Football’s Sacred Cows: #2 Henrik Larsson

by Kevin Henning

Following on from the Sacred Cow article that named Luis Figo as the most overrated Ballon d’Or winner of all time, I’ve decided to nominate a player of my own for this series. It may be a controversial choice, indeed the boss of the Daisy Cutter has been so concerned about this that I’ve had to hack into the site and put this up myself. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Henrik Larsson.

“Good Lord!” I hear you cry, “Have you looked at his goalscoring record?” I have indeed. A most impressive 174 goals in 221 appearances for Celtic. No offence to our Scottish readers but it’s hardly the elite of world football is it? So he rattled in a few hat-tricks against Motherwell and Kilmanock and scored a few in the free-for-all, defensive nightmares that pass for an Old Firm derby, well done Henke. You terrorised a piss poor league. Having been a laughing stock who couldn’t hit a horse’s rear with a ukalele at Manchester City during one particularly dark period, Georgios Samaras is now the main man in Celtic’s attack. That’s the standard we’re talking about. Marco Negri (remember him?) scored 23 goals in 10 appearances for Rangers before the shuttlecock incident of 1997 but nobody gave him an MBE.

Larsson did eventually leave the Glasgow club to join Barcelona but waited until he was 33 years old to do so. Had he made the same move 5 years earlier when at his peak at 28, we’d have seen whether the Swedish striker could have lived with the true greats of European football. 40 appearances in two seasons suggest that he wasn’t exactly the lynchpin at the Catalan outfit and was possibly signed as a cheap option to fill a squad place and sell replica shirts.

I’m not suggesting for a minute that Larsson was a poor player, far from it. I’m merely asking whether he was the marksman of a generation he has been painted as or merely a very good striker in a league where flat track bullies can plunder comedic defences week in – week out.

“The King of Kings” returned to his hometown club Helsingborgs for the advent of his career, enjoyed a brief loan spell at Manchester United where, despite not playing the mandatory ten matches to earn a championship medal, the Premier League decided that Saint Henrik should be granted special dispensation and got one anyway!

His international career whilst impressive, was hardly the stuff of legend either. 37 goals in 106 games for Sweden has already been bettered by Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 30 less caps during a period where Sweden haven’t been anything like as consistant as they were during Larsson’s career. Larsson’s legend has been exaggerated to the point where he is held aloft amongst the very top players of the last three decades when I can only consider him one of the also rans. Where does this hype come from? Is it the fact that he has played for 3 clubs who like to overstate their own greatness to anyone who’ll listen in Celtic, United and Barcelona?

If there are no contradictory opinions, I will without further delay, admit Henrik Larsson to the Overrated Hall of Sacred Cows.



Related stories from around the web


  1. If he was just being judged on his record in the Scottish league, I’d agree, but he scored 12 goals in 12 games to drag Celtic to the UEFA Cup Final, and single handedly turned around the Champion’s League Final with 2 assists to win the game for Barcelona. I wouldn’t call him one of the greatest ever, but mentioned among the best of his era seems about right.

  2. He was a true legend of football…it was never just his goals, it was his all round play. You only have to look at the joy he brought to fans everywhere he played.
    He is top scorer in the history of the UEFA Cup!

    At Barca, despite arriving in the twilight of his career…they sang his name from the stands when he left. They like Celtic fans knew how good he was…his first touch and vision. His workrfate was exceptional and above all his knew what it meant to the fans everytime he stepped on the pitch.

    Ronaldinho described Larsson as his hero

    Henry called him out as the real footballer who changed the game when Barca came back to beat Arsenal in Paris.

    I’m not a fan of Alex Ferguson but he is no fool…he knew how good Henrik was despite being 35. Plus United wanted him to stay for longer…Henrik didn’t stay and instead put his family first.

    Ask anyone who watched Henrik in the flesh…a true legend of football.

    UEFA Cup Final againsy Porto (don’t forget they won the Champions league the following season) Watch this game and then tell me Larsson was not up there with the greats!

  3. Have to disagree completely, Larsson is one of my all time favourite players, I just really enjoyed his ‘style’. Not suggesting he’s Maradonna or Messi, but there’s no shame in that. As mentioned already in comments above, Larsson was far more than his finishing and scoring record (which is mighty impressive, the Scottish league was a lot stronger in those days than it is now). His passing and link-up play, smart, intelligient movement were a joy to watch in his brief spell at United. He was a real team player despite his talent and could also take very good set pieces from what I remember. There’s a reason he’s recalled with such fondness by United/Barca/Celtic fans. His time at Barca was impacted by injuries but he never looked out of place in the side and provided the assists that won them the CL. He dragged Celtic to a UEFA cup final, impressing against top sides like Porto. He had a special connection to Celtic and it’s fans, which is why he stayed for so long, which is commendable rather than a stick to beat him with. He proved his worth in European competitions and internationally. Would have loved to have had him in his prime at United, very classy player on and off the pitch.