an inversely proportionate manner to the cultivation of a footballing intelligence that no top manager can have missed. Whether Alex Ferguson was among those managers inquiring as to whether he could obtain the Swede’s services last summer we do not know, but the snapping up of Larsson could prove to be a crucial piece of business for the club.

Even so gilded a team as Barcelona were visibly boosted by his introductions last season. In the Champions League tie against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, the Catalans, despite being a man up, had begun to toil against the formidable Blues rearguard. Repeated probings by Ronaldinho and co. had failed to pierce the Chelsea rearguard, until Larsson entered the fray. His exploitation of space in the inside-left channel, particularly in the run-up to Eto’o’s winner, helped Barca come from behind to win 2-1.

In the Champions League final, in an almost identical situation, Larsson’s impact was unmistakeable. Firstly guiding a Deco ball through to Eto’o for the equaliser, then turning at the goal-line and rolling an immaculate pass to Belletti to score the winner. Little wonder that despite only being at the club for two seasons, and having spent much of the first injured, Larsson left Barca as something of a cult hero.

Those who have followed Larsson throughout his career, or at least since his arrival at Celtic in 1997, will have become familiar with the man’s admirable character, exemplified once again in his refusal to abandon his commitment to Helsingborgs, both at the end of last season and in the stated intention to return to the Swedish club for the beginning of their season in March. Whether in his recovery from a horrific leg-break at Celtic, or in his decision to spurn offers to leave the Glasgow club at the peak of his career because of his emotional attachment to them and his family’s happiness in Scotland, he has consistently come across as being a footballer of rare emotional intelligence and perspective.

United’s surprise manouevre has little to do with emotional intelligence however; Alex Ferguson will be looking to bolster his youthful forward line with Larsson’s experience and nous at a time of the season when he hopes his team will be reaching full gallop in the title race. Will Larsson do for this United side what Eric Cantona did in the 1992-93 season?

Now that would be a fitting end to his career.

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Blogger Tom the Tim said...

Thank Henrik he wasn't with them a couple of weeks ago at Celtic Park. It would have been too much to endure had he come back to damage us twice in the CL. Good luck to him in his "fun" venture.

Who knows, he may come back to Glasgow with his new club in the UEFA Cup, to the scene of many of his triumphs.

4:57 p.m.  

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