Adored by fans and teammates alike, Henrik Larsson was one of the most prolific goal scorers of his generation, scoring 242 times in just 313 games for Celtic where fans enjoyed his best football. Larsson then joined Barcelona for two seasons, winning La Liga twice and the Champions league, recording two assists in the final. Towards the end of his career, he enjoyed a short loan spell at Manchester United where he was again loved by the fans.
In order to celebrate Larsson's 51st birthday today, we thought we'd take a look at what some of his former teammates and managers have had to say about the iconic Swede. We have collated a series of quotes from former teammates and managers who highlight Larsson's often overlooked excellence as well as his class off the pitch
Martin O'Neill on Henrik Larsson - 'He was so graceful'
Manager for much of Larsson's time at Celtic, Martin O'Neill is full of praise for the Swede. Talking on BBC's 'Sportsound Podcast', the former Celtic manager discussed many of Larsson's performances, notably the heartbreaking loss to Porto in the 2003 UEFA Cup Final in which he scored twice. He says:
Sometimes it’s overlooked, how graceful Henrik Larsson was as a footballer
Not only was he as brave as a lion, not only was he a terrific footballer and a goal-getter, but he was so graceful as well, absolutely.
O'Neill highlights that the genius of Henrik Larsson is often overlooked.
In the following clip, Larsson's former manager is tasked with picking his best five-a-side team. In doing so he selects Larsson without question and calls him a 'really really fine player' (0:55).
Ronaldinho on Larsson - 'Henrik was my idol'
Speaking after Larsson announced his exit from Barcelona at the end of the 2005/06 season, teammate Ronaldinho spoke fondly about their relationship both on and off the field. The Brazilian legend praised Larsson's tremendous goal scoring ability, highlighting how much of a loss the Swede would be, but also talked on a more personal level:
Henrik was my idol and now that I am playing next to him it is fantastic
Ronaldinho adds that 'Henrik taught me a lot about football and I learned even more from him as a person'.
35 at the time, to be referred to as Ronaldinho's idol is testament to Larsson's talent and ruthlessness in front of goal.
When asked about being Ronaldinho's idol, Larsson responds with gratitude when saying 'It was fantastic to hear' (0:50).
Thierry Henry on Larsson's huge impact in 2006 Champions League Final
Following the Champions League Final in 2006 in which Henrik Larsson picked up two assists, Arsenal's Thierry Henry highlighted Larsson's performance in a post-match interview, commenting that:
People will talk about Eto'o and Ronaldinho a lot, but they should be talking about the players who made the difference like Henrik Larsson with his two assists.
High praise from the Arsenal legend, highlighting Larsson's brilliance and his impact on the game.
Xavi on Larsson - 'He was so important for us'
Former Barcelona teammate Xavi also praises Henrik Larsson for his talent, whilst also highlighting how popular he was with his teammates and fans.
Xavi says that, "From the first day I saw him in training, the way he moved and the way he was in the box, I knew he was going to be a really good player for us. He was so important for us and he was loved by the supporters and his team-mates."
Larsson's first season at Barcelona was riddled with injury as he tore his ACL, recording just 16 appearances for the club. Despite the injuries, comments from his teammates highlight just how good he was, and how fundamental he was to the team.
Alex Ferguson on Larsson - 'They would say his name in awed tones'
Despite making just 13 appearances for Manchester United whilst on loan, Larsson's impact on the club cannot be underestimated. The fans adored him, he became one of their own after scoring a crucial goal on his debut. Former United manager Alex Ferguson writes in his autobiography about the how impressive Larsson was, writing:
They would say his name in awed tones. For a man of 35, his receptiveness to information on the coaching side was amazing. At every session he was rapt. He wanted to listen to Carlos Queiroz, the tactics lectures, he was into every nuance of what we did.
In training, he was superb, his movement, his positional play. His three goals for us was no measure of his contribution. In his last game in our colours at Middlesbrough, we were winning 2-1 and Henrik went back to play in midfield and ran his balls off.
On his return to the dressing room, all the players stood up and applauded him and the staff joined in. It takes some player to make that kind of impact in two months.
Larsson's time at United was a whirlwind, impressing fans with every touch whilst also winning the love and support from his teammates in such a short space of time.
(Larsson's Goal here comes at 1:30)
That Chip In 'Demolition Derby'
You can't talk about Henrik Larsson without mentioning the infamous chip against Rangers in 2000. In a match that saw Rangers demolish their rivals 6-2, Larsson's cheeky chip in the 50th minute is the definition of class.
Getting on the end of a loose ball, Larsson proceeds to nutmeg the defender before lobbing the ball over the floundering goalkeeper without breaking stride to make it 4-1. The striker celebrates in true fashion, sticking his tongue out whilst taking in the roar of Celtic Park.
This moment of genius changed the course of Scottish football, marking the end of Rangers' decade of dominance as Celtic went on to claim the title emphatically. Henrik Larsson was at the centre of Celtic's success for years to come, scoring 35 goals per season on average until his departure in 2004.
Henrik Larsson was one of the best strikers of his generation, possessing an astounding goals to games ratio. His talent was remarkable and is truly appreciated by his former teammates, managers and fans alike.
We would like to wish Henrik Larsson a Happy Birthday!