So, the long goodbye is finally over and Henrik
Larsson has kicked his last ball in Scottish football. Weve
hung back from joining in the sobfest that enveloped Larssons
last few weeks in the SPL. Eight-page supplements here, TV programmes
there, fawning tributes to the Swede apparently everywhere, including,
bizarrely, on Scottish TV a station which had little, if
any, footage of the great man in action.
But now that its all over well stick our oar in what
are less media shark-infested waters than a week ago. Right back
at the start of 2003-04 we said of Larsson: no matter who
you support, if you have the opportunity to see this man play then
take it. It may be a long time before a striker of his ability graces
our game again.
Words we are happy to stand by. You dont have
to be a Parkhead season ticket holder or a media sycophant to appreciate
that a great talent has been lost to our game. Nor do you have to
have tear-stained ticket stubs or signed programmes of the man himself
to realise that talk of replacing Larsson is futile.
He came. He saw. He conquered. He left. And he has
left us all with memories of a marvellous player, even if some of
his skill wasnt fully appreciated at the time. For this writer
the outstanding memory of Larsson was agony to endure. It was the
League Cup Final of 2001 and Kilmarnock were
giving Celtic a right old game of it until two things happened.
First, another great football talents career came to a close
when Ian Durrant had to go off injured. Second, Larsson
took charge. The Swede gave Celtic the lead early in the second
half but when his hotheaded strike partner Chris Sutton was
deservedly sent off, it looked like Killie could claw their way
back into the match.
It was then that Larsson proved that he didnt need to rely
on anybody else up front beside him. He scored again perhaps
a tad fortuitously as his shot seemed to take a deflection. But
there was nothing lucky about his third. Receiving the ball just
inside his own half, he outstripped the entire Killie defence to
claim his hat-trick and present Martin ONeill with
the first trophy of his Celtic career.
Just about every supporter of every other SPL club
can tell a similar tale of skill that filled them full of simultaneous
horror and delight.
Larsson (fended off here by Chris Innes) scored
a hat-trick in the 2001 League Cup Final
But now hes gone and the arguments raging over
his position among the all-time greats of the Scottish game are
fruitless. The supporters of Baxter, Dalglish, Johnstone or
others will never cede their heros position to Larsson or
to anyone else. The same applies to the question as to whether he
was the best import into our game. The defenders of Laudrup
and Gazza will stand their ground.
We make no claim for the Swede, save to say that his name isnt
out of place with any of those mentioned above and that his departure
has left a talent void. There is no outstanding footballer presently
plying his trade in Scotland.
And while we have a talented group of youngsters
coming through, its been a long time since the Scottish game
produced a talent that could compete with the worlds best.
In fact you could argue that Larsson was the last such player. For
although he is a Swede who played in Holland, it was Celtic and
Scotland that made Larsson an international star. Unlike Brian Laudrup
or Paul Gascoigne both established world stars when they
arrived at Rangers few had heard of Larsson before he landed
on these shores.
And while Celtic mull over the identity of Larssons replacement
a toss-up between Rivaldo and Shaun Maloney(!!!)
it appears the dormant SPL continues to make the news.
At the time of writing it appears that Dundee will make moves
to come out of administration and thus avoid a ten point deduction
at the start of next season, but that Livingston might not
be so lucky. In fact there is a real danger that the League Cup
holders will go bust.
While we hope that isnt the case and regard the death of any
club as a tragedy the knock-on effects for the rest of the SPL would
OK, lets assume Partick Thistle would be reprieved
from relegation. Say that ICT decide against ground-sharing
in Aberdeen. There would be eleven clubs. What happens to
the top and bottom six in such circumstances? Top six and bottom
five? Top five and bottom six? What about the signed and sealed
TV deals to show 38 matches?
Could the sixth placed side take action if deprived
of fixtures against the Old Firm? Would the SPL admit second-placed
1st Division Clyde to make up the numbers? Clydes team
has already started to break up after their failure to win promotion.
Their SPL performance could make East Stirlings record look
Or would they, in desperation, go to the highest-placed
side with a 10,000 seater stadium St Johnstone?
Tragic though it may be for the hardy band of supporters in Livingston,
their going to the wall may actually represent a chance for Scottish
football to sort itself out. Or their demise might just hand the
SPL a get-out-of-jail card. Stranded with eleven teams and unable
to guarantee fixture lists or TV commitments, the morally bankrupt
SPL would have two choices.
They could heed the calls for change.
Or they could relegate the Jags anyway, refuse to admit ICT and
move back to a League of ten.
Sadly, none of us have to be Einstein to work out what they would
All in all, Larssons better off going. In fact the more
you look at the madhouse that is the SPL the more you wonder why
he stuck around for as long as he did!