Henrik Larsson joined Manchester United in January 2007 in a short-term loan deal and instantly became a cult hero at Old Trafford. Following a successful two-year spell with Barcelona, the Swede decided to sign for his former club, Helsingborg in the summer of 2006.
But with the January transfer window coinciding with the Allsvenskan’s off-season, Larsson decided to move to Manchester United in a short-term deal. The striker, who was 35 years old at the time, made 13 appearances in all competitions for the Red Devils, scoring three goals during his two-and-a-half-month stay in Manchester. However, the stats are not a real reflection of the impact made by the former Celtic and Barcelona man at Manchester United.
Henrik Larsson was never signed as a primary striker by Manchester United as the Swede legend was more of a backup option to Wayne Rooney and Louis Saha. The Red Devils’ strikeforce was looking particularly thin after Ruud van Nistelrooy left for Real Madrid at the start of the 2006-07 season, with Alan Smith and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer being too injury-prone.
Larsson’s signing was not met with great enthusiasm by the supporters as they felt the Glazers were again saving money instead of investing in the squad. Few expected him to perform the way he did while he was at Manchester United.
Larsson knew well in advance that his stay at Manchester United would be brief and so, he decided to make the most of it. The Swede scored on his debut against Aston Villa in the FA Cup and showed the United faithful that even at the age of 35, he wasn’t finished yet. The celebration by the striker upon scoring was wholesome as he ran around like a teenager.
It takes a special player to make a name for himself in the heart of Manchester United fans, and Larsson certainly did so. He was not quick anymore when he arrived at Old Trafford but his finishing and calmness in front of the goal were there to be seen by all.
His last Old Trafford appearance was in the Champions League against Lille, and he signed out in style. Larsson scored the only goal of the match with a headed effort after receiving a cross from Cristiano Ronaldo to calm the nerves around the stadium. The goal sealed Manchester United’s passage to the quarter-finals of the competition and he received a standing ovation from the Red Devils faithful.
Presence in the dressing room
Upon his arrival at Manchester United, Henrik Larsson was immediately seen as a cult figure with many comparing him to Eric Cantona in terms of his influence on the youngsters.
In an interview after the Swede left the club, Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed about the aura Larsson brought with himself and how the younger players at Manchester United looked up to him. Ferguson also praised Larsson for being a thorough professional who had an excellent attitude.
Manchester United had a relatively inexperienced dressing room when Larsson arrived in January 2007. While the Red Devils, who hadn’t won the Premier League since 2003, still had Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville in their ranks, the likes of Roy Keane, David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy had all left the club. Youngsters such as Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Cristiano Ronaldo were still trying to make their marks at Old Trafford.
Return to homeland
Manchester United were so impressed with Henrik Larsson that they wanted to extend his loan deal until the end of the season. But the Swede returned to Helsingborg as he had promised the club that he would be back before the start of the Allsvenskan season.
In all the 13 games he played for Manchester United, they were never behind in a game while he was on the pitch, and Larsson got a fitting send-off after playing his last game for the Red Devils against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup.
Manchester United went on to the win the Premier League title that season but Larsson didn’t play the required quota of 10 games in the league to be awarded a winner’s medal. The club, however, appealed and ensured that he was granted a medal on special dispensation.
Henrik Larsson’s time at Manchester United was a fairy tale which lasted for a brief period but is still fondly remembered by the fans, the players, Sir Alex Ferguson and the Swede himself.
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