The past 12 months have been hectic for Henrik Larsson. The former Celtic star made an eagerly awaited comeback to the Swedish national team and played at Euro 2004. He then signed for one of the world’s biggest clubs, Barcelona, and soon became a Camp Nou sweetheart.
On November 20 he played his first game against Real Madrid – but it ended in despair after 72 minutes when his studs caught in the grass and he fell badly. At first it did not seem so serious but a scan revealed three injuries to cartilage and ligaments in his left knee. He will probably not play again this season.
World Soccer: How are you coping with your injury?
Henrik Larsson: I know what it is like to have a long-term injury and I know I’m capable of working hard to be fit again. I’m obviously not happy about what happened but that’s life and that’s football.
You underwent surgery in the United States in December.
Yes, it seemed to go well and I’m just hoping it can help me carry on playing the game I love. And I’m grateful to Barcelona for extending my contract by 12 months so I can focus on my recovery programme without any added worries.
Let’s talk about Barcelona. We hear it was your favourite club when you were younger.
Well, I have always liked Barcelona but they weren’t my only team – we watched a lot of English football on television as well. But when I was 16 I started to watch the European Cups and soon Barcelona were playing with Koeman, Stoichkov, Laudrup and Romario etc in the squad. They had a great team and were fun to watch.
How did you end up playing for Barca?
To be fair, I was just waiting for this to come along. I had offers from a lot of clubs but I had only one of them in mind. At the same time I had to be realistic, I was 32 and I did not have a contract with Celtic any more. I wanted to go to Spain and everybody knew that. I told my agent before Euro 2004 that I didn’t want to hear anything while I was playing for Sweden. Barcelona got in touch during the same week we lost the quarter-final to Holland and the following week I signed.
Are you and your family happy so far?
Yes, but during seven years in Scotland we got to know the neighbours, we made friends at my wife’s stable and we built up a social circle. That takes time and we have not had time to start socialising yet. The weather is fantastic, the tempo is slower and it fits me perfectly – that way I can stay in bed a little bit longer. We haven’t got used to dining late though. My wife and I have been out to eat a couple of times and when we get to a restaurant at 9pm we are always the only ones there. But we usually have dinner earlier so we can have some time together after the kids have gone to bed. Playing matches at 10pm is also new to me but I kind of enjoy it.
At Camp Nou you are greeted by a level of cheering few Barcelona players have enjoyed.
It is very special and not something you get used to. I almost get embarrassed when I run on to the pitch and I don’t know what to do with myself. It was the same at Celtic Park – and not everyone gets the same welcome. I am proud if they like what I do. Against Shakhtar Donetsk I came on and missed a few chances and still they sang my name. The week after I scored in the 1-0 victory over Numancia – and it felt like I gave something back to the fans.
How is the atmosphere in the dressing-room?
We are one big happy family. I have been lucky during my years as a player – I have always had good guys in my teams. From day one I have felt welcome here and that is very important. Not many of the guys speak English, and I can’t express myself fully yet, but they still make sure I don’t feel left out. I am older and more experienced now. I don’t mind making mistakes as I am learning a new language. I say what I know and use my hands and a bit of English to make myself understood. I actually know quite a lot of Spanish words but it is so difficult to make them into sentences. I am also lucky to have Giovanni, who speaks some Spanish.
What is Ronaldinho like?
Ronaldinho is a guy who comes in every morning with a smile on his face. You just have to look at him to get happy. It is fantastic – to be under such pressure and still smile. He has fun when he plays football and that’s great. That’s why he can play as well as he does.
What goals do you have left?
I have played in the World Cup and the European Championship – those were earlier ambitions. I still have a lot of goals and ambitions but I keep them to myself. The day I accomplish them I will talk.
*This is an excerpt from an interview with Henrik Larsson. The full interview appeared in the February 2005 issue of World Soccer. To subscribe to the magazine, click here