The Magnificent Seven rides out, and it will all end in tears

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There will almost certainly be tears. Every parting is the same but the one at Celtic Park today is invested with such mass appeal that it will create a genuine sense of sorrow. When Henrik Larsson walks up that tunnel for the last time, after the Scottish Premier League champions close the book on a successful season at home to Dundee United, he will not re-emerge. His iconic No 7 shirt will disappear from view and Celtic's fans will grieve for a long while.

There will almost certainly be tears. Every parting is the same but the one at Celtic Park today is invested with such mass appeal that it will create a genuine sense of sorrow. When Henrik Larsson walks up that tunnel for the last time, after the Scottish Premier League champions close the book on a successful season at home to Dundee United, he will not re-emerge. His iconic No 7 shirt will disappear from view and Celtic's fans will grieve for a long while.

The Magnificent Seven - the film's theme tune booms out after every Larsson goal - is riding off into the sunset. And there will be no Return of the Magnificent Seven. Perhaps taking his cue from the dreadful follow-up to a screen classic, Larsson has insisted that it is time to roll the credits on his remarkable reign in the east end of Glasgow. Sure, there will be the Scottish Cup final next Saturday against Dunfermline Athletic at Hampden Park. However, the pursuit of silverware will over-ride emotions there. Better to get it off their chests now.

Even Larsson, as icy as his compatriot Bjorn Borg was, expects to be overcome when he leaves the stage that has seen most of his 238 goals. The Swede has a perfect sense of symmetry: after seven years at Celtic, the Magnificent Seven requires a new challenge. "I will not be surprised if I cry when I play my last game here," said Larsson. "A lot of people don't understand that it will be so hard for me. I am getting emotional - I've got feelings like everyone else. I've been thinking about the last couple of games."

Larsson will have one last bow at Parkhead. Three days after the Cup final, Celtic will play Seville in a friendly. The striker will receive the entire proceeds - written into his contrast three years ago ago when he ignored a bid from Manchester United - and fans have been queueing for hours this week to get a ticket.

That occasion, though, is likely to be football's equivalent of the Monet Exhibition. A few adoring looks at a masterpiece but without the passion of competition that stirred the artist known as Larsson. Few will forget his goal in the 6-2 defeat of Rangers in August 2000, Martin O'Neill's first Old Firm derby, when he audaciously lobbed Stefan Klos. Or what about the Uefa Cup quarter-final last season against Liverpool? Larsson, out for five weeks with a broken jaw, took just 110 seconds on his return to find the net.

Yet, the prolific goalscorer - he won the European Golden Shoe in 2001 for his astonishing haul of 53 - is not a prisoner of the past. "I don't really keep records," he said. "Maybe I will watch my videos when I am sitting with my grandchildren. It's the same with all my awards. When I go home to Sweden, I don't want to put them on display, that's not my way. When I go home, that will all be history and I don't want to be living in 'yesterday'."

Helsingborgs, the place where Larsson grew up, could yet be the destination for those removal crates. He has built a house near the coast. The only certainty is that he will play for Sweden in Euro 2004 - giving in to a national campaign to come out of international retirement - but his desire to move to Spain has not generated the type of suitor Larsson is interested in.

"There are lots of teams interested but there's not a concrete offer," he said. "So how can I make up my mind? It is hard to plan. But I have my house back in Sweden and I can always go home if nothing comes up. If I am going to go somewhere else, it has to be where where I will be motivated. When you get older and have been in a fantastic environment like Celtic Park, you want something on that level to make you go again.

"I feel I have achieved everything I can at Celtic. That is why I have not changed my mind about staying. There is a danger you can stay too long and take things for granted, or people take you for granted."

Celtic has touched this detatched Swede. He cried after last season's Uefa Cup final defeat when his two goals were rendered meaningless by Porto's extra-time winner. "This place has been fantastic," he said. "But everything has to come to an end and it's my turn to go away."

PROBABLE TEAMS

Celtic (probable 4-4-2): Marshall; Agathe, Balde, Varga, McNamara; Petrov, Lennon, Pearson, Thompson; Larsson, Sutton.

Dunfermline Athletic (probable 4-4-2): Stillie; Shields, Skerla, Tod, Byrne; Nicholson, Mason, Dempsey, Bullen; Crawford, Brewster.

Comments