Henrik Larsson left a lasting legacy wherever he went over his 25 seasons in professional football.
His time at Celtic is heralded with Larsson widely regarded as the club’s greatest ever player scoring 242 goals in 313 games as the Scottish club wrestled back control from their cross-city rivals Rangers after a decade in the doldrums.
The Swede would later join a star-studded Barcelona team containing the star attractions such as Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o, Xavi, Andreas Iniesta and Lionel Messi.
Larsson would play an instrumental role in his final game with the club setting up two goals as Barcelona came from behind to defeat Arsenal 2-1 in the 2006 Champions League final.
In the twilight of his career, Larsson had a final swansong at the top table of European football when he joined Manchester United in January 2007 on a short-term loan deal at the age of 35.
The striker would prove to be a cult figure among the Man United dressing room. Alex Ferguson said that he would have done anything to keep Larsson at the club longer than the agreed 10-week deal.
Larsson kept his word and returned to Helsinborg having scored 3 goals in 13 appearances for the Red Devils.
The football legend later admitted that leaving at the club is the one regret from his career. Larsson felt he could have played an extra year at the club.
“It was great,” Larsson said on The Lockdown Tactics podcast.
“To work under Sir Alex Ferguson obviously. Playing a lot of games in Scotland and him being Scottish, you were watching Man United a lot.
“To see the players there, Scholes, Giggsy, Rio and all the players, Cristiano. It was a great experience and being able to do that so late in my career it was just fantastic because, for me, it’s a great club.
“The 10 weeks I had there, the way they took care of me, both on and off the pitch, was just professional.
I’m very happy that I done that and that’s the only regret I have that I didn’t stay there for the remainder of that season because I’m sure I would have got one year extra out of that had I stayed.
“I had my commitments to Helsingborg and I wanted to honour that.”
It’s been widely reported that the Scottish manager tried to sign Larsson earlier in his career while at Celtic. However, the former Swedish international said there was never a reason for him to travel south and play in the Premier League.
Larsson admits it was hard to turn down Man United but he had a loyalty to Celtic who were then building something special under the guidance of Martin O’Neill.
“Loyal to Celtic yes but also having the experience that I had in Holland where I wasn’t really happy on the pitch. I didn’t play week in, week out which I needed to do. Which is what I found back again at Celtic. I knew I was important there.
“But also we had a good team at the time so for me, there was no reason [to leave] because we played in the Europa League or the Champions League.
“And I mean, to go down to the English Premier League to earn maybe five, ten grand more a week, it wasn’t an option for me. Jordan [his son] wasn’t that old, he was happy in Scotland, my wife was happy in Scotland so for me, there was no reason to go down to south [to Man United] even though it was a great club.
“It was tough to say no but I was really happy at Celtic and I felt especially under Martin O’Neill that we had something good going on and the players he brought in were fantastic players.”
Celtic were building something special under Martin O’Neill with new additions such as Larsson, John Hartson, Alan Thompson and Neil Lennon helping to turn Celtic into the dominant team in Scotland winning. litany of league titles and Scottish Cups while they also proved a force to be reckoned with in Europea reaching the 2003 Uefa Cup final.
However, of all the talent that Celtic side possessed and indeed the other clubs that Larsson played with over his 25-year career, one player stands out as his greatest ever strike partner.
According to Larsson, Chris Sutton was without a doubt the best striker partner he ever had as a front two.
“He [Sutton] was the best partner I ever had. A big guy with vision who knew how to play the game. He was totally unselfish. He worked very hard, never stopped running and he could score goals. It was easy to play with him.
“When he went up for a header, I just had to judge where to run. Whether I had to go ahead of him or behind and that’s always easier when you know what you’re partner is going to do.
“For me, he was the best I ever played with in the 4-4-2 system without a doubt.”