Tuesday, March 06, 2007

King Henrik of Helsingborg is coming home


In today’s over-priced and over-pampered football players there are some that sort of stick out for not going with the flow. David Beckham is one…we never read about his antics in nightclubs, drunken fights with team members or being hauled into the courts accused of “roasting” (this is not a BBQ term). Beckham is to many an incredible football player who has made his dreams come true and along the way provided audiences with numerous goals and entertainment…and haircuts…

The player which I believe are miles ahead of them, both in ability and humanity is Sweden’s Henrik Larsson…

Larsson just happen to come from the same town in Sweden as I do, Helsingborg, situated in the Southern Province of Skåne overlooking the Öresund straight, which separates Denmark from Sweden. When the weather is kind you can see the Elsinore Castle on the other side, the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. In the years that Larsson has applied his trade, he has excelled from strength to strength both as a football player and more importantly as a decent human being.

Is there anyone out there that can remember Larsson being drunk beating up his wife talking to press telling them that he has had affairs with other women, driven drunk, speeding and causing mayhem at nightclubs…I don’t think so.

This man has given his all to his work, excelled in all forms on and off the pitch. After breaking his leg at to places against Lyon whilst playing for Celtic he was written off by the press and those who is in the know. He proved them wrong, came back continued to play for Celtic and Sweden’s national team, scored some 242 goals for Celtic, then in 2001 he won the Golden Boot for being the most prolific player in Europe.

Still the press was not happy, he was applying his trade in an inferior league and had he only come to England to play we would have proved that he is not that good. Well is was not to happen…his family enjoyed their life in Scotland and stability for the children were more important than to silence some “has-beens” on television and the hacks writing for the Greatest British press sport pages.

In 2004 Larsson did decide to move and the Premiere League held their breath…is it going to be Manchester United, Chelsea or Liverpool…no none of the above…he picked Barcelona…why? Because they are the best team in Europe? Because they paid more? No again because of family, his wife is a very good equestrian and the offer of going to Barcelona allowed her to pursue her sport. That is how simple it was…

After announcing his retirement from International football he sat at home watching the Swedish matches with his son when the son said “Dad why don’t you play for Sweden again, they need you…” so without delay Larsson came out of retirement and played for Sweden again…because his son asked him to.

Larsson finished in Barcelona 2006 by sealing the victory in the Champions League by producing his trademark magic running and placement beat Arsenal 2 -1. On the night Thierry Henry, the prolific Arsenal strike said; "People always talk about Ronaldinho, Eto'o, Giuly and everything but I didn't see them today - I saw Henrik Larsson. Two times he came on - he changed the game, that is what killed the game - sometimes you talk about Ronaldinho and Eto'o and people like that, you need to talk about the proper footballer who made the difference and that was Henrik Larsson tonight..."

So with the Barcelona contract ending, Larsson politely turned down an extension and moved his family back to Helsingborg where it all once began in 1971 (September 20 to be exact). He had built a house, and contrary to some reports in the press it is not a palace it is a normal house I know because I drive passed it every time I go and visit my parents, and moved the family in, signed a contract to play for Helsingborg, his former home club, joining them mid season last year.

When the season finished Larsson had helped his home team to a Swedish Cup victory, also getting them up from below mid table ending 4th in the Swedish league. His team mates went for winter training and Larsson? Well he decided that it was time to silence the hacks and the television reporters in England, he signed up with Manchester United for a 10 week contract, joined one of the largest clubs in Europe and again transformed the game, at a ripe old age of 35…he did such a good job of it that the management in United now would have liked him to stay…

Larsson will not stay in United, he says family commitment takes him back to Helsingborg and whilst United fans and management would like to see the striker stay, it was best summed up by the Helsingborg coach Stuart Baxter who said "As a professional, I understand in a perfect world it would be nice for Henrik to stay, but that would not go down well with our club and it is not in Henrik's plans either." Again Larsson the ultimate football player and more importantly the ultimate dad are doing with what he believes is right…

You see…when next time you talk about professional players, spare a thought for those who are professional on and off the pitch…

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