Before he lopped them all off, the dreadlocked hair of Henrik Larsson had all the bounce, style, and sway that would characterise his 2000/01 campaign. With an Umbro crest over his right pec, ‘ntl:’ over his midriff, and the legendary green and white hoops circling his slaloming figure, the Swedish striker fired Celtic to the treble. So iconic was that season, the shirt came in at 9th when UKSoccerShop.com polled the club’s fans. If you were to summarise their antics in the kit, it was ‘goals, goals, and more goals.’
Under the new leadership of Martin O’Neill, who arrived on a three-year contract, The Bhoys were looking to overturn Rangers’ dominance on the league that had brought back-to-back titles and 11 of the last 12. The previous season saw the blue side of Glasgow romp to the title, leaving John Barnes and Kenny Dalglish’s men 21 points adrift. It was one hell of a gulf to close, yet O’Neill was a highly regarded manager, fresh off the back of a fruitful five-year spell at Leicester, and less than two off of being touted as the successor to Sir Alex Ferguson, who nearly left Manchester United in 2002.
Neil Lennon and Matt Elliott were linked with making the move up to Scotland to join their departed manager at Parkhead but summer moves did not materialise. Lennon would later join in the December for £5.75 million and went on to manage the club from 2010 to 2014, and again as of February 2019, replacing the outgoing Brendan Rodgers. The current season started on Saturday 3rd August and Lennon’s men smashed St. Johnstone by a 7-0 score line.
Also joining the club permanently that year were Chris Sutton, Joos Valgaeren, Alan Thompson, Didier Agathe and Rab Douglas. All would go on to be key players on the way to the domestic treble, with all but Douglas making over 30 appearances for the club. Having displaced Jonathan Gould as the #1, Douglas fell just short with 28 appearances. None of them, however, would have the impact of the man who joined for just £650,000 from Feyenoord in July 1997.
Already scorer of 69 goals in 107 appearances, Larsson went into the 2000/01 campaign on the back of a double leg break, picked up in a UEFA Cup defeat to Lyon in the October. It had kept him out for eight months and threatened to end his career. However, he returned on the final day of 1999/00 season, desperate to prove his worth ahead of Euro 2000. It ended in misery for Sweden as they finished bottom of Group B, winless and with just two goals; Larsson’s man-of-the-match performance against Italy – a 2-1 defeat in which he scored his country’s equaliser – unable to save them. What followed, however, was the most prolific season of Larsson’s career, laden with goals, trophies, individual accolades, and records broken.
It took just 37 minutes for Celtic’s 3rd all-time – and top foreign – goalscorer to recapture his shooting boots, with the BBC’s match report stating that he “stole the show.” His goal came in a 2-1 victory over Dundee United, away from home, and it started a 16-game unbeaten run that included just two draws. It wasn’t until they faced their city rivals Rangers that it came to an end, the Gers winning 5-1 at Ibrox, but not before they dished out a mauling of their own.
On August 27th, only five games into the season, with nine goals and four wins already registered, Celtic played host to Rangers. Larsson had three goals to his name by now and would add another two. His first has been dubbed the greatest goal in Old Firm history according to The Celtic Wiki and it really was majestic.
Chris Sutton took a long and high ball out of the air, chesting it down for the oncoming Larsson, who raced away from his marker giving chase, nutmegged Konterman on the edge of the box, and the superbly lifted it over the oncoming Klos. Wheeling away, his thick white headband kept his dreads off his face and a beaming smile met a rapturous Celtic Park. “Look at the sheer arrogance of that strike,” the commentator bellowed. Nicknamed the Demolition Derby, the game finished 6-2 to The Bhoys and another 11 games without defeat would follow.
In that time, Larsson would score a further 12 league goals, taking his tally to 17 in the opening 16 games, and although an 18th would come at Ibrox, Rangers exacted revenge, beating Celtic by the same margin of goals; the second Old Firm derby of the season finishing 5-1. They’d meet a further three times that season and each time the men in green came out on top, beating them 1-0 and 3-1 in the next two leagues games and another 3-1 win in the League Cup semi-final, thanks to a Sutton opener and a Larsson brace.
Between the two of them, 67 goals would be scored of Celtic’s total 136, yet the split between the strikers was far from equal: 53 of their return came from Larsson, accounting for 79% of theirs and 39% of the club’s total. Larsson’s individual haul hasn’t been beaten in Scottish football since and secured him the European Golden Boot, the first time a Scotland-based player had won the award since Ally McCoist won it consecutively in 1992 and 1993. It was all the more impressive considering that since the 1996/97 season, the Golden Boot has been awarded based on a points system that sees goals scored in tougher leagues, given more points. Since the introduction, only two players outside of Europe’s top five leagues have won the award: Mario Jardel and Henrik Larsson.
In total, Larsson would that season collect the SPL Golden Boot, the SFWA Footballer of the Year, the SPFA Players’ Player of the Year, and the European Golden Boot, alongside the Scottish domestic treble. It led to the manager and captain of their bitter rivals unable to do anything but heap praise on him.
Rangers manager Dick Advocaat labelled him a “top quality striker, not just in Europe but worldwide,” and their captain Barry Ferguson admitted that, “he [would] certainly be [his] player of the year.” The comments came just days after he had scored a hat-trick against Hearts in a 3-0 win at Tynecastle and ahead of their eventual 3-1 win over Rangers in the cup semi-final.
In 2004, Larsson called time on his Celtic career and moved to Barcelona, winning back-to-back La Ligas in 2005 and 2006, the Supercopa in 2005 and the Champions League in 2006, scoring 19 goals in 59 games. Undoubtedly, though, hos footballing legacy is coloured in the green and white and for one season at least, he was the best striker in Europe.
By Jordan Florit - @TheFalseLibero
Jordan is currently writing Red Wine and Arepas: How Football is Becoming Venezuela's Religion. To pre-order it, visit his Kickstarter here. The Terrace subscribers have already been emailed an exclusive discount. Message Jordan if you no longer have it.
Written with the cooperation of the executive president of the Venezuelan Football League, Rubén Villavicencio, Red Wine and Arepas will feature exclusive interviews with players past and present.
He has already secured numerous interviews and meetings with Venezuelan players, managers, officials, journalists and fans, domestic and international, men and women, and will continue to work hard to arrange more. This includes members of the 2019 Copa América squad and teams from previous Copas, domestic league legends, young players at the beginning of their careers, and stars of the women’s game. The whole project comes with the blessing and support of the executive president of the Venezuelan Football League Rubén Villavicencio, who will be coordinating much of his time in Caracas.