Henrik Larsson will manage a Stockholm Showdown team ahead of May's UEFA Europa League final and the competition's all-time leading scorer remembers highs and lows with Celtic.
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Henrik Larsson has been named as one of the two managers for the Stockholm Showdown (where you can win the chance to play on the Friends Arena pitch the day after May's UEFA Europa League final) and there could be no more appropriate choice.
Not only is Larsson one of Sweden's most-celebrated footballing exports, he is also the competition's all-time leading scorer, with 40 goals in 56 appearances in the UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League for Feyenoord, Celtic and Helsingborg.
Among those was a second-minute strike that set Celtic on their way to a 2002/03 last-eight victory against Liverpool, one of 11 managed by Larsson in that campaign. He also scored twice in the memorable decider in Seville, which Porto won 3-2 after extra time to the despair of the estimated 80,000 Celtic fans in the Spanish city.
Larsson was never to lift the UEFA Cup or UEFA Europa League, unlike the UEFA Champions League which he claimed with Barcelona in 2006, yet his impact on the history of the competition is clear. As the Stockholm Showdown launches, Larsson shares some memories.
On the 2003 final in Seville ...
"There were a lot of Celtic fans there. I had a lot of friends as well, coming down to see the game, including my father. But it still hurts a little bit when I talk about it, because I think it's a game we should have won, and the Celtic fans deserved that. But that's the way it goes. Now there is a lot of water under the bridge, so we just have to get on with it.
"It was a very, very big game for Celtic, because it was a long time since Celtic [had been] in a big final. And we had a great team that year as well. We managed to go all the way, almost – bar winning the final.
"It was just good to put Celtic back on the map again, because it was a long time [since] Celtic had any success in Europe. It was important for Scottish football at the time, as well. We played Blackburn, we played Liverpool, and yes, we were a little bit better than they were; and you always have the competition between Scotland and England as well. So that was important for Celtic and Scottish football at the time.
On the goal against Liverpool ...
"I was just back from my injury, I'd broken my jaw, I'd been out of the game for six weeks. I managed to get back to play against Liverpool and I scored the [opener]. It was a lucky goal, because I just tried to get my knee on it and it went in, and it was 1-1 at Celtic Park. And then we won [2-0] away from home."
On playing in European finals ...
"Of course it means a lot, because as a young kid you want to play in the finals, you want to play in the big tournaments. And here you are, you get to the final. In those days, when I grew up, there wasn't that much football on television. You'd maybe get one game a week on TV; and then when it was the European Cup, as it was called, you'd maybe get to see a quarter-final, but you wouldn't get to see all the games.
"So I remember watching the bigger games when I was young, and I always wanted to play in the finals. And getting to the final was a dream come true. Unfortunately we didn't manage to win the game."
On bouncing back with Barcelona to win the 2006 UEFA Champions League final against Ljungberg’s Arsenal ...
"They're two different finals, the Europa League and the Champions League, but it's still the same feeling you get when you're there, because this is a game where everything is going to count, it's a game where everything has to be decided. So I had a little bit of experience of that, of course.
"But it was a great night, it was a fantastic occasion and something that's always going to stick with me when I get even older than I am today."