The big interview: Henrik Larsson – "The only regret of my career? Spending just two months at Man United"

Did he play in Scotland for too long? How gobby was a 20-year-old Zlatan? And would he let his son play for Rangers?

Photography: Christoffer Lomfors

FourFourTwo has arrived in Nordic Noir territory, just a few miles north of the setting for TV crime drama. The Bridge, and there is a sense of foreboding in the air on this autumn afternoon in southern Sweden.

Henrik Larsson is in the final weeks of his second season as Helsingborgs boss – a campaign that will eventually end in relegation with fans confronting the manager and his son Jordan at the final whistle. “It hasn’t gone how we wanted it to,” admits the 45-year-old.

But today at the Olympia stadium, the post outside his office is far more positive – the latest in a steady stream of fan mail from all over the world. Given the career Larsson has had, that’s not much of a surprise...

Henrik Larsson

"Ready to answer FFT's questions, Henrik?"

Who was your biggest footballing inspiration while growing up?

Samuel Lawrence-Joshua, London

I had a video of Pele and I used to watch it all the time. I’d come home from school, put it on and watch it before I went to practice. I’ve met him a couple of times: in 1998 and also a few years back. I took a picture with him, even though I was 41 or 42!

CLUBS

  • 1988-92 Hogaborgs
  • 1992-93 Helsingborgs
  • 1993-97 Feyenoord
  • 1997-2004 Celtic
  • 2004-06 Barcelona
  • 2006-09 Helsingborgs
  • 2007 Manchester United (loan)
  • 2012 Raa
  • 2013 Hogaborgs

How close did you come to quitting football when you were struggling to get into Hogaborgs’ junior teams?

Anders Karlsson, Landskrona

Quitting was never really an option. It was a tough time – I was always small, as other kids grew faster than me – but I loved the game too much to quit. A lot of people just quit because they have some obstacles, but you need to be persistent in order to succeed.

When I was 18 I had a trial at Benfica, when Sven-Goran Eriksson was the manager, then at 21 I was working for a company loading vegetables onto trucks. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but I got the call that Helsingborgs wanted to sign me. That felt great, and the rest is history.

Did you really throw a journalist into a swimming pool during those days?

Steve McIntyre, Hamilton

Yes! [Laughs] That was when you could joke a little bit with the local journalists. I didn’t do it all by myself: there were a few other players and we decided we were going to throw him in for a laugh. He was fully clothed – otherwise it’s no fun! The journalist had criticised me when I was younger, but that wasn’t the reason we did it. He still laughs about it today when I speak to him.

Henrik Larsson

Larsson caught the eye in his early days at Helsingborgs - and not just for his hair

Sweden finished third at your first World Cup, in 1994. Is that regarded as one of Sweden’s greatest teams?

Carl Jones, Bristol

In modern history, yes – every time the World Cup comes around, people talk about it. I was 22, and getting into a World Cup squad is what you dream about as a kid, so finishing third was fantastic. Scoring in the third-place play-off was an amazing feeling and I took a penalty in our quarter-final shootout against Romania.

It was nerve-wracking, but I’d been hitting that penalty since I was six years old – although it went a little too close to the post! Situations like that make or break you. It helped me, because later in my career I could look back and say, ‘Well, there’s no situation with more pressure than taking that penalty.’

How odd was it, having to go to court in a suit and tie just to get permission to leave Feyenoord to sign for Celtic?

Lisa Muir, Glasgow

It was strange! Feyenoord interpreted a clause in my contract in one way, but my representative and I both knew the right intention of the clause. I wasn’t pleased with the club at the time, but it is no problem today – I’ve good contact with the people there.

Things were not always too great for me on the pitch at Feyenoord and I went with sour grapes to Scotland. But once I’d arrived I was happy because Wim Jansen was there. He’d taken to me to Holland originally and understood what he had bought.

How did you feel when your stray pass set up Chic Charnley to score Hibs’ winner on your Celtic debut?

Scott Collins, Edinburgh

It wasn’t exactly the best start for me at Celtic, but I have to give some stick to Darren Jackson because he didn’t want the ball to feet and he ran away! It happens. After the match I said to journalists, “It’s all my fault; I hold my hands up”, even though I didn’t really think that was the case.

Today I blame it all on Darren Jackson – and I’ve told him that, too! But that’s the way things go. I think I managed to turn it around…

What is your favourite memory from your time at Celtic?

Michael Kearney, via Twitter

I didn’t know much about Celtic when I arrived; about seven of us joined at the same time and we didn’t really understand the pressure

There are so many! The day that we stopped Rangers winning 10 titles in a row, the day that we secured the Treble and the day we reached the UEFA Cup final. I’ve probably missed about 50 others. I didn’t know much about Celtic when I arrived; about seven of us joined at the same time and we didn’t really understand the pressure.

Henrik Larsson

Larsson won eight trophies during his time at Celtic

We came into a situation where we had to stop Rangers from winning 10 straight titles – they’d have been the first team to do it. We didn’t understand all of that, which was why we managed to keep our heads. If we’d been there longer and known we had to stop Rangers from winning 10 in a row, it would have been much more difficult.

Who was the best manager that you worked under in your playing career?

Lindsay Hamilton, Stirling

I had many good managers: Wim Jansen, Martin O’Neill, Frank Rijkaard and Alex Ferguson to name just a few. And Martin knew how to get everybody motivated. I remember when we were about to go onto the field at Liverpool in the season we reached the UEFA Cup final – we’d drawn 1-1 at Celtic Park so had to score at Anfield. The talk he gave before the game made everything sink in for me. I said to myself, ‘F**king hell, I will have no regrets after this game.’