“Give me joy in my heart, Henrik Larsson, give me joy in my heart, I pray, give me joy in my heart Henrik Larsson, give me Larsson ’til the end of day.. Henrik Larsson, Henrik Larsson, Henrik Larsson is the king of kings…”
The date is October 23rd, the scene is the Barcelona metro as the Celtic supporters make their way towards the Camp Nou. It is almost nine years since Henrik Larsson left Celtic but such is his impact that he will never be forgotten neither in Glasgow nor in Barcelona. Few footballers manage to have an enormous impact on the club they play for and their fans. There are even fewer who manage it in two different clubs. totalBarça received the privilege to converse with the one who did – Henrik Larsson!
On Wednesday, FC Barcelona will travel to Glasgow to play Celtic FC in Celtic Park in the fourth round of the Champions League. It is a game that most likely will not make any huge changes in Group G. It will still be however, a very special meeting thanks to a certain Henrik Larsson. The two clubs he has played for have since then grown closer to each other and not least in the aspect of their fans. Henrik is currently enjoying life at home in Helsingborg with his family coaching Landskrona Bois in the Swedish second division. Larsson agrees that he may have played a part in the appreciation the two clubs have developed towards one another. “I absolutely think [I had an impact on the clubs' relationship], I believe that my transfer from Celtic to Barça helped a bit. I was in Celtic for seven years and then in Barça for two so of course have I had a bit to do with that”.
Chanting beyond FC Barcelona
Even though it has been nine years since Henrik left Celtic and seven since he left Barcelona, his name was sung at the Camp Nou when Celtic visited and he most certainly will be hailed at the Celtic Park this week, something Henrik states is “fantastic”. Certainly the important goals and assists he made while playing for the two teams made him hard to forget, but even more is it the way he acted on and off the pitch that made him unforgettable at both Celtic and Barcelona. “I believe that both sets of fans liked my way of always putting the team before the I, that I worked hard, never gave up and that I always came out giving 100% when I was wearing their club’s shirt.”
It might have been Larsson that truly introduced Celtic and Barcelona to each other, but it’s the idea of being more than a club that made the great relationship last, as both types of fans are easy to identify. Maybe it were these similarities that made Henrik Larsson fit in so perfect as a player at both clubs. “It’s obvious they are more than a football club” Larsson notes as the topic comes up. “It’s said that religion and politics shouldn’t mix with sports, but here you have two examples of just that.” Larsson tries to imply that in some cases politics and religion has to be mixed with sports as he continues. “You have Catholicism with Celtic and you have the political with Catalonia at Barcelona, it makes everything about so much more than just football.” He continues “It’s religion and it’s politics mixed with everything and it ends up give you the feeling that it’s us against the rest of the world.”
Us against the rest of the world, but who is “us” for Henrik which of the two teams is “his” team? Who did he want to win at Camp Nou last month and who does he want to clinch the three points this week at Celtic Park? Seems to be a question he can’t answer “Not an easy situation for me,” he implies “two teams that mean so incredibly much for me that are going to play each other.” Larsson won’t stick his nose out for one of the teams this time around either: “Like I normally say, I hope the team that shows the best football for the evening wins.” So he leaves us once more only able to speculate what team beats a little bit more in the heart of the great Celtic and Barça legend, Larsson. Is it the team from Scotland where he spent seven years enjoying what he says was his best football? Or is it the team he today watches more regularly than the other Barcelona where he snatched his biggest glory winning the Champions League in 2006, or maybe it’s just as he says, impossible to decide.
Why he watches Barcelona more often than Celtic might just have more to do with the Swedish television companies “Well, I only have the luck to see Celtic when they compete in the Champions League, except for that it’s very few times their games are shown here.” With Barcelona he has a bit more luxury he feels, “Barcelona [games] you can always see, so them I watch when I can.” On TV or not, however, Henrik still makes sure to keep track of his old clubs “I look up the results from time to time to see how they’ve managed in their respective leagues.” Even if he says that he always feel extremely welcome to Camp Nou and Celtic Park, his visits are not too common. “I have my things to do here at home and when I have free time I want to spend it with my family.” But once again he makes sure to mark that it’s “two clubs very close to my heart.”
Two special clubs that Henrik Larsson loves and that love him back. So what about the games? Starting with the first game at Camp Nou, where Barça sneaked away with a 2-1 victory after Celtic showed a fantastic defense. Something Henrik wasn’t surprised over: “It was expected that Celtic would try to defend themselves to a good result.“ However, attacking football might be more enjoyable to watch. Larsson believes the Celtic fans should be more than proud over their team despite the loss, “I believe Celtic did a fantastic game, they were close to getting a point.”
Even though Celtic in the past made it difficult for Barça at Camp Nou Larsson agrees not many believed they would have much of a chance. “I think the Celtic supporters should be happy with the game because not many believed Celtic would have the chance, but Celtic almost got a point with them home.” When it comes to the game this week Henrik expects a similar outcome but with a little bit more offense from Celtic as they play at home. But he warns the Scots that “they don’t want to be too offensive because then they know that Barcelona’s fantastic quality will punish them, it’s all about finding the right balance between the attack and defense” he notes. The mission for Celtic is the same as they had at Camp Nou to stop Messi. Another important thing will Celtic have a chance against the Catalans, Larsson says is the presence of Georgios Samaras. “It’s important for Celtic to get him back from his injury as their low defense make him incredibly important.” The reason was showed in the first meeting as Larsson explains, “He could hold on to the the ball high up the field which gave his teammates time to rest.”
So what does the king of kings believe the end result will be this Wednesday? “No idea, I just hope the best team of the evening wins”. Henrik is stubborn, he will not choose one now either, he will choose both, and both clubs have already chosen him as their hero.
Alexandra can be found on Twitter @alexandrajonson
Image credit: AP/Scanpix