An Interview with Henrik Larsson

We are proud to introduce our new international guest author Alexander Titkov. Read about Alexander after the article.

“My passion for football is as strong as always; my love for the sport still burns in me. There is no money, confirmation or kingdom that can quench my fire.” – Henrik Larsson

It’s a typical November day in Skåne (southernmost province of Sweden); the sky is grey and overcast with no sign of sun. I hop on the Öresundstag train at Lund Central Station and take the 15 minute journey towards Landskrona. I had first come across an interview with Henrik Larsson some years ago in FourFourTwo Magazine. There was a photo I still remember of the Celtic clad Swede, crutches in-hand, on the verge of recovery from a career-threatening tackle.

Henrik Larsson would overcome that barrier, as he did others, and go on to win a total of four league titles with Celtic FC, two league titles with FC Barcelona, the 2006 Champions League title, scoring 362 goals, appearing in three World Cups (Bronze in ’94) and three European Championship appearances. I stopped in at the Landskrona BoIS clubhouse for a fika to talk football, music, snus and I learn what ungdomars ovetskap means.

Did you play any other sports growing up and as a professional football player?
Growing up I used to play a lot of sports, all different kinds including floor hockey, ice hockey in the winters with friends, tennis in the summer, playing football whenever I could but as a professional footballer, not really. What I did for leisure when the time was right was maybe some golf.

What kind of music do you like? Did you ever listen to music to prepare for practices or games?
I usually listened to the radio whenever I was on my way training and when you came to the club there was always somebody playing some kind of music. I listen to most (kinds of music): R&B, classic… I don’t have a particular taste. I can listen to anything except for heavy metal. Other than that I listen to everything. When we were in Portugal in 2004 for the European Championship, we had a lot of music before the games, from international to Swedish music. For some players it works, for some it doesn’t. For me it was nice to have a good tune before you went out. It helped you think about other things.

Did you have any pre-game routines or before practice?
Before every game I used to do certain things, the night before the games, the routines I had were more or less the same through the years. Come game day, you wanted to wake up in a nice and easy way, then just take it from there and try to follow a routine to best prepare for the game and I had a lot of different things I used to do. It’s like a check-list. When you’ve done them, you know you’ve done everything in your power to do things the right way before the game.

Was there something particular you would do?
It’s everything from eating right, having the massage at a certain time, then stupid things like pulling on the left sock before the right one. It’s more of a check-list really.

I read that growing up you were a big Brazil fan.
Brazil was always a team we would follow because my father spoke Portuguese and in those days Sweden wasn’t in the World Cup, so we liked the way they played. My idol was Pele so it just came naturally to follow them.

Do you think watching their style of play influenced the way you played?
You watched a good footballer and you tried to pick out the best things and try to do the things they would do. In those days, there wasn’t that much football on television and when you saw something you tried to copy. Nowadays, the kids have the PlayStation and XBOX so they have another way to copy tricks so there’s a big advantage for them.

As a player growing up, how important was social support from friends and family?
Of course, when you came home after training or a game you always want your parents to ask you, “how did it go today?” It’s always nice when somebody cares and I always had that from home. They knew I loved to play football so they made sure every time I came home to ask how it went.

Is there something most people don’t know about you?
No, I don’t think so. I mean, I’m a different person privately compared to Henrik Larsson the ex-football player to Henrik Larsson the trainer. I think I can be quite funny sometimes even though I don’t show it towards the rest of the world. I choose to do that when I’m around my friends and they know the real Henrik Larsson and that’s the way I want to keep it.

I heard on the Swedish radio show ”Sommarpratarna” that you spoke about taking a snus before you took the sixth penalty in ’94. Was it common for players to use snus?
Back then yeah, a lot of players did it. I remember it (laughs); it was just to calm myself down a little bit. I didn’t realize how important that penalty kick was back then but now I do.

Maybe that was a good thing to help you from thinking about it too much?
There’s a term in Swedish, ungdomars ovetskap, which means the ignorance of youth, when you don’t realize the importance of something. I was 22 at the time and I didn’t even think about it when they told me to take the sixth penalty; I just said yes.

As a player, you played at a lot of different clubs with different systems. Were there any systems you particularly liked or was it a matter of merely adapting to it?
For me, it was just a matter of adapting to different systems. I had a lot of success with 4-4-2, some success with 4-3-3 as well. So, all the systems are good and you need to have them but you need to be surrounded by good players as well. If you make the right run but don’t get the ball, you won’t score, simple as that. I was fortunate enough to play with some great players in Holland, Scotland, Spain and in England. You can do all the running you want but if there’s nobody there to give you the ball, it doesn’t matter.

The economy has affected Swedish clubs. Do you think clubs should focus more on youth development?
I think that’s general in Sweden, but I think we realized that a few years back because we don’t have the economic means. We need to develop them in the youth systems because we can’t go out and buy them. I think all the clubs understand that nowadays that you have to have a solid foundation to pick your players from and if there isn’t then maybe you can go out and buy a player or two.

Do you think Swedish clubs are lacking in anything else compared to other European ones?
Funds. It’s all about the money. I really, really believe with all my heart that it’s all about money. We can’t even compete with Norway or Denmark financially. As soon as you get a decent player, they will go abroad to those two countries or he’s going to go Holland. So it’s unfortunate that it’s down to money. You might be lucky once if you get an exceptionally talented group and make an impact for a season but if you look at Malmö this year, they were an exceptional group but they weren’t even able to do anything in the Europa League. I have to say sorry, but it’s the money. If we can’t find a way to support the Swedish clubs, maybe by some form of tax reform, I think we’re going to be in this situation or worse in the years to come.

Do you think the Swedish cultural norm of “lagom”, of not being exceptional or standing out from the crowd limits players or coaches?
Maybe, maybe. Maybe that is more relevant to my generation. Today’s youth have a tremendous belief in themselves, so I don’t think we are the country lagom anymore. I think we want more than that and I think the new generation is trying to install that into Swedish society.

How do you feel this season went for you with Landskrona BoIS?
I’m not happy with the season. We had the potential of doing much better but that’s the way football goes. You plan for something and then things don’t go your way and you have to adapt to the situation and I think we adapted in the end because we did something, we stopped the blood flow so to speak, so with that I’m happy but with the start of the season I’m not happy at all.

Was there a particular system you used this year with Landskrona BoIS?
We started out with a 4-3-3 but we didn’t get the results that we wanted so we had to change to 4-1-4-1 but that’s just numbers again. If the players don’t understand then it doesn’t really matter which system you play. They have to know their roles in the system and understand my expectations and that’s why I’m here as a coach.

What are your plans for the upcoming year?
At the moment we are negotiating the contract but Hans (Eklund) and I have the plan already set for next year. Hopefully, after this first year, we can become more solid. There are a lot of things we need to change once we start.

Previously, you stated when you finished your career you wanted to visit your father’s homeland (Cape Verde), did you get a chance to do that?
I was there in 2008 with my father. I went to the Cape Verde islands for almost 2 weeks. I saw the house where he was born and grew up in and it was a really nice experience for me and I think my father enjoyed it as well.

Do you still have the ambition to coach in Europe someday?
Yeah, of course. That’s my goal and I have to see whether it will be possible or not. As I said before, it’s difficult but hopefully I can do something here which will be good for my career and others will notice and say, “why not?”

Alexander Titkov is currently a double degree European master’s student in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Lund University (Sweden) and at the Universität Leipzig (Germany) with a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise Science and Russian Area Studies from St. Olaf College (USA). Alex is also currently working with Swedish football club Ängelholm FF’s U21 squad and is the editor of the EMSEP Blog. His sport psychology areas of interest include imagery and mindfulness in Scandinavia.

Check out the EMSEP Blog: http://emsepblog.tumblr.com/ and follow Alex on Twitter: @alextitkov

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