2000-01 was a special season for a special player. Henrik Larsson dominated the SPL, claiming in the process the European Golden Shoe and high praise from Celtic’s arch rivals.
To tell the story of that 2000-01 season that Henrik Larsson gave us, we need to go back to October 21st 1999. Henrik Larsson doesn’t know it yet, but the following season he will be the most prolific striker in all of Europe. Larsson is 12 games in to the season with 12 goals to his name. He simply can’t be stopped.
Except he was.
Larsson pounces on a loose ball in Celtic’s UEFA Cup match with Lyon. Serge Blanc, then a Lyon defender sees the loose ball too and goes for it. In the ensuing footrace, Larsson’s left leg is caught under the run of Blanc. It snaps in two places. With such a bad compound fracture their are murmurings Henrik Larsson may never play again.
Skip forward eight months and Henrik stands on the sidelines on the last day of the season. He is back, albeit as a substitute to play Celtic’s last game of the season. Ending a dreadful year for both man and club. In that period the club had gone through two directors of football and two managers. With the duo of Dalglish and John Barnes gone, a Northern Irishman by the name of Martin O’Neill takes the reigns for the new campaign. What happens that season is rather magical.
Over the 50 games Henrik Larsson played in O’Neill’s début season he nets 53 times. His partnership with Chris Sutton is simply too much for SPL opposition.
It was a season of many milestones. He scored arguably his greatest goal of his career, against Rangers of all teams. A beautiful knock down from Chris Sutton in to the path of Larsson saw the Swede round two defenders, before an absurdly egotistical finish saw him chip the Rangers keeper.
The milestones kept coming against Rangers and Larsson also bagged the 50th goal of his season against them in another Old Firm derby. In between that he also managed a hattrick of goals against Kilmarnock and a Brace over Hibs.
Acclaim followed of course. He was named the SPL’s Player of the Year as well as the Scottish Football Writer’s Player of the Year. Then there was the European recognition. His 35 domestic goals saw him top the European standings and pip the likes of Andriy Shevchenko and Hernan Crespo to the title.
2000-01 was the second and final time Henrik Larsson would finish a season with more goals than appearances (the first at Helsinborg in 1992). He came close in 2002-03 when he netted 44 goals in 52 games but alas it wasn’t to be. Perhaps there is no praise higher that a Celtic player can achieve that the unreserved admiration of a Rangers boss. Dick Advocaat, the then Rangers manager got himself in to all kinds of trouble when he waxed lyricla about the Swede;
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 he scores two goals. Larsson has even more, because, besides being a good player and goalscorer, he has a tremendous work rate.
Henrik Larsson’s time at Celtic yielded 242 goals in 313 appearances. Nowadays we marvel at Messi and Ronaldo as they destroy and distort La Liga records for ever more. And while Henrik was no Messi, his European Golden Boot proves that once upon a time Henrik Larsson was the greatest striker in Europe.