Welcome to Last Word on Football’s ‘Returning Players’ series. In this edition, we look at Swedish striker, Henrik Larsson.
The forward made a return to two clubs during an impressive career in European football. He began his career at Högaborgs BK, a Swedish Third Division side based in his hometown of Helsingborg, before a move to Helsingborgs IF, where he netted 51 goals in just 61 appearances.
Moves to Feyenoord, Celtic and Barcelona followed before a successful return to Helsingborg. Larsson enjoyed a short loan joined Manchester United before ending his career where it all began with Högaborgs BK.
Returning Players – Henrik Larsson
First Spell at Högaborgs BK
Henrik Larsson joined Högaborgs at the age of six. The lower league club provided education to young players – something the forward later explained how important it was for him.
He joined the senior side at 17 while working as a fruit packer alongside playing part-time football once he had left school. He also had a trail at Benfica, who were managed by Swede Sven-Goran Eriksson.
However, he stayed in Sweden and scored 23 goals in 64 appearances during his four years at the club.
First Spell at Helsingborgs IF
After impressing in the lower leagues, Larsson was signed by Second Division side and city rivals Helsingborgs IF. In his first year in professional football, the forward scored 34 goals in just 31 appearances as Di Röe secured promotion to the top flight.
With the club playing in the Allsvenskan for the first time in 24 years, Larsson continued to impress and netted 17 goals in all competitions.
Teams That Henrik Larsson Played for in Between
51 goals in 61 appearances was always going to prompt a move to bigger and better things. As a result, Eredivisie heavyweights Feyenoord signed the forward.
However, it took time for Larsson to settle to life from outside of his native Sweden, and he managed just six goals in 27 appearances in his first campaign. The goal tally improved as the seasons progressed but the striker became frustrated with the change of management, being played out of position and the club’s policy of player rotation.
Larsson netted 42 goals in 149 appearances during his time in the Netherlands and won two KNVB Cups.
After Larsson asked to leave, Celtic met the player’s release clause. Life in Scotland started badly, however. On his debut, Larsson inadvertently passed the ball to an opposing player who then went on to score the winner. That was followed with an own goal in his first game in Europe, although Celtic won the game.
Despite the slow start, Larsson ended his first campaign as the club’s top scorer with 19 goals, one of which was the second in a 3-0 win over Dundee United in the Scottish League Cup final. Celtic also ended the season with the league title – a first of four that Larsson would win.
Larsson netted 38 times the following season where he scored twice in the Old Firm match – a 5-1 victory over Rangers – and an equaliser in a 2-2 draw in the reverse. Despite his goals, Celtic lost out to their rivals for the league title and the Scottish Cup.
The striker netted eight goals in nine league games at the start of the following season but would miss much of the campaign after suffering a near-career ending injury in a UEFA Cup loss against Lyon.
But with injury worries eventually behind him, Larsson continued to impress. A formidable partnership with Chris Sutton saw the forward net 35 goals in 38 league games. Celtic won the domestic treble, with Larsson scoring a hat trick in the Scottish Cup final. The striker ended the season with 53 goals in all competitions.
A second successive Scottish Premier League title followed for Larsson while Celtic embarked on their first-ever Champions League group stage campaign. Larsson scored in a defeat at Juventus and a win over Porto before netting in a 4-3 home win over the Old Lady. Larsson ended the campaign with 29 goals in 33 league outings.
Larsson and Celtic reached the UEFA Cup final in the next campaign but lost out to Porto. The striker equalised twice in the game and ended as the competitions second-highest scorer. Celtic would also miss out on the league title as Rangers won the division on goal difference but Larsson ended as the league’s top scorer once again after scoring 28 times.
His final season in Scotland brought further success as Celtic secured the domestic double. Celtic also won all five Old Firm fixtures, with Larsson scoring in the Scottish League Cup against their city rivals. The striker also netted twice in the final.
Following his success in Scotland, Larsson joined Barcelona after his Celtic contract expired. However, injury hampered his first season at the Nou Camp. He netted just four goals from 17 appearances – one of which came against Celtic in the Champions League.
Despite only signing a one year deal, the Spanish side extended his stay for a second season. His final game was one of real significance as the substitute provided two assists as Barcelona won the Champions League final against Arsenal. Larsson also netted ten league goals as Barcelona secured back to back La Liga titles.
Return to Helsingborgs IF
Despite huge success in Europe, Larsson wanted to return home. The striker made his second debut for the club in a Swedish Cup tie against Hammarby. Larsson would go on to win the competition, while the striker added eight league goals from 15 appearances as the club finished fourth in the Allsvenskan.
With the Allsvenskan in the close season, Larsson joined Manchester United on a short-term loan. He netted on his debut against Aston Villa and ended his stay at Old Trafford with three goals from 13 appearances. The Red Devils secured the Premier League title and although Larsson hadn’t made enough domestic appearances, he was granted special dispensation by the Premier League for a medal.
His loan spell ended in time with the new Swedish season beginning. Larsson played a key role as Helsingborgs embarked on European football, scoring six goals in eight games before being eliminated with defeat against PSV.
His penultimate season at the club brought his best scoring tally since his return. 14 league goals helped the club to secure European football once again. Larsson scored three times in the group stages before injury ruled him out. But upon his return, the striker netted two goals, including the winner, against rivals AIK. He called time on the club with an impressive 54 goals in 107 appearances.
After announcing his retirement, Larsson made a return to both of his Swedish clubs. The striker registered as a player with Högaborg’s senior-recreational side. Due to injuries, Larsson played in a 4-2 win over Tenhult, playing alongside his son, Jordan. He also played 66 minutes in a 2-0 win over IF Haga. He turned out for Helsingborg one more time and scored in a 7-1 friendly win over IFK Malmö.
Capped 106 times by Sweden, Larsson had a tremendous career, and despite the highs of domestic trebles in Scotland and Champions League success with Barcelona, the forward fulfilled his promise of returning home to finish his career.