Henrik Larsson: “Xavi is the best team mate I have ever had”

Henrik Larsson: “Xavi is the best team mate I have ever had”

‘Henke’ Larsson still has good memories about his short but high-impact stage at Barça. In an interview to Canal+, which was partially reproduced by Sport (watch a video of it here), Larsson talked about some of the highlights of his extensive and prolific career,  especially as a Barça player. Henke said:  “The highlight of my career was winning the Champions League title with Barça. It is the most important title for a football player, and I had the chance of winning it when I was 34 years old. It was fantastic”.

Henke is devoted to his job as the coach of second division team Landskrona BoIS in Sweden. In his current position, he is sharing his huge experience and past success with his players. His career was also influenced by teams that he considered a reference, such as Barça’s Dream Team in 1992. “I remember watching Barça, with Koeman, Stoichikov, Romario, Laudrup.. what fantastic football they played! and there I was, years later, at 34, with the opportunity of joining that team, of course I said yes!!”

His late arrival at the Camp Nou, in the very last part of his career, made him to enjoy  it, to feel it in a different way: “I think I enjoyed my time at Barça much more than I had done it if I joined them earlier. I could take it easier, because I was not the star in that team. We had Ronaldinho, Eto’o and other great players who had a bigger name than me” he said, even though he had had a magnificient career before joining the blaugrana, in teams like Feyenoord and Celtic, where he is still remembered as a true hero.

However, when he joined Barça, he needed some time to get used to a new team, a new way of playing fooball. He remembers that “it was very difficult to me to get used to play at 10PM, as we did many times. Also, when I joined Barça I realised the huge quality of the squad. That was something I was not used to, that amount of quality I mean, despite the excellence of my previous teams and my respect for them, there was a huge gap of quality“. So when he arrived, he soon realised he would have another role at Barça: a supportive role, rather than a leading role. He probably didn’t know at that time that, even as a sub, he would end up being extremely important for getting a victory on that rainy night in Paris.

Henke also talked about some of the team mates he had at Barça. “Ronaldinho was, of course, one of the best players in the world. But I didn’t realise how amazing Xavi was until I met him. I think Xavi is the best football player I have had as a team mate. His moves, the way he plays the ball, and turning without losing it.. he just never loses the ball! He already knew where to put the ball when I was just starting to run”. Larsson also remembered Don Andrés Iniesta, of whom he said “When I arrived at Barça, Iniesta was just starting to show some of his talent. I think he has learnt a lot from Xavi. But Iniesta also has this tremendous speed. I think they play in a similar manner.. it was amazing just to see them play”.

The worst moment for Henke at Barça was when was he got a serious knee injury in a game against Madrid. He recalls that “I thought about what I wanted to do for a few days, as I got this serious injury and, at my age, I didn’t know I wanted to make the huge effort that my recovery would demand me to do“. However, Larsson trusted his capabilities and decided to recover and stay at Barça for one more season. It was a good call: months later he was instrumental for the club’s second Champions League title. That call also allowed him to receive the admiration that the Camp Nou has for him. He was one of those players who even while playing even a few minutes, would always get a big cheer from the crowd. “I think people liked my style of football. They were used to players like Ronaldinho, Messi, Laudrup, they have always had fantastic players in their team. I didn’t have that much quality but they knew that I would give everything for the team when I had to play. And they valued that“, he recounts fondly.

If we could choose a moment that will be a highlight for Henke’s career at Barça however, it should be the Champions League final in Paris, 2006. “I am still very happy about that game. First, I didn’t even know if I would go to the bench or not. I had had a good training session the day before, and I was just happy with the idea of playing a few minutes in a big game like that, something that not every player can do, especially at my age”, he said. “When I got in, I just had one thing in my mind: try to fix the things by either scoring or making a team mate score“, he remembers, still having the goals by Eto’o and Belletti in his memory. He was directly involved in both goals, and allowed Barça to win the Champions League title after a long period of 14 years. Larsson’s legacy at Barça is, since then, forever remembered.