Larsson was undoubtedly the hero in the previous season, not only had he scored some memorable goals and assisted with a fair few on the way to halting ‘the ten’! – he had become a fans favourite and an integral cog in the Celtic starting eleven. Most Hoops fans were still intoxicated and seeing double headlines when next to the championship winning pull outs,  murmurs of Dutchman Wim Jansen’s demise at Celtic Park were unraveling.

Wim again was a messiah to the green and white clad throngs, he had assembled a winning side playing a nice brand of football & had brought in some great players (inc Henrik) such as Paul Lambert, Marc Rieper & Craig Burley who helped turned the tide on the dominant blue side.  I felt that even after his tete a tete with general manager and general busybody Jock Brown, the Bhoys had the nucleus to continue their winning ways after the dismantling of Rangers successful team in the summer.

Wim the TIM

Wim Jansen - Celtic head coach 97-98 in happier times

An unknown in many quarters, but well-respected coach in European circles Dr Jo Venglos took over the reins at Paradise and implemented some of his own methods (most of which were  ‘passing & combinations) and players on the team. One such talent he bought over from Duisburg, was the much maligned Lubomir Moravcik – he was slandered in the press as a has-been before he even kicked a ball,  but Larsson & Lubo were soon a lethal combo in front of goal.

This was confirmed when they tore apart their arch enemies at Celtic Park on a dark evening in late November – two goals apiece conspired the dark side to a five one hosing in the Demolition Derby. The opener came from Moravcik’s sweeping left foot strike, aided by a sublime Larsson dummy on the edge of the box,  Henke’s two goals came in the second half – one a bullet header into the bottom corner of Niemi’s net from a dinked cross and the other a deft clip over the Finn after racing past halloween face.

Larsson takes the plaudits from the late talented Phil O'Donnell

During that season there was some outstanding displays of attacking prowess, mainly instigated by the Swede and his thirty-eight goals. Even though Celtic ended the season adrift in second place, Larsson was awarded Scottish Player’s Player and Writer’s Footballer of the Year for his season’s contributions to Scottish Football. His awards were not only consigned to Scotland as Henrik had made enough waves to capture the title of Swedish Footballer of the Year.

Dr Jo

Venglos was unfortunate not too be given a second season at Celtic Park and in hindsight, Dr Jo’s transformation of Henke into a fully fledged out & out striker was a masterstroke which bore fruit for years to come. Moravcik & Mjallby would also prove to be invaluable buys in Celtic’s future successes. Back in Holland, Larsson albeit a willing runner, was somewhat lost out on the touchlines and out of sorts with the Feyenoord hierarchy. This 98-99 season galvanized Henrik – and he made the central striking role his own.

Ever the modest man, he confirmed that his successful season wasn’t just down to him “the players around me were brilliant, they gave me the ball as they knew what form I was in” Well maybe a wee bit big-headed at the end. The night which sticks out for me that epitomized his goalscoring feats was at Fir Park on a live Sunday evening match. The whole team was on song but Larsson was the conductor as he dispatched four past our gk coach Stevie Woods to record a resounding seven one win. Henrik’s work-rate, strength, skill and pace were all showcased in this win and during the 90 minutes he seemed untouchable and he was the catalyst in almost all the moves which ended up in the net. Not the tallest but albeit not a Maloney sized striker, an incredible part of the Magnificent Seven’s repertoire was his heading ability – his accuracy, power and height off the ground was phenomenal to watch and many of the goals mentioned before were down to this incredible skill.

If this season proved to be a coming of age for the dreadlocked Swede, the next chapter was to test Larsson’s mental & physical strength to another level.

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